Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition defined as a constant pattern of unwanted, intrusive thoughts followed by compulsive behaviors. People with obsessive compulsive disorder usually have obsessive behaviors focused on a certain theme, like germs, organization, or sensations and feel compelled to engage in repetitive behaviors. Obsessive compulsive disorder diagnosis can cause severe, nearly debilitating behaviors and thought patterns.

Obsessive compulsive disorder can be triggered by several factors based on personal experience and mental health history. Common triggers or causes are the following:

  • Childhood trauma or neglect
  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Bullying
  • Family history of mental health issues

What Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Might Look Like

Signs and symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder may vary from person to person based on their own personal factors and personality traits. There are many types of OCD and triggers, which also causes symptoms and compulsive acts to differ.

The following are common obsessions of people with OCD:

  • Germs and contamination
  • ‘Checking’ (locks, lights, etc.)
  • Symmetry and organization
  • Hoarding
  • Fear of mistakes
  • Causing harm
  • Counting and numbers

The following are common behavioral compulsions and symptoms of OCD:

  • Extreme anxiety
  • Excessive cleaning or washing
  • Repetitive checking
  • Counting
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Rearranging and ‘perfecting’
  • Demanding reassurance
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Following strict rituals
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Physical tics (tapping, touching, making sounds, etc.)

Behavioral or mental compulsions serve the purpose of self-soothing and creating a sense of control, even though they may actually be prolonging the individual’s distress. A person with OCD feels that not participating in their compulsions is scary and could mean harm or that something will go wrong. Although this isn’t true, it feels real to the person with OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children

A child or adolescent may witness obsessive compulsive or anxiety driven behaviors from an influential adult in their lives, which could impact their mental health. Symptoms like hoarding things or checking on things a number of times can be early signs of obsessive compulsive disorder in children. Many children with OCD have compulsive rituals or routines that they feel they must do over and over. Teens with OCD may demonstrate anxiety and upset when things are out of order, or they feel out of control. Kids with OCD can be evaluated by a mental health professional to identify and properly diagnose their symptoms.

OCD Treatment

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a complex mental health condition that may use one or more treatment approaches. The diagnosis and treatment of OCD especially varies because everyone’s triggers, compulsions and needs are unique. The following are commonly considered for those dealing with OCD:


Therapy can be a helpful tool in diagnosing and treating many mental health conditions. Not all therapeutic approaches are the same. Depending on a person’s diagnosis and personal needs, the following may be used to help treat OCD:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Talk therapy focused on changing negative thoughts and behaviors caused by psychological distress
  • Psychotherapy – General talk therapy for mental or behavioral disorders
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) – A type of cognitive behavioral therapy, it aims to challenge unhelpful or overwhelming thoughts and compulsive behaviors
  • Exposure therapy or systematic desensitization – Talk therapy that gradually exposes a person to their triggers in a safe environment, which helps to desensitize them and reduce their anxiety or fears.


For some, a proper treatment plan may require taking medication. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are both commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. Side effects of anti-anxiety medication may vary, and finding the right one may take some trial and error.

Lifestyle Changes

Implementing healthy habits can be the first step toward a more fulfilling experience for anyone. Although it may require discipline, there are easy, risk-free ways to lessen mental stress and emotional reactivity. Try creating and sticking to a daily routine, staying organized, minimizing excess stimuli when you need to focus and keeping your body active when possible.

Eating nutritious foods, practicing deep breathing techniques, exercising and learning your triggers and reactions can tremendously help cope with feelings of anxiety and overwhelming compulsions.

Support Groups For OCD

There are many kinds of support groups and joining one can have many benefits. Support groups may offer discourse and comradery for those experiencing OCD symptoms and undergoing OCD treatment. Support groups can be a comforting space for those who feel alone in their struggles with mental health issues, such as obsessive compulsive disorder.

Being able to connect with others over a shared behavior or issue can help to lessen the burden and shame. In support group meetings, a person will learn healthy coping mechanisms and techniques to mitigate the intensity or frequency of their obsessive compulsive symptoms.