What is walking related OCD?
|People with Just Right/Perfectionism OCD focused on walking experience intrusive doubts, thoughts, or sensations regarding their body movements or patterns when walking. They may find it difficult to walk through doorways, feel the need to walk on their feet in a particular manner or feel an urge to “balance” or “even out” their walking movements. If they touch the floor or a rug with one foot, they may feel compelled to touch it with the other. Or, if they move one leg in a particular way, they may feel the need to repeat the same action with the other leg. |
When someone experiences OCD, they experience unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, doubts, or urges that cause distress and anxiety, called obsessions. To relieve this distress or avoid feared outcomes, people with OCD resort to compulsions, such as making sure each step they take “feels” right or retracing their steps several times until it feels “okay” to move forward. Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD in general is a subtype of OCD that leads to intrusive thoughts, doubts, and fears about perfection, symmetry, organization, and things feeling “just right,” as well as compulsive behaviors done repetitively in response to these fears.
People with this subtype of OCD may experience anxiety related to an unsettled feeling that something is just not right. Some people with the Just Right/Perfectionism subtype of OCD have obsessions and compulsions focused on walking. They may become hyper-aware of how their feet feel on the ground, where they place their feet, how many steps they take, and whether they feel like their feet are aligned evenly. They may avoid situations where they might have to walk or only walk in certain areas and avoid others. They may also become afraid that others will notice their compulsions and judge them.
Fear of walking – Common obsessions
In Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD, obsessions are unwanted intrusive thoughts, urges, and feelings that something does not seem/feel perfect or just right, and they tend to cause anxiety and discomfort.
Common obsessions experienced by people with Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD focused on walking may include:
- Urge to retrace steps
- Urge to balance or even out steps
- Feeling like they must touch each foot to the same surface the same number of times
- Feeling a need for their feet to align with one another
- Preoccupation with how each step “feels”
- Thoughts that something bad will happen if they don’t step a certain way or repeat certain steps
- What if I cannot go back and “undo” this step?
- What if I never visit this place again and get to retrace the steps?
- What if this discomfort never goes away?
- If I don’t “fix” that step, I’ll feel uncomfortable all day
People with Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD focused on walking may be triggered by situations involving lots of walking, jogging, running, or anything involving walking through doorways. They may also be triggered when they feel that the ground is uneven or that they are off balance in any way.
Triggers for people with Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD centered on walking are:
- Walking in a new area
- New shoes
- Walking through doorways
- Walking from one surface to another
- Having a distressing thought while walking
- Feeling uneven
- Feeling like something is “off”
How can I tell if it’s Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD focusing on walking, and not just a part of who I am?
When it comes to fears that involve perfectionism, it can be difficult to determine what is OCD and what is just a personal characteristic. The best way to understand this is to gain knowledge about OCD. OCD is composed of three basic components: 1) obsessions (intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges); 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result of the intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges; 3) compulsions that are done to relieve this anxiety and/or distress. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions or issues. If intrusive thoughts, images, urges, or feelings increase distress and interfere with your life and functioning, then you may be dealing with OCD. The presence of compulsions like tapping your feet, retracing steps, or repeatedly monitoring your walking is also a sign that you may be struggling with OCD.
Another thing to consider is that Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD with a focus on walking can consume significant amounts of time. You may notice that the idea of walking starts to cause distress and you may engage in compulsions. These compulsions can be physical or mental actions, and people can get “stuck” walking for long periods of time trying to achieve that “just right” feeling, which can make them late to important engagements, keep them from work for extended periods of time, or interfere in social situations. If you avoid walking due to the anxiety you feel about walking, that may also be a sign that you’re experiencing OCD.
When people with Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD focused on walking experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in a variety of mental or physical compulsions in an attempt to relieve the anxiety or discomfort. Compulsions keep people in the cycle of OCD, and make the discomfort from obsessions get worse over time.
Compulsions performed by people with Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD focused on walking may include:
- Stopping frequently or pausing for long periods of time
- Slowly retracing their steps
- Touching/tapping their feet to balance out or feel okay
- Repetitive walking in the same area or same patterns
- Avoiding walking with others
- Avoiding walking on uneven surfaces
- Avoiding new walking areas
- Mentally saying phrases in their head each time they step
How to treat fear of walking
People with Just-Right/Perfectionism OCD centered on walking may feel like there is no hope for recovery, but that is not true. Many people have been treated effectively for this form of OCD. OCD is highly treatable by doing Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist.
ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is 80% effective and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions. With ERP, you will be able to teach your brain that your intrusive thoughts and feelings don’t have to control your actions, and that you can indeed tolerate feelings of distress and discomfort.
People with OCD tend to have a low distress tolerance, meaning that they do not feel that they can tolerate or cope with certain negative feelings, such as anxiety or discomfort. In ERP, you engage in exposures, or exercises done to expose you to situations that trigger anxiety around your obsessions, and your therapist guides you in resisting the urge to respond to the distress with compulsions. By doing this over time, you learn that you can tolerate discomfort and anxiety, and as a result, your obsessions become less and less distressing.
Here are some examples of exposures that could be done to treat Just Right/Perfectionism OCD focused on walking:
- Walking around the room with only one sock on
- Walking in and out of the house without monitoring footsteps
- Walking with one foot on a rug and not the other
- Keeping one foot on the ground longer than the other while walking
Note that for all of these exposures, your therapist would guide you in resisting the urge to do typical compulsions like checking, reversing or repeating steps, and counting steps.
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.