Why It Matters: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Stressor-Related Disorders

Why Learn about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders and Stressor-Related Disorders?

We all have behaviors we perform out of habit. Sometimes it’s ritualistic. Think of baseball: a batter tapping the bat several times in a pattern around the base prior to readying for the pitch or wearing the “lucky hat” on game day. Players may believe these rituals keep them on task, focused, and prepared for the win. This level of superstitious behavior appears almost like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and though they are unlikely enough to warrant a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder, they do provide an illustration for how these thoughts may be related to perfectionistic traits (“If I don’t wear this hat, my team will lose”), or an idea that somehow, performing this ritual is a responsibility (“If I don’t do this, I won’t be as prepared for the game”).

Baseball rituals

Watch this video to see some examples of unusual superstitious rituals among professional baseball players

Rows of colored tablets in repeated, identical sequences.

Figure 1. An organized person or a superstitious person is usually not a person suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Someone with OCD will feel obsessions and compulsions to act on certain behaviors.

The difference between an athlete prepping for a game and someone suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is how it affects their normal lives. A baseball player isn’t going to live life interrupted and poorly affected because he taps his bat a certain way or kisses his bat before the pitch. But someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may live a very disrupted life, trying to make it through the day despite a constant urge to give in to compulsions (repeated actions) that are triggered by obsessions (unwanted, uncontrollable thoughts).

Imagine you have a belief that if you don’t vacuum the floors enough your family could get cancer. You may understand that, logically, there’s no connection to dirty floors and cancer, but the unwanted thoughts are overwhelming and so is the urge to constantly vacuum your floor. Perhaps you begin vacuuming in a certain pattern, creating straight lines, and doing so twice a day. What if suddenly, you had a new urge to tap the vacuum several times before starting it and after stopping it? Then another urge to vacuum the floor again but in a different pattern? Or to touch a door as you passed it?

Of course, not everyone with OCD has thoughts and urges like those described above, but unfortunately, their reality is one that is plagued by a flurry of undesirable, unruly thoughts and follow-on behaviors that they perform as a way of relieving some of the stress. In this module, we’ll take a closer look at OCD and other stressor-related disorders.