What Are OCD Compulsions?

Jan 24, 2022OCD

Person with OCD counting colored pencils
Invictus Clinic
January 24, 2022

You like your desk arranged a certain way before you leave each day. When grocery shopping, you buy canned goods first. Maybe you’re a perfectionist or expect things done a certain way. But if there’s a disruption, do you lose sleep over them or say it’ll all work out tomorrow?

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.” It affects millions of people, but its symptoms and origins aren’t fully understood. But if you’ve been diagnosed with OCD, there are worthy treatment options.

Can You Catch OCD?

You can’t “catch” obsessive-compulsive disorder the way you think. It’s not contagious, but some doctors and researchers have competing answers for that very question. No laboratory tests can detect OCD. It’s considered something with a neurological origin. But some researchers believe it may be tied to childhood illness.

Causes Of OCD

Most doctors and mental health specialists err on the side of caution, all their education, training, and experience telling them that OCD is a neurological condition. The causes aren’t fully understood but may include:

  • Biology. It may happen due to changes in a body’s organic chemistry or brain functions.
  • Genetics. OCD may have a genetic origin, but the particular genes haven’t been identified.
  • Learned Behavior. OCD behaviors can be learned by observing family members or gradually accumulated over time.

What Are OCD Compulsions?

OCD compulsions are monotonous actions that you feel compelled to perform. These recurring behaviors or mental dance routines are designed to lower anxiety related to obsessions or keep something bad from occurring. However, taking part in the compulsions offers no solace and instead only short-term respite from anxiety.

With OCD, you’re compelled to create rules that help contain your anxiety when you’re deluged with obsessive thoughts. These compulsions are unwarranted and often not realistic compared to the problem they’re supposed to remedy.

Like obsessions, compulsions are interwoven with themes, which may include:

  • Washing and cleaning
  • Checking
  • Counting
  • Orderliness
  • Adhering to a set routine
  • Demanding guarantees

But what about the symptoms? Compulsions feature symptoms like:

  • Washing your hands until the skin is red-raw
  • Checking windows constantly to ensure they’re closed
  • Checking the fireplace frequently to make sure it’s not burning
  • Counting things in specific patterns
  • Repeating a prayer, word, or phrase in your head
  • Storing canned goods, so they’re all turned the same way

One of the foremost tools a doctor or mental healthcare specialist will use in diagnosing OCD is this one. In the publication, several disorders are listed which seem to share common symptoms with obsessive-compulsive disorder:

  • Hoarding disorder, because people may “spend a great deal of time preoccupied with arranging, ordering and/or collecting items.”
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). If you have BDD, you may be susceptible to repetitive checking tasks, like what someone with OCD might do.
  • Body-focused repetitive behaviors. This is where someone engages in repetitive behaviors or repetitive behaviors when made to feel uncomfortable.
  • Olfactory reference syndrome, where your obsessions cause distress, or you perform something over and over again in an attempt to rid yourself of the discomfort caused by your condition.

Many OCD symptoms can be treated, but not all indicate you have the disorder. A diagnosis typically depends on you dealing with obsessions or compulsions for an hour or more each day, and the acts cause a noticeable disruption in daily life. You may get relief from doing something, but it’s only fleeting, and you’ll do the same thing again.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis normally involves:

  • A psychological evaluation to discuss feelings, symptoms, thoughts, and behavioral patterns to see if you have OCD behaviors that inhibit your quality of life. Your clinician may ask to speak to your family or friends.
  • Examining the diagnostic criteria for OCD, primarily information in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) from the American Psychiatric Association.
  • A physical exam to help rule out or uncover other ailments that could be causing the symptoms.

With a firm diagnosis, your doctor or mental healthcare provider can recommend treatment options, including psychotherapy or ketamine infusion.

Final Thoughts

Many people experience temporary OCD-like symptoms at some point, but they’re mostly able to go about their lives without significant disruptions. Minor interruptions in routine are just that – minor. But for some people, symptoms like obsessive counting or checking are signs of another problem. To learn more about how we can help you find relief from your symptoms, contact us today.


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