The word “OCD” is thrown around casually to describe a person who is organized or cleans frequently, but obsessive-compulsive disorder is actually a serious anxiety disorder and should be treated as such.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive and unreasonable thoughts and fears that produce repetitive acts or rituals aimed to reduce anxiety. These repetitive behaviours are called compulsions.
OCD typically involves having both compulsions and obsessions. Distress, apprehensions and irrational fears cause these obsessions and compulsions.
A person suffering from OCD has to carry out a compulsion to feel less anxious. If the compulsion (like repeatedly washing hands) is not carried out, they feel severely nervous. The inability to break from these compulsions can cause depression, too.
The most common obsessions include fears about contamination from dirt and germs, fear of carrying out violent thoughts, irrational thoughts of self-harm or harming others – particularly loved ones, craving order, fears for safety, and inability or unwillingness to let go of worn out objects (hoarding).
Obsessions are usually recurrent, involuntary, distressing and hard to control. Although most of us occasionally have some of these thoughts, people suffering from OCD are unable to dismiss them.
Here’s how you can tell if your OCD tendencies are symptoms that might require professional help:
If you’re hooked on hand sanitizer and compulsively wash your hands, it could be a symptom of OCD. This urge is caused by a fear of dirt and germs, but could also stem from a fear of contaminating others or of being tainted or depraved. If you are worried about germs even after you’ve washed your hands, or unreasonably fear contracting diseases from unlikely places, you could be carrying out a compulsion.
Performing a job or chore in accordance with a numeric pattern or counting while doing everyday actions (like counting steps or passing cars) could be a symptom of OCD. Many of these behaviors are caused by superstitions. Seek help if you can’t stop counting and get the numbers out of your head.
Obsessions with order and symmetry while organizing personal belongings may be a sign that it’s a compulsion. Seek help if you compulsively organize your desk or other spaces only to relieve anxiety.
If you are compelled to perform a checking ritual – returning multiple times to check if your front door is locked, or if the knobs on your stove are off – it could be a compulsion.
Other compulsions include overzealous cleaning, touching objects while passing them, measuring, fears of violence, overthinking in relationships, and repeating certain tasks to relieve stress.