Do you obsessively wash your hands after shaking someone else’s? Do you have to check the locks on your doors multiple times before leaving the house? Or maybe you always find following a certain rigid routine comforting? If any of these sounds familiar, you may be one of the millions of people living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness condition that affects approximately 2.5 million American adults and has been associated with severe impairment. OCD is characterized by persistent and intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive and ritualistic behaviors (compulsions).
Most people are familiar with the most visible and easy-to-identify forms of OCD, such as hand washing or repeatedly checking locks. But there are four main subtypes of OCD as outlined below:
Those with this type of OCD are obsessed with germs, dirt, or toxins. They may compulsively wash their hands, shower, or disinfect surfaces repeatedly in an attempt to rid themselves of these contaminants. People with this subtype of OCD may also avoid shaking hands, touching doorknobs, or using public restrooms for fear of contamination.
Checking/Inner Doubt OCD
Checking compulsions are often related to a fear of harm or making mistakes. People with this OCD subtype may check things repetitively to prevent or ward off potential negative consequences.
For example, a person with this type of OCD may check the stove multiple times to make sure it’s turned off even though they know they turned it off or read over emails multiple times before sending them to look for mistakes. Checking can also take the form of repeatedly asking others for reassurance.
Symmetry and Ordering/Exactness OCD
People with this subtype of OCD are obsessed with symmetry, orderliness, and exactness. They may have compulsions such as lining up books in a certain way or folding clothes a certain way. It can also manifest as an obsession with exactness or wanting everything to be in its “rightful” position. For instance, a person with this type of OCD may get extremely uncomfortable or upset if someone slightly moves the furniture in a room.
Unacceptable Thoughts/Intrusive Thoughts OCD
This subtype of OCD is characterized by intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts about existential topics such as life and death, religion, sex, and violence. For example, a person with this subtype of OCD may have thoughts about sexual violence or violently harming someone close to them even though they have no intention or desire to act on these thoughts. As a result, they may feel compelled to engage in certain rituals, such as praying excessively or saying certain words of affirmation over and over again.
It is worth noting that while there are four main subtypes of OCD, the signs and symptoms are not mutually exclusive and can overlap. Additionally, a person may also experience more than one subtype of OCD at the same time.
How Is OCD Treated?
If you are living with OCD, the first step is to talk to your doctor or mental health professional in order to get a proper diagnosis and understand your treatment options. In general, OCD treatment typically involves both medication and therapy. The most effective form of psychotherapy for OCD is known as exposure and response prevention (ERP), which involves gradually exposing your OCD triggers and teaching you to resist your compulsive urges.
There are also a number of self-help strategies you can try on your own, including relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, refocusing on other tasks when obsessive thoughts arise, or practicing mindfulness meditation. Whatever treatment options you choose, remember that there is hope for recovery from OCD and that with the right support, you can learn to manage your symptoms and live a happier, healthier life.