Sometimes people will take their feelings of dread and impending disaster and concentrate it into a single area of concern.
Pamela was terrified of germs, of unclean things harming her body and making her sick. It was not unusual for Pamela to wash her hands twenty times a day. Public restrooms, stair railings, door handles, telephones, and computer keyboards all presented huge challenges to be hurtled. She kept antibacterial liquid and wipes in her purse at all times. Her day at work could not start until she’d thoroughly disinfected all her personal surfaces.
Because crowds were a potential threat of airborne illness, she scrupulously avoided them. She never ate a leftover or took food home from a restaurant. Any cooking was done with great suspicion and extensive precautions against salmonella or other contaminants. She never ate a raw egg or raw fish. Pamela’s health was her treasure, and she scrupulously worked to protect it against any and all attacks. Pamela had taken her anxiety of sickness and death and laser-focused it into an OCD — obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The first part of OCD is similar to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), in that there is an obsessive focus on the negative, a mental barrage of persistent thoughts of potential disaster. Because of the anxiety generated by this thought pattern, a person then develops elaborate rituals and behaviors in order to control the fear. Pamela was concerned about her health and developed compulsivity around hand-washing and avoidance of germs. However, the rituals associated with OCD are varied and can include things like having to go back to your house multiple times to make sure all the appliances are off, or never walking on a crack in a sidewalk.
Some people develop a need to count, to find numerical patterns in their surroundings. These compulsions provide a temporary relief from anxiety but are extremely disruptive to your life. Some people who suffer from OCD have unwanted, recurrent thoughts of harming loved ones or engaging in acts the person considers perverted or religiously unacceptable. To me, OCD is anxiety distilled, a potent onslaught of negative thoughts coupled with crippling ritual, disrupting a person’s ability to function.
Are you or a loved one struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety? To help you identify your patterns of worry and what activities or thoughts they are most associated with, consider writing down the answers to this list of questions.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.