When one has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it’s common to associate the condition with being overly concerned about either hygiene, organization, or sticking to a strict schedule. Usually, in fear that a failure in any one of these three areas of life could cause dramatic complications.
Of course, that is an overly generalized description of what a person with OCD might be concerned about. In fact, OCD is a much deeper complication that comes with an array of different behaviors. But what is OCD behavior?
Throughout this article, we’re going to explore OCD behavior, how it manifests, and some ways to deal with it through treatment options and daily practices.
What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition that causes an inability to control compulsions and thoughts. According to the International OCD Foundation, an estimated 2-3 million American adults struggle with it. ¹
OCD is primarily exhibited by actions done out of a compulsion or a inherent need to perform a task in order to calm the raging mind and the uncontrollable thoughts. Most often these compulsive actions play out in a rhythm or a pattern. Through performing these actions, it’s likely the individual struggling with OCD will feel a sense of calmness. ²
Of course, as with all mental health disorders, each case of OCD are unique and specific in its own way. However, there are common symptoms and effects that OCD patients exhibit. Here’s a list of some of those common OCD behavior and symptoms:
- Aggressive thoughts or behaviors
- An overwhelming need for things to be symmetrical or in a specific order
- Compulsive counting or reminders
- Paranoia of contamination, a compulsive need for cleanliness
- Redundant behaviors (i.e. checking on locked doors, making sure the oven isn’t on, or consistently having to remind oneself of specific actions)
What Causes OCD?
Unfortunately, scientists don’t have a clear explanation as to what causes OCD. Luckily, there are a few different factors that could lead to the development of this disorder. These include:
There have been studies done that shows those at a greater risk of developing OCD from a close relative, oftentimes within a generation or two (i.e. a parents, a child or a sibling). Those that have a a relative who has been diagnosed with OCD or any similar mental health condition are more prone to exhibiting behaviors and symptoms of OCD.
Through modern medical advancements, there has been more research into how the brain functions and how mental illness is depicted on brain scans. Studies have been made to show how these mental disorders disrupt and change the brain function and makeup.
While it isn’t entirely understood how these unusual areas of the brain work, we are starting to see the totality of how mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and yes, even OCD, affect the brain and it’s internal chemistry.
Environmental factors can also impact your mental health – whether it be the societal/cultural influences or social and personal factors within your own environment. In recent years there has been a push to try and understand trauma and it’s impact on the way we think, behave, and communicate.
From research on those that have suffered trauma and thus developed a mental health condition from it, we now understand it can lead to different brain structures and functionality. OCD is common in those that have survived either physical or sexual abuse or have undergone treatment for specific infections that affect the brain and thus alters the way in which it would normally functions.
What is OCD Behavior?
When it comes to OCD behaviors and symptoms, people tend to feel either symptom of obsession or compulsion. In more serious cases, people feel both. Often, these symptoms get in the way of important areas of a person’s life, such as personal relationships, work, and school.
Obsessive behaviors for OCD are repeated actions that are used or done to decrease apprehension which is common in OCD. Common obsession behaviors include:
- A need for everything to be symmetrical or perfectly ordered which can spiral into manic organizational actions
- Paranoia of germs or contaminations and thus taking precautions to not get sick
- Undesired prohibited or taboo thoughts (may involve harm, religion, and sex) that might be done through actions that could be unsafe
A symptom of compulsion is usually the result of intrusive thoughts. This way of thinking leaves someone feeling the need to perform repetitive behaviors including to relieve obsessive thoughts. These can include:
- Compulsive counting
- Imprudent cleaning and/or handwashing
- Keeping everything ordered in a particular and precise manner
- Redundantly checking on things, such as to see if the door is locked
How to Reduce OCD Behaviors
When trying to reduce OCD behaviors, it’s important to relieve intrusive thoughts in order to gradually reduce the disorder itself.
Reducing OCD behaviors and thoughts isn’t just a simple fix. Rather, it’s a mixture of talk therapy, targeted OCD behavioral treatment, and self-administered tools to try and make gradual adjustments that all lead to a more rounded and healthier mental and physical outlook.
Reducing Behaviors Through OCD Treatment
There isn’t one standardized treatment plan that works for all people diagnosed with this OCD. In fact, treatment plans vary from person-to-person depending on their symptoms and ability to overcome the disorder. A mental health professional will review and possibly apply several different treatment methods in order to reach the best overall result.
It’s common for those suffering from OCD to be placed on medications in order to try and curb the effect of some of the more severe symptoms. These medications are usually prescribed to 70% of patients and typically are helpful in reducing the affects of OCD symptoms in around 40% to 60%. ³
These medications are typically Serotonin Repute Inhibitors (SRIs) – more commonly referred to as antidepressants – as they can help reduce and control OCD symptoms.
However, medication isn’t the only way to treat OCD and commonly medications aren’t enough to manage OCD symptoms on a daily basis. Not to mention, some medications prescribed for OCD are addictive and can cause further complications if mishandled.
Talk Therapy & OCD
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a kind of psychological talk therapy treatment in which you’ll bring up concerning behaviors or compulsions you’re experiencing. A CBT psychologist will proceed in training you to address the behavior and change it in the moment, as it happens.
A particular kind of CBT therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) has been found to be the most successful form of CBT for OCD patients. ERP therapy requires you to expose yourself to the thoughts, images, objects, and situations that make you anxious. ⁴
Through your reaction to this exposure, a mental health professional can start to find ways in which to address, cope, and eventually change those compulsions.
An ERP-trained therapist will walk you through the process of acknowledging the intrusive thoughts or compulsions in order to find ways to rewire the reaction to this sort of stimuli. After a while and some practice with a trusted medical professional, you’ll utilize the coping techniques, ERP behaviors, and thought exercises in your day-to-day life.
Reducing Behaviors Through Personal Practice
For an outsider, it may seem obvious that someone with OCD simply needs to neutralize their thoughts and actions in order to suppress symptoms. However, going about this is much easier said than done. Most have found success with utilizing self-help practices such as installing and following a daily routine which includes a proper diet, adequate amounts of rest, and exercise.
When anyone doesn’t get the adequate sleep they need, they can often have difficulties over their day-to-day lives. With a lack of sleep comes confusion, frustration, and complications with problem solving, processing, and decision making. ⁵ And for those living with OCD, a lack of sleep and not keeping to a regimented sleep schedule can actually complicate and worsen the effects of OCD.
A study done by the Binghamton University in New York found that those suffering from OCD as well as sleep difficulties had greater difficulty in trying to control their OCD behaviors and thoughts. The study also revealed that the time in which those with OCD go to sleep plays a major part in their overall functionality. Those that went to bed later at night reported increased levels of exhaustion and more instability over their OCD thoughts and behaviors. Researchers responsible for the study showed that those who went to sleep at the same time and got the same amount of sleep every night had more control over their OCD symptoms and felt better overall. ⁶
With that said, sleep plays a vital role in the way we function as human beings. For those with OCD, sleep can be the key to having more control over OCD impulses and behaviors. Not to mention, a proper sleep schedule that’s kept to closely – along with the other self-help techniques – can greatly assist in taking control of one’s own OCD symptoms.
When we exercise our bodies, we don’t just shed weight and burn calories, we also release endorphins from within our brains which can help boost overall mood and regulate other key brain functions.
It’s been found that those with OCD who exercise can reduce stress and anxiety. In turn, decreasing the negative effects of this condition. In a study done on this exact situation, those with OCD who exercised regularly felt an overall relief in their anxiety and stress as well as elevated mood which helped in their day to day struggle with the mental disorder. ⁷
Having OCD can feel like your trapped in a battle against your own self-will. You feel that you cannot control your behaviors and thoughts and thus you are trapped in a cycle of doing things that you don’t want to be doing for the sake of your own sanity.
However you can take control of your actions, find ways to soothe that inner voice, and live a more free and healthier life. With the right tools, therapies, and mental health professional, the burden of OCD can be handled and your OCD behaviors could become a thing of the past.
Still have questions concerning what is OCD behavior?
We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further advice to offer – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ International OCD Foundation: Who Gets OCD?
² National Institute of Mental Health: OCD – An Overview
³ International OCD Foundation: OCD Medications
⁴ International OCD Foundation: Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
⁵ Mind Organization UK: Affects of Lack of Sleep on the Mind – Coping With Sleep Problems
⁶ Eureka Alert Press: People who go to bed late have less control over OCD symptoms – Research Study
⁷ ScienceDirect Portal via Elsevier Press: Acute effects of aerobic exercise on negative affect and obsessions and compulsions in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder – Research Study