We all have our quirks, but obsessive behaviour can be an indicator of an anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and the Nature of Anxiety
Everyone has his or her own way of doing things. Sometimes, we're even pretty insistent about them being done a certain way. A little anxiety is normal — even a lot of anxiety is normal. But normal anxiety is not debilitating. And having to do things in just the right way for fear of something bad happening isn't an average quirk or being particular, it's anxiety that needs to be managed.
"When I hear somebody feels anxiety, I don't immediately say, that's a condition. In order [for it] to be a condition, I have to hear evidence that there is some sort of significant disability associated with it," says Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University Langone Medical Center.
Dr. Goodstein notes that while there are a number of different anxiety disorders, including OCD, there often aren't clear-cut lines between them. "They represent not different conditions, but variants on a certain condition often found in conjunction with each other. The basis of all of them is, in effect, an inability for whatever reason to cope with what, in fact, is part of being a human being — anxiety," says Goodstein.
OCD: The Symptoms
OCD affects more than 2 million adults in the United States, and symptoms most often appear before age 30. People with OCD have obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviours (extreme routines or things that they "have" to do), or both. Symptoms of OCD include:
Thinking that your actions or thoughts will cause harm to yourself or someone else
Extreme need for a certain order of things
Excessively thinking about germs and illness
Going over and over the same things in your head
Constantly needing to touch or rearrange objects
Compulsive hand-washing or housecleaning
Compulsively checking (up to hundreds of times a day) things like alarms, locked doors, and unplugged fixtures
Inability to throw away items there is no reason to keep.
OCD: The Causes
It's not really understood what causes OCD. It may be related to Tourette syndrome, because as many as 20 percent of people who have OCD also suffer from tics, a common symptom of Tourette. It is often related to eating disorders and other anxiety disorders, and a family history of OCD may increase the risk. OCD may also be caused by an abnormality in the brain or as a result of injury or illness to the brain.
OCD: Diagnosis and Treatment
A physical and a psychiatric evaluation can eliminate other physical and mental illnesses, and help to diagnose OCD.
Treatment often starts with antidepressant medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Other types of antidepressants may be prescribed as well, but their side effects can be difficult to deal with. In addition, behavioural therapy and psychotherapy may be used to manage OCD. Behavioural therapy can teach people with OCD to face their fears and manage them without compulsive behaviours, as well as learn to control those obsessive thoughts. Psychotherapy can help relieve and manage the anxiety that leads to the OCD thoughts and behaviours.
If you have OCD, it can affect work, relationships, and your entire life as the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours begin controlling you and taking over. You may recognize that your thoughts and behaviour are extreme, but just don't know how to stop it, and are controlled by your anxiety. But OCD can be successfully managed once you seek out and receive treatment for it.