When you live with OCD, some aspects of day-to-day life may feel uncertain and continually out of reach.

Imagine for a moment you are on your way to work, and throughout the entire commute, you can’t stop thinking you left the door unlocked. You know you locked it, but at the same time, you’re just as convinced you didn’t.

These thoughts become so overwhelming that you go back home to check. And this happens to you every day you go to work.

Sometimes these thoughts – along with the urge to check – can happen multiple times throughout the day.

Intrusive thoughts, like these, can be extremely hard to ignore, even to the point that they start to interfere with day-to-day life, causing interruptions at home and work.

If you have OCD, think you might have it, or know someone who does, gaining a better understanding of the condition can help foster empathy and give you the tools you need to cope.

OCD is a mental health condition characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts or images (called obsessions) and/or repetitive, ritualized behaviors a person is driven to do (called compulsions).

A distinctive feature of OCD is the person may know these thoughts and actions are irrational, yet have difficulty controlling them. On the other hand, children with OCD are less likely to recognize the irrationality of their obsessions or compulsions.

Although many people experience obsessions and compulsions from time to time, if these repetitive and intrusive thoughts and behaviors start to interfere with your daily life, interactions, or activities, you might have OCD.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), an estimated 1.2% of adults in the United States have OCD. It impacts individuals of all ages, sex, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

Fundamentally, OCD involves a feeling of uncertainty, which makes an individual with this condition uncomfortable. The thoughts, fears, urges, and behaviors help ease the fear of uncertainty and doubt. Thereby, treatment often focuses on helping people accept and become more comfortable handling the uncertainties of everyday life.

Because it is considered a multidimensional condition, the symptoms and experiences among people with OCD differ widely. Each person is unique – no one person will have the same obsessions and compulsions as another.

Obsessions associated with OCD may include:

  • fear of contamination by germs, chemicals, body fluids, or dirt
  • intrusive thoughts about losing control, unintentionally harming themselves or others, or saying something inappropriate
  • experiencing unwanted sexual thoughts
  • excessive concern with neatness, order, remembering things, or losing items
  • existential obsessions involving the meaning and purpose of life, death, and the universe
  • fixations on doubting or finding flaws in intimate relationships

Compulsions are often actions a person with OCD does to ward off anxiety triggered by their obsessions.

These may include:

  • excessive washing, cleaning, grooming, and actions to prevent contamination
  • repetitive checking to avoid making a mistake or for reassurance that nothing bad has happened
  • repeating actions or activities in a certain way or for a specific amount of time
  • arranging and rearranging items
  • mentally reviewing events to ensure nothing negative happened or counting during tasks to avoid ending on a certain number

Because the symptoms of OCD manifest in so many ways, experiences differ from one individual to another. One person may have an overwhelming fear of death or illness that causes them to engage in rituals to ensure safety.

Another may compulsively check locks on doors, window latches, or car door locks. They fear that they would be responsible for someone breaking in to steal their possessions or cause someone harm – all because they failed to check the door locks.

If you have OCD, you may experience uncontrollable urges to engage in seemingly irrational behaviors to satisfy a just-right urge. Perhaps you feel the desire to open and shut the door a certain number of times.

Or, you may get an idea and have to complete it before you can focus on anything else. This may manifest as reorganizing the entire garage or planning out a yearly household budget before you can concentrate on work.

Similar to an adult, a child with OCD also has unwanted and intrusive thoughts or images and fears they try to ease by performing certain rituals or repetitive behaviors.

A child with OCD might line up their toys or books in a certain order or touch parts of their bodies symmetrically to ease fear. They might also ask questions repeatedly and seek assurance excessively – always asking, “Are you sure I’m going to be OK?”

One thing that is certain in all this uncertainty — having OCD can feel exhausting.

But feeling this way and acting on compulsions is not your fault and has nothing to do with how much willpower you have. It is a medically diagnosed condition with treatment options that can help.

Scientists are continually investigating the cause of OCD, and as evidence emerges, so might new treatment options.

A review published in the journal Cureus found strong links between OCD and inflammatory biomarkers often present in autoimmune conditions. The researchers say this evidence warrants future investigation into whether the use of anti-inflammatory medication could effectively treat OCD.

In another study, scientists found an increased level of an immune protein called Immuno-moodulin (Imood) in mice that exhibited OCD-like behaviors. When researchers gave the mice an antibody that blocked Imood, their repetitive digging and grooming behaviors decreased.

These research results suggest that OCD may have a biological cause. If this is true, this could lead to the development of new medicines to treat the condition.

But more research is needed to determine if these methods of treatment are options to help manage OCD symptoms and behaviors.

Although living with OCD can feel overwhelming, there are many options to manage the symptoms.

Treatments include cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure and response therapy (ERP), as well as medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Talking with a mental health professional can help determine if these options are right for you.

Also, joining a support group can help by providing a safe place to share experiences with others who know what it is like having OCD.

There are also apps available that might help manage your OCD:

If you have OCD or care about someone who does, you are not alone in this journey. It is real, and although it feels overwhelming and exhausting at times, it is possible to manage with the appropriate and effective treatment.