July 14 2021
People suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experience significant problems in their daily life. These include feeling isolated and cut off from interpersonal relationships. Some of them have difficulty holding a steady job. Whereas some lose control over motor skills like blinking, speaking, and moving various body parts. The symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms commonly include obsessive thinking, also called “ruminating”, loss of control over behaviors and thoughts mainly in unfamiliar situations, extreme anxiety when certain rituals are not performed, irrational fears related to the presence of germs, the unexplained spread of illnesses and contamination, feelings of anger, fear and loss of control, strong aversions against various issues like sex, religion, violence, needing to have things in a certain order, place, and pattern, the drive for excessive cleaning and hand washing, needing to repeatedly keep checking on anything that seems threatening.
What Causes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Studies show that OCD is caused by a combination of various factors such as genetics, abnormal brain structure and functioning, life experiences, and the surrounding environment:
Genetics: OCD is linked to family history. It has been established that people whose relatives like parents, siblings, or children with a history of OCD are at higher risk of developing OCD than those without a family history.
Brain Structure and Functioning
Studies show that the development of OCD is linked to abnormalities in the brain. Within the brain, healthy adults have a built-in mechanism in the brain circuit that acts as an internal filter. This helps to separate and analyze non-harmful events and thoughts from reality rational fears. In people with OCD, this internal filter is thought to malfunction. Hence, they are much more affected by fearful thoughts and have a harder time differentiating between imagination and reality. A combination of genetics, inflammation within the brain, and anxiety triggering experiences contribute to abnormalities in the brain that leads to OCD. The presence of infections like Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Streptococcal infections also impairs brain functioning.
Effects of Experiences and Environment
A history of trauma and difficult experiences (like divorce, abuse, neglect, or family deaths) increases the risk of developing OCD.
OCD Treatment and Prevention
The Obsessive-compulsive disorder is treated by employing a combination of various treatment modalities such as psychological support, medications, strategies to reduce anxiety, and family support. Studies show that therapeutic intervention and social support help in providing a drastic change in the behavioral patterns in people with OCD. Some of the most beneficial treatment approaches for treating OCD are:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most effective therapeutic techniques used to treat OCD. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is highly beneficial for people with OCD as it can improve the quality of life within a relatively short period. In CBT treatments, both the client and the therapist play an active role in uncovering the underlying beliefs that are being experienced at the moment that are known to cause distress. CBT is less concerned about the past and focuses on looking at the present situation. The idea is that a patient first must learn about their internal dialogue, beliefs, and what’s driving their compulsions such as fear over rejection, illness, or harm to manage their behaviors.
The main tool used in CBT is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), also called “exposure therapy,”. This method slowly exposes the patient to their fears with support from their therapist. A technique is known as “imaginal exposure,” is also practiced. It involves the client’s imagination to come into contact with their fears and avoid compulsive behavior so they can practice how to handle the situation in the future.
- Reducing Anxiety
The root cause of OCD is anxiety and the fear of consequences that will result from not acting out compulsions. Hence reducing stress and anxiety is key to provide symptomatic relief in OCD patients. Making lifestyle modifications lower anxiety, intake of a balanced diet, getting proper sleep, increasing the level of physical activity helps in handling stress.
- A Healthy Diet
An unhealthy diet can trigger anxiety by increasing the level of inflammation, which in turn alters brain structures and neurotransmitter functions. A poor diet that lacks essential nutrients also increases moodiness and fatigue. It causes various health conditions such as weight gain and poorly managed blood sugar levels. It also increases the feelings of jitteriness and nervousness. Intake of Anti-inflammatory foods, healthy fats, unrefined carbs, and proteins are important for the proper synthesis of neurotransmitters. They help in balancing mood swings and trigger adequate stress responses. Some of the most effective foods for reducing anxiety include:
- B vitamin foods such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, poultry, brewer’s yeast, and green leafy vegetables
- high-antioxidant foods like fresh veggies and fruit and raw dairy products foods with omega-3 fats, wild-caught fish like salmon,
- anti-inflammatory fats like coconut and olive oil
- magnesium-rich ingredients such as leafy greens, nuts, avocados, and sea vegetables
Taking supplements of adaptogen herbs help lower cortisol. Alvizia fish oil supplements that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids also help in reducing anxiety and improve brain health.
Regular exercise is essential for training the brain to manage stress and channeling it more healthily. Exercise is also beneficial in boosting confidence and self-esteem. Other benefits of exercising regularly include improvement in sleep quality and lowering inflammation in the body. People with OCD and other forms of anxiety benefit from exerting themselves physically and by using various techniques such as relaxation, yoga, tai chi, deep breathing exercises, and other forms of stress management. These are effective in lowering muscle tension and help in controlling thoughts.
- Getting Enough Rest/Sleep
It has been proven that sleep deprivation increases ``anticipatory anxiety” and is linked to increased stress. A lack of sleep triggers hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can negatively affect mood. It also ramps up the brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying and cause fatigue.
Studies show that practicing techniques like meditation and mindfulness causes an improvement in the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder within a short time frame.