Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States. Each day, millions of people are affected and have their thoughts hijacked, all while being blocked from living their best life. Unfortunately, their heads are filled with fear, nervousness, and worry that make it challenging to think rationally or find peace within. A commonly known anxiety disorder is known as OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

OCD is a disorder that keeps a person wrapped in their disturbing thoughts and focused on irrational urges. The individual is trapped in a loop of compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts that are uncontrollable or challenging to escape. Those with OCD will engage in ritualistic type behavior that includes flipping light switches, and excessive hand washing. Although their routine may provide them with temporary relief, it doesn’t last long. 

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that 1.2 percent of adults in the United States struggle with OCD and that adult women are affected more than men. The APA also mentions that OCD starts in childhood, although symptoms will not appear until around the age of 19. 

If you’d like to learn more about OCD and how it’s treated, continue reading to determine what treatment options are provided. 

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as a common, chronic, and long-lasting condition where a person has uncontrollable, [recurring] thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.

Two women discussing mental healthThe Mayo Clinic describes OCD as a feature of patterns of unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead to repetitive behaviors. These compulsions and obsessions will disrupt daily activities and cause significant distress in an individual’s life. 

If the individual tries to stop or ignore their obsessions or compulsions, it will only lead to an increase in their distress and anxiety. Individuals with OCD will feel compelled to carry out a compulsory act that will ease their stress. While it may provide some temporary relief, it will not stop the bothersome or irritating acts long-term, they will eventually return. 

What Does OCD Look Like?

Despite some of the extreme thoughts and behaviors that accompany the condition, obsessive-compulsive disorder is not always easy to identify. Counting and excessive hand-washing are the most common ways OCD presents itself, but some individuals may not realize their compulsions or obsessions have reached an unmanageable point. 

An example of this is a daily routine that takes up a lot of time or an action that affects the individual’s daily routine. The Mayo Clinic advises that individuals with OCD will have both compulsions and obsessions, but it’s possible for them to have only compulsion symptoms or obsession symptoms.

Those with OCD struggle with the following:

  • Controlling thoughts or behaviors, despite awareness that they are excessive
  • Spend an hour or more on their thoughts or behaviors each day
  • Experience challenges due to their disturbing thoughts or behaviors
  • Do not receive pleasure from their behaviors or rituals, but find temporary relief from the anxiety

To better understand OCD, it’s vital to understand the difference between obsessions and compulsions. 

Obsessions are repeated mental images, thoughts, or urges that lead to anxiety. The most common symptoms include:

  • Aggressive thoughts toward the individual or others
  • Fear of being contaminated, or a fear of germs
  • Unwanted taboo thoughts that involve religion, sex, or harming themselves or others
  • The need to have things in perfect or symmetrical order

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that an individual with OCD feels the urge to follow through in response to obsessive thoughts. The most common compulsions include:

  • Arranging items in a particular or precise way
  • Excessive cleaning, which may include hand-washing
  • The constant urge to check on things, such as ensuring the door is locked or the oven is off
  • Counting compulsively

Compulsions serve to reduce discomfort, dispel anxiety, or lessen fear. Although the symptoms of OCD may linger, ease, or worsen over time, it may get to a point where the individual avoids triggering situations altogether. In some cases, however, the person may turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, which can lead to a substance use disorder. 

OCD may be recognizable by the following behaviors exhibited, and those with OCD fall into the following categories:

  • Checkers
  • Counters and arrangers
  • Doubters and sinners
  • Hoarders
  • Washers

Although these groups give a better idea of who might be struggling with the condition, you need to understand that a vast majority will hide their symptoms due to embarrassment or the stigma attached to mental illness. 

Treatment for OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is commonly treated with medication in conjunction with psychotherapy. While most patients respond to treatment, some will continue to experience symptoms, which may indicate the need for more intensive measures. Many who struggle with the condition will also have other mental illnesses present, such as depression, anxiety, and body dysmorphic disorder. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely recognized treatments for OCD. It may occur in a group or one-on-one setting. During therapy, the individual will pair up with mental health professionals in a structured environment to learn how to recognize inaccurate or adverse thinking. It will allow the person to improve their response to stressful situations. CBT also enables patients to learn more about their mental illness and how to practice techniques that promote resilience and relaxation. 


Those who use medication for OCD show dramatic improvement in their lives. When medicine is prescribed for OCD, it’s likely to be from a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant. 

The most common medication used to treat OCD include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox, CR)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)

When SSRI medications are used to treat OCD, the dose is typically much higher than when treating depression. It may take six to 12 weeks before a patient sees benefits from the medication. In some cases, a patient treated for OCD may find it beneficial to remain on the medication indefinitely to deal with symptoms. 

Living with OCD

Fortunately, OCD is a treatable condition for most. However, it’s also a chronic disorder that means you must commit to a lifestyle that promotes health and wellness, all while becoming aware of warning signs and triggers that may worsen OCD. It may include learning how to resist these rituals by facing your fears and planning to encounter compulsive urges.

One way to combat OCD is to write down obsessive thoughts or worries that affect your brain or cause you to get stuck in anxiety-causing thoughts. Schedule a time or place to engage in “worry periods” that last ten minutes may also help you manage stressful thinking. You must seek support from friends or family to help you manage life with a mental condition. 

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