Knowing the Obsessive and Compulsive Behaviors Linked to OCD

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According to Mayo Clinic, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) “features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.”

OCD affects about 1 percent of the population, both men and women, typically beginning around teen or young adult years. While it is a lifelong condition, those who struggle with OCD can, and do, find help and relief through therapy. 

How to recognize OCD

The obsessions of OCD are intrusive, anxious and unwanted thoughts that lead to a compulsive behavior/repeated actions meant to lessen the anxiety felt by an obsessive thought. However, the compulsive action provides only brief, temporary relief and is typically performed simply for the sake of lessening anxiety or preventing a perceived harm from occurring.

Presumably, the obsession still returns after a while, even when the individual is thinking or doing something entirely unrelated, causing them to feel caught in a vicious cycle of obsession followed by compulsion over and over again. 

Signs of obsessive thoughts 

Certain signs can help you recognize OCD behavior. You are likely to notice signs of obsessive thoughts, possibly followed by compulsive behaviors. 

These obsessive thoughts may include:

  • Not wanting to touch objects others have touched out of fear of contamination, germs or dirt
  • Feeling intense anxiety if items are disorderly or not facing a certain way
  • Needing constant reassurance
  • Intrusive thoughts of causing harm to yourself or others
  • Being unable to handle uncertainty or doubt, resulting in repeatedly checking things
  • Anxiety about embarrassing oneself in public by speaking or acting inappropriately

The distress caused by these thoughts is what often leads to compulsive behavior as a means of trying to get rid of them or lessen their severity. 

Signs of compulsive behaviors 

In an attempt to get rid of OCD’s obsessive thoughts or keep something bad from happening, one might engage in repeated, nearly ritualistic behaviors. These compulsions are rarely relieving, and sometimes don’t relate much to the actual problem they’re trying to fix. But as the thoughts take control, compulsive behaviors may feel like the only way to find relief. 

Signs of OCD compulsive behaviors can include: 

  • Repeatedly and frequently washing one’s hands to the point of severe chapped or dry skin
  • Checking the locks, oven or lights over and over again
  • Arranging cans in the pantry, glasses in the cabinets or items on the dresser in a specific way
  • Repeating phrases, numbers or prayers in your mind
  • Eating foods in a specific order
  • Repeatedly ensuring that you haven’t caused harm to someone

While everyone does things like wanting their counter space to be organized, double checking that the curling iron is off or pulling on the door handles after they’ve locked their car, the difference with OCD is the amount of time these compulsive behaviors take up during a day. 

A sign of OCD is not being neat— it’s whether or not this neatness takes up hours of the day, interferes with daily life like work or school and provides little mental relief to the individual.

Other OCD symptoms 

Sometimes individuals struggling with OCD develop a tic. They may be vocal tics, like grunting, clearing one’s throat or sniffing repeatedly. 

Motor tics may manifest in other ways, including: 

  • Blinking, or other rapid eye movements done repeatedly
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Head or shoulder jerking
  • Grimacing

With OCD, symptoms may worsen or improve over time, or they may come and go. Someone battling OCD isn’t necessarily going to show all the symptoms, and might not engage in compulsive behaviors all the time. However, when they do, they’re likely to understand on their own that the behaviors don’t really make sense. 

Diagnosing OCD 

As with any mental health condition, one can recognize the signs and symptoms of OCD on their own (or on behalf of their loved one), but cannot give themselves a formal diagnosis. 

A trained mental health professional, under the guidance of the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), will use the following criteria to determine whether or not the signs point to an OCD diagnosis

  • The person has obsessions, compulsions or both
  • The obsessions or compulsions take up more than an hour per day
  • The obsessions or compulsions cause distress or affect participation in social activities, work responsibilities or other life events
  • The symptoms aren’t caused by drugs, alcohol, medications or another medical problem
  • The symptoms aren’t explained by another mental disorder

If an OCD diagnosis is reached, the following step would be to seek treatment for OCD to help the individual learn effective coping mechanisms, as well as new patterns of thought to keep the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors at bay. 

Treatment for OCD 

OCD is a challenging, confusing mental health disorder to live with, but not an impossible one. With the right treatment plan, you can learn how to not only live with OCD, but how to thrive despite the diagnosis.

To begin OCD treatment, reach out to The Light Program today by calling us at 610-644-6464.