What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

OCD is made up of 2 components:
1. Having irrational thoughts and fears (termed as obsessions)
2. Having developed behaviours such as repeating words or numbers to cope with the stress that emanates from those thoughts (termed as compulsions)
Do note that perfectionism does not equate to having OCD. OCD actually results in dramatic decrease in quality of life as we become consumed in carrying out compulsive behaviours and rituals.

Causes of OCD

There are many possible causes of OCD. It could be a result of the interaction between genetic and biological factors which triggers the development of OCD.
Below are some factors which further influence the underlying causes:
1. Stressful life events
2. Hormonal changes
3. Personality traits
4. Being perfectionistic

Signs and symptoms: Obsessions

Obsessions are repeated, persistent, unwanted ideas, thoughts, images, or impulses that are experienced involuntarily at some time. They typically intrude into our thoughts and actions.
Common obsessions include:
1. Irrational fears of contamination from dirt or germs
2. Fear of hurting someone
3. Need for symmetry and exactness
4. Distressing religious thoughts
5. Distressing sexually intrusive thoughts

Signs and symptoms: Compulsions

Compulsions are repetitive actions or thoughts carried out in specific patterns or rules. They are usually performed to prevent an obsessive fear from happening, to reduce the anxiety the obsessive thought creates, or to make things feel “just right”.
Common compulsions include:
1. Excessive checking
2. Excessive cleaning and washing
3. Continuously thinking the same thought
4. Mentally repeating words or numbers a certain number of times

Common misconceptions


OCD is all about cleanliness.

Common behaviours include counting, repeating certain movements, handwashing, arranging things in specific way etc.


We are all ‘a little OCD'.

OCD is a complex and serious diagnosable mental health condition that affects quality of life, not a personality or character trait.


People with OCD just need to relax. These persistent and unpleasant thoughts are very difficult to dismiss.

Diagnosis and treatment

A standardised questionnaire may be administered by a healthcare professional to assess for the presence and severity of OCD.
There is no cure but a combination of medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to reduce the symptoms of OCD by keeping them under control so that they don’t rule over our daily life. Depending on the severity of OCD, some may need long-term, ongoing, or more intensive treatment.

Coping with OCD

It is important to take note that OCD does not define who we are. Here are some coping strategies to complement the treatment for OCD:
1. Accept your thoughts without judgement
2. Understand how OCD works
3. Recognise that OCD is not us and is separate from who we are
4. Accept mistakes if they happen, and avoid being too harsh with ourselves over it
5. Practise relaxation techniques
6. Reaching out to others

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