How to tell if you have OCD... And what to do about it

OCD is one of those psychological terms that’s commonly used in casual conversation. Usually it implies that someone is overly neat, a perfectionist, orderly, or perhaps a bit finnicky in the way they like things. “Would you stop telling me how to load the dishwasher correctly?? You are so OCD!” So how you do know if you truly have obsessive-compulsive disorder?


As the name implies, OCD is characterized by “obsessions” and “compulsions.” In this case, obsession does not refer to an out-of-reach love interest or the latest show you’ve been binge watching. “Obsession” refers to a fear or anxiety that runs through your mind over and over again. The fear could be a lot of things. It could be a fear of germs, fear of contamination, fear of getting sick, fear of someone breaking in your house, fear of your house burning down, fear of hurting someone else or yourself, fear of being a bad person, fear of being homosexual, fear of going crazy, or fear of not being able to sleep at night. Sometimes these fears are accompanied by vivid and frightening images of catastrophes and worst-case scenarios that won't stop.


Just having the fear is not enough. To be considered OCD, the obsession has to be accompanied by “compulsions.” Compulsions refers to rituals or actions that serve to lessen the anxiety around the obsession. The compulsion may be checking that the doors are locked a certain number of times, washing your hands in a prescribed way, checking that the stove is off a number of times, counting to 7 (or another “special” number), or repeating a certain phrase or prayer to yourself in a set