International OCD Foundation What is OCD?

A person with OCD often makes significant efforts to try to suppress or stop their unwanted thoughts . This usually involves repeating particular behaviors or habits over and over. Sometimes, people who experience intrusive thoughts become worried about what they mean. This can lead to someone trying to control or stop the thoughts.

While this fact might initially make you feel stressed, understanding how your OCD thinking works and why it happens will help you develop more effective ways to cope. An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease. The primary difference between intrusive thoughts that occur in the presence of clinical anxiety and those that do not is the way these thoughts are appraised. Individuals with clinical anxiety are more likely to judge their intrusive thoughts as bad, immoral, or dangerous. Such interpretations generally lead to emotional activation, which increases the perceived strength of the intrusive thoughts, which then increases the level of focus upon the thought.

I now specialize in OCD and Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. Keara E. Valentine, Psy.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine in the OCD and Related Disorders Track, where she specializes in the assessment and treatment of OCD and related disorders. Dr. Valentine utilizes behavioral-based therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention with children, adolescents, and adults experiencing anxiety-related disorders. An ERP-trained therapist can help by reviewing which intrusive thoughts are causing you anxiety and then work with you to come up with a specialized treatment plan to help alleviate them through gradual exposure. For example, a therapist might have you write down an intrusive thought that is causing you anxiety, and work towards exposure until these thoughts are no longer as triggering or the urge to use compulsions lessens.

Intrusive thoughts are sometimes due to an underlying mental health condition. Treatment for an underlying condition might help reduce the intrusive thoughts. Medications for OCD might include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or other antidepressants, such as clomipramine. Although people typically use SSRIs to treat depression, these drugs can also help with OCD symptoms. Healthcare professionals may advise cognitive behavioral therapy to help someone change how they think and react to these thoughts. Regardless of whether you’d like to seek a diagnosis, a professional can help you to explore the stress-related triggers for your intrusive thoughts and things you can do to help you overcome them and live more peacefully.

These thoughts lead to what Leahy calls a negative evaluation of thoughts—you think there is something wrong with you for thinking these thoughts, and that you “shouldn’t” have them. You might decide that you have a responsibility to address these thoughts, either by controlling and shunning them or by getting reassurance from others. Although those diagnosed with OCD generally suffer from more graphic, more violent, or more inappropriate intrusive thoughts, those with anxiety often find themselves sucked in by unwanted thoughts of a less intense caliber. For most people, it’s not very long before they succumb to the image they have been instructed not to see. They’re thoughts we all have at some point, but for some people, these thoughts get “stuck” and cause great distress (Seif & Winston, 2018).

If you’re not sure where to get help, your health care provider is a good place to start. Your health care provider can refer you to a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, who has experience treating OCD and can evaluate your symptoms. People with OCD may try to help themselves by avoiding situations that trigger their may be obsessive-compulsive disorder and intrusive thoughts or they may use alcohol or drugs to calm themselves.

People who are distressed by recurring, unwanted, and uncontrollable thoughts or who feel driven to repeat specific behaviors may have obsessive-compulsive disorder . The thoughts and behaviors that characterize OCD can interfere with daily life, but treatment can help people manage their symptoms. Obsessive-compulsive disorder features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears that lead you to do repetitive behaviors . These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.

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