Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When thinking or doing it once is not enough

Aside from being mega-rich and famous, what do David Beckham and Leonardo di Caprio have in common? Both suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by an obsessive or distressing thought. It may also involve compulsions or “rituals.” It is such a serious concern that event the World Health Organization has labeled OCD as among the top 10 most disabling illnesses faced by society today. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 3.3 million people are suffering from OCD.

The football superstar David Beckham once said in an interview that he had been struggling for years with OCD. He said that he was obsessed with getting everything in a straight line or having objects in pairs. He revealed that every time he went to a hotel, he had to keep all leaflets and books inside a cabinet before he can relax. The multi-awarded actor, Leonardo di Caprio said that there was a time that he avoided stepping on cracks and other very specific things.

It is true that most people can’t stand living in an untidy house, which is quite normal. But what if you had to repeatedly align all the chairs and tables? What if you had to make sure that there were exactly seven cups in a row in the cupboard? Or you insist on making the middle part of the sofa perfectly squared towards the television? Others “obsess” on other things like checking if the lights were turned off, which is done not once, but several times throughout the day. There are individuals who actually worry about having knives and other sharp objects at home, thinking that they might hurt someone with these instruments. Even more distracting to the daily routine is the obsession with cleaning one’s hands. Somehow, some people can’t stop themselves from rushing to the bathroom to wash their hands over, and over, and over again. These types of behavior or symptoms of anxiety have been called a lot of names but none seems to fit the bill. People have called it depression, phobia, over-worrying, or panic. More that just being symptoms of stress and anxiety, these actuations point out to a more serious psychiatric condition Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD.

It is true that a little anxiety doesn’t hurt. Anxiety is what some scientists call an “evolutionary survival mechanism.” There is a big difference between just knowing that a hungry tiger is outside your tent and having enough anxiety to prompt you to flee the potential danger. But how do you know when your stress and anxiety over objects, thoughts, situations, or events are serious enough to be considered as OCD? When a reaction is recurrent, persistent or repetitive — it may be signs of OCD. It is also important to define if a person’s reactions are obsessive or compulsive. An obsession is a recurrent or persistent thought that may not even be related to real-life problems or situations. The obsessive thoughts are intrusive and cause distress on a person. On the other hand, a compulsion is a repetitive behavior that drives a person to act in response to an obsession. These repetitious acts are done by the person to control or manage the stress or perceived danger brought about by the obsession. Clearly, when an obsession or compulsion disturbs a person’s life, causes distress, and takes up ore than an hour per day —- these may be classified under OCD.

In the 14th to 16th centuries, the obsessive-compulsive behavior was actually believed to have been caused by the devil. Recurring sexual, blasphemous and other obsessive thoughts were considered to be the “work of the devil” and, thus, needed to be cured through exorcism. While many today consider OCD as a psychological disorder, there are scientists who believe that abnormalities in the brain or a streptococcal infection may cause the disorder.

People suffering from OCD have sought anxiety relief by using antidepressant prescriptions. These medications help make serotonin more available in some parts of the brain. Serotonin is a substance inside the brain that helps regulate anger, aggressions, mood, anxiety, and even sexual desire and appetite for food. Fluoxetine, usually sold under the brand name Prozac, has become one of the most commonly prescribed medications for OCD sufferers. For some patients, drugs are needed because of the severity of the condition which is both time-consuming and emotionally draining. Other means of anxiety disorder treatment include behavioral therapy and cognitive therapy, which includes exposure and ritual prevention or ERP.

Indeed, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder cannot ignore or even act their way out of it, even if they are as good as Di Caprio. But with a little attention and professional health care, a OCD sufferer can slowly but surely address this condition and kick off those obsessions and compulsions like Beckham.

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