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Recognizing the Early Signs of OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) doesn’t discriminate. It can affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. OCD in children and teens is also becoming more prevalent. While there’s no concrete evidence as to why this is, it could be attributed to the fact that people are becoming increasingly aware of the early warning signs of this complicated disorder.

Symptoms of OCD can start mild and gradually become more severe, eventually impacting a person’s ability to function in daily life. The best defense against debilitating OCD is a strong offense in the form of knowledge. Early detection is key in getting a handle on these obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior.

Keep reading for some of the most common early warning signs of OCD. While these symptoms aren’t a medical diagnosis, they can start you down the best path to recovery.

What is OCD?

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a mental health disorder characterized by excessive intrusive thoughts or obsessions that lead to repetitive or habitual behaviors (compulsions). Most of these thoughts are unreasonable and born out of fear, not fact. There are several types of OCD and subcategories, with some of the most common including:

  • Germs and Contamination OCD
  • Object and Symmetry OCD
  • Harm OCD
  • Doubt and Incompleteness OCD
  • Aggressive or Sexual Thought OCD

It’s important to note that just because you like things organized or in order doesn’t mean that you have OCD. Worrying over your loved ones being injured or hurt is also common. It’s when these thoughts become intrusive, obsessive, and start interfering with daily life that you may need to take a closer look at their origin.

Early Signs of OCD

The line between being a detail-orientated or sensitive person and having OCD is often blurred. You may view your own behavior as completely acceptable and reasonable while others consider it as over-the-top. OCD symptoms often present themselves in similar ways, depending on the type and severity. You can also use these signs and symptoms to recognize OCD in a loved one or family member.


Repetitive behaviors or compulsions are one of the key characteristics of obsessive-compulsive disorder. While routine is good, the overwhelming need to repeat the same actions a set number of times could be a sign of OCD. Washing your hands repeatedly is a common sign of germ and contamination OCD and stems from the fear of getting sick. Some people repeat other, more unconventional behaviors like checking door locks, touching a specific piece of furniture, or tapping their foot a certain number of times before moving on to the next task.

Increased Isolation

It’s not uncommon for individuals with OCD to prefer staying at home. Over time, OCD sufferers avoid events and places that are overwhelming or cause intense stress or anxiety. Increased isolation is common among all types of OCD, but for different reasons. Some people fear germs and contamination while others worry about acting out publicly in violent or sexually inappropriate ways. In order to avoid these uncomfortable and stressful situations, you may find yourself going out less and staying in more. Lack of socialization and outside interaction puts you at greater risk of developing depression and could make your OCD symptoms worse.

Compulsive behaviors that take a lot of time to complete can also result in missed appointments and opportunities. If you feel the need to wipe down your counters 20 times or vacuum your carpet a dozen times one way and then the other until the lines are perfect, you may find yourself wasting hours performing these rituals and never leaving the house.

Impaired Relationships

One of the first things to feel the impact of a mental disorder like OCD is your relationships – both professional and personal. If your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are interfering with your job or your romantic relationship, it may be time for a change.

Do you obsess over every project or task you’re given at work? If you’re missing meetings or deadlines because you can’t stop checking the work you’ve already completed, you may be at risk of losing your job. Another example would be if you’re a writer or editor. Obsessing over every minor detail or error, while beneficial to an extent, can also be debilitating by making it difficult to move on to the next task.

Living with or being romantically involved with someone with OCD is no easy task either. What seems like minor tendencies to you could be a big deal for your significant other. Performing compulsive behaviors and rituals can be off-putting to others. Your partner may lose their patience with how often you repeat certain behaviors or how certain fears and obsessions interfere with your daily lives together. Unreasonable requests, excessive worry, and other bizarre behavior can drive a wedge between you and your partner. If they’ve mentioned their concern or disapproval, it may be a sign that your compulsions are getting out of control. An online OCD self-help program can offer tips and techniques for overcoming these obsessive compulsions in time to salvage your relationship.

Wasted Time Worrying and Thinking

Are your days and nights consumed with constant worrying and thinking – often about unfounded fears and situations that never come to be? This could be a sign that your intrusive thoughts are becoming obsessions. Setting aside specific time to worry and obsess is another sign of this disorder. Keep a journal of when, about what, and for how long you worry about a particular subject. After a week, reflect on what you’ve documented. You’d be surprised at how much time you’ve wasted worrying.

Be sure to include any compulsive behaviors in this list also. If you’re waking up early for work to leave plenty of time to perform your rituals and repetitive behaviors, it may be a sign that your negative thoughts are taking over. Making more time for your obsessive thoughts and compulsions and less time for hobbies and leisurely activities that you used to enjoy is another sign that you may have OCD. Most people need help in the form of therapy or medication to reduce and eliminate these obsessive thoughts and compulsions.

Recognize the Warning Signs and Get the Help You Need

Knowledge is power when it comes to treating mental health disorders like OCD. Being aware of the potential signs and symptoms of this condition makes it easier to find the best treatment for your specific needs.

Being an organized person with attention to detail is one thing. Obsessing over order and correctness or performing ritualistic behaviors that distract you from your relationships and obligations is a sign of something more serious. The good news is, early detection of OCD is the first step on the path to healing and recovery.

About the author

April Sutphen

April Sutphen is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from Florida. She has her MFA in creative writing and over 15 years of writing experience. April enjoys writing on a variety of topics including health and wellness, relationships, marriage, parenting, and fitness. When April isn’t writing she spends her time exercising, at the beach, and spending time with her family and friends.