How Intrusive thoughts and compulsions can be the thief of time

Anxiety fuels repetitive behaviours in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Thursday, May 12 2022

A recurring sense of impending doom or fear that a dreaded event is about to happen can become an immense burden for people suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The time consuming and repetitive behaviours associated with this mental health condition may severely impact an individual’s work and/or social functioning and disrupt family life.

Dr Gwen Tonyane, a psychiatrist practising at Netcare Akeso Randburg – Crescent Clinic, explains that OCD is characterised by the presence of obsessions, compulsions or both.

“Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges or images that come to mind but are intrusive and unwanted, causing the person marked anxiety or distress. A person who suffers from OCD may try to self manage the intrusive thoughts by distracting themselves with another thought or action, or simply trying to ignore the intrusive thought to help ease the anxiety and distress caused, but this is often very difficult,” she says. Resistance to the thought often intensifies it.

“Sometimes the individual may create their own rigid rules that they feel must be followed to neutralize the thoughts and gain a sense of control over their thoughts. These compulsions take the form of repetitive behaviours or mental habits that a person with OCD feels driven to by the obsession.

“The person may feel a responsibility to perform these rituals, believing that this could prevent something dreadful from happening. The person’s response is, however, either excessive or in many cases not even rationally connected to the source of anxiety,” Dr Tonyane explains.



“In other instances, a person may develop dermatological problems such as skin lesions due to excessive compulsive washing driven by the efforts to rid themselves of contamination. Some individuals with OCD try to impose their ‘rules’ on their family members or bar them from doing certain things due to the disorder, which can lead to family conflict,” she explains.

“Another common manifestation of OCD is pathological doubt which manifests in ‘checking’ behaviour. For example, the person may check multiple times whether the doors and windows are locked, usually for a certain count, before they can feel secure or less anxious. If a person for example feels compelled to get out of bed multiple times every night to check on the same thing, this can rob them of essential sleeping time and could take a toll on their work or school performance.”

As with most mental health conditions, it is believed that both hereditary and environmental causes may contribute to OCD.

“Some studies have suggested that there is a three to five times higher incidence of OCD in people who have a parent or sibling with the condition, and there appears to be a stronger correlation when OCD presents in childhood. Traumatic events, such as physical and sexual abuse in childhood and may increase a person’s risk for OCD, and there are also some psychological theories on why some people may develop OCD,” Dr Tonyane says.

Symptoms typically start gradually, with men often presenting earlier at around 19 years of age and women more commonly around 22 years.

“Medical problems or psychosocial difficulties can often exacerbate the OCD symptoms, and often individuals with OCD present to their doctors or psychologists with other mental health concerns, commonly major depressive disorder, social phobia and tics.

“Fortunately, OCD can be successfully managed with both medication and psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. In certain cases of OCD, the treating psychiatrist may also suggest other treatment options in addition to medication and psychotherapy as part of the treatment plan.”

“Without professional treatment, OCD is usually a long term condition, often with the person’s mental health status shifting back and forth. Some individuals have episodes where the symptoms intensify, while a minority have a deteriorating course with OCD.

“If you think you or a loved one may be struggling with any aspect of your mental health, it is advisable to see a psychiatrist or psychologist for a proper diagnosis and management plan,” Dr Tonyane concludes.

For information about mental health and services such as these, and accessing care, Netcare Akeso is here to help. In the event of a psychological crisis, individuals can phone the Netcare Akeso crisis helpline on 0861 435 787, 24 hours a day, to talk to an experienced counsellor.


Netcare Akeso operates a network of private in-patient mental health facilities and is part of the Netcare Group. Netcare Akeso provides individual, integrated and family-oriented treatment in specialised in-patient treatment facilities, as well as certain outpatient services, for a range of psychiatric, psychological and substance use conditions. Please visit or contact for further information. The COPE Therapy website also contains many useful blog posts on various issues and tips relating to mental health.

In the event of a psychological crisis, call 0861 435 787, 24 hours a day for emergency support. Psychiatrist consultations can be made through Netcare appointmed™, online at or by calling 0861 555 565. Outpatient psychologist and occupational therapist consultations can be booked via

For more information on this media release, contact MNA at the contact details listed below:

Issued by:            MNA on behalf of Netcare Akeso
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville, Estene Lotriet-Vorster and Clementine Forsthofer
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
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