What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions.
- Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious (although some people describe it as mental discomfort rather than anxiety).
- Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be something like repeatedly checking a door is locked, repeating a specific phrase in your head or checking how your body feels.
“It’s not about being tidy, it’s about having no control over your negative thoughts. It’s about being afraid not doing things a certain way will cause harm.”
You might find that sometimes your obsessions and compulsions are manageable, and other times they may make your day-to-day life really difficult. They may be more severe when you are stressed about other things, like life changes, health, money, work or relationships.
What’s it like to live with OCD?
Although many people experience minor obsessions (such as worrying about leaving the gas on, or if the door is locked) and compulsions (such as avoiding the cracks in the pavement), these don’t usually significantly interfere with daily life.
If you experience OCD, it’s likely that your obsessions and compulsions will have a big impact on how you live your life. For example:
- Disruption to your day-to-day life. Repeating compulsions can take up a lot of time and you might avoid certain situations that trigger your OCD. This can mean that you’re not able to go to work, see family and friends, eat out or even go outside. Obsessive thoughts can make it hard to concentrate and leave you feeling exhausted.
- Impact on your relationships. You may feel that you have to hide your OCD from people close to you – or your doubts and anxieties about a relationship may make it too difficult to continue.
- Feeling ashamed or lonely. You may feel ashamed of your obsessive thoughts, or worry that they can’t be treated. You might want to hide this part of you from other people, and find it hard to be around people or to go outside. This can make you feel isolated and lonely.
- Feeling anxious. You may find that your obsessions and compulsions are making you feel anxious and stressed. For example, some people feel that they become slaves to their compulsions and have to carry them out so frequently that they have little control over them. You can read more about anxiety here.
“I knew it was irrational … but tapping certain objects would ease the effect of the terrible intrusive thoughts. It would be time-consuming but at least then I could feel like I wasn’t a bad person.”
There are some other mental health problems that are similar to OCD because they involve repetitive thoughts, behaviours or urges.
- Perinatal OCD is when you experience OCD during pregnancy or after birth.
- Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) involves obsessive worrying about one or more perceived flaws in your physical appearance and developing compulsive routines to deal with worries about the way you look.
- Compulsive skin picking (CSP) is the repetitive picking at your skin to relieve anxiety or urges. It can be experienced as part of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). You can read more about CSP on OCD Action’s website.
- Trichotillomania is a compulsive urge to pull out your hair. You can read more about trichotillomania on OCD Action’s website.
- Hoarding is when you collect, keep and find it hard to get rid of things, to the point where it affects your day-to-day life. You can read more about hoarding here.
- Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a type of personality disorder. It has some related traits to OCD, but is a different and separate condition. You can read more about personality disorders and OCPD here.
If you have OCD, it is common to have other mental health problems as well, such as anxiety or depression. This can sometimes make OCD difficult to diagnose and treat.
OCD and stigma
Lots of people have misconceptions about what OCD is. Some people think it just means you wash your hands a lot or that you like things to be tidy. They might even make jokes about it, or describe themselves as a ‘little bit OCD’.
This can be frustrating and upsetting, especially if someone who feels this way is a friend, colleague, family member or a healthcare professional.
Stigma about OCD can make it difficult to talk about, but it’s important to remember you aren’t alone, and you don’t have to put up with people treating you badly.
These are some options that you can also think about:
- Show people this information to help them understand more about what your diagnosis really means.
- Get more involved in your treatment. Our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem provide guidance on having your say in your treatment, making your voice heard, and steps you can take if you’re not happy with your care.
“One of the most difficult things about OCD is how people perceive it. Intrusive thoughts and compulsions take a greater toll, yet people don’t seem to understand that.”