A Brief Look At OCD.

T H E R A P E U T I C      T H U R S D A Y

It was difficult choosing a topic for today, there are so many good ones. I decided on OCD because we so often use it to describe ourselves when we do quirky little neurotic things. (I tell the people at UPS that I have OCD when I want my package taped up properly. I get uneasy when I see the haphazard way they slap the boxes together. I obsess that my box will fall apart when I’m not there — so I say something to restore my sense of order. Am I a control freak? Perhaps… 🙂 ) Few behaviors can make us feel or look more “crazy” than the tendency to obsess about irrational things and act compulsively in response to the obsessions. Robert DeNiro’s character in, “Silver Linings Playbook” is OCD and he gets big laughs. Jack Nicholson’s character in, “As Good As It Gets,” is also over the top OCD and is very funny — obnoxious, but funny. The success of Seinfeld, in part, was due to the fact that intelligent, successful adults acting irrationally is always comical. Neurotic behavior, for the most part, is funny. (Yes, I know it can be a serious condition. I KNOW!)

So what exactly is OCD and why do seemingly healthy people appear powerless when it comes to obsessing and acting compulsively? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder falls under the heading of ANXIETY DISORDERS. Anxiety disorders are actually easily treated with medication and can also successfully be treated with therapy. The behavior or compulsion, is an attempt to BIND the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety which comes in the form of obsessive and intrusive thoughts.

Chronic and Acute Anxiety can be caused by a chemical imbalance, genetics (OCD is passed down from generation to generation), a stressful environment — both long and short-term. When a person has INADEQUATE COPING to deal with high levels of fear/stress, they try to manage it by taking control of other externals. Examples would include; cleaning, hand washing (germ obsessions), straightening the fringe on the rug, checking the clock, checking outlets, lining items up in a certain sequence, ritualistic behavior, some tics, touching things in a certain way, etc. Repeating certain behaviors gives us a sense of control, albeit a false sense of control, but none the less, control which is desperately needed to maintain our equilibrium. It’s like the equivalent of self-medicating for those with Mood Disorders.

Anxiety is produced when we fear the unknown. When circumstances render us powerless and when we feel out of control, we look for ways to RESTORE ORDER. We look for ways to bind up our fears, to bind the nervous energy, to stop the obsessions and intrusive thoughts. That’s when we become obsessive and compulsive. On one end of the continuum is a full-blown panic attack, a fight or flight response; we start perspiring, our hearts race, our pupils dilate, our adrenaline pumps wildly and we feel sick, we feel that we’re in danger. (Me, on my 50th birthday in Vegas!) On the other end is a mild sense of uneasiness and apprehension. We’re aware that we’re anxious and we know the source – we’re able to manage the anxious feelings with rational thoughts and healthy messages.

If you suffer from OCD or anxiety and it disrupts your day-to-day functioning, meaning you have to make moderate to extreme accommodations for it – then I would seek help. No one needs to suffer from anxiety. It can easily be treated.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

—  William James