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What is OCD?

Reading time: 5-7 minutes

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD for short, is a condition that involves obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

While it’s common for people to throw around the word “OCD” when talking about someone who’s very clean, it’s far more complicated than that.

People with OCD frequently experience unwelcome thoughts, which usually bring a lot of anxiety, worry, or other feelings of discomfort. The person will use a repetitive behaviour (or ‘compulsion’) in order to reduce the unpleasant feelings caused by these thoughts. This can be either a physical or mental action.

An example of an obsessive thought would be worrying that you’ve left the oven on. A compulsive behaviour in response to this would be repeatedly checking that the oven is turned off.

This is just one example of many that someone with OCD might have - everyone’s experiences will be different. For more examples of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions, take a look at OCD UK’s website.

What can it feel like?

OCD can have a severe impact on your life and make you feel like your thoughts are controlling you. It can:

  • Significantly affect your day-to-day life. You may avoid situations that trigger your OCD, which could prevent you from doing things like socialising with friends, visiting a café, or going to work.
  • Take up a lot of time and energy. Obsessive thoughts and any compulsive actions that follow can be time-consuming and exhausting. You might find it hard to focus on much else.
  • Cause feelings of shame or embarrassment. You might want to hide your OCD from other people because you think that it’s ‘not normal’. This can also stop you from asking for help.
  • Stop you from building and maintaining relationships. It might be difficult to develop connections with people because you don’t want them to see your compulsive behaviours, or they might affect your current relationships.
  • Make you feel lonely. If you’re ashamed of your OCD, you might avoid seeing friends, family, or colleagues. When your thoughts and actions feel out of control, it can easily lead to feelings of isolation.
  • Increase stress and anxiety. The need to act on your compulsions may increase your stress and anxiety levels, as you feel that something bad will happen if you don’t carry out a specific behaviour.

Struggling with OCD can be incredibly draining, so it can be quite frustrating when people dismiss it as being a simple desire for cleanliness and order! The important thing to remember is that OCD can be managed and it’s not something to be ashamed of. With the right help, it’s entirely possible to start living your best life again.

What might help? 

There are several things you can do to make living with OCD a little easier: 

  • Talk to someone. Telling another person about your experiences can make you feel better, and it gives them a greater understanding of OCD and how it affects you. Knowing that someone is there to support you can make things feel a bit less lonely. It might also be helpful to tell a teacher or colleague about your OCD, so that they’re aware of what you’re going through and can support you in whatever way you need.
  • See a GP. Talking to a doctor is highly recommended if you think that you might have OCD. They can give you a formal diagnosis and work with you to explore different forms of treatment. In some cases, they may discuss potential medications with you too. Try to be as honest as possible with your GP, which may include telling them about particular thoughts and behaviours that you have, as well as how OCD is making you feel.
  • Connect with others. Many people with OCD feel alienated and alone in what they’re facing. In reality, there are thousands of people who are sharing similar experiences to you. You might find it helpful to join a support group: OCD Action, OCD UK, TOP UK, and OCD Youth all have online support groups that you can join.
  • Try to ease stress. Some people find that their OCD worsens when they’re particularly stressed or anxious. Trying out some relaxation techniques might help, such as practicing mindfulness or going on a brisk walk if you can. You can read our page on stress and anxiety for more tips.
  • Try not to be hard on yourself. Some days will be better than others, and that’s ok. Know that OCD is not something that you can magically get rid of, nor are you responsible for it. Take every day one step at a time!

Where to go for more support

Don’t be afraid to seek help for your OCD, whether it’s in the form of speaking to a professional or doing more research. There’s a variety of support and resources at your fingertips, and you might find something that really benefits you.

  • TOP UK has a wealth of information on OCD, as well as self-help resources, group support, stories from other people with OCD, and advice for family and friends.
  • OCD Youth is specifically for under 25s who have OCD. Their site has discussion boards, articles, and advice for telling your school or university about what you’re going through.
  • OCD UK has lots of information, blog posts, online support groups and more. If you’re aged 13-18, you can also get involved in their Young Ambassadors project.
  • YoungMinds has plenty more information and interesting blog posts written by individuals with OCD. 
  • Seek support from 42nd If your OCD is feeling unmanageable or you just want to talk, we provide a number of face-to-face services, all of which offer something slightly different depending on what’s best for you. You may feel exploring CBT could be helpful in particular. You can read about our services here.

By: Ruby Guyler 

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