Diagnosing OCD: 6 OCD Symptoms to Watch Out For


A little more than 1 percent of American adults suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, every year. The rate is much higher in women than men. 

A lot of people joke about their so-called obsessions. For instance, you might have a girlfriend who says she’s obsessed with Aquaman. That’s not the same thing as OCD. 

OCD symptoms are alarming and unwelcome. While your friend can choose to stop looking up photos of the new Aquaman movie, people with OCD can’t control their obsessions and compulsions. 

Keep reading to learn about six common symptoms of OCD. 


Many people find something pleasing about certain numbers. It’s common to have a lucky number, for instance. But people with a counting obsession go way beyond that.

Someone with OCD can latch onto a certain number as the answer to all their problems. If the number is four, they might have to hug you exactly four times before they say goodbye.

Unfortunately, that ritual only works for a little while before the person starts looking for something else to do four times. If they’re going into the grocery store, they might let three other people ahead of them, all because they have to be that fourth person.

At first, it may seem harmless. But obsessive counting can become harmful fast. 


OCD sufferers often feel like nothing is clean. They may feel the need to constantly clean either their body, their living space, or other things. In fact, cleaning is one of the most common symptoms of OCD. 

A person who washes their hands a lot isn’t necessarily suffering from OCD. For instance, you’re supposed to wash your hands after you use the bathroom. But if they have to wash their hands after touching a doorknob, that could be a symptom. 

The cleaning will interfere with the person’s life. For example, a person might be late for work a lot because they feel the need to take a second shower right after the first one. 

Intrusive Thoughts

We’ve all had that occasional weird thought that makes us pause. But a person with intrusive thoughts has a lot of trouble turning those thoughts off. 

Let’s use dental anxiety as an example. It’s natural to feel apprehensive when we’re sitting in the dental chair.

Thinking something like “I hope I don’t have any cavities” is normal. Thinking “I bet my dentist wants to stab me with a dental tool” is not.

A person without OCD might experience the second thought, then laugh it off as ridiculous. But an OCD sufferer can say, “That’s ridiculous” out loud several times and still feel anxious. They can still interpret every move their dentist makes as a sign they’re about to get stabbed. 

Many OCD sufferers know these thoughts aren’t logical. But they still have them, and they feel miserable about it. They’re also afraid to confess these thoughts for fear people will think they’re crazy. 

Constant Doubt

OCD sufferers are prone to a lot of doubt and second-guessing. They may feel like everything they do is wrong somehow. 

If you’re friends with a person who has OCD, they might constantly ask for reassurance. In extreme cases, they may even phrase everything as a question for fear that they’ll tell a lie otherwise. 

However, all the reassurance in the world will only do so much good. The best cure for the nagging sense of doubt is OCD treatment

A trained therapist won’t tell the person to “Just get over it.” That’s never helpful. Instead, they’ll work with each individual on strategies for combating the OCD. 

Fear of Social Situations

A person dealing with untreated OCD might retreat from social interactions. They’re not trying to be mean or rude. Instead, they’ll afraid they’ll give themselves away somehow.

OCD is a hard disease to explain. If you’re out in public and meeting new people, you’ll often have to shake hands. That can be a serious trigger for people with OCD.

However, someone with OCD probably isn’t going to feel comfortable saying, “That person we met was very dirty.” So instead they try to wish away the bad thoughts, which usually makes them worse. 

For a person with OCD, just existing in public can feel exhausting. Their brain is going non-stop, and they’re often afraid it will do something unpredictable at the worst possible time. Staying in denial about the signs of OCD is sometimes easier if you’re alone. 

A person with OCD often feels like everyone is looking at them and judging them. If someone whispers, it’s easy for a person with OCD to convince themselves that people are talking about them in unflattering terms. 

Organizing and Arranging 

Knowing how to organize things is a sign of adulthood, right? That’s true to a point, but it doesn’t apply to every case. 

A person without OCD can take an hour or two to organize their bookshelf. Then, once that’s done, they can move on to the next task on their list. If someone moves a book, they’ll put it back in its spot.

But if you have OCD symptoms, that carefully organized bookshelf is going to feel like a lot more than a bookshelf. It’s going to feel like a sign of stability. If someone messes with your books, it feels like they’re messing with your sense of stability.

That doesn’t mean people with OCD should yell at someone for messing up a bookshelf, of course. OCD is no excuse to be hateful. In fact, someone with OCD may be more likely to run to their room and have a panic attack than they are to yell at someone. 

Recognizing OCD Symptoms

Recognizing OCD symptoms isn’t always straightforward. It can be hard to distinguish between personality quirks and OCD signs. 

Whatever you do, don’t try to diagnose yourself. That’s the job of a trained medical professional. Your job is to go into the doctor’s office and explain your symptoms as best you can. 

It’s also important to recognize that OCD isn’t your fault. There’s nothing you did to give yourself this condition. The right OCD treatment will help you realize that. 

Self-care is an important part of treating any mental health condition. Check out our self-care blog category for more tips.