Sometimes referred to simply as OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that affects roughly 2.2 million American adults. OCD is sometimes trivialized by people saying, “I’m OCD about…” or, “I’m so OCD!”, but there’s a big difference between people who simply like an orderly desk or a tidy room and someone who has OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be quite serious, and can make it difficult for people to carry out their daily lives.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is more than just being particular about where things should go, or having a desire for cleanliness. People with OCD may have frequent and irrational thoughts or fears that lead to repetitive behaviors or rituals. The irrational thoughts are known as obsessions, while the behaviors are known as compulsions. The compulsions are a means to alleviate the anxiety caused by the obsessions.
We all know that germs can cause sickness. That’s why it’s a good idea to wash your hands before eating or preparing meals. A healthy awareness of germs can help keep you from getting sick. However, a fear of germs that keeps you from touching anything without washing your hands is far from healthy. That irrational fear of germs is the obsession, and washing your hands 40 times a day is the compulsion.
Some people may try and cope with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but that doesn’t necessarily make things better. Let’s say that a person with a germ obsession tries to limit their compulsions by touching nothing, or wearing gloves at all times. OCD is still running that person’s life, and the attempts to avoid the problem may add to the stress and anxiety that they feel.
People who have OCD might experience both the obsessions and the compulsions, or they might experience just the obsessions, or just the compulsions. Either way, people who are affected by OCD may find that they are not able to control their thoughts or behaviors, and instead find that their obsessions or compulsions end up controlling them.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some common compulsions include counting and re-counting things, constantly combing one’s hair, repeatedly checking things, and repeatedly touching things. Common obsessions may include an infatuation with symmetry and order, or hoarding items.
Many people with OCD do not recognize that they exhibit compulsive behavior, or that their behavior is out of the ordinary.
While obsessive compulsive disorder can sometimes run in families, it’s unclear why some people have OCD while others do not.
There are varying kinds of OCD, and the disorder can develop in children, getting worse or improving as time goes on. Typically, people are diagnosed with OCD around the age of 19. The symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder can come and go, and vary in severity. Sever cases of OCD can keep people from working or even performing tasks in their own home.
Consult your physician if you think you or someone in your family may have obsessive-compulsive disorder.