Mental Health Self-Care

What is OCD?

What actually is OCD?

Sadly, the term OCD is thrown around a lot with people saying things like “I’m a bit OCD” merely because they like things to be clean and tidy. This is very unhelpful as OCD can be extremely serious and people struggling with it often feel acute anxiety. 

OCD – which stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder – is a mental health condition where people have intrusive and obsessional thoughts which can lead them to feeling the need to carry out compulsive behaviours to try to relieve their anxiety. 

What are Obsessive Thoughts?

Obsessive thoughts keep repeating in your mind and may also occur as images. This can cause a very anxious feeling inside which can be very upsetting and hard to ignore. 

Common obsessions can include fear of losing control and harming someone, fear of contamination, fear of causing harm to others, unwanted sexual thoughts and worry about getting a physical illness or disease.

Usually, obsessions involve situations where there’s uncertainty, e.g. a worry about, for example, what if “X” happens and I caused it or didn’t try hard enough to stop it?

What are Compulsions?

Compulsions are things people with OCD do repeatedly as a way to try to find calm and relief from their anxiety.

Common compulsions can include hoarding, washing excessively to avoid contamination, repeatedly turning on and off a light to get rid of an evil frightening thought, and counting repeatedly when doing a task and believing there are “safe” or “good” numbers to end on.

Compulsive behaviours, also known as rituals, are done to help cope with the obsessive thought by trying to find certainty and reassurance. 

Sadly, often compulsions don’t help the person in the long run, as, soon after the ritual is over, the anxious thoughts and images come flooding back again. This can lead to people with OCD getting stuck in a cycle where they keep doing the same compulsive behaviour over and over and feel unable to stop, as each time they do the anxious thoughts come back.

Is OCD serious?

OCD is far worse than the common misconceptions that it’s just about washing hands and checking the door is locked. In fact, OCD impacts can often be severely distressing and lead to taking over a person’s life for hours at a time, every single day.

What causes OCD?

We don’t know exactly what causes OCD; however, the NHS suggests that a number of factors may play a part including family history, differences in the brain, life events and personality.

Is there any help and support?

Yes, there is a lot of help out there. The NHS usually offers prescription drugs which can help alter the balance of chemicals in your brain. You may also be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is a talking therapy that can help manage your OCD by changing the way you think and behave.

Check out these websites for loads more info and details of local support in the UK.

OCD Action:


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Image of the author, Chloe Foster

Chloe Foster has a background in working in mental health and youth work. Today she runs Sussex Rainbow Counselling where she specialises in counselling LGBTQ clients online.

Chloe holds a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapeutic humanistic counselling from The University of Brighton. She is also an approved accredited registrant member of the National Counselling Society, and an accredited gender, sexuality and relationship diversities therapist with Pink Therapy.