Diagnosing OCD: 5 Main Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

It’s estimated that about 1 in 100 adults deals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), accounting for 2-3 million adults in the U.S. alone. While OCD can impact people slightly differently and range in severity, there are some common symptoms to be aware of. The sooner you recognize and understand these main symptoms, the easier it will be to reach out for help and receive an official diagnosis. Even if you’ve already been diagnosed with OCD, understanding the symptoms will help you manage them more effectively, so you aren’t defined by your condition. 

With that, let’s take a look at the five main symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and what you can do to manage them.

1. Trouble Tolerating Uncertainty

To say we’re living in an uncertain society would be an understatement. If the last two years of living through a pandemic have shown us anything, it’s that things can change in an instant. That can be nearly impossible to handle for someone with OCD. People with this disorder tend to do better when things are predictable, organized and scheduled. When something is uncertain or unfamiliar, they might start to feel anxious or panicked.

2. Fear of Contamination

Because Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is so common, it is often portrayed in movies and on television. You’ve likely seen depictions where people clean everything top to bottom, or they have an obsession with keeping themselves clean. Those portrayals (while often extreme) are usually fairly accurate. This is just one sub-type of how OCD can present. People with this type of OCD can have a deep fear of contamination. At our practice, we have seen those with this type of OCD struggle even more during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, OCD is not just about fear of contamination, and there are several themes to OCD. Please read more about the other OCD sub-types on my specialty page.

3. Thoughts of Losing Control

Fear is often a huge problem for those struggling with OCD. The need to feel organized and in control can become so overwhelming that you start to become obsessive about that, too. That obsession can quickly turn into fear as you worry about losing control. Unfortunately, those thoughts are often accompanied by worries about self-harm or even thoughts of hurting others. When someone with OCD gets to that point, it’s essential to seek out help immediately.

4. Counting and Checking

Many people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder use techniques like counting and checking to keep themselves calm and keep more severe symptoms at bay. Checking could include flipping the light switch on and off a certain number of times. Or, it could be touching the doorknob on the front door a specific number of times before leaving the house. You won’t feel safe or comfortable until it’s done exactly right. You might also count out loud or in your head when it comes to how many times you have to complete a simple task. Again, it can provide comfort and security, and help you feel like you’re in control. 

5. Asking for Reassurance

Some people with OCD feel the need to “check-in” with others. Or, they ask for reassurance over and over again when it comes to a particular subject or situation. It’s a compulsive behavior when it’s used to provide comfort or promote feelings of safety. If you find yourself checking in with someone constantly to make sure everything is okay, consider it a common symptom. They might try to be supportive by responding, but that’s actually only fueling your fear and need for more reassurance. 

If you deal with any of these symptoms and you haven’t received an official diagnosis, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. If you’ve been diagnosed with OCD but haven’t sought out treatment, consider working with a therapist who specializes in ERP therapy to help manage your symptoms and take control of your life again.  Please contact us for your free 30-minute phone consultation.

Be well,

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