Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD
What is OCDOCD SubtypesFear of paralysis

Fear of paralysis

5 min read
Melissa Pickett, LPCC

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OCD often causes intrusive thoughts concerning one’s mental and/or physical health. These can involve any potential ailments, injuries, or conditions, and OCD may cause great fear and anxiety about multiple potential concerns, including paralysis and injuries or conditions that could lead to it.

People diagnosed with OCD about their physical health might begin to experience an increase in focus on their body and physical sensations. This hyper-awareness can lead to an increase in anxiety, worry and stress.  

This fear can lead to avoidance of people, places and things that have a probability of causing paralysis. Avoidance is a common safety behavior that may create a sense of safety temporarily, but only tends to reinforce the OCD and the fear or anxiety that comes from obsessions.

These intrusive thoughts begin to take up a lot of time and energy because they lead people with OCD to perform compulsions in an attempt to alleviate anxiety or prevent their fears from happening. Common compulsions in health concern themes include rumination, researching, avoidance, and reassurance-seeking. 

This hyper awareness and focus on one’s health can interfere with a person’s quality of life. It can be difficult to be present when spending time with family and/or friends, and it may make it hard to focus on tasks at work or school.

People suffering from themes of paralysis in Health Concern OCD may experience obsessions related to paralysis and paralyzation, as well as potential events or conditions that could lead to paralysis, or about the events or conditions that would result from becoming paralyzed.

  • What if I suddenly become paralyzed?
  • What if I eat something that poisons my system and paralyzes me?
  • Will I get into a car wreck and become paralyzed?
  • Is this headache a neurological issue that could lead to paralysis?
  • Is this tingling sensation in my fingers/toes a sign of paralysis?
  • If I think too much or talk about paralyzation this might come true. 
  • What would my life be like if I became paralyzed?
  • Would my family be able to take care of me if I became paralyzed?
  • What if I wake up and can’t move?
  • I’m scared to move right now, because what if I can’t?

Common triggers

People experiencing Health Concern OCD focused on fears about paralysis may be triggered by any situations involving potential for injury that could lead to paralysis, like biking, driving, or contact sports. Their obsessive fears may also be triggered by sensations that cause them to worry about their neurological health, or by engaging in media that mentions paralysis. 

When engaging in treatment for OCD, a specialist will help with identifying triggers that increase anxiety and that normally lead to intrusive thoughts. These triggers are helpful in determining necessary exposures throughout ERP therapy.  

Triggers for people with OCD fears of being paralyzed include:

  • Reading about paralysis or paralyzation
  • Experiencing sensations in the body
  • Getting sick/ill
  • Engaging with media about paralysis 
  • Driving, riding a bicycle, or playing contact sports
  • Sleeping 
  • Coming into contact with known chemicals, bugs/animals and food that could result in paralyzation

How do I know this if I’m experiencing OCD, and not another disorder or condition?

A clinician will work with you to diagnose your OCD, often using a standardized or validated measure to assist them. 

When treatment is initiated, an ERP specialist will often utilize assessment tools to rule in or out any other potential disorders during the intake process.  

If you are experiencing fears around being paralyzed, but find relief from these by doing mental or physical compulsions, then it is likely that OCD is present. 

Common compulsions

People experiencing obsessions related to paralysis in OCD will also engage in compulsions, often referred to as safety behaviors. These behaviors, whether mental or physical, are performed in an attempt to find relief from anxiety and uncertainty, or to prevent a feared outcome from happening.

Some common compulsions that may be performed by people experiencing paralysis OCD themes are:

  • Seeking reassurance online, from family/friends, or from oneself
  • Online Researching
  • Frequently visiting a doctor out of fear of paralysis
  • Mental review of events that could pose a risk of paralysis
  • Scanning one’s body for signs of possible paralysis or other conditions
  • Avoidance of sleeping 
  • Avoidance of activities that have any risk for injury
  • Avoidance of travel 
  • Avoidance of certain foods, chemicals 

Some of the above compulsions mentioned often lead to decrease in sleep, decrease in energy, low mood, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, or difficulties with functioning at work and/or social situations. Due to these challenges, OCD can become quite debilitating for individuals with a severe case.   

How to treat fear of paralysis

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the most effective way to treat any theme of OCD and maintain recovery long-term. ERP involves exposing oneself to triggers while resisting the urge to engage in compulsive responses for short-term relief. 

For OCD treatment with a focus on paralyzation, interoceptive exposures may be effective and beneficial. This type of exposure involves triggering feared bodily sensations—for example, engaging in exercise that causes sensations that often trigger fears about paralysis: lightheadedness, shortness of breath, muscular weakness, and resisting compulsions, allowing you to learn that those sensations can be managed. 

ERP exercises are created using a hierarchy, where the first exposure is something that creates a mild amount of fear/anxiety—e.g., reading an article about paralysis while sitting still—and working up to an exercise that creates the most anxiety—e.g. watching a movie about paralysis while wearing a weighted blanket. In both cases, the key is to resist engaging in compulsions for quick relief of anxiety.     

ERP can be anxiety provoking—in fact, that’s part of its design. The goal is not to eliminate anxiety altogether, but to learn to live with symptoms when the anxiety and fear is present.

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today 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.