The irking worry
Worry and apprehension are normal. At some point in time while we have been on vacation, each one of us has felt a surging anxiety about whether they have turned the water tap off or disconnected the gas or locked the door appropriately. Praying hard or performing ritualistic offerings to ease off worry before a presentation or examination or important life event is a norm in several cultures. Getting negative thoughts amidst positive life events is also a typical reaction because one needs to be prepared for the worst in every situation. Keeping track of adverse outcomes midst confident efforts is the way to go. However excessive and unwanted worry does not lead to betterment in performance.
Worries that gnaw us at every moment even though we know that we have checked it all, studied it all and secured it all are not normal. Everyone washes their hands before or after their meal, but some people just cannot stop at washing once. It becomes a ritual to wash twice, thrice or maybe several times to make sure (rather convince the mind) that the hands are really clean. A microscopic examination after the first wash can reveal that the bacteria have been washed off; however the obsessed mind fails to see or give in to logic or reason. While these people are following this washing ritual they are aware that it is wrong but somehow they just cannot control doing it. Such behaviors are pointers towards Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD.
Obsessions and Compulsions
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder have varied fixations with checking, counting, hoarding, contamination or sexuality. Obsessions are repetitive intrusive thoughts while compulsions are ritualistic actions. People may be preoccupied with neatness or symmetry; and feel everything needs to be done in a particular manner or else it’s not satisfactory for them. Again, neatness is not a disorder or illness, but worrying that something disastrous might happen if they perform otherwise; is. Others may have exactness obsessions and counting rituals to assure the desired perfection. Yet others have ritualistic patterns of behavior and things need to be done in specific sequence, else fantasy reasoning and negative outcomes are imagined.
Obsessions take over life
OCD is not a life-threatening problem, but it definitely menaces, and diminishes the quality of life. Majority of the time is wasted on performing rituals to prevent imagined calamitous consequences. In effect the time available for everyday activities get affected. For example a person who has obsessions of dirt may take 3 hours to have a bath and ritualistically soap himself 20 times since he believes that is amount required to get clean and if he does any less, the worry of contamination keeps bothering him. This may affect the skin and lead to dryness and eczema; besides the fact that this person would never make it to office on time and his mind would forever be occupied with the fear of contamination. His obsession and ritualistic washing takes precedence over all other activities of his day.
Why does it occur?
OCD is attributable to chemical imbalance in parts of the emotional brain. Some medical illnesses, which affect the immunity, are known to give rise to obsessive behavior in children as an antibody mediated response. The genetic link can never be underestimated, as OCD is known to run in families. Childhood events predispose development of OCD in adulthood.
What we can do about it
At MINDFRAMES, the management of OCD entails medication along with suitable cognitive therapy and behavior modification approaches like exposure and response prevention, desensitization, thought stopping, flooding, implosion therapy and aversion. A systematic approach with relaxation training helps control the associated severe anxiety response.