10 Signs You May Have OCD
Is it OCD?
Hooked on hand sanitizer? Closet organized to a T? Quirks like this can usually be chalked up to personality or preference, but in some cases they may point to a more serious issue: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition marked by obsessive thoughts and compulsions that affects about 1% of U.S. adults.
How can you tell if OCD tendencies are symptoms that require professional help? There's no easy test, as it's usually a matter of degree, says Jeff Szymanski, PhD, executive director of the International OCD Foundation, a Boston-based advocacy organization. Still, there are certain patterns that may indicate the full-blown disorder. Here are 10 of the most common.
When to seek help: If you think about germs even after washing your hands, worry that you're not scrubbing well enough, or have irrational fears about disease (such as getting HIV from a shopping cart), it could be a sign that your hand-washing is compulsive, Szymanski says. Elaborate hand-washing routinesneeding to wash five times and get soap under each nail, for exampleare another warning sign.
When to seek help: If you spend hours a day cleaning, it's almost certainly related to OCD, but it's harder to know if cleaning for an hour a day could be a sign of OCD. "It's really the consequence of stopping," says Michael Jenike, MD, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. "If you don't [clean], you get terribly anxious and fearful."
When to seek help: It's normal to double-check something once in a while. But if checking interferes with your daily life (by making you late for work, say), or becomes a ritual that you can't do without, it could be a sign of OCD. Jenike has patients who are compelled to check the oven exactly three times, for instance.
When to seek help: "It's all about contextdoes the behavior make sense in your life?" Szymanski says. Counting can be a good distraction as you walk to your car or climb the stairs to your office. "If it doesn't bother you or anybody else, you are fine," Jenike says. "People come to me if they can't get numbers out of their head."
When to seek help: "I'm neat and organized and like things a certain way, but it is out of preference," says Szymanski, author of The Perfectionist's Handbook. OCD enters in when want to becomes have to: People like Szymanski enjoy a tidy desk and find it helpful, whereas people with OCD may not necessarily want to organize their desk but feel they must, in order to relieve their anxiety.
Fears of violence
When to seek help: It's important to recognize that we all have occasional dark thoughts, Szymanski says. But it could be a sign of OCD if thoughts of getting mugged make you avoid the park, for example, or if concern for your mother's safety spurs you to call her several times a day.
Unwanted sexual thoughts
When to seek help: "Most people can say, 'Oh, I don't really want to do that or it doesn't represent who I am as a person,'" Szymanski says. "But someone with OCD thinks, 'These thoughts are terrible, no one else has them, what do they mean about me.'" Changing your behavior as a result of these thoughtsavoiding gay friends or a coworker you've thought about sexually, for instanceis another red flag.
Dwelling on relationships
When to seek help: "Breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend can make anyone 'obsess,' whether or not they have OCD," Jenike says. But it may be a sign of OCD if thoughts like this get stuck in your head and snowball into excessive self-doubt or fears of being a bad person.
When to seek help: Everyone uses their friends as a sounding board, but if you catch yourself repeating the same question over and overor if your friend points this outit could signal OCD. What's more, the reassurance you get from loved ones could be enabling your obsessiveness.
Hating your looks
When to seek help: It's normal to dislike some aspects of your features. But people with BDD may spend hours a day checking the mirror. "You overvalue how important it is to you and others and may avoid being around people," Szymanski says.