At some point in our lives, we have all felt the urge to do things a certain way or the need to arrange things in a precise manner. For most of us, these are temporary “quirks” that come and go. But for those with OCD, these urges and thoughts to do things in a certain way can be all-consuming, leading to obsessions and compulsions that take over their lives.
What is OCD?
OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by obsessions, which are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that cause anxiety, and compulsions, which are actions or rituals that a person feels compelled to perform to wade off anxiety caused by the obsessions.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). OCD can manifest in a variety of ways, but most commonly includes obsessions with contamination/germs, harm/safety, symmetry/exactness, and religious scrupulosity.
Examples of common obsessions include fear of contracting a disease, harming oneself or others (e.g., accidentally leaving the oven on), or committing a moral or religious transgression (e.g., forgetting to pray).
Common compulsions include excessive hand washing and showering, cleaning household items until they are “just right,” checking appliances to make sure they are turned off, seeking reassurance from others, and ritualistic prayer. People with OCD often engage in these behaviors to a degree that interferes with their daily life and activities.
For example, someone with a fear of germs or contamination can spend hours every day washing their hands or cleaning their house over and over again until every surface is spotless. Unfortunately, these rituals only serve to reinforce the cycle of OCD and can lead to severe impairment.
What are the signs and symptoms of OCD?
The signs and symptoms of OCD can vary from person to person, but there are some common themes. These include:
- Persistent and unwanted intrusive thoughts or images
- Extreme anxiety about potential harm or danger
- Excessive hand washing, showering, or cleaning
- Checking door locks, appliances, or other objects multiple times
- Arranging household items in a specific order or symmetry
- Repeating certain words or phrases over and over again
- Seeking constant reassurance from others
- Avoidance of places or objects that may trigger obsessions
- Intentional procrastination due to fear of making mistakes
- Missing work, school, or social engagements due to OCD-related rituals
- Spending excessive amounts of time performing rituals or routines
- Experience excessive distress when their rituals or routines are disrupted
In most cases, people with OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational and unreasonable, but feel powerless to stop them.
OCD can be a debilitating condition, but there is hope. With treatment, most people with OCD can learn to manage their symptoms and live healthy, productive lives. If you or someone you know is exhibiting the above signs and symptoms, please reach out to a mental health professional for help.