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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or OCD) affects around 2.2 million adults in the United States. The disorder has been portrayed in TV shows like Monk, about an overly-conscientious detective, or movies like What About Bob, featuring a phobic Bill Murray. 

Individuals with high cleanliness or organizational standards may even proclaim “I’m so OCD,” indicating their desire to keep things neat and tidy. 

But what exactly is diagnosed OCD?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as “a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.”

There is a predictability to the OCD cycle, which usually follows this pattern: obsessive thought -> anxiety -> compulsive behavior -> temporary relief.

According to NIMH, a person with OCD

  • Can’t control his or her thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive
  • Spends at least 1 hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors
  • Doesn’t get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but may feel brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause
  • Experiences significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors

While the term is used colloquially, OCD is a serious mental illness and requires medical treatment. The Peace of Mind organization provides education, resources and support to those struggling with OCD and their loved ones.