Sometimes what gets labeled OCD is simply a person who wants things to be perfect or arranged a certain way, or excessively worrying about something in your life. OCD is more complex than that. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized by obsessions that lead to compulsive behaviors.
OCD has two main elements to it – obsessions and compulsions. A person with OCD need only have one of these symptoms, however. These obsessions and compulsions consume inordinate amounts of time to manage and can interfere with a person’s everyday life and functioning.
Regarding obsessions, a person with OCD will often have images that occupy their mind, impulses, unwanted or intrusive thoughts,and they have no control over them. They may take steps to ignore or stop these obsessions, but the inadvertent result may be significant distress and anxiety instead.
Obsessions can revolve around certain themes, and these may include:
- a fear of contamination from germs or dirt,
- unwanted thoughts of unpleasant sexual images or subjects,
- struggling with uncertainty,
- aggressive thoughts concerning harming yourself or other people, or losing control,
- thoughts of shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately in public,
- or needing things to be perfectly orderly and symmetrical.
These often intrude when a person is trying to focus on a task or when they are trying to think about something else entirely.
The other aspect of obsessive-compulsive disorder is dealing with compulsions. In response to the fears and anxieties caused by the obsessions, a person will have compulsive behaviors they engage in repeatedly to relieve the anxiety caused by their obsessions or to prevent something bad from happening.
They may make up rules to follow that will help them deal with their anxiety. The types of compulsive behaviors a person engages in will vary, and these have themes as well, which include:
- having and following a rigorous routine,
- checking and/or counting,
- washing and cleaning,
- needing reassurance.
Engaging in the compulsive behavior may only bring temporary relief from anxiety, and the compulsions are often not related to the problem they attempt to fix, and they are typically excessive as well. After those compulsive behaviors are engaged in, the obsessions will return unbidden, and the cycle will begin again.
OCD can begin in childhood, but it usually begins in the teen and young adult years. The severity of OCD may vary through the years, as do the symptoms. When a person undergoes a period of great stress, their symptoms of OCD may worsen too. Because of what OCD is, a person with OCD has little to no control over their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
This lack of control adds to the general distress and anxiety they experience, and because the obsessions and compulsive behaviors require effort and attention to manage, they can take up significant amounts of time. Having something in your life that you cannot control can be an added burden and agonizing because while you know that what you’re doing might be irrational and disproportionate to the issue, you can’t stop yourself from engaging in the compulsive behaviors, and you’re caught up in a cycle.