A young woman was washing her hands again and again, never for less than 10 minutes. That was a failed attempt to feel clean and find peace, but it was never enough. In her mind, it never will be enough. No soap is strong enough, no water pure enough, no effort lasting enough for her to have clean hands. This is a serious case of OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder.

Obsessions are repetitive and persistent thoughts (e.g., of contamination), images (e.g., of violent or horrific scenes), or urges (e.g., to hurt someone). Compulsions (or rituals) are repetitive behaviors (e.g., washing, checking) or mental acts (e.g., counting, repeating words silently) that an individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. Obsessions and compulsion consume more than one hour a day and are not pleasurable or experienced as voluntary.

OCD typically falls into one of the following categories:

  • This is a fear of contamination.
  • Arrangers and counters who are obsessed with having everything orderly.
  • Checkers who repeatedly check things that might lead to harm, damage, or danger (is the iron off, is the door locked, is the window closed, is the oven off)
  • A pathological guilt of never being cleansed from immoral thoughts or sinful behavior no matter how much confession and repentance has been done.

Suggestions and tools for managing OCD:

  1. Identify the triggers that lead to your OCD episodes. Record the date and time. On a scale of 1-5, rate the intensity of your thoughts. Where are you, what are you doing, who are you with, what are your thoughts, what are you feeling?
  2. When you recognize the obsessive thinking, let it rest. Don’t fight it and don’t act on it. That thought is like a person entering your room. You see it enter, then you see it leave while you remain comfortable and relaxed.
  3. An alternative approach is to test the thought. Is that thought really true? What evidence is there that it is true? Would that thought be true for my friend? Would that thought be true for an entire group? If the group voted, would they vote that the thought is true? If the thought is true, how likely is it to happen?
  4. Breathe deeply. Practice progressive relaxation by tensing and relaxing areas of your body. Start from your head and work down to your feet and toes. Practice breathing and relaxation 4-5 minutes every morning and every night. Then you are ready to use it when necessary.
  5. Be in the here and now. Recognize that you are safe. Describe your surroundings using all five senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Touch?
  6. Have a group of family, friends, and others that you can reach out to for support that you can call anytime.

All of the above can help in the moment and bring peace. There are times when medication may be recommended. At some point, talking with a qualified mental health professional to identify and address underlying issues will be most effective. And above all, we can find peace through prayer, the scriptures, the temple … through the Lord. Then we will find that our hands are clean and there is peace in our heart.

[Note: The ideas and suggestions contained in these articles are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a qualified mental health professional. In addition, if you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please seek medical or mental health assistance immediately.  In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat at 988lifeline.org/chat/. Services are free and confidential.]