What is somatic or sensorimotor OCD?

Somatic or sensorimotor OCD is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder that includes an obsession with internal bodily functions.

What is somatic or sensorimotor OCD?

Last update: July 25, 2023

Somatic or sensorimotor OCD causes a person to pay more attention to bodily sensations and tune the ear to everything going on in their body. It is as if the body is a room and has installed a motion detector that is too sensitive and is triggered from time to time by something as simple as the suspension of dust particles in the air.

This mental and emotional investment directed towards one’s body results in excessive energy consumption, resulting in exhaustion. Now, what is their motivation for paying so much attention to bodily sensations? And the belief that if they don’t focus on these organic events, some misfortune will occur.

This is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder which, while not as well known, is devastating to the patient. Learn more below.

Patients with sensorimotor OCD experience high psychosocial burnout, to the point of being unable to work.

Somatic or sensorimotor OCD: definition and characteristics

The body is remarkable in that it is able to perform a large number of important functions without the need for conscious attention or control; It allows you to live without having to worry about its basic functions. You don’t have to focus on the heart to make it beat, either it is necessary to direct digestion.

People with somatic OCD fear vegetative automatism will fail and are aware of every organ. These patients also develop sensorimotor hyperawareness. That is, any sensations are worked out troublingly and intensely.

The University of Jyvskyl, Finland, points out in a paper that people cannot take their attention away from this intrusive and annoying body dominated by multiple sensations and processes.

Therefore, we are talking about a unusual type of OCD in which excessive worrying, the distressing ideas and emotions appear focused on the body and on each of its processes and sensations.

Read also: Body self-awareness and its link with suffering

Sensorimotor symptoms in obsessive compulsive disorder

Patients with this class of OCD develop a large number of sensorimotor blocks. In general, it is normal for the person to initiate this condition by placing their attention on swallowing (especially swallowing saliva) or breathing (inhalation-exhalation). This completely disrupts their most basic social functions. Let’s see immediately which are the most frequent sensorimotor signals:

  • Itchy skin, chills or tingling sensations
  • Exaggerated concern about momentary blemishes or flashes in the vision
  • Sensations in the stomach and intestines, such as gas, abdominal pain or nausea
  • Tinnitus or inner ear sounds, with the sensation of ringing or ringing in the ear
  • Concentrate on your breathing, with obsessive attention on your inhalation and exhalation
  • Paying too much attention to blinking, counting the number of times they blink, or feeling discomfort in the eyes
  • Obsession with the beating of the heart, paying too much attention to the rhythms and sensations of this organ
  • Obsession with joints that creak or rattle when moved and need to do it, over and over again, to relieve anxiety
  • Constant concern about salivation and swallowing, with a feeling of having difficulty swallowing or having excess saliva in the mouth
  • Sensations produced by the hair on the scalp or face, such as a feeling that the hair is out of place or needs to be combed constantly

More extreme cases of sensorimotor OCD can lead to psychosis.

A man placing his hands over his heart when exhibiting symptoms of somatic OCD.
A person with sensory OCD may believe that if they don’t focus on their breathing, they will have a heart attack.

Thoughts and compulsions associated with sensorimotor OCD

Brown Medical School, in Providence, Rhode Island, reported in a study that OCD has a gradual onset and a continuous course, and is capable of giving way to a serious psychiatric condition, such as psychosis. While this disorder falls on a spectrum, it is possible to reach a truly limiting state.

As noted, somatic OCD has its origin in an obsession with breathing or swallowing. Now, there comes a point where the patient sees his body as a strange and exhausting thing whose purpose is to drive him crazy. This is due to the mental load of obsessive thoughts and, also, to that anxiety that manifests itself in the form of a compulsion.

  • They think that if they take their attention away from the body, it can fail.
  • They become obsessed with counting the number of sensations experienced.
  • They may have a fixation with a specific finger, eye or ear, or sometimes with multiple organs at the same time.
  • To try to divert attention from these sensorimotor symptoms, they resort to compulsion (repetitive behaviors or thoughts).

You will enjoy reading: The Neurobiology of OCD

How to act when it appears?

OCD has a gradual onset and it is always important to seek specialized help before the obsessions become more intense. This mental condition, although it may have a genetic origin, could also be associated with neurological, traumatic and social factors.

The treatment approach for somatic OCD should focus on reduce sensorimotor obsessions by disconnecting reactive anxiety. This sensory hyper-awareness will fade away when the person stops focusing on every sensation her body produces. The way to achieve this begins with the strategies outlined below.

1. Psychoeducation

It is important to educate the patient about what is happening to him so that he understands the mechanisms that constitute his mental condition. First, they will be taught about obsessive-compulsive disorder and, specifically, this sensorimotor typology.

Furthermore, the psychologist will guide them to become aware that these bodily sensations are not dangerous. We all feel how our body reacts, carries out its processes and presents its particularities. There is nothing threatening about those experiences.

Having relatives who have had OCD increases the likelihood that a person will develop it sooner or later.

2. Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP).

Exposure and response prevention therapy is the most useful in treating OCD and its subtypes. The newspaper Research in psychology and behavior management highlights its effectiveness in the treatment of this psychological condition.

This approach seeks that the person learns to live with intrusive thoughts without giving them value and without the need to resort to compulsive behaviors. The method, which is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, allows you to develop a more flexible mind, ceasing to process those sensations as something of concern.

3. Mindfulness Body Scan technique

Mindfulness-based body scanning focuses attention on bodily sensations to promote relaxation. It also benefits from understanding what goes on in the body itself. The so-called body scan it is a very useful therapeutic resource in sensorimotor OCD because it reduces the apprehension of these in-body experiences.

A patient in therapy treating his somatic OCD
ERP therapy is effective in treating sensorimotor OCD.

Can somatic OCD be prevented?

Sensorimotor OCD, like the full spectrum of OCD itself, has a genetic component. If some relatives have suffered from this condition, there is a specific risk that, at some point, you will suffer from it too. One way to avoid slipping into this form of distorted anxiety would be to contribute to a flexible and rational mental approach.

However, it is very difficult to prevent this condition 100%. The best suggestion is to consult a professional before the first obsessions or distorted thoughts start.

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#somatic #sensorimotor #OCD
Image Source : exploringyourmind.com

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