Intense Hand Washing; When Is It Too Much?

hand washing

We know that hand washing is a good practice to have. Whether it is to have clean hands for eating food or to prevent the spread of diseases such as the common cold, people can be a bit ‘obsessive’ in terms of hand washing. To the extreme, there are some who are so worried about germs that they take particular care in public places to avoid touching surfaces that may be contaminated and make frequent use of hand sanitizers in effort to minimise risk.

So when does hand washing become just too much and goes into the realm of OCD? OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder and is characterized by uncontrollable fears and thoughts that repeatedly compel, ritualised behaviors done in an attempt to drive out the obsessive thoughts. In terms of hand washing, one would obsessively hand wash in fear of contamination and over-washing your hands can leave them chapped, raw and even bleeding. The cause of OCD can not be pinpointed, and in turn, makes the process of recovery in OCD to a bit difficult. It is generally thought that there are biological, psychological and environmental factors involved. Psychotherapy, with or without medication, is often an effective treatment for OCD, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, a short-term, structured approach that focuses on learning ways of dealing with obsessive thoughts without resorting to compulsive behaviors.

So how do you tell if you are obsessive-compulsively washing your hands? Here are some thoughts to get you thinking.

  • Do you have an elaborate routine for washing your hands? Do you wash your hands in particular sequence? Do you restart your process in fear of having gotten it wrong?

  • Are your hands often red, raw and chapped?

  • Do you go to extremes in avoiding places or situations that you fear might expose you to germs or dirt? Do you avoid shaking hands or touching surfaces in public places?

  • Do your anxiety about contamination and efforts to alleviate it interfere with your relationships and daily activities?

If you said yes to any of these things, there is a high chance that you might have OCD and should get a consultation from a psychologist.

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