Obsessive-compulsive disorder normally includes both obsessions (excessive, intrusive thoughts), and compulsions (repetitive behaviors). However, it is also possible for the individual to experience only obsession symptoms or only compulsion symptoms. Approximately one-third of people with OCD will also experience another disorder that includes tics (sudden, brief, intermittent movements or sounds).
Obsessions will often follow a certain theme that will vary from individual to individual. Some common themes for obsessions include:
- Having things orderly and symmetrical
- Unwanted thoughts about aggressive, sexual, or religious subjects
- Fear of contamination or dirt
- Aggressive or horrific thoughts about harming yourself or others
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of OCD obsessions include:
- Images of hurting yourself or someone else
- Distress about unpleasant sexual images repeating in your mind
- Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands
- Thoughts about shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately
- Fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or by touching objects that others have touched
- Intense stress when objects aren’t orderly or facing a certain way
Compulsions are defined as repetitive behaviors that you feel an overwhelming urge to perform. For someone with OCD, these repetitive behaviors are done in an attempt to prevent or reduce the anxiety that comes with obsessions, or to prevent something bad from happening. However, engaging in these compulsions will only offer a temporary relief and will make OCD symptoms worse in the long run. Additionally, compulsions are often not logically connected to preventing the feared event.
Just like obsessions, compulsions tend to follow common themes as well. These themes include:
- Demanding reassurances
- Washing and cleaning
- Following a strict routine
Some common examples of signs and symptoms of OCD compulsions include:
- Checking your stove repeatedly to make sure it is turned off
- Silently repeating a prayer, word, or phrase
- Arranging things such as canned goods to face the same way
- Washing your hands until your skin becomes raw
- Checking your doors repeatedly to make sure they are locked
- Counting in certain patterns
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, symptoms will typically begin slowly at first and then gradually worsen over time. Throughout your life, symptoms will tend to vary in severity depending on how much stress you are experiencing at any given time. Since OCD is considered a lifelong disorder, it can be so time consuming that it becomes a disability.
It is important to understand that having OCD is serious condition. If you are a perfectionist or a “clean freak,” this does not necessarily mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, OCD is not just having excessive worries about real problems going in your life. However, if your obsessions and compulsions are interfering with your daily life or affecting your overall quality of life, then you should see a doctor or mental health provider to receive a proper diagnosis.