While many of us have indulged in harmless superstitions like knocking on wood or avoiding stepping on sidewalk cracks, most people don’t impart genuine or serious meaning to them. However, for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, rituals like these take on outsized importance and may begin to take over their lives. In observation of International OCD Awareness Week, what is OCD, and how can you recognize its potential warning signs?
Media depictions of OCD have distorted many people’s idea of what this condition entails. As a result, you may associate it with fastidious people or those who prefer to stay organized. However, in reality, obsessive-compulsive disorder goes far beyond a desire to keep things clean and tidy. OCD is a genuine mental health condition that can adversely affect people’s ability to function normally and fulfill their daily responsibilities.
Hallmarks of OCD include intrusive, unwanted thoughts that cause stress and anxiety, paired with compulsive behaviors intended to mitigate these worries. These actions may cause relief, but it is only short-lived.
OCD Triggers and Behaviors
You could be more likely to develop OCD if you have other issues such as anxiety or PTSD, or if you have a family history of mental health disorders. Unexpected, stressful life events such as the death of a loved one can lead to OCD, as can ongoing trauma like abuse.
In many cases, obsessions and their companion compulsions start small, and may initially seem like normal behaviors. Many of the classic preoccupations of OCD include irrational worries about cleanliness, safety and fear of making an embarrassing mistake. As the disorder progresses, you may feel you can’t leave your house until you have completed specific actions or done things in a certain order or number of times.
People with OCD may spend hours per day on behaviors like these:
- Washing, cleaning or sanitizing objects or themselves
- Arranging and rearranging items in a particular pattern or combination
- Repeatedly checking things like light switches, door locks and appliances
- Counting items
How Do Doctors Diagnose Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
While everyone has daily worries and preferred habits, you probably do not have OCD unless you genuinely believe a calamity will befall you or your family if you fail to take the same steps in a precise order multiple times every day. Compulsions are not the same as being detail-oriented because they involve some degree of magical thinking. That means you not only overestimate threats, but you also believe you alone have the power to control them and ensure they do not happen.
If you think you may have OCD, start by visiting your general practitioner or a psychiatrist. They will likely conduct an exam to ensure your symptoms do not result from an underlying physical health condition, which may include diagnostic tools such as a blood or urine test to check for any alcohol or drugs in your system. They will also want to ask you questions about your symptoms and their severity to gauge whether and to what degree OCD is interfering with your life.
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