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What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Anyone can experience unpleasant and unwanted thoughts. They can feel the need to have to do certain things such as checking your door is locked when you leave the house, or checking you have turned your straighteners off after using them. However, when these thoughts begin to dominate any other thoughts and have a major impact on your life, this may be a disorder.

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a mental health disorder which is characterised by obsessions (unwanted, intrusive and distressing thoughts or images) and compulsions (repetitive physical or mental acts people feel like they have to perform as a result of anxiety and distress caused by obsessions). The majority of people with OCD suffer from both obsessions and compulsions, although it is possible to just have obsessions or just have compulsions.


An obsession is an unwelcome thought or image that repeatedly enters your mind. These can be difficult to ignore and may be disturbing, making you feel distressed and anxious. It is important to remember that you are unlikely to act on these thoughts and these thoughts are not your fault.

Types of obsessions can include:

  • Fear of hurting oneself or others deliberately or by mistake, e.g., losing control or starting a house fire because of an unplugged appliance

  • A pronounced awareness of body sensations such as blinking and breathing

  • Ruminations and intrusive thought, being an obsession with a line of thought, and some may be violent or disturbing

  • A fear that something bad will happen if things are not clean, orderly, or symmetrical.

  • ·Unreasonable suspicion that your partner is being unfaithful


A compulsion is something you think about or do repeatedly to relieve the unpleasant feelings that were brought on by the obsession. You may believe that something bad is going to happen if you do not do these compulsions. You may realise that it does not make logical sense to carry out a compulsion, but it may be too scary not to, so you will carry out the compulsion ‘just in case’. Compulsions are often time consuming and they usually only provide short term relief from your anxiety.

Examples of compulsions:

  • Rituals driven by obsession thoughts e.g., washing your hands with a fear of contamination and hoarding

  • Symmetry and ordering, meaning arranging things in a certain way

  • Doubting or checking, such as doors, alarm systems, locks, and light switches

  • Reassurance from other people that everything is alright

Some people with OCD do not have any external signs of compulsions. However, they may still experience mental compulsions. These may be less obvious than physical compulsions and it may be difficult to tell what your compulsions are.

Examples of these internal compulsions can include:

  • Checking how you feel about an intrusive thought, such as checking you were upset by it.

  • Countering the intrusive thoughts by thinking “neutralising” thoughts/ replacing the thought with a different image.

  • Repeating words and/or phrases in your head.

People with OCD can often turn to avoidance. They may avoid objects and situations that can cause obsessions and compulsions. For example, someone may have to complete a time-consuming ritual every time they leave the house so might decide it is easier to stay at home. Trying to deal with your OCD this way can have a major negative impact on your life.


Where to seek support:

People who struggle with OCD often do not seek help because they feel ashamed or embarrassed. Having OCD is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about and is not your fault. OCD is unlikely to get better on its own, so if OCD is negatively impacting your life consider reaching out for some support:

  • Three Little Birds

  • OCD-UK: The national OCD charity, run by and for people with lived experience of OCD.

  • Talk to your GP: they can discuss different treatment options with you, such as talking therapies or medication.

  • Share your obsessive thoughts with people that you trust to make them seem less powerful.

  • Speak to people that also have OCD, who may have similar experiences to you:

OCD-UK’s online forums, OCD Action’s online forums, find a local support group through OCD Action, OCD-UK and TOP UK.

  • Manage stress and anxiety, which can often make OCD worse: try relaxation or mindfulness.

  • Look after your physical health: get enough sleep, have a balanced diet and exercise.

Written by, Sarah (3LB Team).

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