What are the signs and symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?
At Priory, we understand that obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be very difficult to cope with and the symptoms that are associated with this condition can be very distressing and time-consuming, which can sometimes prevent people from seeking the expert OCD treatment and help that they need. At Priory, our OCD experts are dedicated to providing you with world class OCD treatment, empowering you to address your symptoms and return to a positive way of life.
OCD symptoms can vary from person to person, and can be categorised into either obsessions (persistent, irrational thoughts or urges), or compulsions (physical or mental acts that individuals feel compelled to perform).
The most common form of OCD obsession is related to hygiene and contamination. This form of obsession causes the sufferer to develop an intense and irrational fear of germs, dirt and disease, resulting in them compulsively washing themselves or objects more than usual, only touching things with a tissue, and avoiding items which may be contaminated.
Other examples of obsessions that individuals with OCD may experience include:
- An obsession with causing accident, injury, harm, danger or misfortune to yourself and others
- An obsession with order and symmetry, and being highly superstitious in relation to certain numbers, arrangements or colours
- Feeling as though things need to be done perfectly, ‘just right’ or in a certain way, otherwise terrible things will happen or you will be punished
- Worrying that you have a serious disease despite medical reassurances
- Fearing that something bad will happen if you throw anything away, or a fear of losing things that you might need
- Experiencing intrusive or ‘forbidden’ sexual thoughts, or constantly questioning your sexuality
- Intrusive violent thoughts and images
- Excessive concerns over religion and morality
As the actions that are associated with OCD are a response to obsessional fears, the resulting compulsive rituals may cause you to have ‘safe’ thoughts which temporarily reduce anxiety. Examples of compulsions can include:
- Compulsive checking and double-checking e.g. that the house is locked, that appliances are turned off, that loved ones are safe
- Repeatedly seeking reassurance from other people
- Repeating actions a set number of times or for a specific period of time e.g. counting, repeating certain words over and over again, turning a light switch on and off
- Reordering or rearranging things to make them aligned, symmetrical, or ‘just so’, and becoming distressed if people move/change them
- Compulsively avoiding situations where you think that you may engage in violent, sexually inappropriate or blasphemous behaviours
- Excessive praying or other religious rituals
- Hoarding or collecting items that you don’t need or use
Other OCD symptoms
There are also a number of additional OCD symptoms that may be experienced alongside the characteristic obsessions and compulsions. These may include:
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia
- Drugs and alcohol abuse as a way of self-medicating to help you to manage and cope with your OCD symptoms. Substance abuse may lead to a harmful addiction which can hinder your recovery and lead to further problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low self-esteem
- Appetite changes – either increased or reduced appetite which may also result in weight fluctuations
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Reduced school or work performance as a result of decreased concentration and being distracted by your obsessions and compulsions
- Inability to manage day-to-day tasks effectively
Self-help tips for dealing with OCD symptoms
Below are some tips that you can use, to help you to better manage and cope with your OCD:
- Accept that you have a problem and speak with a friend or relative who may be able to support you
- Understand that you are not defined by your obsessions or compulsions
- Take steps to overcome your compulsions – in the first instance it could be a good idea to alter the way that you act on these compulsions. For example, try cleaning your office desk a different way or lining up your stationery at a different angle
- Don’t be too hard on yourself – if you are experiencing unpleasant obsessions, be aware that these thoughts will lessen over time
- Eat healthy food, make sure you are getting plenty of rest and surround yourself with positive influences
- Have patience with your condition, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help
This page was clinically reviewed by Professor David Veale (MBBS, BSc, MD, FBPsS, FRCPsych, FBABCP, MPhil) in May 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in May 2020. To view all Priory OCD specialists, please click here.