What is OCD?

Many of us are all too familiar with anxiety these days. Situational anxiety can occur during challenging times such as a worldwide pandemic—or during individual situations like a divorce, a new job, financial hardship or illness.

But at times, the anxiety that people experience becomes so severe it begins to impair important aspects of their lives. There are five specific types of anxiety disorders, one of which is obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by chronic and long-lasting, uncontrollable thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions).

“Some people find themselves prone to obsessive thoughts, while others find compulsive behaviors are more problematic,” said Tisha Bayless of Memorial Behavioral Health. “Some people with OCD may find they struggle with both.”

Common thoughts or obsessions may include intrusive and unwanted thoughts about germs, taboo subjects and intrusive thoughts of hurting someone or a preoccupation with order or symmetry of objects.  Some examples of compulsions or behaviors a person may struggle with include repeatedly checking on things, a compulsion to put items in a specific and precise order, compulsively counting items or excessive cleaning.

“It’s important to realize that not all of these behaviors are automatically considered OCD,” Bayless said. “Not all rituals or habits are compulsions, and everyone has times they have found themselves double- or even triple-checking items. The difference in OCD is the individual cannot control their thoughts or behaviors even when they recognize the thought or behavior is excessive.”

People experiencing OCD may spend hours every single day on these thoughts and behaviors. The individual gets no pleasure from these rituals.

“There is a vast difference between a person who cleans their home for five hours in anticipation of hosting a special family gathering at their home, and a person who must clean for five hours every day to an extent that they turn down social invitations and eliminate meaningful activities as it may disrupt their compulsion to clean,” Bayless said.

The difference, she said, lies in the impact that these compulsions have on the person’s daily life and well-being.

“It may be ordinary for a person to check their alarm clock two to three times before going to bed to ensure it is set properly, while it is not ordinary for a person to check their alarm so frequently they do not sleep at all for fear of oversleeping,” she added.

OCD can impact both adults and children. Many times, in cases involving children, parents or teachers may be the ones to notice that a child’s thoughts or behaviors are out of the ordinary.

There is no typical course for OCD symptoms. Symptoms may come and go, ease over time or even worsen over time.  However, it is important to seek assistance if you, your child or a loved one notices symptoms of OCD. Early intervention can prevent symptoms from worsening and ultimately impacting important life areas such as relationships, work and school.

Treatment for OCD symptoms most commonly involves medications and/or counseling.  Both can help reduce obsessions and compulsions as well as treat any other anxiety or depression the individual may be experiencing.

“Though there is no cure for OCD, existing treatments can substantially help individuals maintain control over their symptoms and decrease its impairment in their life,” Bayless said.