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Does OCD affect you everyday?

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness characterized by intrusive, anxious thoughts and repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety. People with OCD experience obsessions – unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. In an attempt to control their anxiety, people with OCD feel an overwhelming urge to perform compulsive behaviors or mental acts. Common OCD obsessions include:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Fear of committing violent acts
  • Intrusive sexual thoughts or urges
  • Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas
  • Fear of losing or not having things in order
  • Excessive double-checking

Common OCD compulsions include:

  • Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing
  • Checking locks, appliances, and switches over and over
  • Constantly arranging objects or performing rituals until it feels “just right”
  • Repeating the same steps or tasks
  • Hoarding and collecting things with no value
  • Seeking constant reassurance

Though the specific obsessions and rituals vary from person to person, the overall OCD cycle remains the same. The obsessions trigger anxiety, and the compulsions serve as an attempt to relieve that distress. However, the relief is temporary and the obsessions return stronger each time. This leads to a vicious cycle of obsession, compulsion, and more obsession.

How common is OCD?

OCD is fairly common – it’s estimated that 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 200 children in the United States have OCD. This equates to over 2 million adults, and over 500,000 children with the condition. OCD typically begins in the teenage years or young adulthood, though it can start in childhood too. Men often develop OCD earlier in life than women. There is also evidence that OCD may run in families.

What causes OCD?

The exact causes of OCD are still being researched, but it likely involves a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors. Current research suggests that OCD may be related to faulty communication between parts of the brain responsible for judgment, planning and emotions. People with OCD may have lower levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate anxiety. OCD also appears to run in families, suggesting a possible genetic component. Environmental factors like childhood trauma, abuse, stressful life events or learned behaviors may trigger the onset of OCD in those already vulnerable.

What are the signs and symptoms of OCD?

People with OCD experience moderate to severe anxiety, distress and impaired functioning due to their obsessions and compulsions. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Obsessions about contamination, harm, order & symmetry, unacceptable thoughts
  • Compulsions like washing, checking, repeating, mental rituals, reassurance seeking
  • Specific routines while carrying out day-to-day tasks
  • Excessive double-checking of things like locks, appliances and switches
  • Spending over 1 hour a day on obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors
  • Avoidance of situations that trigger obsessive thoughts
  • Feelings of intense anxiety or distress if rituals can’t be completed

OCD obsessions and compulsions impair daily functioning and severely limit the person’s ability to complete tasks efficiently. People with OCD may attempt to avoid triggering their anxiety at all costs, leading to isolation and emotional distress.

How does OCD impact a person’s daily life?

OCD can be extremely detrimental to a person’s quality of life. The constant intrusion of distressing, obsessive thoughts makes it difficult to focus at work or school. Carrying out senseless, time-consuming rituals can occupy the entire day, causing severe distress when interrupted. Isolation and avoidance behaviors limit social, academic and career opportunities. OCD can also impact relationships – loved ones often feel hurt that the OCD sufferer doesn’t trust them or feels the need to constantly check on things when they are around. OCD leads to loss of productivity and opportunities, diminished self-esteem, social isolation, and instability in work and relationships. This table summarizes some of the major ways OCD can impact daily life:

Area of Life Impact of OCD
Work/School Unable to concentrate or fulfill responsibilities due to obsessive thoughts and compulsions, often leading to poor performance
Social Life Avoid social situations that trigger obsessions, isolation from friends and activities, perceived as odd or rude due to rituals
Relationships Others feel hurt by OCD behaviors, intimacy suffers, fear of being abandoned
Daily Tasks Everyday tasks become frustratingly lengthy ordeals, excessive lateness or inability to complete tasks
Mental Health Anxiety, distress, feelings of shame or hopelessness, increased risk for depression

When to seek help for OCD

People with OCD often suffer silently for years before seeking help. OCD symptoms typically worsen without proper treatment. It is important to seek help when obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors:

  • Occur for more than 1 hour per day
  • Cause significant daily life impairment or distress
  • Disrupt your relationships or work/school performance
  • Make you feel ashamed, depressed or hopeless

Consult your doctor if you recognize OCD symptoms in yourself or a loved one. A proper diagnosis is needed to guide treatment. With appropriate help, those with OCD can regain control over their thoughts and rituals.

What treatments are available for OCD?

The most effective treatment approaches for OCD include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat OCD. This involves two components:

1. Exposure and response prevention – gradual, repeated exposure to triggering obsessions (ex. dirt, harm) without performing the usual compulsion (ex. washing, checking). This allows anxiety to decrease over time as the person learns the feared outcome doesn’t occur.

2. Cognitive therapy – identifying and modifying dysfunctional thoughts related to the obsessive fears.

Additional types of therapy including acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and mindfulness may also help reduce OCD symptoms. Joining a support group provides community and tools for managing OCD from others experiencing similar struggles.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed to reduce OCD symptoms. Antidepressants impact serotonin, which regulates anxiety. Common SSRIs for OCD treatment include Prozac, Zoloft, Luvox and Paxil. Anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed. Most people require at least 3 months of medication to see improvement.

Coping strategies for living with OCD

In addition to professional treatment, there are things you can do in your daily life to better manage OCD:

  • Practice relaxation techniques – Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation counteract anxiety.
  • Exercise regularly – Aerobic exercise can boost serotonin and dopamine to improve OCD symptoms long-term.
  • Challenge obsessive thoughts – Ask yourself “What is the evidence this thought is actually true or going to happen?” OCD thoughts are often irrational.
  • Delay compulsive responses – Start small by waiting 5 minutes before giving in to the ritual, and gradually increase over time.
  • Join a support group – Connecting with others facing similar struggles provides community and support.
  • Lean on loved ones – Confide in trusted friends or relatives, ask for their support to fight compulsions.

While living with OCD is challenging, the condition is manageable with appropriate treatment and daily coping strategies. The future is bright for people with OCD.

In conclusion…

OCD is a fairly common mental health disorder, thought to affect over 2 million adults in America and around 1 in 200 children. Characterized by intrusive obsessions and distressing compulsions, OCD becomes a vicious cycle that interferes with all aspects of life. If OCD goes untreated, symptoms typically worsen over time. The most effective treatments are cognitive behavioral therapy and SSRI medications. With comprehensive OCD treatment and daily coping skills, individuals can take control of their thoughts and rituals. OCD requires lifelong management, but support is available. Don’t suffer in silence – seek help if obsessive thoughts and rituals interfere with your life. Consistent treatment and effort can minimize OCD’s impact.