“OCD” is one of those terms that some people misuse as a way to describe people who like things super-clean or arranged just so. But if you have the actual condition that’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, how it affects your life is very real.
OCD usually doesn’t happen all at once. Symptoms start small, and to you, they can seem to be normal behaviors. They can be triggered by a personal crisis, abuse, or something negative that affects you a lot, like the death of a loved one. It’s more likely if people in your family have OCD or another mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety.
OCD symptoms include obsessions, compulsions, or both.
An obsession is an uncontrollable thought or fear that causes stress. A compulsion is a ritual or action that someone repeats a lot. Compulsions may offer some relief, but only for a little while.
Obsessions often have a theme, such as these:
Theme: Fear of germs or dirt
Symptom: You might be scared to touch things other people have touched, like doorknobs. Or you don’t want to hug or shake hands with others.
Theme: Extreme need for order
Symptom: You feel stressed when objects are out of place. It’s really hard for you to leave home until you’ve arranged things in a certain way.
Theme: Fear of hurting yourself or someone else
Symptom: When you’re thinking of something completely different, you have thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else.
Theme: Excessive doubt or fear of making a mistake
Symptom: You need constant encouragement or reassurance from others that what you’re doing is right or OK.
Theme: Fear of embarrassment
Symptom: You’re afraid you might yell out curse words in public or behave badly in social situations.
Theme: Fear of evil or hostile thoughts, including warped ideas about sex or religion
Symptom: You imagine troubling sexual or disrespectful scenarios.
Like obsessions, compulsions also have common themes and symptoms:
Theme: Washing or cleaning
Symptom: You wash your hands, shower, or take a bath over and over.
Symptom: You check repeatedly to make sure kitchen appliances are turned off or the door is locked when you leave.
Symptom: You say numbers in a certain pattern out loud or to yourself.
Symptom: You feel the need to eat certain foods in a specific order. You arrange all your clothes or kitchen pantry items in a specific way.
Symptom: You say or do things a set number of times in a certain way before being able to leave the house.
Theme: Collecting or hoarding
Symptom: Your home is full of things you don’t use or need, and you can’t stop yourself from buying more.
These repetitive routines usually don’t have anything to do with the obsession you’re trying to fix and can take hours to do.
If you think you might have OCD, see a doctor or a psychiatrist.
The diagnosis process will likely include:
A physical exam to see if your symptoms are due to a health condition.
Blood tests to check your blood count, how well your thyroid works, and any drugs or alcohol in your system.
A psychological test or evaluation about your feelings, fears, obsessions, compulsions, and actions.
One some level, many people have superstitions or rituals, or fear that they left the door unlocked or the oven on before leaving for work or vacation. If you can control those thoughts or think about them logically, it’s probably not OCD. If you can’t control them, or they take up at least an hour of your day and cause problems in your life, it’s a sign that it’s time to get help.