It is very common for people to experience post-traumatic stress (PTSD) in the aftermath of a hurricane, severe injury, combat or other traumatic events. Others develop a less severe, although still life-altering, phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is impossible to predict how anyone will react, even when a group is exposed to the same event.
All of these problems are considered anxiety disorders. Many of the symptoms of trauma and phobias can be similar, sometimes making it difficult to provide an accurate diagnosis.
The TV show Monk featured a detective with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He was obsessive about germs and cleanliness, performing a series of rituals throughout the day, finding unusual ways to cope. The show illustrated how difficult daily life could be when living with this disorder. All aspects of a person’s life are affected, and some people suffer much more severely than others.
Those suffering from this chronic and far too common condition find themselves struggling to control both their thoughts and actions. They may find themselves obsessing over something and unable to concentrate on anything else. They feel compelled to perform an action, such as repeatedly washing their hands or arranging items in a very specific order. They want to stop but can’t.
Sometimes people wonder if they have this disorder. Everyone has certain quirks, after all. However, it’s not so much what one does as how much these thoughts or actions disrupt your life and the lives of those around you. It’s a matter of degree.
You may have an obsessive-compulsive disorder if you:
• Wash hands repeatedly
• Feel compelled to clean what is already spotless, worry endlessly about germs
• Check and recheck that the door or car is locked, the oven turned off etc.
• Must count things or have a certain number of something
• Are super-organized to an excessive degree
• Dwell endlessly on bad things that could happen, however unlikely
• Have many inappropriate sexual thoughts
• Obsess over relationships
• Constantly ask others for their opinion
• Focus repeatedly on some part of your body you consider unattractive
As you can see, none of these traits are intrinsically wrong. Cleanliness is good, but if you feel you must clean the oven multiple times in one day or have every item in the cabinets facing the same direction, you could have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
People with phobias have an irrational fear of something, far greater than the average person might have. Most people dislike spiders, for example, but someone with Arachnophobia would react with excessive fear and panic, even if trying not to. They might be physically unable to enter a store decorated with spider Halloween decorations. Fear of spiders is, incidentally, the most common of all phobias in Western culture.
Again, it’s a matter of degree. What would be annoying to most people is impossible to deal with for the 19 million Americans with phobias. When your irrational fear of spiders, dentists, flying, germs or almost anything is interfering with your relationships, job and ability to enjoy your life, it’s time to get help.
Post-traumatic stress (PTSD) often occurs after a traumatic event such as combat or a serious accident. It can also be the result of sexual assault or surviving a disaster such as a flood or hurricane. Symptoms may appear soon after the event or not show up for months or even years later.
Why one person develops PTSD when another exposed to the same trauma doesn’t is unknown. After hurricane Katrina, about one-third of mothers from low socioeconomic status were suffering from PTSD symptoms because of their experiences during and after the storm. The effects remained for years after Katrina. Yet, two-thirds of the mothers from the same status adjusted and did not suffer the same debilitating symptoms.
Certain memories, sounds or another trigger can cause sudden flashbacks, debilitating nightmares and loss of confidence. It is common to dwell obsessively on the traumatic event. Some may try to repress the event, but memories can suddenly surface when triggered. Alcohol or drugs may be abused in an attempt to deal with the overwhelming and uncontrollable anxiety.
Effective Treatment is Important
People tend to believe they can cope and adjust. Many succeed, but certainly not all. It’s somewhat like having a painful tooth abscess. You may be able to treat it yourself and deal with the pain until it finally goes away. However, if you go to the dentist, the proper treatment will solve the problem. You can get back to the life you want to live without the pain. The fact that the pain of OCD, a phobia or PTSD is mental instead of physical does not, in any way, make it hurt less.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is an effective evidence-based therapy that can treat the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobia or PTSD in only five treatment sessions or less. This novel therapy is particularly welcomed by anyone who knows they need help but is held back by the expense and time commitment of months or years of treatment. To learn more, contact ART International and get back to living your life.