Managing OCD – Separating Myths From Facts
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that causes troubling, intrusive and persistent thoughts as well as compulsive behaviors. If you have this condition you struggle with frightening and stressful thoughts and attempt to relieve them with typically unrelated behaviors, such as counting words you read in order to prevent yourself from doing something bad. This is a complicated condition that causes serious impairment and requires professional treatment. It cannot be simplified or managed simply by trying to relax and think of other things. If you have OCD, you need a diagnosis and professional treatment to learn to manage it.
OCD is a serious mental illness that triggers intrusive thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors. It causes significant distress and takes up a lot of time, causing problems in other areas of your life, like school, work, and relationships.
There are many myths circulating about OCD, and these can be damaging. Understand the truths and facts about this condition in order to get the right treatment. With professional care and learning how to manage your obsessions and compulsions, you can learn to live well with OCD and to stop it from taking over your life.
What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
It’s important to understand what this mental illness actually is and how it is diagnosed, because it is a common myth that anyone can be “a little OCD.” This is a real condition, and while someone may experience a few or occasional obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, truly having OCD is serious and can be debilitating.
OCD is at the head of a group of related disorders. To be diagnosed with it you must exhibit obsessions, compulsions, or both to a degree that they take up a lot of your time, interfere with your normal life and relationships, and cause significant distress. The main components of OCD are obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors:
- Obsessions in OCD are intrusive, negative thoughts you can’t control. They infiltrate your mind, recur and persist, no matter what you do to try to stop them. They cause distress, anxiety, even fear. Obsessive thoughts can be about anything. Common obsessions include germs and contamination, safety for oneself or loved ones, sexual thoughts, or a need for symmetry and order.
- Compulsions are repetitive behaviors you engage in to get relief from obsessive thoughts or to prevent something bad from happening. For instance, you may wash your hands hundreds of times a day because of an obsession with germs or ritually turn lights on and off to prevent a loved one from getting hurt.
Professional Treatment for OCD
Perhaps the biggest myth to correct about OCD is that a person who struggles with it can just stop obsessing. From the outside, as someone who doesn’t have this mental illness, it may seem as if a person could simply not engage in compulsive behaviors or distract themselves from the bad thoughts with activities.
The truth is that OCD requires professional treatment. And especially for those with serious impairment from this condition, intensive, focused residential treatment is best. A program for treating OCD generally includes psychotherapy, both exposure and response prevention therapy, and more traditional cognitive behavioral therapy to try to change thoughts and behaviors. It also includes medical care, which may involve antidepressants, holistic treatment, mindfulness and relaxation strategies, and lifestyle changes.
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How OCD Is Managed – The Truth Behind the Myths
Common myths about OCD are prevalent and damaging. If you or someone you care about struggles with intrusive thoughts and compulsions, it is important to seek out professional help. A mental health professional can provide an evaluation and accurate diagnoses and suggest a treatment program. With residential treatment and home management after treatment, it is possible to manage this disease. But first you must separate the myths and the facts:
1. OCD Is Related to Cleanliness and Order.
This is a typical myth many people believe. Some cases of OCD do manifest this way, with obsession over germs or fears of chaos and disorder. But there are as many different forms of OCD as there are unique individuals impacted by it. This myth can be damaging, because a person may assume they do not have OCD if their thoughts and compulsions are unusual or don’t fit the conventional mold most people think of in terms of OCD.
If you have any obsessive thoughts that cause you distress and worry and that persist no matter what you do, you could have OCD. And any type of compulsive behavior, anything you do to keep the thoughts at bay or to prevent something bad from happening, could indicate you have this condition. Recognizing the symptoms and getting diagnosed is the first step in managing OCD.
2. People With OCD Just Need to Relax.
Many people falsely believe that OCD is just a quirk, a weird personality trait. They assume that if someone with these odd thoughts and behaviors just learn to relax or gets more exercise, they can stop. OCD is a real mental illness and brain disorder. It causes these obsessions and behaviors that are possible to manage but extremely difficult to control. Without professional guidance it is challenging to impossible to manage the symptoms.
3. People With OCD Can’t Be Reasoned With.
This myth is also harmful and damaging. Although getting over OCD is not as simple as just relaxing and quitting compulsive behaviors, it is also not impossible to learn to manage symptoms. If you have OCD you know that your thoughts and your behaviors are not logical. You know that counting your steps will not actually prevent a car accident, and yet you can’t stop thinking about getting into an accident or numbering the steps you take.
Because OCD does not cause psychosis, a loss of touch with reality, it is absolutely possible to use reason and careful steps to make positive changes. You can learn to manage your obsessions and compulsions with therapy and medication. You can challenge the negative thoughts and learn to resist the compulsive behaviors.
4. To Manage OCD You Should Avoid Your Fears.
Effective OCD treatment actually involves facing and processing the scary and stressful obsessive thoughts this condition causes. It’s not helpful to try to ignore intrusive thoughts; it simply won’t work. A better strategy, always guided by a professional, is to face those terrible thoughts through a type of therapy known as exposure and response prevention (ERP).
While going through ERP with a trained therapist you will face the troubling thoughts, images, or objects that cause you so much stress. This is exposure. You will then be guided to avoid using your compulsive behavior in response to the trigger. This is response prevention. Your therapist will help you learn to make the choice not to respond. It isn’t easy, but with time this helps reduce symptoms. The best part of ERP is that once you have gone through it with a therapist, you can use it at home as a management strategy.
5. OCD Is Obvious.
While some people may have a hard time hiding their anxiety and compulsions, many with OCD can hide them very well. Many of the compulsions, for instance, take place in the mind: counting things, repeating phrases, or making mental lists. Someone with these kinds of compulsions may just seem distracted a lot of the time.
Having OCD can be embarrassing. If you suspect someone you care about is struggling with this condition, look for small clues. They may follow strict routines, wash their hands a lot, avoid things like public restrooms, require a lot of reassurance, or experience significant stress and anxiety for no clear reason. Help someone you love by offering help and suggesting they get a professional evaluation and diagnosis.
There are many myths circulating about OCD, and these can make it difficult for an individual to manage this very serious condition. Don’t take OCD lightly. It causes impairment, dysfunction, distress, and may even trigger or contribute to other mental illnesses like depression or an eating disorder. Reach out for help if you have signs of OCD and get the professional treatment that will help you successfully manage it.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles-based program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.