Have you ever heard someone say they’re “so OCD?” Maybe they tell you that you’re “so OCD” when they see how you’ve organized your room or run inside to check if the oven is on. People throw this term around, but what does it really mean? Is OCD just about keeping your clothes neatly folded? Is there some “OCD test” that you can take? And if you have OCD, what should you do next?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is not a term to throw around flippantly. It describes a very serious disorder that can have a great effect on a person’s daily life and mental health. If you find that you exhibit some signs of this disorder, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
What Is OCD?
OCD is a mental health condition in which a person’s life is significantly affected by a series of obsessions and compulsions to manage those obsessions. Unmanaged, these obsessions and compulsions can control a person’s ability to function productively in society.
Having an “obsession” in the context of OCD is not just obsessing over a celebrity or really loving a new song. Obsessions are a series of thoughts or impulses that a person cannot control. Instead of being able to control their thoughts, a person with OCD has obsessions that seem to control them.
Obsessions vary, but include:
- Contamination of germs
- Fear they will harm themselves or others
- Fear of saying things they do not want to say (offensive, taboo, etc.)
- Needing things to be perfectly exact or even
- Sexual obsessions that involve harmful or taboo acts
- Perverse acts or the fear of committing them
- Religious obsessions
- Intense superstition
- Fear of contracting diseases, developing cancer, etc.
These are not “cute” or quirky obsessions. They are often embarrassing, taboo, or things that a person does not want to admit to themselves or others.
To rid themselves of these obsessions, a person experiencing OCD will engage in various rituals. These are not like bedtime routines or religious rituals reserved for certain days of the week. Rituals performed by people with OCD are things that they do not want to do, but feel they have to do to prevent their obsessive thoughts from becoming reality.
Examples of rituals include:
- Performing certain activities a certain number of times (flicking a light switch, locking a door, etc.)
- Repeating certain movements a certain number of times (sitting, standing, kneeling, jumping, etc.)
- Saying specific phrases
- Stepping or walking in a specific direction
- Rearranging or moving items
- Washing or cleaning items for a certain amount of time to reduce contamination
These rituals can hold a person back from having a job, maintaining relationships, or doing the things that they want to do in life.
Signs and Symptoms of OCD
Washing your hands for 20 seconds is not considered a ritual. Turning the tap on and off 10 times every time you need to wash or clean may be considered a ritual. Other signs you or a loved one may be experiencing OCD include:
- Excessive fear of dirt, being “dirty,” or contamination
- Repeating the same thoughts, doubts, and fears
- Redoing tasks until they are “just right”
- High resistance to change
- Checking in on loved ones excessively to make sure they are safe
- Not being able to leave the house until everything is organized and in its proper place
OCD Looks Differently in Everyone
Not every person experiencing OCD has to flip a light switch 100 times or keep track of and organize every single pen in their office. OCD presents itself differently in everyone, but all cases of OCD boil down to obsessions and rituals. An OCD test focuses mainly on these obsessions and rituals.
Support groups and online forums can help you connect with other people who experience OCD. The OCD subreddit, for example, contains multiple posts and threads from people who want to share their experiences. Here’s what a few people had to say about OCD.
“my brain thinks about something that makes me uncomfortable and i don’t want to think about it. then, my brain will keep thinking about it over and over because it feels like i’ll eventually reach some sort of ‘solution’, but that solution never comes. so all im really doing is continuously thinking about something that makes me anxious, until i feel sick.”
“When I have intrusive thoughts or I’m ruminating about something, I end up tensing every muscle in my body and quietly writhe, sometimes for a few minutes. I feel like if I don’t let out that emotion physically I might in other ways. It’s worst when I’m alone, but when I’m in public I’ll still do it with parts of my body that no one will notice. Is this just me?”
“Just wanted to vent/share some thoughts as this exposure happened about 40 minutes ago. I’m a guy and I have contamination ocd, specifically about the worry of getting my body fluids on things, I have only done a few general counseling sessions over the phone but will finally meet with a psychiatrist after months of waiting for an appointment. I live with my parents and 3 siblings. I hadn’t done the dishes in a while because we hadn’t gotten dish washing gloves. Despite not having them, I decided to wash the dishes with just my bare hands (having washed them with soap and sanitized them with sanitizer before hand).
I tried doing them slowly and when I poured dish soap over the dishes in the sink, the intrusive thoughts kicked in. “What if that wasn’t dish soap that you put over them and instead was another liquid?” “What if you got body fluids on the sponge and now your spreading them onto the dishes as your washing them?” I did most of them but then asked my Mom if she could finish the rest of them as she was getting home since I started feeling a bit lightheaded. I feel disappointed in myself for overthinking washing dishes and for the thoughts/questions that were running in my head as I was doing them and now still slightly anxious.”
All of these stories are very different, but interesting examples of OCD. OCD can have some embarrassing and significant effects on a person’s life, so be kind to those who do experience OCD.
How to Treat and Manage OCD
As not all cases of OCD are the same, the most effective treatments vary. Most people experiencing OCD can manage their symptoms with a combination of therapy and medications. If you want to pursue either of these options, you must first reach out to a mental health professional. Many therapists specialize in obsessive-compulsive disorders and similar symptoms, but they take different approaches to treatment.
OCD Test Questions
- How worried are you that you will be contaminated by germs, bacteria, or other substances?
- I am not that concerned (1)
- I get anxious about it sometimes, but proper hand-washing, sanitizer, and other simple measures keep me safe! (3)
- If I have a reason to be worried (COVID, flu season, etc.) I may be worried. (2)
- I am constantly worried about contamination. (4)
- How often are you distracted or your day is completely derailed by terrifying, offensive, or intrusive thoughts?
- Never (1)
- Every once and a while (2)
- More often when I am stressed, but not a lot (3)
- Always (4)
- How worried are you that you may cause harm to someone else?
- Never (1)
- Sometimes (2)
- Frequently (3)
- Always (4)
- Fill in the blank with the statement that sounds most like you. When things are messy, I…
- Don’t mind. Clutter is okay! (1)
- Schedule some time in my day to clean up. (3)
- Clean as I go. (2)
- Have to drop everything until the area is clean and everything is in its proper order. (4)
- When you start to think scary or distressing thoughts, how easily can you turn your mind to think about something else?
- Pretty easily. (1)
- I need to be aware and remind myself, but it can be done! (2)
- I tend to be preoccupied with my worries for a longer period of time. (3)
- I can’t stop thinking about the things that worry me. (4)
- As you leave your house, how thoroughly check that the oven is off, straightener is unplugged, etc.?
- I have to check and make sure frequently, or else I worry something bad will happen. (4)
- I’ll check every now and again, but I’m not worried. (2)
- I have had to go back in my house and check certain things occasionally. (3)
- Not often at all! (4)
- How vigorously do you clean your hands or surfaces that you’re touching?
- I don’t neglect cleaning, but I don’t think about it too much. (1)
- My hand-washing ramped up during the COVID pandemic or when viruses were going around, but only then. (3)
- I usually stay at the sink longer than the person next to me. (2)
- If I don’t clean thoroughly, I know something bad will happen. (4)
- How do you know you’re done washing your hands?
- I’ve never thought about it! (1)
- They’ve been washed with water and soap? (2)
- I’ve hit the 20-second mark recommended by the CDC. (3)
- Things feel “just right.” (4)
- Is repetition a coping mechanism for anxiety?
- Not for me. I handle anxiety in other ways. (2)
- I don’t experience much anxiety. (1)
- Repeating a breathing or counting pattern helps me calm down! (3)
- Repeating other habits, like tapping or turning a door handle, can help reduce anxiety. (4)
- How often do you avoid certain places or situations because you are feeling anxious?
- Never (1)
- Rarely (2)
- Sometimes (3)
- Frequently (4)
- Do you participate in any rituals that help you manage or prevent anxiety?
- No (1)
- I wouldn’t call them rituals, but I do have certain practices to manage anxiety. (2)
- Yes. (4)
- How often do you spend ruminating on obsessive or intrusive thoughts each day?
- Not much time at all (1)
- They come and go sporadically (2)
- Up to an hour a day (3)
- Over an hour a day (4)
- Have friends, family members, or colleagues ever approached you to talk about your ritualistic behaviors or anxiety?
- No (1)
- They have asked questions. (2)
- They seem to be concerned. (3)
- How much would you say that fears, anxiety, and coping mechanisms control your life?
- It affects nearly every aspect of my life. (4)
- It has a great effect on my life. (3)
- It affects my life, but not significantly. (2)
- Fear, anxiety, and coping mechanisms have no effect on my life. (1)
- Do you experience intrusive thoughts about taboo subjects?
- Not at all (1)
- Rarely (2)
- Sometimes (3)
- Frequently (4)
Unlikely Experiencing OCD
You do not seem to display many signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you do believe that you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or any other mental health conditions, reach out to a mental health professional.
Signs of Stress
Although it seems that you are experiencing signs of stress, it is unlikely that your behaviors are symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Take time to engage in mindfulness, journaling, or other stress-reducing practices. If you find that your stress is interfering with your life, reach out to a mental health professional.
Signs of Anxiety
Anxiety may not be controlling your life, but it does seem to make an impact on how you spend your day. Reach out to a mental health professional for anxiety.
Signs of OCD
You appear to be showing some signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This result is in no way a diagnosis. Reach out to a mental health professional to discuss how obsessions, intrusive thoughts, or various rituals may be affecting your day-to-day life.