Did you know that at least 2% of Australians experience obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour to a level that significantly impacts their quality of life? It’s true: the lives of more than 500,000 Australians are impacted by OCD and anxiety.

This article aims to de-stigmatise and demystify some of the myths surrounding OCD disorder, help you identify signs of OCD, understand the causes of OCD and how to get help.

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder. People living with OCD are troubled by persistent, unwanted thoughts, ideas, images or sensations (obsessive thoughts) that drive them to act on impulses with repetitive rituals (compulsions). These rituals are designed to help them feel more in control. For many, these routines and behaviours are rigid and cause great distress if they are not acted on immediately.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is often misunderstood. In fact, there is no typical OCD behaviour and OCD symptoms vary widely from person to person. This condition can be highly distressing for both the person affected and their family and friends. OCD may co-occur with other mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia.

What Are Obsessive Thoughts?

Obsessive thoughts are recurring thoughts and images that can cause acute distress, anxiety or disgust. These thoughts are embedded in a complex network of emotions, sensations, behavioural routines and compulsions that are impossible to resist.

While most people with OCD attempt to ignore or suppress obsessions, these intrusive thoughts cannot be alleviated with logic or reasoning. When people try to desperately and urgently suppress or distract these thoughts, which paradoxically fuels the thought’s intensity. The nature and severity of obsessions can evolve over time, starting as normal concerns and worries that become exaggerated.

Some people with OCD may be convinced that their obsessions are absolutely correct, while others suspect their obsessions are excessive or irrational. These obsessive thoughts can be exhausting, take up significant time, and impair an individual’s quality of life, relationships, education and employment.

What Are Obsessive Compulsions?

Obsessive compulsions are repetitive actions or mental acts performed to prevent an imagined threat. Often, compulsions become ritualised and follow specific rules and patterns to create illusory short-term relief against anxiety.

The Link Between OCD and Anxiety

OCD and anxiety are closely intertwined. Many OCD sufferers experience panic attacks or panic attack symptoms, such as sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, racing thoughts, dizziness, weakness in the limbs, or the sensation of having an out-of-body experience.

Why Do Obsessive Thoughts Happen?

While the causes of OCD are not fully known, it likely arises from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. These include:

  • Learned behaviours from direct conditioning – OCD compulsions may develop when an individual mentally and emotionally associates a learned behaviour with anxiety relief
  • Genetic and hereditary factors – Individuals may have an increased tendency toward OCD due to genetic or hereditary factors
  • Chemical and neurological factors – OCD may arise from chemical, structural and functional abnormalities in the brain, such as irregular levels of serotonin and neurological factors
  • Mental health – OCD often co-occurs with mental health issues associated with distorted thought patterns, such as depression, eating disorders or substance use
  • Stress – OCD behaviours can be exacerbated by stressful life events or hormonal changes

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Symptoms

An OCD sufferer cannot control their repetitive thoughts and behaviour. Examples of obsessive thoughts include:

  • Germophobia, or a pathological fear of contamination from germs, bacteria, poisons, infection, dirt or uncleanliness
  • Traumatophobia, or fear of har2m from illness, accidents or death that may occur to oneself or others
    Perfectionism, or a need for symmetry, orderliness, exactness or routine
  • Intrusive sexual or violent thoughtsAn intense, irrational fear of everyday objects and situations
    Excessive concerns about religious issues or morality, with an obsessive need to participate in prayer to the detriment of work or relationships

Signs of OCD compulsions include:

  • Cleanliness – Obsessive cleanliness rituals designed to reduce an exaggerated fear of contamination
  • Order – Obsession with order or symmetry, with an overwhelming need to perform tasks or place objects in a rigid place or pattern
  • Counting – Repeatedly counting items or objects
  • Hoarding – Excessive acquisition of and unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that cause significant distress or impairment
  • Repetition to create ‘safety’ – Continually checking, touching, tapping or moving in a particular way, or mentally repeating words, numbers or phrases a certain number of times
  • Validation – Needing to constantly ask questions or confess to seek reassurance

Do I Have OCD?

An OCD diagnosis requires the presence of obsessive or compulsive behaviours that dominate more than one hour a day and trigger major distress. OCD symptoms can vary widely, so it’s best to seek a diagnosis from a mental health professional.

OCD Treatment: How Does It Work?

OCD can be treated and managed with OCD therapy and medication. Obsessive compulsive disorder treatment may include:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) – CBT therapy aims to change patterns of thinking, beliefs and behaviours that trigger OCD symptoms through gradual exposure and response prevention (ERP)
  • Anxiety management techniques – Relaxation training, slow breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation and hyperventilation control can help an OCD sufferer manage their own symptoms
  • Support groups and education – Support groups can provide social and emotional support, as well as helpful information to demystify and destigmatise OCD and practical advice to manage symptoms
  • Medication – Certain medications, such as antidepressants that elevate serotonin, can help reduce symptoms of OCD

For more advice on how to treat OCD or help with managing your OCD, book an appointment with a GP at our state of the art clinics today or contact us on (07) 3711 2880.