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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

It’s normal, on occasion, to go back and double-check that the gas is turned off or your car is locked. But if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours become so consuming that they interfere with daily life.


No matter what you do, you can’t seem to shake them off. But help is obtainable. With treatment and self-help strategies, it is possible to break free of the unwanted thoughts and irrational urges and take back control of your life.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder which is characterised by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritual-type behaviours you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours are irrational—nonetheless, you feel unable to resist them and break free.

Like a broken record, OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the oven 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw, or check the handbrake is off repeatedly.


Understanding OCD obsessions and compulsions

Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that happen repeatedly in your mind. You don’t want to have these ideas, but you can’t help it. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts are often disruptive and distracting.

Compulsions are behaviours or rituals that you feel compelled to act out again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions go away.

For example, if you’re afraid of contamination, you might develop extensive cleaning rituals. However, the relief never lasts. In fact, the obsessive thoughts usually come back with a vengeance. And the compulsive rituals and behaviours often end up causing anxiety themselves as they become more demanding and time-consuming. This is the vicious cycle of OCD.

There’s another emerging theory that  suggests that compulsive behaviour may not be a response to obsessive fears, but instead may be a precursor to those fears (American Journal of Psychiatry, July 2011). That is, compulsions such as repetitive hand-washing may lead to an obsessive fear of germs—rather than the other way around.

Most people with OCD fall into one of the following categories:

  • Washers (including mental contamination) are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions. A distinctive feature of mental contamination is that the source is almost always human, unlike the contact contamination that is caused by physical contact with inanimate objects.

  • Checkers repeatedly check things (oven turned off, door locked, etc.) that they associate with harm or danger.

  • Doubters and sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done just right something terrible will happen, or they will be punished.

  • Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colours, or arrangements.

  • Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.  The compulsive behaviour of hoarding—collecting and keeping things with little or no use or value—is a common symptom of people with OCD. However, people with hoarding symptoms are more likely to also be suffering from other disorders, such as depression, PTSD, compulsive buying, kleptomania, ADHD, skin picking, or tic disorders.


Signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Just because you have obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive behaviours does NOT necessarily mean that you have OCD. With OCD, these thoughts and behaviours cause tremendous distress, take up a lot of time, and interfere with your daily life and relationships.

Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other.


Obsessive thoughts

Common obsessive thoughts in OCD include:

  • Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others

  • Fear of losing control and harming oneself or others

  • Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images

  • Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas

  • Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky

  • Fear of losing or not having things that might be required

  • Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “perfectly”


Compulsive behaviours

Common compulsive behaviours in OCD include:

  • Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches

  • Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe

  • Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless rituals to reduce anxiety

  • Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning

  • Ordering or arranging things “just right”

  • Praying excessively or engaging in rituals triggered by religious fear

  • Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers, empty food containers or plastic bags


Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms in children

Although usually OCD happens during adolescence or young adulthood, younger children sometimes have symptoms that look like OCD. Nevertheless, the symptoms of other disorders, such as ADHD, autism, and Tourette’s syndrome, can also look like obsessive-compulsive disorder, so a thorough medical and psychological exam is crucial for accurate diagnosis.


Self-help Tips and Tricks

 Tip 1: Learn how to resist OCD rituals

If you have OCD, there are many ways you can help yourself. One of the most powerful strategies is to eliminate the compulsive behaviours and rituals that keep your obsessions going.

Don’t avoid your fears

It might seem clever to avoid the situations that trigger your obsessive thoughts, but the more you avoid them, the scarier they feel. As an alternative, expose yourself to your OCD triggers, then try to resist or delay the urge to complete your relief-seeking compulsive ritual. If resistance gets to be too hard, try to reduce the amount of time you spend on your ritual. Each time you expose yourself to your trigger, your anxiety should lessen and you’ll start to realize that you have more control (and less to fear) than you think.


Focus your attention on something else

When you’re experiencing OCD thoughts and urges, try shifting your attention to something else.

  • You could exercise, jog, walk, listen to music, read, surf the web, play a video game, make a phone call, knit or practice one of the Heartmath tools. The important thing is to do something you enjoy for at least 15 minutes, in order to delay your response to the obsessive thought or compulsion.

  • At the end of the delaying period, reassess the urge. In many cases, the urge will no longer be quite as intense. Try delaying for a longer period. The longer you can delay the urge, the more it will likely change.


Benefits of Heartmath: Neurofeedback, Biofeedback and HeartMath training.
Some of the Benefits of training with HeartMath for OCD:
Training with HeartMath and learning to control anxiety can be truly life-transforming. The following are among the key benefits of training.
• Stress hormones decrease.
• Energy level increases.
• Decrease negative thinking and procrastinations.
• Improve overall quality of life.
• Improve test preparation / job performance.


It helps to re-train the brain and or optimize the functioning of the entire brain by removing barriers and improving the connections and brainwave activity in a certain region of the brain or among different regions of the brain. It releases the old stuck or abnormal patterns to create new and more effective, stronger and organized patterns. Training involves audio-visual feedback that involuntarily teaches the individual to self-regulate the abnormal brain wave patterns that are presented to them on computer screen in a number of ways.

Make an appointment today to find out how guided neurofeedback treatments with HeartMath can assist in improving your quality of life and give you a long-term relief from OCD symptoms.

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