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When Worry Becomes Obsession

Most people, at some point in their lives, have temporary fascinations, fixations or "obsessions" with people, places or things. But for approximately two percent of Canadians, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) transforms their lives into a constant series of unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviours that they cannot control.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic and relapsing anxiety disorder. It's a medical condition and not something that someone with OCD can control. But, with treatment, the impact of OCD on a person's life and relationships can be minimized.

Facts about OCD:

  • Approximately two percent of Canadians have OCD.
  • The first symptoms of OCD usually appear during childhood or adolescence.
  • OCD affects men and women equally.
  • OCD is sometimes associated with depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, or other anxiety disorders.
  • Left untreated, OCD symptoms can last for years or decades and have a serious impact on your life and health.

Key features of OCD:

Obsessions - People with OCD have repeated, unwanted ideas or impulses and find these disturbing and intrusive. Most people with OCD recognize that their obsessions are not reasonable but cannot control them. Obsessions may involve persistent fears of being harmed, or of a loved one being harmed. Many people with OCD have concerns about contamination, or may have an excessive need to do things correctly. The person may have repeated thoughts such as "I must have left the stove on" or "I'll be injured if I walk along this street." These thoughts often cause great anxiety. Sometimes the obsessions can be sexual or aggressive in nature.

Compulsions - People with OCD cope with their obsessions by using repetitive ritualized behaviours called compulsions. These can include behaviors such as frequent hand washing, checking things (such as locks or stoves), counting (e.g., counting certain objects over and over again), repeating a specific word or phrase, rearranging objects persistently, or collecting food or objects. They may also compose mental checklists or insist on eating foods in a specific order. Compulsions may help relieve anxiety temporarily, but most often these behaviours worsen with time.

OCD is often misunderstood

OCD can start gradually, and people with OCD often do not seek help until years after the onset of their condition. At first, obsessions and compulsions may be mild and have little impact on the person's life. Most people try to ignore their obsessions and compulsions, and may even be successful doing so at work or in social situations. However, in most cases, OCD worsens and will eventually have a significant impact on a person's life, family and friends.
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