When somebody washes their hands frequently or gets bothered by a crooked picture frame, we jokingly say they have OCD. Preferring cleanliness and orderliness is not OCD and is one of the many misconceptions about a more severe condition. OCD is not a personality quirk or a personal preference but a behavioral disorder that can make everyday life borderline impossible. Due to these popular misconceptions, many people fail to understand the actual symptoms of OCD. Knowing the tells is essential so you can spot them in yourself or others. Learn more about the actual signs and symptoms of OCD and the treatment options available.

What Is OCD?

OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. This condition is not a natural aversion to clutter or filth. OCD involves obsessions, fears, and even unwanted thoughts that drive one to repetitive behaviors, also known as compulsions.

Someone who prefers clean hands won’t have a meltdown if they can’t find hand sanitizer. Someone with OCD may experience extreme distress unless they wash their hands excessively. Excessive handwashing is the best example of OCD in action. A person, such as during the pandemic, may have an irrational fear of germs. To cope, they over-wash their hands. Despite their hands being rubbed raw, chapped, or bleeding, they continue the behavior. This type of behavior makes it very challenging to live a normal life. A job or a relationship can suffer when these rituals require completion.

Symptoms of OCD

The key is in the name: obsessive-compulsive, or obsession and compulsion. A person with OCD has obsessions, compulsions, or both.

Symptoms of Obsession

An obsession refers to having persistent, intrusive (unwanted), repeated urges and/or thoughts. Naturally, a person with an obsession experiences anxiety when that obsession is left unfulfilled.
The only way to stop the anxiety is to perform a ritual or compulsive behavior. The obsession conversely gets worse if the individual tries to do something else or reorient their focus.

Obsessions could include the following:

  • Irrational fear of dirt or contamination
  • Being unable to live in a state of uncertainty
  • Strict requirements of symmetry and order
  • Disturbing or aggressive thoughts of losing control
  • Thoughts of harming others or yourself
  • Non-stop intrusive thoughts

Real-life examples of obsession include things like:

  • Fear of touching things other people have touched
  • Doubt that you left the stove on
  • Immense stress around disorderly objects
  • Thoughts of driving through a crowd in your car
  • Urge to shout expletives in public
  • Urge to misbehave in public
  • Imagining sexual images that aren’t pleasant

This list is not comprehensive; people with OCD may only experience some symptoms.

Symptoms of Compulsion

Compulsion is a behavior that compels or drives you to complete it. These are the repetitive behaviors associated with rituals. Think of compulsion as the act of fulfilling the obsession.

Unfortunately, individuals experience no pleasure when they state their obsessive urges. At best, they may get a temporary sensation of relief. Those with OCD create rituals and rules as a coping mechanism to cope with anxiety.

Of course, these solutions tend to be over the top. They’re not realistic and don’t necessarily address the “problem” in question. Compulsions include the following themes:

  • Perfect cleanliness
  • Order and numerical evenness
  • Strict everyday routines

Real-life examples of common compulsions:

  • Washing your hands until raw
  • Repeatedly checking if doors are locked
  • Repeatedly checking if you left the stove on
  • Counting in a particular pattern
  • Repetition of a word/phrase or prayer
  • Facing your canned goods the same way

Again, this is not a comprehensive list. The compulsions you or others experience may vary.

How Do You Diagnose OCD?

Like most mental disorders, you can’t perform a blood test or MRI. Identifying OCD requires a diagnostic interview with a trained psychologist. The psychologist asks a series of questions to get a sense of potential compulsion or obsession.

You have OCD if the results match the criteria of clinical OCD. Sometimes, it accompanies other disorders, such as anxiety and depression. However, OCD is not a monolith. People experience it to different degrees, some to the point where it’s crippling. Others may live more or less normal lives, albeit with a few minor obsessive rituals.

What Causes OCD?

Like many other mental disorders, there is no clear verdict on where it comes from. Evidence points to a combination of genetic factors, the environment you grew up in, and so on. Childhood trauma and stressful life events could lead to the occurrence of OCD. The most common risk factor is genetics. If you have a family member with OCD, there’s a higher chance you will also develop it.

How Do You Treat OCD?

Good news first: you can treat OCD. If you or someone you know has the symptoms, there’s no need to continue living that way. Help comes in the following two ways.

Psychoactive Drug Treatment

Psychiatrists may prescribe the same medication used for those with depression. These medications are SSRIs, or “serotonin reuptake inhibitors.” Since OCD tends to do with serotonin levels, altering them may reduce the occurrence of OCD.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

The main issue with OCD is that patients get stuck in a rut. They develop unhealthy coping mechanisms and unhelpful thought processes. Without the help of a trained medical health professional, they struggle to escape this “loop” of problematic behavior.

During CBT treatment, patients learn to recognize their OCD symptoms. Then, they train on new coping mechanisms and thought patterns. They may also face situations that they try to avoid or resist compulsions in those situations. With regular therapeutic sessions, a person forms a strategy for self-care. CBT often complements medication or replaces it entirely.

Get Treatment at Comprehensive Wellness Centers

The symptoms of OCD are much more than just a preference for organization and cleanliness. Rather, it’s a mix of obsessions and compulsions that interfere with everyday life. With the help of CBT and pharmacology, a patient can find ways to manage and reduce their symptoms.

Comprehensive Wellness Centers bring back that quality of life you’ve been missing. Verify your insurance and schedule an appointment with us.