Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and perfectionism are two different things. The truth about OCD versus perfection is, one controls you and you control the other.
Do you get halfway to work and suddenly panic that you have not turned off the stove? Did you double check whether you locked the house before you left to go out? Or, check you turned off the heating a couple of times? While it may sound extreme, you are likely normal of you do not act compulsively. These are more signs of perfectionism rather than OCD.
When you have OCD it affects almost all parts of your daily life. It is an anxiety disorder. Someone with OCD cannot help but to do certain things as a ritual. You will have little or no control over stopping yourself even though you may want to. OCD is doing irrational things like continually washing your hands every time you touch something or spending hours a day checking all the windows and doors are secure and locked. And, if you cannot do something to alleviate your obsessive thoughts, you feel extreme anxiety until you do.
While perfection drives OCD, they are not the same.
Symptoms and signs of OCD
Many people have obsessive thoughts or have compulsive behaviours. This does not mean they have OCD. To have OCD, these thoughts and behaviours have to cause you distress, interfere with your life and relationships, and take up a lot of your time every day.
With OCD, you can have obsessions and compulsions, or you can have one or the other.
Compulsive behaviour can include:
- Obsessively organising or arranging things in a certain way.
- Checking things such as the appliances and locks to the extreme.
- Continually checking on the people you love to make sure they are safe to the point you drive them crazy.
- Cleaning or washing all the time because you have a fear of germs.
- Collecting worthless things such as container lids and empty cans because you may need them one day.
- Repeating rituals excessively triggered by religious fear.
Obsessive thoughts can include:
- Overly superstitious and paying excessive attention to something you consider lucky or unlucky.
- Being overly focused on moral or religious ideals.
- Fearing germs or dirt.
- A fear of not having enough or of losing what you have.
- Everything must line up in a particular order.
- A fear of losing control.
The following are common categories people with OCD fit into:
- Hoarders. Hoarders feel that something will go wrong or bad will happen to them if they throw things away. They cannot help it but they hoard things of no use to them. Hoarders often have other mental health issues such as PTSD, depression or ADHD.
- Continually washing. People who continually wash or clean fear being contaminated by germs of some sort.
- Doubters. Doubters fear that if they do something wrong, they will receive some sort of punishment or something terrible will happen.
- Checkers. Checkers are people who obsessively check things (such as whether the heater is off or if they locked the windows) they associate with danger or harm.
- Counters. Counters have an obsession with order and can have superstitions about different colours, numbers and the arrangement of things.
What perfectionism looks like
So, what does perfectionism look like? To some degree it is good as it is the opposite of being messy. That has to be good. Or is it? There are two main types of perfectionism according to research.
Adaptive or healthy perfectionism
Adaptive perfectionism is when you have high standards for yourself and everyone else. You are usually conscientious and persistent when facing challenges. When you are an adaptive perfectionist you set and strive for goals and have good organisational skills.
For example, you may call yourself a perfectionist when it comes to work. You always put everything you have into completing the work on or ahead of time and try to exceed expectations. But you do not get too upset when you do not quite achieve your goals.
This is healthy as you focus on the positives and it motivates you to do better. Many creative people and sportspeople are adaptive perfectionists. It usually only relates to one aspect of their lives so it helps them excel.
Maladaptive or unhealthy perfectionism
Maladaptive perfectionism is being overly preoccupied with past mistakes. This can cause you to fear making mistakes and doubting whether you can ever do anything right. You probably care too much about others high expectations of you.
This type of perfectionism affects all areas of your life. It is extreme and causes ongoing stress and anxiety. For example, you may always get sick before speaking in public or sitting an exam as you are afraid of failing to meet others’ expectations. Or, you may continually ask people if you are doing a good job as you need constant reassurance people like and respect you. You can spend most of your days in a constant state of fear and anxiety about meeting the high standards you set yourself. This is unhealthy as you focus on the negatives and things outside of your control. Maladaptive perfectionism has links to OCD.
Tips for dealing with OCD
The first thing you need to do to deal with OCD is recognise you have a problem. Talking to a professional can help you reduce its impact on your life. But there are some things you can do to help you cope.
Identify the triggers
Recognise what triggers the thoughts and situations that bring on obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. Be aware. Keep a list of what triggers you every day and how you react. Give the intensity of fear you feel each time a rating. Also record the compulsive behaviour that manifests to ease the stress and anxiety you feel each time. For example, if you have a fear of germs, touching someone’s desk at work might have a rating of two. But touching the door of a public bathroom stall could be eight and trigger 10 minutes of hand washing to make you feel better.
Recording what triggers you assists in predicting what will cause your fear and can help lessen the anxiety you feel. For example, when you have to continually check the appliances or locking up the house, pay extra attention to what you are doing. Tell yourself, “I have locked the door and the windows,” or “The heater and stove are off.” When you feel panic that you have forgotten these things, it can be easier to know that this is just an obsessive thought and not real.
Identifying and recording what triggers your OCD can help you learn how to control compulsive behaviour.
Change your lifestyle
Having a balanced, healthy lifestyle helps reduce your anxiety, fears and OCD compulsions. Here are some ways to improve how you live:
- A good night’s sleep. Not sleeping well can cause higher levels of anxiety and stress and cause insomnia. Tiredness can distort obsessive thoughts and feelings. It is much easier to feel emotionally balanced when you have a good night’s sleep.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise is a great way to naturally relieve anxiety. It helps you refocus your mind to control the symptoms of OCD. Try to get at least 30 minutes exercise a day. When you do not have time, break it down into three 10 minute sessions a day. It distracts compulsive thoughts and helps you relax.
- Practice mindfulness. Practice mindfulness to relieve your anxiety. It helps clear your mind of all thoughts and so you live in the present. This can reduce your obsessive thoughts and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation helps you become more aware of what your thoughts and emotions are throughout the day.
How to challenge obsessive thoughts
Anyone can have troubling thoughts at one time or another. But if you have OCD it causes your brain to play on a particular fear so it plays over and over in your head to cause anxious feelings. Trying to ignore it can be impossible. In fact, ignoring it can make it worse to the point where it occurs more often.
You can learn to overcome obsessive thoughts by exposing yourself to them so they do not have a hold on you. Understand that having unpleasant thoughts does not make you a bad person. They are just thoughts unless you act on them. But they can become obsessions that affect your life when you make them important. Here are some things you can do to take back control of your anxious thoughts.
Write obsessive thoughts down
Every time you have a thought you start to obsess over, write it down on either your smartphone or in a diary. Writing down your thoughts:
- Allows you to record exactly what you are thinking and how it makes you feel. Write down everything even if you keep repeating the same thought over and over.
- Allows you to see the repetitiveness of your obsessions.
- Is hard work. Much harder than simply thinking them over and over again. Writing out your obsessive thoughts helps chase them away.
- Lessens the power they have over you.
Create a specific time to worry
Suppressing obsessive thoughts and compulsions rarely works. Instead create a specific time each day to worry and only worry obsessively during those times. Here is how to set up worry periods:
- Set one or two blocks of time aside to worry about your obsessive thoughts for no more than 10 minutes.
- During this time only focus on negative compulsions and thoughts. Do not try to change them. At the end of each session, let them go and resume your normal activities. Dedicate the rest of the day to being free of obsessions and compulsions.
- If obsessive thoughts or compulsions come into your thoughts, simply write them down and defer thinking about them to your designated worry time.
Challenge obsessive thoughts
Challenge your obsessive thoughts during your designated worry time. Ask yourself:
- What evidence is there that what I think is true or untrue?
- Can I look at this in a more realistic way?
- Is how I am thinking helpful? Will obsessing about it hurt or help me?
- What is the possibility of what I am obsessing about will occur? What is more likely to happen?
- If it were a friend feeling this way, what would I tell them?
We are here to help
Trying to overcome OCD can be daunting especially when you do not know how. And you may feel alone. Even when you have support, you may feel people do not really understand. If you are struggling, consider reaching out. When you are not coping, contact us to find out how we can help get your life back on track. But, if you reach crisis point, call us immediately. We are here to support you through a crisis and can help you quickly deal with things better.
We can work with you over the phone or via Skype and our Spas are open. Book in today for my Emotional Empowerment Program. I have an introductory offer for just $79 so you can start taking back control of your life. We can support and help you cope with the challenges of OCD to help you overcome obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. With our help, you can soon reduce the anxiety and look forward to a future filled with happiness and joy.
Let me help stop the effects of mental health issues
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