If you think about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, what comes to mind? Do you imagine someone washing their hands all day long, or organizing their closet by color? While those are definitely symptoms of the disorder, it's important to acknowledge the subtler signs of OCD, too.
Because, despite what we see in the movies, OCD is hardly ever as stereotypical as people think. While it's different for everyone, OCD is more often characterized by subtler, often unrecognizable, symptoms. That's not to say, however, that they aren't difficult to deal with — especially if you get stuck performing a cleaning ritual or double checking every door in your house.
While time-consuming and "strange," these rituals (compulsions) can help quell the bad thoughts (obsessions) that are typical of the disorder. As mental health therapist Mallory Grimste, LCSW says, "It is often common for people with OCD to experience great anxiety that if they do not complete their compulsion, something bad will happen."
While these types of issues can feel incredibly hopeless and ridiculously frustrating, there are treatments available for OCD. "Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and exposure techniques have been found to be very helpful in treating anxiety," Grimste says. "Medications may help for more severe symptoms as well." With that in mind, read on for some subtle signs you might have OCD. If anything sounds familiar, talk with a therapist ASAP so you can start feeling better soon.
1. You Take Forever Getting Ready In The Morning
While there's nothing wrong with a leisurely morning routine, it is worth noting if your rituals consistently make you late. As licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Helen Odessky tells me, OCD sufferers often have difficulty leaving their house because things have to be "just right." You might find yourself going through a painstaking shower routine, for example, or trying to "perfect' your makeup. It really can be an infuriating and time-consuming process.
2. You Can't Shake The Feeling That You Forgot To Lock The Front Door
Once you do leave, you might find yourself double checking that the front door is locked, and then worrying about it all the way to work. As clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Heitler says, "Repeated checking ('Is the door really locked? Did I turn off the oven?') and being unable to stop a thought from continually coming to mind are the two most common symptoms."
3. Your Sneezing Coworker Is Really Getting To You
Nobody likes hanging around someone who has a cold. But if you have OCD, your coworker's incessant sneezing might push you to panic. As therapist Lisa Bahar, LMFT, LPCC tells me, people with OCD often have intense anxiety about foods, germs, or touching supposedly dirty surfaces. It really can make life difficult.
4. You Can't Go Anywhere Without Hand Sanitizer
Again, it's normal to protect yourself from germs by washing your hands and staying clean. But if you have OCD, you might feel compelled to smear on hand sanitizer at every turn. As Odessky says, "... people with health-focused OCD will become anxious if they run out [of sanitizer], [or] use it excessively without direct cause — for example, just being in the vicinity of someone who is sick."
5. Negative Thoughts Keep Replaying In Your Mind
Obsessive compulsive disorder can cause you to do just that — obsess. So take note if you find yourself replaying a negative thought or situation over and over and over again. As therapist Justine Mastin tells me, these intrusive and unwanted thoughts can be time-consuming, but they can also be stressful. If you can shake a thought or a worry, it may be cause for concern.
6. You Catch Yourself With Little Nervous Habits
OCD can lead to repetitive behavior, such as with the double (and triple) checking of door locks. It can also lead to nervous ticks. You might catch yourself tapping your hand when you're worried, or pushing your hair behind your ear, psychotherapist Kristina Orlova, LMFT, CMT tells me. These little gestures are often a dead giveaway that anxiety has reared its ugly head.
7. You Have To Do Everything In A Specific Way
Again, many of us have habits and certain ways of doing things. But take note if you simply cannot deal when your routine gets disrupted. As Grimste tells me, this is especially true if you start over from scratch when someone or something throws you off. And even more true if you're consistently running hours behind schedule as a result.
8. You Have To Double Check (Then Triple Check) That The Stove Is Off
If you've ever gone back home to check that the stove is off, you might just be responsible grown up. But if you do it every day, and feel panicked while doing so, it could be a sign of OCD. As Mastin tells me, you might even stand at the stove and check and recheck that you've turned it off "correctly." If this tendency causes you tremendous distress, it may be worth looking into.
9. You Cannot Stop Straightening Up Your Apartment
For those with OCD, cleaning often goes well beyond a normal tidying session and into the realm of complete and utter obsession. "People with OCD related to neatness are physically and psychologically unable to relax until they engage in their compulsion," Odessky says. "This is not the same as feeling better in an organized environment ... This may go on for a long period of time or take the place of sleep or rest." Not good.
10. You Have A "Magical" Way Of Thinking
Believe it or not, most OCD symptoms have nothing to do with cleanliness or germs. Instead, they're more about the troubling thoughts swirling around inside your head. According to senior health writer Carolyn Gregoire on HuffingtonPost.com, you might find yourself fixated on thoughts of violence, sexual deviancy, hoarding, religious beliefs, or magical thinking. It can be distressing, for sure.
11. You Feel A Huge Sense Of Relief When You Perform These Rituals
Compulsions are stressful AF, but they pale in comparison to the obsessions that spark them. You might find yourself turning a light switch on and off, for example, not because you care about the lights but because you care about how that ritual makes you feel. As Grimste tells me, performing a ritual like this can offer a major sense or relief — especially if you do it "right." And that is a major sign of OCD.
Keep in mind, however, that everyone has habits like these to some degree. If you like a neat apartment or try to avoid getting sick, that's totally OK. It's only when these habits become distressing, or you feel like something bad will happen if you don't do them, that it's cause for concern. If any of this sounds familiar, don't be afraid to talk with a therapist.
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