Obsessive habits, bizarre thoughts could be OCD symptoms

Feb 23, 2014

Do you know someone who avoids touching door knobs or repeatedly checks to see if the stove is off? Maybe they adjust desk top objects until they are perfectly aligned. This may not be just fussy behavior. Repetitive acts like these could be a result of OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder.

This week on Take Care, Dr. Robin Zasio, talks about obsessive compulsive disorder. Zasio is a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders at The Anxiety Treatment Center in California. She has been featured on the A&E television series “Hoarders” and is the author of "The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life."

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Robin Zasio.

According to Zasio, there are at least five million Americans who suffer from OCD, the most common anxiety disorder. This disorder is characterized by obsessive thoughts, usually of a bizarre nature, that the person can’t get rid of. When the thoughts cannot be expelled, the behaviors begin.

“What happens is, when a person has these thoughts, they do things to try to make them go away,” Zasio said. “Well in the world of OCD, they come up with these behaviors, rituals or compulsions to try to make them go away.”

Zasio says many people don’t fully understand what OCD is, and that the seemly strange thoughts are actually a common symptom.

Credit zen Sutherland / Flickr

“It’s interesting because I’ll get a phone call and someone will say ‘I don’t check the doors and I don’t wash my hands. I have these thoughts of hurting other people. I would never hurt somebody, but for some reason I can’t stop thinking about what if I picked up a knife and stabbed my dog,’” Zasio said. “And I’ll say ‘OK, well actually, that’s really common.’ And they’ll go ‘really?’ Because what happens is you don’t either hear about it or read about it. OCD and anxiety disorders can manifest in so many different ways.”

Since OCD can have a variety of symptoms, some people may not realize they have it. But Zasio says that most people have the same type of fear. When irrational thoughts begin, the person may know they are irrational, but still be afraid of the consequences anyway. This can lead to other consequences that can affect everyday life.

“Somebody who has OCD often times can have what we call ‘good insight.’ They know they don’t need to be afraid of it; all they know is that they are. And all they know is that it feels very real to them, so oftentimes what they know and what they feel are two different things," Zasio said. "And so, they engage in these avoidance behaviors or these compulsions to try to neutralize that thought, and as a result their world can just get smaller, and smaller, and smaller because they’re spending their days just in survival mode.”

Although medication is an option for treating OCD, it is not necessarily the only option. Zasio says that some people try the exposure therapy process, which involves facing the fear OCD creates.

“We definitely see that medications can help,” Zasio said. “If I have somebody who comes into my office with a clear OCD case, and they say ‘look, I’m not on medication, I’d really like to try the exposure therapy process first,’ then I’m going to try it. If you think about anything that you’re afraid of, if you confront it, typically we can overcome it. The proper treatment by an expert and doing exposure therapy oftentimes medication are not needed.”