Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

What Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Looks Like in Adults

OCD obsessions and compulsions are scarcely the same from one patient to the next. However, certain symptom patterns do exist to help point the way toward diagnosis and effective treatment. Read up on what OCD might look like in adults.

Woman with ADHD covering wall with colorful post-it notes to organize life
Woman with ADHD covering wall with colorful post-it notes to organize life

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects as many as 1 out of every 100 adults. The disorder is characterized by intrusive obsessions and all-consuming compulsions, and its impact on the lives of those who have it can be devastating. Even when OCD is managed with therapy or medication, it can have far-reaching consequences on a patient’s career, social life, and personal relationships.

What does OCD look like in adults? Its symptoms are unique to each individual, but some common patterns do exist. Treatment is essential to managing the disorder and living a healthy life, but treatment can only follow an accurate diagnosis. So begin by getting a sense of what OCD may look like in different settings — particularly at home and at work.

Symptoms at Home

In many cases, people with OCD are embarrassed about their symptoms, or unsure if diagnosable OCD is really the root cause. Others, even if they accept that they have OCD symptoms, believe they can control them with “willpower.” This isn’t true — no amount of willpower can cure a mental illness — and in order to manage your symptoms, you first must recognize that they exist, are impacting your daily life, and are not your fault.

At home, OCD symptoms might look like:

  • Withdrawing from family and friends because of obsessions with contamination
  • Avoiding physical intimacy with a partner out of fear of germs, religious impurity, or intrusive violent thoughts
  • Being late for social events because too much time is spent checking stoves, locks, or light switches
  • Being unable to give away or discard unneeded objects, which often strains relationships
  • Feeling unable to deal with change to daily routine, even if it’s something small
  • Worrying that friends or partners will no longer like you if they find out about your symptoms
  • Feeling like you must constantly seek reassurance from friends or family that you’re loved, or that they’re safe
  • Counting in your head while you complete tasks, often in repetitive sets (counting to 10 nine times in a row before leaving a room, for instance)

Symptoms at Work

Depending on the nature of the obsessions and compulsions experienced, OCD may affect a patient’s day-to-day work. Common manifestations of OCD symptoms in the workplace include:

  • Spending long periods of time washing your hands, when you should be doing work
  • Interacting with your coworkers in socially inappropriate ways, like touching them suddenly
  • Checking and rechecking work repeatedly, often missing deadlines or delaying more important tasks
  • Needing to precisely arrange your desk or workspace, often to the detriment of your responsibilities
  • Sudden bursts of anxiety due to focus on an obsession, often occurring during meetings or interactions with coworkers
  • Feeling like you need to “regroup” periodically throughout the day to avoid focusing too hard on an obsession
  • Avoiding shaking hands, work social events, or important meetings due to fears of contamination
  • Needing to plan each work day far in advance, becoming anxious if an unexpected project or deadline comes up
  • Constant worry that coworkers will find out about your symptoms
  • Keeping old memos, used Post-Its, or empty pens in your desk unnecessarily

OCD is manageable with treatment, and your employer cannot legally discriminate against you based on your OCD. If OCD symptoms are getting in the way of your job performance, consider the pros and cons of disclosing your condition to your employer and seeking both treatment and workplace accommodations.

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