About 2.5% of all Americans are afflicted with OCD (Link). OCD usually goes in a cycle of obsessing, anxiety, compulsions and relief:
While checking locks and hand washing are common examples of OCD, the act of checking can occur in other areas as well. For example, three common forms of OCD among the OCD community include:
Harm OCD - "Harm OCD is a manifestation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in which an individual experiences intrusive, unwanted, distressing thoughts of causing harm. These thoughts are perceived as being ego-dystonic, which simply means that the thoughts are inconsistent with the individual’s values, beliefs and sense of self. Harming obsessions typically center around the belief that one must be absolutely certain that they are in control at all times in order to ensure that they are not responsible for a violent or otherwise fatal act" (Link).
HOCD - In October of 2010, TIME Magazine ran a story about Homosexual OCD - a form of OCD where a person is uncertain about their sexual identity. In this story, author Jeffrey Kluger talks of a girl named Bethany, who wrestled with HOCD for 20 years: "Her anxiety grew from an increasingly common form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in which people who may have no moral or cultural qualms about homosexuality suddenly begin despairing of the possibility of ever knowing with blood-test certainty just what their sexuality is" (Link). "Bethany's instinct that she was attracted to men didn't stop her from worrying about her sexuality for 20 years, until she finally found a website that described her symptoms, and entered cognitive-behavioral therapy" (Link).
POCD - POCD is a specific form of Harm OCD. Again, most people with OCD are good, law abiding citizens who have absolutely no desire to harm anybody, and their fears of doing so are almost always greatly exaggerated and extremely irrational. "OCD tells you your worst fears are going to come true, playing up whatever fears are floating around in society. A while back, there was a wave of AIDS OCD. Today, since people are terrified of pedophilia, we are seeing a lot of OCD playing into this fear" (Link).
Here are some tips for people wrestling with any form of OCD.
I am not a Physician. Please visit your doctor for any medical advice
1) See a Counselor or Therapist (if you have insurance or can afford it) - Often people with OCD greatly exaggerate their own perceived "sins". An outside perspective encourages rational thinking for those facing the horrific fears that often come with OCD. A good counselor can also help you with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (a form of therapy that helps you to face, rather than run from your fears).
2) Join an OCD support group / online OCD forums (especially if you can't afford counseling) - Connecting with other people who have OCD can help reduce the feelings of being alone. Also, at these groups, people can learn mechanisms to help cope with their OCD. One popular online group, with a section devoted to sexual fears and anxieties, is here.
3) Practice Exposure Therapy
The following excerpt is by Deborah Osgood-Hynes, Psy.D., Director of Psychological Services at the OCD Institute in Massachusetts
"Items on a hierarchy for people with intrusive unwanted sexual thoughts about children may include doing the following exposure tasks while making efforts to do response prevention, such as, resisting reassurance seeking, reducing mental rituals and eliminating physical rituals. They include looking at pictures of kids in a clothing catalog, going to a mall and walking past kids; and going to a playground or beach and watching the kids play. Then, after the exposure experience, write down a list of your intrusive sexual thoughts about kids; write out a more detailed script/story of situations which are the images and urges your OCD is telling you; record these scripts onto a tape recorder and listen to them repeatedly; visit family members with kids and practice having them close by while reading to them or playing a game with them; give a child a hug, change diapers, or play a game or go swimming with a child and deliberately think the unwanted intrusive thoughts and or listen to your recorded scenes of unwanted thoughts" (Link).
4) Practice Acceptance - People with HOCD or POCD are often seeking reassurance. This reassurance often brings a feeling of temporary peace. However, a more lasting peace can be achieved by accepting yourself as you are, despite your fearful uncertainties. Practice Acceptance by following these 4 steps:
1) Allow thought to exist (take no measures to counter it)
2) Go through the spike (it can't hurt you).
3) Slow down your breathing
4) Resist the temptation to ask for reassurance
5) Consider taking supplements and natural remedies - Extensive scientific research proves that lacking vitamins such as B12, D3 and Omega 3 can lead to severe depression and anxiety.
Also, Bach Flower Essences has a remedy called "Cherry Plum" that is specifically for the fear of losing control and hurting others. They also have a remedy called "Pine" which is for feelings of guilt. Many people with OCD have found great help with these flower essences, which can be purchased on Amazon or at your local health food store.
6) Exercise daily, preferably outside
- "A 1999 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that university students who walked and did other easy to moderate exercise regularly had lower stress levels than couch potatoes or those who exercised strenuously" (link).
- "Levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate our mood, rises when we are outside. One study found that regular outdoor runners were less anxious and depressed than people who ran indoors on a treadmill, and had higher levels of post-exercise endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals associated with 'runner's high'" (link).
- "Exposure to nature reduces pain and illness and speeds recovery time. A study of post-operative patients, those who had rooms with a view of natural surroundings needed less pain medication and spent fewer days in the hospital than those who faced a brick wall." (link)
7) Try and avoid stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and processed sugar - "In humans, a low dose of alcohol improved performance of a complex mental problem-solving task under stressful conditions. However, in some individuals, at certain doses, alcohol may induce rather than reduce the body's stress response. Much research demonstrates that alcohol actually induces the stress response by stimulating hormone release by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands." (link)
"Caffeine injects adrenaline into your system, giving you a temporary boost, but possibly making you fatigued and depressed later. If you take more caffeine to counteract these effects, you end up spending the day in an agitated state, and might find yourself jumpy and edgy by night." (link)
Avoiding processed sugars is a good way to improve your sense of well being. “Processed sugars bind with and dissolve B vitamins in the digestive tract, causing resultant health problems in the skin, nerves, digestive and undesirable stress reaction” (link).
8) Meditate - Rest and meditation can be excellent practices for quieting an anxious and fearful mind.
- Allow yourself 2-3 hours of "recharge time" daily. Some ideas for how to spend this time might include reading, watching your favorite show, grabbing a relaxed meal with your family or a friend, walking in a nature preserve, taking a warm bath or simply meditating quietly in your room. This time is also available for napping or simply resting in case you did not sleep well the night before.
- Take a weekly "Sabbath". Allow yourself one day of rest per week. This means putting work and serious chores aside, allowing yourself some time to "smell the roses".
9) Eat for Energy – Many studies have proven that diet plays a huge role on health, especially mental health. A diet that is rich in whole, fresh, uncooked vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes is a proven way to add the living essential vitamins and minerals into your diet that can help keep us both calm and vibrant.
10) Drink Green Juice and Green Smoothies - "Research shows that chlorophyll is effective in rebuilding the blood, stimulating liver function, strengthening immunity, and detoxifying chemical pollutants. Numerous recent studies have also indicated that chlorophyll has anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic properties. In short, getting enough chlorophyll can help you feel more vital and less stressed, which equals less emotional eating. Chlorophyll is found in highest concentrations in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as wheat grass and blue-green algae." (link)