A person who struggles with OCD may experience a persistent fear of concussions. This can cause them to take extreme measures to ensure utmost safety or reassure themselves that they haven’t experienced past head trauma.
What is the fear of concussion in OCD?
As science involving concussions continues to develop, we are becoming more and more aware of just how serious concussions are, and how similar sources of head trauma can impact people’s lives. However, some individuals with OCD develop excessive fears about concussions, the potential consequences of a concussion, and the chances of past head trauma in general. While safety and health concerns are healthy and important, OCD focused on these things can severely interfere with a person’s life.
A fear of concussions can be involved in several different subtypes of OCD, including Health Concern OCD, Harm OCD, Responsibility OCD, and False Memory OCD. A person with Health Concern OCD may fear concussions and the associated risk of death or serious health complications. A person with Harm OCD may fear concussions because of the link between concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), fearing that head trauma could cause them to be aggressive or violent. A person with Responsibility OCD may have intrusive thoughts or fears that they may inadvertently give another person a concussion in everyday settings or athletic activity. A person with False Memory OCD may fear having done something horrible that they can’t remember after having a concussion in the past, or they may fear having a concussion in the future due to anxiety about memory loss.
Common obsessions experienced by people with fear of concussions in OCD include:
- What if I get into an accident and get a concussion?
- Why can’t I remember that detail? Did I have a concussion?
- This headache feels bad. What if I got a concussion?
- What if I develop CTE?
- What if I lose my memories as a result of a concussion?
- What if I have bumped my head and I am unaware of the concussion?
- If I fall asleep after a concussion I will die.
- What if I can no longer work and provide for my family as a result of brain injury?
- What if I develop CTE and hurt myself or someone else?
- What if the concussion I got in high school develops into CTE now that I am older?
- What if I accidentally give someone else a concussion?
- What if my opponent got a concussion in the soccer game, and it was my fault?
People with OCD focused on a fear of concussions may be triggered by situations or events that make them question their own brain health. They would also be triggered by places and events where concussions and head injuries may be more probable.
Triggers for people with a fear of concussions include:
- Bumping their head
- Any physical contact with the head
- Difficulty remembering something
- Stories about athletes that developed CTE
- Activities or events with physical contact
- Memories of their own concussions from childhood or teen years
- Hearing or reading about people who have hurt themselves and/or others as a result of CTE
How can I tell if I have OCD with a focus on a fear of concussions, and not exhibiting healthy safety and cautiousness?
As mentioned previously, it is wise to take head injuries very seriously—they can have grave impacts on one’s life. We would encourage everyone to operate with appropriate caution when it comes to concussions. However, when OCD latches onto such fears, the result can also be debilitating to many areas of one’s life.
To help determine if you’re struggling with OCD, it’s important to understand the symptoms of OCD. OCD is characterized by a cycle of obsessions (persistent, intrusive, unwanted thoughts, images, or urges), anxiety and distress caused by obsessions, and compulsions (actions performed in response to obsessions in an attempt to reduce distress and anxiety or prevent a feared outcome).
Compulsions often provide temporary relief from fear and anxiety; however, they lead to significantly increased fear and anxiety in the long run. Engaging in compulsions strengthens the obsessions and causes people with OCD to become more trapped in the vicious cycle of fear and anxiety. For people with OCD, obsessions and compulsions generally lead to significant anxiety and distress, take up a significant amount of time, and/or impact the person’s daily functioning in one or more domains of life.
Here are some common indicators that you might have OCD focused on a fear of concussions:
- You significantly change your day to day life to accommodate the fear of concussions.
- You assess for signs of concussions without a reasonable suspicion to believe one has occurred.
- You take excessive measures to avoid and prevent concussions.
- You spend time ruminating on intrusive thoughts about what will happen to you or your loved ones as a result of a concussion.
- You seek repeated medical tests to feel perfectly certain about your brain health.
- You feel highly anxious or fearful in response to common symptoms like occasional headaches or memory lapses.
If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, you may be struggling with OCD. Getting an assessment from an OCD specialist can determine if you have a diagnosis of OCD.
When people with OCD involving a fear of concussions experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they engage in compulsive behaviors that are meant to reduce or eliminate the anxiety they feel or prevent a feared outcome. Compulsions can be mental or behavioral actions, and they’re generally excessive and/or ritualistic.
These behaviors may seem harmless, rational, or helpful at first, but they keep the cycle of OCD going, reinforcing fears and consuming more and more time and energy. To stop the cycle of OCD, one needs to learn to accept uncertainty in order to live life on their own terms, rather than engaging in compulsions.
Compulsions performed by people with OCD centered on a fear of concussions include:
- Avoiding physical contact with others
- Mentally reviewing possible instances of head injury
- Googling symptoms of concussions
- Body scanning for symptoms of a concussion
- Frequent ER, urgent care, or doctor visits to assess for possible concussions, without strong reason
- Seeking reassurance from others about one’s brain health and behavior
- Repeatedly testing one’s brain function or memory
- Avoiding situations that pose any risk for injury, like walking in the rain
How to overcome fear of concussion
OCD with a focus on fear of concussions can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you will collaboratively create a plan to safely face your fears and live life on your own terms.
ERP is the leading evidence-based treatment for OCD, is highly effective at treating OCD, and has been empirically validated by decades of clinical research. By doing ERP over time, most individuals experience a decrease in OCD symptoms, reduced anxiety and distress, and improved confidence in their ability to confront their fears and tolerate anxiety. Due to the severity and real danger involved with concussions, your therapist may request permission to speak directly to your doctor to ensure that no concussions have actually occurred.
Examples of possible exposures done to treat a fear of concussions in OCD include:
- Reading stories about athletes who suffered from concussions
- Not researching concussion symptoms or seeing a doctor for a mild headache or memory lapse
- Walk or drive safely in the rain or similar setting
- Listen to news media talk about the dangers of concussions
- Have your doctor talk to you about the danger of concussion
- Write a worst case scenario script about what could happen as a result of a concussion
If you’re struggling with OCD and are interested in learning about ERP, you can schedule a free call with the NOCD Care Team to find out how treatment can help you. All of our therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training and ongoing guidance from our clinical leadership team. Many of them have dealt with OCD themselves and understand how crucial ERP therapy is.