Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a mental disorder characterized by of negative and intrusive thoughts that create extreme anxiety, and behavior patterns that are intended to reduce this anxiety.
The negative intrusive thoughts and behaviors are called obsessions and compulsions. That is one theory.
Recent research challenges the theory that the behaviors are a response to anxiety, but in fact may cause the anxiety. University of Cambridge and University of Amsterdam researchers theorize that the behaviors themselves (the compulsions) may be precursors to OCD, and that the patient uses the anxiety (the obsession) to justify the behavior.
"It has long been established that humans have a tendency to 'fill in the gaps' when it comes to behaviour that cannot otherwise be logically explained," said Claire Gillan, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. "In the case of OCD, the overwhelming urge to senselessly repeat behavior might be enough to instil a very real obsessive fear in order to explain it." Whichever theory is more accurate, will require further study.
Most OCD patients are treated using medication. While anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication makes the patient feel better in the short term, they do nothing to remove the cause of the anxiety. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is also used successfully on OCD patients.
CBT challenges patients to stop compulsive responses to an anxiety by learning that a feared consequence does not occur even if they do not perform the compulsive behavior.
The idea is that once the behavior stops, the obsession fades away (lending credence to the theory that the behavior causes the anxiety). Treatment of OCD often involves substances that support availability of serotonin.
Meditation is among the non-medical ways of increasing serotonin levels naturally, without potentially harmful drugs.
OCD has been linked to activity in certain areas of the brain. Dr Samuel Chamberlain at the University of Cambridge's Department of Psychiatry used fMRI scans to measure brain activity in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC); this area is involved in decision making and behavior (self-control).
A study conducted at the University of California, San Diego, found a specific Kundalini yoga meditation to be effective in treating OCD (Shannahoff-Khalsa DS 2004). Other studies have shown that low serotonin levels are also major contributors to OCD.
A high density of serotonin receptors is located in areas of the brain that are involved in the mediation of fear, stress and anxiety (the hippocampus and amygdala), and stimulation of these receptors is reduces activity in these areas and thus reduces the fear response.
Meditation has been used successfully for thousands of years to quiet the mind, heal it, and consciously train it.
Meditation can be an effective treatment of OCD because it promotes mental mastery and self-control; it releases stress, and relaxes and calms both the body and the mind.