What Is OCD?

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is an anxiety disorder. It can affect anyone of any age and background. People with OCD tend to experience obsessions and compulsions. These obsessions and compulsions can be distressing, time-consuming and impact daily life. Obsessions refer to intrusive thoughts or images that frequently arise in the mind of someone with OCD. It can be challenging to ignore these unwanted thoughts or images, and this causes anxiety. The person with OCD may then engage in compulsions as a way to try to manage the obsession.

Compulsions are mental or physical activities that the person with OCD uses in an attempt to neutralize the anxiety from the obsessions. For example, someone with an obsessive fear of a house fire might feel they need to check all plug sockets multiple times before leaving home. People with OCD may realize their thoughts and behavior aren’t helpful or rational. However, it’s difficult to stop. Obsessions and compulsions can become a vicious cycle.  The obsessions lead to anxiety and the compulsions are an attempt to alleviate it, but the relief is only ever short-lived. Over time, this can lead to the obsessions becoming more intense and the compulsions becoming more elaborate.

OCD: Causes And Treatment

A variety of factors likely contribute to a person experiencing OCD. Research shows that someone with a family history of OCD is more likely to develop it themselves. Genetics, learned behaviour, or a combination, may be the reason for this. OCD is also more common in people who have experienced traumatic life events such as childhood neglect or abuse. Challenging life events such as bereavement can sometimes trigger OCD for the first time. OCD may also be more common in people with a tendency to hold certain unhelpful beliefs. Such beliefs can include perfectionism, struggling to deal with uncertainty, and wanting to be in control.

If you think that you might have OCD it’s important to reach out to a doctor or mental health professional. OCD treatment is often highly successful.  However, the process is usually best supported by a mental health professional. Sometimes people feel embarrassed about having OCD and are reluctant to reach out for support but it’s a health condition like any other. Treatment for OCD includes medication where indicated and talking therapy such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT explores the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It can support a person with OCD to learn that they can tolerate the anxiety of the obsessions without needing to engage in the compulsions. There is a lot of scientific evidence to support the use of treating OCD with CBT techniques.

Three CBT Techniques For OCD

1. Relaxation Techniques

The obsessions associated with OCD often lead to the person experiencing anxiety. The compulsions are then engaged with as a way to alleviate the anxiety. However, because the compulsions don’t address the anxiety head-on or resolve it in the long term, the next time the person has an obsession they will turn to the compulsions again. CBT training in relaxation techniques aims to equip the person with a more helpful way to manage anxiety so that they may not need to engage in the compulsions.

Progressive muscle relaxation is one relaxation technique that is commonly taught in CBT. It involves gently clenching and then relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body. This technique helps to calm down our nervous system and remove us from the ‘fight or flight’ response associated with anxiety. We can also train our bodies and minds to be in a more peaceful state by using breathing techniques, such as breathing slowly in and out for 30 seconds. It is helpful to practice relaxation techniques as often as possible to get the most benefit.

2. Exposure and Response Prevention

Exposure and response prevention therapy confront the person with OCD with situations that gradually expose them to their obsessions. Real-life exposure or exposure through visualizations are both effective. It’s best to try this technique with a therapist. The therapist supports the person with OCD to not perform the compulsions that they usually use for reducing their anxiety. The person is never forced to confront an obsession and the therapy goes at their pace. The idea behind this technique is that it gives the person the opportunity to recognize that nothing bad happens when they don’t perform their compulsions. Instead, engage the support of a mental health professional. Relaxation techniques are used to manage anxiety, instead of the person relying on their compulsions, and so are an important part of this approach.

3. Re-Framing Unhelpful Thoughts

The intention behind re-framing unhelpful thoughts (also sometimes called cognitive restructuring) is to challenge unhelpful or irrational thinking patterns and replace them with more helpful ones. Becoming aware of our unhelpful thoughts is the first step in this process. For example, we might think we need to get perfect grades to be worthy. Or perhaps we believe that when our colleagues meet for lunch it’s because they don’t like us

Once we’re aware of our unhelpful thoughts we can start to re-frame them. We can find examples of people we respect who didn’t get perfect grades. Our colleagues might have been assigned a project to work on together and so they meet up to discuss it. By practising re-framing unhelpful thoughts in this way we can learn to reduce our anxiety and OCD symptoms. Re-framing unhelpful thoughts takes time and practice. It can be a good idea to work alongside a therapist to do this.

How Can Online-Therapy.com Help with OCD?

If you’ve tried out some of these strategies already and would like to explore coping skills for obsessive-compulsive disorder further then Online-Therapy.com can help. By signing up with our program you can choose a therapist who will work with you to develop a personalized toolkit to support you with developing new strategies for managing and overcoming OCD. You can choose to have your therapy sessions by video, phone or text chat (couple counseling will be video only), making Online-Therapy.com a flexible and convenient option.

At Online-Therapy.com we offer an integrated and holistic package to enable you to feel at your best. Our approach includes regular video, phone or text chat sessions with your chosen therapist, unlimited messaging and worksheet support, journaling and yoga. This ongoing support means that you have the daily expert guidance you need to learn strategies and skills to support you with OCD, as soon as you sign up.