Archive for December, 2009

OCD: Keeping a lapse from becoming a relapse

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

The way you interpret an event makes a difference in the way you end up feeling. People with OCD may make great progress with treatment yet sometimes they experience setbacks. The way you deal with that initial return of symptoms can determine whether your lapse turns into a relapse.

The following story about Jerry and Tim illustrates how two differing perspectives on a re-emergence of an obsession led to a big setback for Tim, but had relatively little impact on Jerry.

Jerry suffers from contamination OCD. He was first referred for help when his doc noticed that his hands were raw and bleeding. Jerry confesses that he often spends an hour in his shower and washes his hands hundreds of times most every day. After 10 sessions of exposure and response prevention (ERP), Jerry’s symptoms are under control. Yet, Jerry continues to have times he worries about getting contaminated. He recalls that his treatment included how to handle these occasional thoughts. He tells himself that the obsessions are normal and to be expected. He purposely waits until the thought passes and does not engage in compulsive washing. He knows that if the thoughts get worse, that he can always return to therapy for a few booster sessions. Most days Jerry feels that he is leaving OCD behind him despite his occasional lapses.

Tim also has contamination OCD. He too washes compulsively and avoids public places. His washing takes up hours of his day. Tim visits his primary care doctor to see if he can suggest something to help him. The doc talks to Tim about different kinds of treatment. Tim chooses to go on an antidepressant to see if that will help him. Tim’s doctor reminds him that the medication can take a long time to have an effect. Tim is relieved he may get better. After about 8 weeks, his symptoms seem to lesson. He doesn’t always think about contamination and has reduced his washing.

An early flu season hits and Tim comes down with the flu. He finds himself obsessing about what might have made him sick. The more he thinks …


Five Dirty Little Secrets about Dirt

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

The other day, our grandchildren came in from playing outside all afternoon–dirt and mud covering every inch of their feet, legs, trunks, hands, arms, faces, and even their hair. They were smiling and giggling with no concern for their hygiene or appearance. Obviously, a bath was in order for all.

This incident triggered a memory of one of the “Parts of Ten” chapters from our book Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies. We were inspired to write that chapter because those with OCD so often worry about becoming ill from the slightest contact with dirt. At the same time, few people know very much about dirt, whether they have OCD or not.

Here’s five items (from out book chapter) that you may not know about dirt:

  • Dirt generally evokes negative connotations such as disgusting, filthy, unsanitary, corruption, or obscene. Yet soil, which is also dirt, has a positive meaning. Soil consists of hummus and bits of disintegrated rock and most crops need it to grow. So in spite of all of those negative connotations, we need dirt to survive.
  • Dirt isn’t dead. Dirt is teeming with life. Sometimes as many as 100,000 worms live in a single square yard of dirt. But you can also find fungi, bacteria, algae, protozoa, and other forms of life in dirt.
  • A little dirt is probably good for you. Kids who grow up in unusually sanitary, pristine environments actually have a higher risk of allergies, autoimmune diseases, and asthma than kids who have pets, large families, and attend daycare. Of course, we’re not recommending squalid conditions, but maybe knowing this information can help ease up on having a spotless home all of the time.
  • Dirt isn’t what it used to be. Humans have systematically leached nutrients out of soil without replacing them. The effects on agriculture, especially in poor countries haven’t been good.
    Kids eat a little dirt with almost no ill effects. You know that kids stuff almost anything into their mouths. Toddlers manage to consume about 500 mg of dirt quite frequently. Assuming the dirt isn’t laced with pesticides, lead, gasoline, and such, they do so safely without harmful effects.
  • On the other hand, a few kids …

Computers Crashing and Catastrophizing

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

The topic of today’s blog is personal. And it’s likely to affect many folks who receive shiny, brand new computers over the holidays. So we now whimsically share a few of our thoughts about this important topic.

Chuck and I spend hours every day in front of the computer. Just since starting to write For Dummies books, we’ve written over 2,000 book pages (and ask any For Dummies’ writer–each page has lots of words!). In addition to writing books, we write articles, psychological reports, blogs, prepare presentations, and answer thousands of emails.

Here and there over the years one of us has closed a file too rapidly, inadvertently hit a delete button, or experienced system screw ups that send our work into cyberspace. Like that single sock that somehow disappears in the dryer, a chapter, page, paragraph, or word vanishes, never to be found again. And when we lose work, our minds often start churning out unhelpful thoughts such as:

  • We’ll never be able to finish on time!
  • What was that sentence?
  • How can we be so stupid to close that file without saving it?
  • That was the best metaphor we ever thought of-now we can’t remember it!

Just blogging about this makes me anxious. Over the years we’ve used systems that keep our losses small and relative infrequent: online back-ups, external back-ups, back-ups on flash drives. We have several computers that we save our work on and when we are feeling particularly paranoid, we keep CD’s in our cars in case our house is broken into.

About a month ago we noticed our computers were becoming really sluggish and less stable. Time to upgrade. Okay, we told ourselves, let’s try to stay positive. A simple switch to the latest, spiffiest editions of Office and Windows. Well, now it’s 6 weeks later. We have four computers on our desks in various stages of disarray. First, this wasn’t compatible so we needed to do that. We did that and had to do more of this. Then we couldn’t find a product key number on the newest computer. After online help, hours of consultation with our computer guru, chat rooms, phone calls to computer support services, …


Get Help for OCD and Depression

Friday, December 11th, 2009

We love the wealth of information available to us from the internet. Because of our various interests, Chuck and I both have “Google Alerts” for articles or blogs about subjects we write about. (If you don’t know what Google Alerts are, Google it!) Many days, the shear number of suggested links and articles gets a bit overwhelming; both of us spend hours digging into the topics presented to us on these alerts. Frankly, lots of the topics are thinly veiled advertisements for various products and we quickly delete them. However, some alerts send us to fascinating research or poignant news articles.

One such article today detailed the suicide of a 21 year old woman in the UK who had battled Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression. The article chronicled a life that for this woman seemed unbearable. She apparently used 10 bottles of hand wash every day, and like many people with contamination fears had infected and blistered hands. She was afraid to get treatment because she feared that she might get contaminated from the facility. So, she dressed in her best clothes and jumped from the 10th story of a parking lot.

The saddest part of this story is that OCD left untreated often leads to depression. The vast majority of people with OCD or depression do not commit suicide, but the risk is certainly greater for them than others without these disorders. Sorry to bring this up during the season to be jolly, but people with OCD and depression don’t usually get better because of the brightness of the holidays. We have a few messages:

  • There are effective treatments for both OCD and depression. These treatments should include some type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Medication can also be considered but is not always necessary. Many people don’t realize that empirically supported psychotherapies are at least as effective as medication for these problems and usually do a better job of preventing reoccurrences.
  • There are many products, cures, and solutions offered on the internet. Some of these treatments are cleverly packaged with pseudo-scientific authenticity claims. Please be careful about buying something that offers a quick fix.
  • If you or …

Holiday Anxiety and OCD

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

You’re going to see lots of blogs on this topic in the next few weeks. However, we recommend getting a jump on these issues early.

Do you suffer from depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder? If so, the holidays may cause you to crash. You could find that panic attacks that had been dormant, reemerge. Or compulsions to clean, count, or arrange things uptick to the point you barely have time to do anything else. Sadness may deepen and you’re not sure why. For that matter, even if you don’t have some type of depression or anxiety disorder, the holidays sometimes create considerable stress and anxiety. Why? Consider these possibilities:

  • The stress of choosing gifts for people who are impossible to buy for
  • The stress of deciding how much to spend in an seriously impaired economic climate
  • The stress of seeing family that bring up painful issues from childhood (one of our favorite cartoons depicts a banner stretching across a huge ballroom declaring something like “Conference of Functional Families” with a single person standing alone in the room reading the sign)/li>

  • The stress of attempting to prepare a fancy holiday feast, wanting everything to be “perfect”
  • The stress of being around overly critical family members

Anxiety & OCD Exposed



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Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. and Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. are authors of many books, including Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies and Child Psychology & Development for Dummies.

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