This week is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Anxiety Disorders awareness week. Last semester I blogged about anxiety in general and gave you some tips for managing and access to online resources. So I thought this week I’d share a little about OCD. I’m sure you have all had a moment or two in your life where someone has accused you, or you have accused yourself as being a little “OCD”. Most likely it’s when you want something done a specific way, or you are reluctant to hand over control of a task because you like things done your way. I know that I have definitely been guilty of this. But this isn’t OCD, intact by calling it this we are belittling the experience that those who do have OCD have.
If you are wondering, like a lot of people do, where the line is between being cautious or picky or developing OCD here are a few common areas and distinctions which might help.
- Hand washing – there is a difference between being thorough when washing your hands and feeling compelled to wash them 3 times, or for 6 minutes, or needing to get soap under each fingernail. There is usually also a difference in thoughts, those about wanting to be clean because you are about to go eat, or have just finished gardening are ok but when you are worrying about germs after washing or passing on your germs to others this might be something to seek help about.
- Overzealous cleaning – It’s ok to want your house or room tidy and spend time each time cleaning up after yourself. But ask yourself how many hours a day are you cleaning? Do you get anxious after you have finished cleaning? What other activities are you giving up on a regular basis so you can keep your house clean?
- Checking behaviour – everyone double checks things from time to time. I noticed earlier this week I checked I’d locked my car twice because I didn’t recall hearing the lock sound. But ask yourself how often do you double check? Or are you checking things for a certain number of times, for example in patterns of three?
- Counting – you may count steps going from one place to another, or magazines in the doctors office if you are trying to distract yourself and this is ok. But ask yourself does your counting things bother you? Does it bother someone else? Does it make sense to do it? chances are if it makes no sense and it is bothersome to either you or someone else that it’s heading towards or is more in line with OCD.
- Fears of violence – we all experience fleeting thoughts of violence from time to time, most commonly for me when I walk across campus during the evening alone (although the CCTV’s make this less daunting now). Experiencing a little fear and anxiety at these types of scenario’s is normal and it prepares the body for the fight or flight process should we need it. But what happens when we start avoiding events or tasks because these worries take over? Or what if you are constantly checking on someone else’s safety because you worry about them? What if the thoughts are becoming more frequent and intense?
Of course there are a lot of other signs of OCD, obsessive organisation, unwanted sexual thoughts, dwelling on relationships, having a hatred of a part of your physical appearance and constantly seeking reassurance. If you are worried about a behaviour you have or someone else has don’t dismiss it come and find out more about the behaviour and some strategies that you can use to help you get back to being cautious or picky rather than obsessive or compulsive. Understanding more about the reasons for the behaviour and learning how to change the behaviour could make a huge difference to the way you life your life. So next time you find yourself checking if you locked the car or you are avoiding night time classes because you are fearful of what might happen ask yourself, “How often am I doing this? Is this helping me get what I want from life or is it getting in the way?” If it’s getting in the way then maybe it’s time to seek some help and beat it!