Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not just about washing hands and counting. A compulsion can be anything from seeking reassurance, to avoiding a certain activity, to ruminating or getting mentally stuck on a certain idea.
OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—is one of those things in motherhood that deserves way more attention than it gets.
The fact that so many women are affected by this peace-ruining form of anxiety yet we have more resources on how to lose baby weight postpartum is… mind boggling.
You may be struggling with OCD and not even know it. Part of the reason for that may be that you don’t know what OCD actually looks like (because the stereotypes have you thinking it’s all about hand washing and counting!) or, because you’ve categorized your symptoms as general anxiety.
While OCD is a category of anxiety, it does stand by itself in that it has its own set of symptoms: obsessions, compulsions or actions, and a cyclical OCD “loop” which can be hard to stop.
What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a form of anxiety where its sufferers will fixate on a thought, fear, or idea until it causes so much discomfort that it prompts an action. This thought (the obsession), could be an intrusive thought, a “what if” scenario, or something that needs to be checked in order for the person to feel at ease. With OCD, that initial thought always prompts a follow-up: be it a ritual, a habit, a need to double and triple-check, or the inability to stop thinking about it.
It’s not uncommon for women to suffer from OCD in motherhood. In fact, just like with general anxiety, women have an increased risk of being confronted with this mental health issue postpartum.
Stereotypes paint OCD to look like counting or obsessive hand washing. Those are the most common ones we see in TV and movies, right?
But the actual things that moms tend to obsess over are way more broad than that. In fact, many women might not even see their thoughts as “obsessions,” so to speak and therefore may entirely miss the fact that they’re dealing with OCD.
So, what can obsessions—the thought that prompts the OCD loop—center on?
It’s important to note that the obsession isn’t always something as rigid or habitual as, say, excessive counting, it can just as easily be a particularly scary thought, the inability to stop focusing on something that causes anxiety, or a pull to constantly check something.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not this feels familiar, consider these examples of obsessions that show up for mothers:
- Worrying about car accidents
- Focusing on whether or not your baby is sleeping and what her sleep quality is like
- Fearing that you or your child will get sick, suffer from an undiagnosed mental health disorder, or that a physical symptom will go undiscovered by your doctor
- Thinking about all of the things that could go wrong resulting in an accident or physical harm coming to your family
The compulsions that follow…
Sometimes we might misunderstand the compulsion aspect of OCD because we forget how subtle this “action” part of the OCD loop can look.
Keep in mind that a compulsion can be anything from seeking reassurance, to avoiding a certain activity, to ruminating or getting mentally stuck on a certain idea. So it may not necessarily look as active or tangible as you think. Hence why many people miss the fact that OCD is at play in their own life!
Your OCD compulsion could be fixating, mentally going down a rabbit hole, or practicing a sort of ritual that you feel is helpful to the situation.
Where the obsession is the thought that occurs in your brain, the compulsion is what you do about it. It’s the action.
Here are some of the common compulsions that show up in the daily lives of moms:
- Double and triple checking if the kids’ seat belts are on
- Needing to check if the baby is still sleeping
- Obsessive researching about baby’s sleep quality and statistics
- Researching illnesses and self-diagnosing yourself or your child
- Having to research/read every single book, blog, and Instagram account on a specific topic related to parenthood
- Avoiding things like driving, bath time, or going to the beach because you’re fixated on the fact that you might hurt your little one (you don’t want to, but you get stuck on this idea that you somehow will!)
- Enlisting help because you’re scared you’re not capable of something
What do you do about OCD in motherhood?
It’s reasonable to worry. It’s reasonable to check on your kids. It’s valid to look into symptoms if you’re sick or double-check family safety. It’s not-so-reasonable to see if your baby is sleeping 14 times throughout the night (I say that with love!). It’s also not reasonable to confirm if the seatbelt is buckled even though you just checked it one minute ago and after pulling out of the driveway. When you continuously check up on things as if the previous checks didn’t count, that could be a sign that OCD is at play.
If you’re constantly focused on something or re-checking things to the point where it’s interfering, that’s when it becomes an OCD red flag.
Even though it’s uncomfortable, you’re going to want to sit with your anxiety. Try to tolerate it rather than trying to get rid of it.
While you may think that your anxious habits or tendencies to check, double-check, and triple-check are keeping your fears under control, they’re not. They only give power to your anxious thoughts and keep you in the stressful OCD loop. This is the point when you have to recognize that you’re not gaining any more information or anything useful about the situation, you’re just giving in to the ritual.
While you’re here… I want you to know that every single mental health issue is treatable. That includes OCD in motherhood. Even though OCD causes discomfort and can really take a toll on your inner peace, it’s not something that you’ll necessarily always deal with.
My course, Mama Calm, is designed specifically for mothers to curb all forms of anxiety that take a toll on your quality of life in early motherhood. Check it out here!