Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Have you ever heard someone say they’re “so OCD?” If you have, it is because Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a commonly misunderstood term by the society. People believe that if you like to keep your surroundings clean and have a specific way of doing things, you have OCD. But that is most certainly not a true representation of the condition. OCD is a mental health disorder that disrupts an individual's life because of the obsessions and compulsions. It is characterized by obsessions (thoughts, images, ideas that won’t go away), compulsions (irresistible urge to behave in certain way) or both.
A study of the global incidences of OCD, from World Health Organization (WHO), indicate the smallest frequency of occurrence is in China, Korea, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, followed by India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, then Western Europe and North America. A higher occurrence is found in Russia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South and Central America with most severe incidences in Argentina and Uruguay.
In order to be diagnosed with OCD, obsessions and compulsions must take up significant amount of time during the course of the entire day. People may experience them separately or simultaneously. Not all recurring habits are indicative of OCD. To be diagnosed with OCD these habits must be driven by obsessions. They affect emotional health, education, career and even the social and personal life of an individual, as these obsessions can result in hours of repetitive ritualistic behaviors thus disrupting normal life.
Many people suffering from OCD are aware that their actions are illogical, but when they try to ignore the urge to perform a particular action with the help of logic and reasoning, their anxiety increases to the point where they eventually give in to their compulsion. This results in relief, but the relief is temporary and their obsessions return. And the whole vicious cycle continues.
Women have a very important role in the family and if a woman is suffering from OCD she would be facing issues in performing simple household tasks like taking care of the children and spouse. Other issues are related to the expenses and resources consumed in order to relieve themselves of the anxiety caused by obsessions, compulsions or both. Hence, a good understanding of the disorder is important for their individual as well as family life.

The symptoms include being unable to control thoughts. Obsessions are recurring thoughts, ideas, mental images, and beliefs that are disturbing. They can cause significant emotional distress or dysfunction. For example, a student tries to attend a lecture and obsessive thoughts pop up and interfere with the ability to focus. Most of us can let go of an upsetting thought or belief that is bothering us, but a person with OCD is unable to control their obsessions. Other examples of obsessions include, fear of contamination or germs, an irrational need for symmetry or order, aggressive thoughts and behaviors about oneself or others, despite knowing how irrational and unreasonable they are. For example, a person with fear of contamination will keep washing hands a certain number of times. Other examples include walking through a certain place a specific number of times and while these individuals are performing these behaviors they lose track of time and often get very late to work/school, etc. Examples of compulsions include, excessive cleaning, arranging and rearranging objects in a specific way, repetitive checking, e.g., if the door is locked, if the stove is off, etc. These symptoms can reduce or increase overtime. 
•    Genetics — immediate family members of those who suffer from OCD are at a higher risk of developing the same disorder.
•    Physical injury — traumatic injury to the brain, certain viruses and tumors have often been linked to this disorder. 
•    Environment — those who have experienced physical or sexual trauma during childhood have a higher risk of developing OCD.
•    Illness during childhood — children who have suffered streptococcal infections (caused by the streptococcus bacteria) are also at a higher risk.
Treatment of OCD involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The treatment plan is always according to the specific symptoms of every patient. They work in collaboration to reduce the severity of symptoms and improve daily life functioning over time.
One of the most effective psychotherapies for OCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a collaborative therapy where the patients are taught by the therapist and in the process they learn how to treat themselves which, as a result, allows them to stay healthy after the treatment has ended. CBT focuses on identifying and challenging maladaptive thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors, and then replacing them with more adaptive ones. CBT also exposes patients to the situations that they are afraid of and helps them to change their behavior eventually. In doing so, CBT helps patients to cope with obsessions and resist compulsions, and usually produces a 60-80% reduction in symptoms of OCD.

Is OCD preventable? 
OCD is not preventable in the initial phase but once a person is diagnosed, it is manageable. To do this, the person should be very attentive to identify the triggers of their thoughts and behaviors and keep a record (in a diary or any other form), so they can tell if their symptoms are getting worse, to seek treatment immediately. Once medication is prescribed it is important to complete the course.
Talking about your condition with your family and loved ones is very important. It will make you less anxious and more comfortable, so that with their support and your effort it will be easier to cope with this condition.
Managing stress is important. People with OCD often experience that their symptoms get worse when they are stressed. For example, deep breathing can be calming in a stressful situation. Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count to four as you breathe in, and again, as you breathe out.
Although these strategies are certainly an imperfect cure for every person with OCD, but these might help you get a better grip of the triggers and help you in your progress toward a healthier life.  HH

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