OCD Explained

What is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and what are the types of OCD?

OCD: Symptoms & information



What is OCD? 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations (obsessions) and to stop these thoughts, they are compelled to do something repetitively in the same way (compulsions). These repetitive behaviours or actions can significantly interfere with an individual’s daily functioning and social interactions, leaving children unable to attend school or adults unable to work. The development of OCD is gradual and insidious, and its course can be chronic, constant or waxing/waning. Only 15% describe periods of > 3 months symptom-free. 


OCD isn’t just remembering to wash your hands or wanting to keep the house clean and organised, these actions keep us safe. However, feeling an overwhelming need to constantly wash your hands after you touch anything or clean everything to an excessive level is unhelpful. 

Obsessions (aka intrusions) 

Obsessions are thoughts, images or impulses – e.g. Could see flashing images or urges to do something unsafe. They are repetitive and uncontrollable (rebound effects). Importantly, these are not just excessive worries about real-life problems. OCD involves irrational worries such as developing a disease from touching a dirty light bulb or dirty washing that will contaminate your family, causing extreme anxiety or distress. 

Compulsions (aka neutralising behaviour) 

Repetitive overt behaviours (handwashing, ordering, checking) or covert mental acts (praying, counting, repeating words). Goals are usually to alleviate anxiety associated with the obsession – to “undo” or prevent harm associated with the obsession. However, these obsessions are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent or are clearly excessive. They can develop into ritual-like behaviour – needing to do something until it feels just right. 


Signs and Symptoms of OCD 

Common obsessions 

  • Contamination  
  • Afraid of germs. 
  • Pathological doubt  
  • E.g., What if I hit someone at the traffic lights 
  • Somatic obsessions  
  • Having a sensation in your body and thinking you have a disease. 
  • Need for symmetry.  
  • E.g., An overwhelming need to do things in a particular pattern or put objects in particular places. 
  • Sexual  
  • Irrational sense of disgust about sexual activity 
  • Aggression  


Common Compulsions 

  • Safety and checking 
  • Constant checking the door is locked or the stove is off 
  • Constant messaging of loved ones to check they are safe 
  • Cleanliness and order 
  • Obsessive handwashing or cleaning because you’re afraid of germs 
  • Counting and hoarding 
  • E.g., Repeatedly counting items or objects – such as your clothes or pavement blocks when you’re walking. 
  • Hoarding things – such as junk mail and old newspapers. 
  • Religious and moral issues 
  • An overwhelming need to pray a certain number of times a day so much that it interferes with your work or relationships. 
  • Other behaviours 
  • Pulling hair 
  • Repeating words 
  • Tapping 


How common is OCD? 

The prevalence of OCD is estimated at 2 − 3% across the lifetime and the prevalence in first-degree family members is estimated to range between 10 and 11%. Females are affected at a slightly higher rate. Onset is typically during childhood, and teenage years, and is very rare for people older than 35 years old.  


Why is it important to seek help? 

OCD can be a result of learning to deal with stress in a maladaptive way. It can begin to make everyday life and relationships harder and doesn’t usually go away by itself. Therefore, it is highly recommended you seek help. 


Making an Appointment with Axis Clinic

To make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists, counsellors or mental health social workers please contact our helpful reception team on 07 3254 0333 so that we can support you further.  



5 Self-care tips to support you


Eat healthy and regularly! 

Your mind and mood will love you if you feed it regularly and feed it right. When you are hungry, your blood sugar levels drop which can you tired, and grumpy and lead you to think less rationally. Start your morning with a yummy and nutritious breakfast to kick start your day! 

We suggest: 

  • Nuts and seeds – filled with healthy nutrients, you can find these in your bread, sprinkle them on a yoghurt bowl, blend it in a smoothie or add it to a cake. 
  • Eggs, beans, and meat – these proteins fuel you up slowly to keep your energy levels sustained longer and keep you in a better balance. You could try: 
  • Scrambled eggs with pesto  
  • Quiche with smoked salmon or chicken 
  • Garlic butter beans 
  • Complex carbs such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains – These help keep your blood sugar levels steady to ensure you don’t have those sudden sugar highs and lows.  


Good nights of sleep. 

Anxiety can make it hard to sleep but is crucial for your mental health. We suggest swapping your screen time for something that relaxes the mind rather than stimulates it. For example: 

  • Reading a book 
  • Having a bath 
  • Listening to a podcast or meditation 
  • Listening to relaxing music 


Get out and get active. 

When we stress, we release a hormone called cortisol. This can be helpful in small doses, however, when it becomes chronic and in high doses, it can have serious negative health effects. Regular exercise helps keep your cortisol levels down and boost your mood while also benefiting your bones, muscles and even your organs! 


Seek support. 

Talking to someone about what you’re going through can be immensely helpful. It allows you to unburden your worries and experiences and receive guidance on where to go. Speaking to someone is a great starting point and can equip you with the tools to live your life freely and happily.  

  • Talk to a professional online. 
  • Talk to someone you trust like a family member or friend. 
  • See your doctor. 
  • Talk to a psychologist. 


Celebrate your progress. 

Learning to cope with OCD can take time and everyone will experience their journey differently. You will have setbacks and victories so it’s important to be kind to yourself and allow yourself to celebrate the big and small steps you make along the way. You got this! 




AmericanPsychiatricAssociation. (n.d.). What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Retrieved August 4, 2023, from https://www.psychiatry.org:443/patients-families/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/what-is-obsessive-compulsive-disorder 

beyondblue. (n.d.). Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)—Beyond Blue. Retrieved August 4, 2023, from https://www.beyondblue.org.au/mental-health/anxiety/types-of-anxiety/ocd 

Bonvissuto, D. (n.d.). Self-Care for Living With OCD. WebMD. Retrieved August 4, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-tips-living-with-ocd 

Carmi, L., Brakoulias, V., Arush, O. B., Cohen, H., & Zohar, J. (2022). A prospective clinical cohort-based study of the prevalence of OCD, obsessive compulsive and related disorders, and tics in families of patients with OCD. BMC Psychiatry, 22, 190. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-022-03807-4