What Does an OCD Cycle Look Like?

Approximately two million (1%) men and women in the U.S. struggle with OCD, however, the question begets, what does an OCD cycle actually look like?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions in the world. What is with all of the confusion? It probably stems from how OCD is normally portrayed in the media. For instance, someone with OCD may be portrayed in movies and television sitcoms or series as “strange,” “crazy,” and/or “quirky.”

However, in reality, OCD can be extremely difficult and exhausting. OCD symptoms can disrupt, damage, or destroy various areas of your life – i.e., relationships, self-esteem and self-confidence, quality of life, ability to perform basic household, work, and/or parenting tasks, etc.

Imagine needing to go to the grocery store, but being unable to leave the house for fear of being contaminated by the nasty germs hidden on milk cartons, canned foods, the shopping cart, food products, and in the air. You may also be afraid that you may infect others with some unknown virus if you come in contact with them.

So, what do you do? Feeling defeated, you opt to stay at home. You ask a friend to pick up your groceries and place them on your front porch. Or, you schedule to have your groceries delivered to your home through a third party, like Instacart. You desperately want to do your own shopping, but your extreme fears keep you tethered to your home. Staying home provides you with relief – until it is time to go shopping again. Then, the cycle restarts.

Even though OCD is commonly referenced in the media and entertainment arenas, few people really know what an OCD cycle looks like in everyday life. The truth is OCD encompasses a wide variety of symptoms. Sometimes, it is easy to spot the signs of OCD, and sometimes, it is not. It just depends on the severity of the OCD and an individual’s ability to hide it from others. OCD can be vague or confusing, which can cause some people to wonder what life with OCD entails. The good news is it is 100% treatable, which means once it is properly diagnosed it can be effectively controlled.

If you suspect that you are struggling with OCD, the first step is to seek OCD treatment. The next step? Read this article. This article can help you better understand OCD, so it no longer takes up residence in your mind. An OCD-free world is within your grasp, you just have to reach for it.

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What is an OCD Cycle?

An OCD cycle involves a repetitive pattern of stress and anxiety, and obsessions and compulsions (rituals and routines). It is this non-stop cycle that makes many OCD sufferers feel “stuck.”

An OCD cycle involves the following components:

  • Being exposed to your OCD trigger(s)
  • Experiencing disturbing or upsetting thoughts, images, beliefs, fears, etc. (obsessions)
  • Having urges to engage in or perform one or more rituals or “acts” to alleviate your emotional distress (compulsions)
  • Gaining relief after performing the compulsions (temporarily ending the cycle)
  • Beginning your OCD cycle again (steps 1-4)

Note. An OCD cycle is unending – until you can effectively manage your OCD symptoms.

Being “stuck” in a continuous OCD cycle can feel like a battle you will never win. More specifically, an OCD cycle can feel excruciating, exhausting, and enduring. However, with OCD treatment you can regain control over your life. OCD treatment can help you reduce or eliminate your recurrent thoughts, overpowering fears, persistent anxiety, relentless doubt, and endless uncertainty.

What Does an Obsession Look Like When You Have OCD?

If you have OCD, you may experience one or more of the following obsessions:

  • A Contamination Obsession

    Some people with OCD become “fixated” on bacteria and germs. These individuals are terrified that they will become “contaminated” or “infected” by someone or something. Contamination worries can include a fear of bodily fluids (i.e., blood, urine, salvia, etc.), chemical substances or solvents (i.e., disinfectants, air fresheners or room sprays, or bathroom, stove, and household cleaners), environmental elements (i.e., smoke, smog, gasoline, dirt, etc.), and/or diseases (i.e., germs and bacteria).

  • A Loss of Control Obsession

    The mere thought of losing control can cause some OCD sufferers to become severely stressed, overwhelmed, and/or anxious. These negative emotions can then turn into a full-blown obsession. Loss of control worries can include an illogical fear that you will unwittingly harm someone or something – i.e., mentally, emotionally, physically, personally, financially, sexually, and/or spiritually.

    Thus, people with OCD may excessively worry that they will have no control over themselves or what they do to others – i.e., the ability to make decisions for themselves or stop hurting the people they love unless they perform a certain action. OCD sufferers, who have this obsession, are bombarded with thoughts of being unable to control themselves.

  • A Danger Obsession

    People with OCD may develop an all-consuming fear of being hurt or hurting someone else. This is illogical fear because these individuals usually have little-to-no control over whether or not someone will be hurt. For instance, an OCD sufferer may staunchly believe that his or her sister’s house will burn down unless he or she takes deliberate steps to prevent it.

    Or, an OCD sufferer may truly believe that if he or she does not perform a certain action, such as calling a loved one 30x a day, someone will murder him or her. Moreover, a person with OCD may fear being in a car accident and killing the other driver. These fears can cause OCD sufferers to self-isolate to protect themselves and others.

  • An Imperfection Obsession

    Some people with OCD have an overpowering need to be perfect at all times. This need stems from a fear of being inadequate. These individuals believe that if they make mistakes or fail at something, really “bad things” will happen, such as being disowned by friends, a romantic partner, family, and society.

    These individuals may also believe that no one will love them or want to be around them if they are not perfect. OCD sufferers, who have a perfection obsession, tend to equate being loved and accepted with being perfect, so if they make mistakes or fail, they feel unworthy of love or even kindness.

  • A Sexual Obsession

    For some OCD sufferers, there is nothing worse than having unwelcomed sexual urges. The thoughts of an OCD sufferer, who has a sexual obsession, may involve homosexuality, fantasy violence, taboo sexual acts, violent sex, BDSM, rape, etc. For instance, a person with this obsession may have non-stop thoughts of breaking into a neighbor’s home and sexually assaulting him or her.

  • A Religious Obsession

    People with OCD can also be extremely afraid of being sacrilegious or blasphemous. This is especially common with OCD sufferers, who are highly religious. These individuals are constantly worried about offending their religious deities (i.e., God, Allah, etc.) and others in their religious communities. More specifically, they are deathly afraid of making immoral decisions or being considered “evil” by other religious people. These individuals are continuously worried about their words and behaviors because they do not want to come across as “deviant” or “demonic.”

What Do Compulsions Look Like When You Have OCD?

If you have OCD, you may experience one or more of the following compulsions:

  • A Cleaning Compulsion

    An OCD sufferer, who has become “fixated” on germs or bacteria, may engage in ritualistic behaviors, such as repeatedly washing his or her hands, taking showers or baths multiple times a day, washing his or her hands or hair until they bleed, and/or meticulously cleaning their homes with disinfectants for hours each day. The goal of cleaning compulsions is to ensure that no one, including the person with OCD, contracts a virus, disease, or infection. A fear of contamination fuels this compulsion.

  • A Checking Compulsion

    An OCD sufferer, who is fearful of forgetting or losing something, may repeatedly check things to ensure that everything is in order. For instance, a person, who has this compulsion, may check that the stove is off or the door is locked many times before leaving the house. This person may also call a doctor’s office multiple times to confirm a doctor’s appointment.

    Or, he or she may quadruple check an assignment at work to ensure it is 100% accurate. Furthermore, a person with a checking compulsion may continuously look for wounds, scratches, blemishes, imperfections, etc. The goal of checking compulsions is to make sure that nothing is overlooked, ignored, or dismissed. Fear of being negligent fuels this compulsion.

  • A Repetitiveness Compulsion

    OCD sufferers, who struggle with repetitive compulsions, tend to repeat an “act” or behavior many times to get relief from their intrusive thoughts or images. For instance, an OCD sufferer may lock and unlock the door 10x before actually leaving for work or the grocery store. Or, he or she may go back-and-forth to the car 15x before getting into it and leaving.

    People with OCD, who have repetitiveness compulsions, need reassurance to relax and function. Some people, who grapple with this compulsion, may continuously tap their fingers during the day or count to 100 over and over again to get relief. The goal of repetitiveness compulsions is to alleviate stress and anxiety. Fear of being out-of-control, ignorant, or disorganized fuels this compulsion.

  • A Psychological Compulsion

    OCD sufferers, who struggle with psychological compulsions, feel as if they must complete certain actions to be a “good person.” These individuals believe if they do not engage in a specific “act” or behave in a certain way, it is a sign that they are somehow “unworthy” or “immoral.”

    Or, they believe that by performing certain actions, they can prevent “bad things” from happening. Thus, a person, who engages in this compulsion, may believe that if he or she prays enough or does plenty of “good deeds,” everyone, including himself or herself, will remain safe, happy, productive, etc. The goal of psychological compulsions is to be the best person possible to avoid unpleasant situations. Fear of being a “bad person” fuels this compulsion.

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What Does OCD Look Like in Everyday Life?

Close your eyes and imagine your worst nightmare. Or, turn on a true crime episode. Do not try to block out or ignore the thoughts or images floating through your mind. What are you “seeing?” What are you thinking? How do the images and thoughts make you feel?

Now, open your eyes or turn off the show. Are those thoughts and images gone? Or, are they still lingering in the back of your mind? Are they preventing you from being fully focused on your tasks? It probably feels like you will never be able to shake off those disturbing thoughts and images.

If this is how you feel, you are experiencing what OCD looks like in everyday life.

When you suffer from OCD, your brain tells you that unless you perform a certain action, such as vigorously washing your hands for five minutes or forcefully washing your hand 20x, something “bad” will happen and you will be to blame. As a result, you get trapped in an endless cycle of stress and anxiety followed by obsessions and compulsions.

The truth is engaging in compulsive behaviors is neither enjoyable nor voluntary. Most of the time, OCD compulsions are lengthy, intricate, and agonizing. No one wants to engage in compulsive behaviors that may take hours to complete. Ultimately, living with OCD means being deathly afraid that something terrible will happen if you don’t perform a certain “act.” So, you perform the “act” to keep the peace – even if you do not want to. You do it to maintain the equilibrium in your life.

As a family psychologist, I witnessed the impact OCD can have on someone’s health and well-being The truth is OCD can destroy a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence, lead to financial ruin, trigger self-isolation or emotional withdrawal, etc. In other words, OCD can change a happy, smart, gifted, and/or considerate person into someone who is lonely, embarrassed, unhappy, unmotivated, and/or angry.

I have also witnessed first-hand how fears and rituals can strip a person of his or her vitality, freedom, energy, and joy. Thus, the only way to truly “break free” from an endless cycle of obsessions and compulsions is to seek OCD treatment.

How Can OCD Affect Your Life?

OCD can be confusing, frustrating, unpredictable, exhausting, overwhelming, and all-encompassing. It can also disrupt your daily activities, cause your work or school productivity to decline, and damage your self-esteem and relationships. Truthfully, OCD can “infiltrate” almost all areas of your life – if you don’t take steps to stop it in its tracks.

Listed below are ways that OCD can impact your life:

Job

OCD can negatively affect your job. More specifically, it can cause you to be frequently late to work – or not show up at all. It can also lead to a sharp decline in your productivity and quality. In other words, even the most routine or mundane work tasks can turn into lengthy uphill battles because of your intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors (the need to repeat “acts” or behaviors to function). You may also excessively worry about how your co-workers will react if they discover your compulsions. In extreme cases, OCD can prevent you from leaving your home, leading to unemployment and isolation.

Relationships

OCD can also damage your relationships. In other words, your romantic partner, family, and/or close friends may have a hard time understanding how OCD is impacting you. More specifically, your friends and loved ones may start to avoid you – not because they do not care or love you, but because they do not know how to respond to your OCD in the right way. You may also worry about the safety and well-being of your friends and loved ones so intensely (i.e., trying to control their movements, etc.) that it pushes them away.

Parenting

OCD can also take a toll on your parent/child relationship. The truth is children, regardless of their ages, need a lot of attention. Children also need parents who are emotionally and physically present when they are with them. When you have OCD, this is virtually impossible most of the time because your mind is focused on your obsessions and compulsions.

The truth is OCD can make it difficult to fully connect with your child, such as reading a book with your child, snuggling in bed with him or her before he or she drifts off to sleep, playing quietly on the floor with your child, or simply listening to him or her. OCD can also make you hypervigilant or hyper-protective over your child. More specifically, it can cause you to “see” danger where none exists.

You may view your safety concerns as a way to protect your child from the “evils of the world,” however, your child may feel like you are “smothering” him or her. This could lead to a strain on your parent/child relationship. It could also cause your child to resent you for being so strict and restrictive. Being unable to bond with your child can lead to significant distress, worsening your OCD symptoms and damaging your relationship with your child.

School

OCD can also adversely impact a child’s school achievement. More specifically, OCD can interfere with a child’s ability to focus on school tasks and homework assignments. It can also prevent him or her from paying attention in class, possibly leading to failed tests and low grades. It is also common for children with OCD to be perfectionists. Making mistakes or failing is unacceptable and can trigger or exacerbate OCD symptoms. Moreover, a child with OCD may avoid certain classes, like PE or recess, for fear of becoming “dirty” or “infected” with germs or bacteria.

Socializing

Lastly, OCD can make socializing and making friends feel arduous and exhausting. Stress and social anxiety can trigger intrusive thoughts and images that can prevent you from being present in the moment and having a good time with others.

For instance, you may self-isolate or stay away from others due to contamination fears. Or, you may be afraid of hurting or disappointing others, so you avoid them at all costs. Also, your OCD could prevent you from attending social events (i.e., celebrations, parties, get-togethers, etc.) for fear of being food poisoned.

How is OCD Typically Treated?

If you think you are suffering from OCD but have not been diagnosed with it, it may be time to seek OCD help. And, as with most mental health conditions, OCD treatment may involve a variety of therapies, medications, and/or self-help tools. The first step? Find a knowledgeable and reputable therapist who can help you get on the path to recovery.

A therapist, who specializes in anxiety disorders, like OCD, can provide you with valuable resources to help keep your OCD symptoms at bay. Even if the pandemic has made you fearful of contacting coronavirus in the outside world, you can still get the OCD support you need (through online therapy services) to better manage your obsessions and compulsions.

Combining therapy and self-help tools, like Impulse, can help you get a grasp on your OCD symptoms and gain control over your life. What is Impulse? It is an online OCD therapy course that can help you acquire the resources, tools, and support you need to properly address your OCD symptoms. It does not matter if your OCD is mild, moderate, or severe, Impulse offers OCD tools and resources from the comfort of your home! OCD can be devastating if it is left untreated, so do yourself a favor and ask for help.

Our self-help OCD therapy course has helped 1000s of OCD sufferers since 2018.

"My OCD is finally manageable"

Jennifer S

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