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A core symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is obsessions, which are unwanted, distressing, and uncontrollable thoughts. The content and themes of these intrusive thoughts vary but are often of a disturbing nature.
Typical Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Thoughts
Each person with OCD will have a different experience with obsessions, but common thoughts or thought patterns include:
- Constant worry about catching a deadly disease and/or contaminating others with your germs
- Fears about contamination with environmental toxins (e.g. lead or radioactivity)
- Intense fear that something horrible will happen to a loved one
- Profound worry about doing something extremely embarrassing (e.g. screaming out an obscenity at a funeral)
- Concerns about unwittingly causing injury (e.g. hitting a pedestrian while driving)
- Aggressive or disturbing ideas (e.g. thoughts of murdering a spouse or child)
- Disturbing sexual and/or religious imagery that might include sexual assault or inappropriate sexual acts
- Fears of forgetting or losing something
- Strong need to reorder things until they feel “just right”
- Fear of harming inanimate objects
Research has shown that strange, even disturbing, thoughts pop into most people’s minds on a daily basis. While the majority of people are able to continue going about their day without giving the thoughts a second thought, the experience can be profoundly distressing, even debilitating, for people with OCD.
To cope with the day-to-day occurrence of these intrusive thoughts, people with OCD develop compulsions to try to relieve the anxiety created by the obsessions.
The Effect of Thought Suppression
People with OCD may react to intrusive thoughts by trying to suppress them, though it often makes them come back worse than before. The behavior leads to a cycle of continued thought suppression, which causes more distressing thoughts (and may even create obsessions).
If you have OCD, you should know that there are many psychological and medical treatments that can effectively reduce the intensity and frequency of obsessions.
Self-Help for Obsessions
Along with therapy and medication, there are also self-help strategies that may be beneficial if you are learning to cope with and control obsession thoughts.
- Find a distraction. Try going for a walk, listening to music, playing a video game or reading a book for at least 15 minutes to take your focus away from your obsessive thoughts. Delaying your attention to them will help them feel less urgent. The more you practice shifting your focus, gradually doing so for longer periods of time, you may find your thoughts change or you become less anxious about them.
- Write your thoughts down. Jot down your worries as soon as they occur. Seeing just how many of them there are, as well as the pattern of repetition regarding your thoughts, may improve your sense of control.
- Take good care of yourself. Reducing stress by eating right, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep will improve your overall health and, in turn, can help you cope more effectively with your obsessive thoughts.
- Practice relaxation. Meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, or even just a warm bath are techniques that can help you keep your stress levels in check.
- Join a support group. Being around others who have been through what you are going through and understand how you feel can help you feel less alone. Ask your therapist or doctor if there are local support groups for OCD. There are also online communities and forums, many of which offer useful resources in addition to a connection.
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