How many times have you heard someone blame their behaviors on OCD? It’s an all too common explanation for our fussiness and perfectionism.
But unfortunately, this isn’t what OCD really is. What’s more, labeling our actions as a disorder is a true disservice to those who really live with this diagnosis.
What is OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
We all have our idiosyncrasies and pet peeves, and most of us like to keep things a certain way. For example, before you begin working, you probably like to make sure your desk is organized. The same goes for doing tasks at home; it might be hard to focus when certain things are messy and out of order.
But that doesn’t mean you have OCD. According to Help Guide, obsessive-compulsive disorder “is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform.”
If you have OCD, your obsessive thoughts are usually based in anxiety and fear, and they can lead you to carry out repetitive rituals that impair your daily life. They can even bring suffering. As someone who suffers from OCD, you probably know your actions are unnecessary, but you can’t stop yourself from doing them.
For example, hand washing is a very common ritualized behavior for people with OCD. It usually stems from a fear of germs or contamination. Unfortunately, their obsessive thoughts will drive these people to wash their hands until their skin becomes raw.
Common Obsessive Thoughts in OCD
Contamination is a common obsession among those with OCD. This may explain why many normal people label themselves as having this disorder. Many individuals today want to avoid using harmful chemicals in their homes. They also take great steps to avoid illness with a healthy diet, preventative medicine, vaccines and an active lifestyle.
But for the most part, these people can go on with their lives without much distraction and interruption.
Unfortunately, for OCD sufferers, contamination obsessions lead to uncontrollable thoughts about germs, dirt, bodily fluids, environmental and household chemicals. In turn, these thoughts lead to compulsive behaviors.
Within OCD, there is a great fear of losing control of oneself in violent behavior, as well as being a victim in harmful and violent situations. Unwelcome sexual thoughts are also a common obsessive thought pattern. And perhaps the most common of all, perfectionism.
Common Compulsive Behaviors in OCD
Because of the intensity and unwanted nature of their obsessive thoughts, people with OCD often react to these thoughts with equally intense behaviors.
For example, constant checking things and repetitive actions make sure everything’s alright and under control. Washing and excessive cleaning is another way for those with OCD to cope with the obsessive thoughts that won’t leave them alone.
These are the most common obsessions and compulsive behaviors within this disorder, but there are many other forms of OCD. For example, some people suffer from religious OCD. There’s also a type of OCD in which people doubt their own sexuality, or their compatibility with their partner.
The key thing to remember about obsessive compulsive disorder is that the thoughts are obsessive, the behaviors are uncontrollable, and these symptoms stem from intense fear and anxiety.
No, You Don’t Have OCD
Everyone has their routines. It’s what keeps our days in order and our lives in check. This is normal. It’s also normal to overthink things, and to feel nervous and stressed out about upcoming events. It’s very normal to have favorite foods and other foods you simply can’t palate. It’s also typical to worry about things, and to keep things neat and tidy, if that’s what you like.
So, the next time you feel extra particular and “obsessive” about something, don’t glamorize it with the OCD label. Instead, remind yourself that you’re free of a disabling mental condition, and that’s something you should be grateful for.
What’s more, when you begin to feel anxious and like things are slipping out of your control, you can do one of two things.
You can either say, “I’m so OCD,” and let your goals and responsibilities suffer, all thanks to your own misdiagnosis.
Or, you can become aware of how you’re feeling and take steps to feel calm and in control again.
What To Do When You Feel Anxious, Nervous and Stressed
Stress, nervousness and anxiety are all normal human emotions. There’s no need to slap an OCD sticker over them.
Instead, learn healthy coping mechanisms that will help you move on with the rest of your day.
- Deep Breathing: Breathing exercises are an excellent way to calm the nervous system as well as your mind. The best part? You can do these almost anywhere. In your car, at your desk, in class, in a grocery store, etc. One easy breathing technique is to count to eight with the following breath sequence: Count “1-2” while inhaling. Count “3-4” while holding your breath. Count “5-6-7-8” while exhaling slowly.
- Talk it Out: This is especially helpful for women, who can increase their oxytocin by sharing and connecting with others. By increasing the hormone, oxytocin, women can lower the stress hormone, cortisol. This leads to feelings of calmness and overall wellbeing.
- Make Time For Exercise: Your body and your mind are deeply connected. If your mind is stressed out, you’ll probably feel jittery, shaky and uneasy in your physical body. So, put on your running shoes, or roll out your yoga mat and start moving. Elevating your heart rate and getting the blood flowing is wonderful for your brain and body.
- Don’t Skimp On the Fats: According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, saturated fats are necessary for a healthy nervous system. If you’re feeling especially frazzled, make sure you include some healthy fats into your next meal. This can help to calm you. Similarly, try to cut back on artificial sugars, or too many natural sugars for that matter. They can lead to a quick rush of energy, but the inevitable sugar crash, and this can leave you feeling shaky all over again.
Many people enjoy a life free of obsessive compulsive disorder. This doesn’t mean they never experience fear, anxiety or stress. But with some simple techniques and mindfulness, you can learn to cope with these normal human experiences and enjoy your daily life.