Cleanliness vs. Compulsion: OCD and the Endless Cycle of Hand Washing

Cleanliness and hygiene are essential for maintaining good health. However, for some people, keeping things clean goes beyond just being a good practice. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that is characterized by unwanted, intrusive thoughts, and repetitive behavior. One of the most common compulsions among individuals with OCD is excessive hand washing.

Hand washing is an action that many of us do without even thinking about it. We wash our hands after going to the toilet, before eating, and when we come home from outdoors, to name a few examples. However, for people with OCD, hand washing becomes a never-ending cycle of fear, anxiety, and compulsions.

The obsession with hand washing comes from an irrational fear of harmful germs being present on the skin. The compulsion to wash hands starts with the belief that touching anything, even things that appear clean, can lead to contamination. The fear of contamination leads to excessive hand washing, which leads to dry, itchy, and sometimes even painful hands. Over time, this cycle can escalate to a point where individuals with OCD feel compelled to wash their hands so often that it becomes their primary activity.

People with OCD understand that their behavior is irrational, but they still find it challenging to control their compulsion. The compulsion to wash hands until they feel “clean” can take up hours of their day and undermine their ability to hold down a job, maintain social relationships, or even take care of themselves.

The treatment for OCD requires a combination of medication and therapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed to individuals with OCD. These drugs are used to alleviate anxiety symptoms and modify brain chemistry, which can help the individual resist their compulsions.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another effective treatment for OCD. In CBT, individuals work with a therapist to identify their compulsions, understand the underlying thoughts and feelings driving these compulsions, and learn coping techniques to manage their obsessions more effectively.

Living with OCD can be challenging; it requires a deliberate way of life and patience. However, by combining medication, therapy, and support, it is possible to live a fulfilling life with OCD. If you are struggling with any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is always best to reach out and speak to a medical professional. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help when you need it.