You arrive at the restaurant, you sit down to look at the menu only to realise there’s more than one option. Time to panic, because we’re in the mind of someone with OCD, and here, there’s only one right choice to make, and choosing wrong could be the catalyst for a terrible fate.
OCD presents itself in a variety of ways. Each individual will experience different triggers for their OCD and will act on different behaviours to ease anxiety. Some OCD sufferers will be triggered by dirty surroundings, others will be triggered by choices.
Indecisiveness in OCD sufferers
OCD sufferers who are triggered by choice are chronically indecisive. This stems from a fear of something terrible happening if a wrong or bad choice is made. There is seemingly no correlation between the meal I order at dinner and my grandma who lives halfway across the world falling down the stairs, but in the mind of an OCD sufferer, the choice at dinner could have a direct cause-and-effect relationship with my grandma’s safety.
These thoughts, although seemingly nonsensical to an outsider, can be paralysing for someone with OCD. The fear of making the wrong choice can make it impossible for a choice to be made at all, causing extreme levels of anxiety when a choice needs to be made. In severe cases, this anxiety around decision-making can lead to panic attacks.
The problem with indecisiveness
You may know someone who’s super indecisive, and you may find it a bit annoying. Maybe it takes them longer to get dressed or order at a restaurant. However, for people with OCD, indecisiveness can be detrimental to their mental and physical health.
Physical health concerns for indecisiveness
If someone is indecisive to the level where they are unable to choose what to eat, they may end up avoiding making the decision altogether, resulting in skipping meals.
Many mental health issues are frequently found together. Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, as do OCD and disordered eating.
People with eating disorders may find the choice surrounding food impossible to make, analysing the benefits and issues with eating one dish vs another.
People with OCD may find it easier to simply not eat, rather than struggling through the immense anxiety they feel when making a choice. If they repeatedly chose no food, this could turn into an anxiety soothing behaviour that turns into an eating disorder.
If an OCD sufferer avoids making choices for too long, decision-making will become an impossible task. This could result in a variety of scenarios that could be physically harmful to the OCD sufferer.
We make life-saving decisions on a daily basis. Should I cross the road yet? Should I overtake the dangerous driver? Should I fill up my gas tank at the next station? Should I apply for that job so I can afford rent? Should I stay in this toxic relationship?
Decision-making is essential for human survival. The inability to make decisions can be at best, an annoyance, but at worst, life-threatening.
Mental health concerns for indecisiveness
Decision-making is a normal part of everyday life. For everyone, it’s a skill that needs to be developed and practised. The less we practice decision-making, the worse we’ll be at making decisions.
The fewer decisions we need to make in a day, the less stress we feel. This goes for everyone. For people with OCD who exhibit symptoms of indecisiveness, decision-making is a skill that is essential to practice.
Many people with OCD will end up staying at home by themselves rather than accepting invitations out, as a way of avoiding decision-making tasks.
If it’s impossible to make a decision, and there’s an option to avoid the choice altogether by staying inside alone, this is the choice that many with OCD will make. However, staying alone and avoiding situations that trigger us may not be the best option.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy has proven to be a very successful form of treatment for those with OCD. It involves being exposed to triggers and learning how to respond to them in healthier ways. This type of treatment is done with the guidance of a professional either online or in-person.
OCD sufferers with indecisiveness may find this form of treatment incredibly challenging, however, it has proven to be incredibly effective. OCD sufferers who are avoiding decision triggers by staying inside, or who are making efforts to always be alone, will be actively worsening their OCD.
How to get help
The first step to getting help for managing OCD symptoms is to acknowledge that you would benefit from help.
We all have complicated relationships with our mental health. Most of the time, we need to make the choice to seek help on our own. If you’re not ready to reach out to get help yet, that’s okay. Be patient with yourself and know that help is available to you whenever you need it. You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help when it comes to your mental health. Making the difficult choice to seek professional help is a HUGE and AWESOME step! If you only make one decision today, and this is the decision you make, we assure you, it’s a good choice.
If you’re not ready to get professional help yet, try to be open about your struggles with your support group. If you can express what you’re going through to your family and/or friends, this is already a really great step. If you don’t have a support system who you can talk openly about mental health with, you can use this resource to talk to someone completely impartial confidentially.