What is OCD related to the fear of aging?
|A person with Health Concern OCD centered on fears of aging can experience concerns about the aging process, physical changes in appearance that comes with aging, or mental changes that can occur with aging. They may also worry excessively about the process of dying or death.
In OCD, these worries and fears cause distress and anxiety, often involving rumination on the worst-case scenarios that could occur with aging. The unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or fears about aging are called obsessions. In response, people with OCD will perform compulsions, which can be mental or physical, that serve to neutralize uncertainty, decrease anxiety, or worry or prevent a feared outcome.
People with a fear of aging in Health Concern OCD may frequently research the aging process. They may spend a lot of time worrying about the future and how it will look. They may obsess about their looks, whether they appear older than they are, or how they are perceived to look by others. They may also frequently “check” their physical fitness or mental acuity for signs that they may associate with aging. They may worry about being lonely or losing a spouse/partner and having to die alone or age alone.
When people with a fear of aging in Health Concern OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or sensations that cause distress, they may engage in compulsions, which are physical or mental acts done to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts or fears. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions about aging from returning again and again, with an even stronger urge to perform compulsions. Performing compulsions inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears about aging, reinforcing the idea that obsessions posed an actual threat or danger.
Common obsessions experienced by people with the fear of aging include:
- Are these wrinkles a sign that I’m getting old?
- My back hurts. Is my body declining?
- I can’t remember that detail. Does that mean my brain is declining?
- Will anyone take care of me when I’m older?
- Do I have enough savings for when I retire?
- What if I will be in pain?
- What if I haven’t lived my life the way I wish I had?
- What if I lose my memory?
- Is my hairline receding?
Common triggers for people with fear of aging in Health Concern OCD may include:
- Seeing elderly people
- Spending time with older family members
- Hearing about aging and the processes involved
- Hearing about or experiencing the loss of loved ones
- Any physical complaints/symptoms
- Revisiting old memories, places, or experiences
- Forgetting things
How can I tell if I’m experiencing OCD focused on a fear of aging, or if I’m going through typical levels of discomfort with aging?
This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.
The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; 3) compulsions performed to relieve distress and anxiety. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to figure out signs or worries related to aging immediately and with certainty, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.
Intrusive thoughts or worries about aging can and do happen to everyone. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily, trust in their own decisions and intentions, and natural processes. However, people with OCD struggle to do this, believing that they cannot tolerate the slightest uncertainty about their safety, comfort, or health as they age. This is where OCD holds its power. People with OCD focused on a fear of aging can get better by learning that they can tolerate uncertainty about aging, just as they do in other areas of their lives.
When people with fears of aging in Health Concern OCD experience intrusive thoughts or fears about aging, they may engage in compulsions, which are physical or mental acts done to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts or fears. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions from returning again and again, with an even stronger urge to perform compulsions. Performing compulsions inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears, reinforcing the idea that obsessions posed an actual threat or danger.
Common compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with fears of aging may include:
- Body checking for signs or symptoms of physical or mental decline
- Purchasing proposed age-reversing products
- Seeking reassurance from others (Do you think I look old? Do you think this is normal?)
- Avoidance of medical care
- Frequent visits to doctors/specialists in areas related to aging
- Researching online/excessive Googling about the aging process or how to slow it
How to treat fear of aging
OCD focused on fears about being a narcissist can make a severe impact on one’s life, but all forms of OCD are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can find freedom from the OCD cycle.
ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average. By doing ERP, you will be able to teach your brain that your intrusive thoughts don’t have any bearing on your personality, values, or intentions, and that you are able to tolerate uncertainty and anxiety related to your personality and actions.
In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger anxiety and uncertainty related to narcissism. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will learn how to resist the urge to respond to these feelings with compulsions like avoidance or reassurance-seeking. By doing this over time, you learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety and you will feel more confident in your ability to sit with uncertainty and discomfort.
Examples of possible exposures done to treat fears of aging in Health Concern OCD include:
- Reading or watching videos about the aging process
- Hearing about death and dying
- Learning about various health concerns that happen when one is aging
- Viewing images of elderly people
- Writing a script about the worst possible case scenario of aging
- Write an obituary for oneself
- Watch videos about elderly living
If you’re struggling with OCD, I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.
We look forward to working with you.