Have you ever seen someone perform a specific, repetitive motion and then laugh it off by saying “I’m so OCD”? While repetitive motions are often a symptom of OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD isn’t anything to laugh about.
It is estimated to be present in 2-3% of the population and is characterized by cycles of obsessions, anxiety, compulsions, and relief. Below are common examples of intrusive, obsessive thoughts and compulsions:
- Fears about germs, disease, or hygiene
- Having unwanted, disturbing thoughts
- Fears about harming yourself or others
- Repeated cleaning rituals (e.g., washing hands repeatedly, disinfecting doorknobs)
- Repeating words or phrases mentally
- Ordering or arranging things
Performing these actions can sometimes bring brief relief from the anxiety that the obsessions and compulsions create, but it often doesn’t last. People who have OCD often struggle to know whether the compulsive activities they undertake are reasonable or not.
There are multiple ways to treat OCD, but the most common, effective treatment is a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to help give people with OCD better coping skills to manage their obsessions and compulsions, and by extension to relieve their anxiety. Exposure and response prevention is a specific kind of CBT that works by exposing someone with OCD to things that make them anxious a little bit at a time to help them learn to respond in healthier ways. Antidepressants are often the first line of medication used for OCD. This isn’t because OCD corresponds with depression, but because it has been demonstrated that these medications work well for OCD too.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you and are causing significant distress and/or disruption to your daily life, talk to your primary care physician. They can help you take next steps toward testing, diagnosis, and treatment.