People often throw out the phrase "I'm OCD" casually in conversation about any kind of mundane behavior that seems fastidious, repetitive, or paranoid. Many of these behaviors are just harmless idiosyncrasies. Behaviors and thought processes that can be classed as obsessive-compulsive, a clinical mental health diagnosis, are truly debilitating to the people that suffer from them, which is about 2.2 million people in the United States. It's important to know when there is a difference because adults that suffer from true obsessive-compulsive behavior should undergo adult counseling with a qualified therapist.
Real-life Worries vs. Irrational Obsessions
OCD is characterized by uncontrollable reoccurring thoughts. One of the chief differences between general anxiety and OCD behavior is that people who suffer from general anxiety disorder generally worry about real-life concerns, things like relationships, physical health, careers, or finances, whereas people with OCD often extend these everyday worries into the realm of the senseless and irrational. For example, a common OCD diagnosis involves the need to repeatedly wash because of an irrational feeling of uncleanliness. Another common OCD behavior is the need to repeatedly check things, like making sure the oven or the lights are turned off.
Threat vs. Reward
People who are fastidious about cleaning might wonder if they have OCD. However, the major difference between a person with OCD and a "clean freak" is that the person with OCD gets no feeling of reward or pleasure from engaging in the obsessive behavior because they are taking action based on something they see as a threat. A person with OCD may feel temporary relief by engaging in obsessive behaviors, but it never lasts.
Rituals or Compulsions
A major characteristic of OCD is associated behavioral rituals or compulsions that accompany unwanted repetitive thoughts. In addition to obsessive cleaning or checking, as mentioned previously, other common OCD rituals include arranging items in certain ways, compulsively counting, and/or physical motor or vocal tics. A person with OCD often participates in these rituals and compulsions for an hour or more a day.
People with general worry may be consumed with feelings of dread, but people who suffer from OCD often believe that there may be catastrophic results if they don't participate in their compulsions. Unwanted obsessive-compulsive thoughts often involve uncontrollable worry about harming someone or one's self, or someone coming to harm if certain behaviors aren't performed repeatedly. These worries usually create significant struggles in the person's life and interfere with their ability to live normally or maintain healthy relationships.
If you think that you have OCD, then you may benefit from receiving adult counseling and learning how to best navigate your OCD.