Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition marked by excessive orderliness, attention to detail, and perfectionism. In people with OCD, it’s likely the condition takes over their lives in a negative manner. However, some may find their symptoms aren’t getting in the way of their day-to-day life. In such instances, you may wonder how to know if you have mild OCD.
Unfortunately, mild forms of the condition aren’t as well-researched as chronic forms. Still, it is possible to understand whether or not you have a mild struggle and what you can do to overcome it. Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into mild OCD and what you can do to prevent it. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Before we discuss mild OCD, it’s in our interest to understand what this condition typically looks like. In order to be diagnosed with OCD, you must experience uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions), followed by behaviors (compulsions). ¹ While it’s possible for someone to experience both obsessions and compulsions, some may just experience one or the other.
In most people with OCD, the condition interferes with many aspects of their lives through the following symptoms:
Obsession symptoms are repeated thoughts that cause anxiety.
- Aggressive thoughts about oneself or others
- Desire to have things placed in symmetrical order
- Fear of contamination (i.e. germs)
- Undesired forbidden thoughts (i.e. about sex or harm)
Compulsive symptoms are repeated behaviors performed in order to relieve obsessive thoughts.
- Compulsive counting
- Constantly checking on things (i.e. if a door is locked)
- Ordering and arranging things in a precise manner
- Vigorous cleaning or handwashing
Symptoms of OCD aren’t consistent like other mental health disorders. They may come and go, get better over time, or worsen. The severity of your symptoms will determine if you struggle with mild or chronic OCD.
What Causes OCD?
It remains unclear what causes OCD, but we do know some risk factors:
- Brain Structure and Functioning – Imaging studies have revealed that the frontal cortex and subcortical structures in the brain are different within those with OCD. ²
- Environment – Some studies have reported that aspects of our environment can lead to OCD. Most notably, childhood trauma. ³
- Genetics – If someone within your immediate family (i.e. parent, sibling) has OCD, you have a higher chance of developing it. ⁴
While it varies for everyone, most people are diagnosed with OCD by the age of 19. However, there are cases where it can appear after the age of 35. With that said, the early signs of OCD may not be immediately detectible.
Furthermore, there is no clear indication of what causes OCD to get worse, but many attribute it to a lack of treatment.
How to Know if You Have Mild OCD
In order to figure out if you have mild OCD or not, it can help to identify specific signs and symptoms. The following is a compilation of the most common OCD obsessions and compulsions. However, there are two things to consider before reading on:
- It’s unlikely you struggle with every symptom mentioned here
- For the symptoms you do struggle with, the effects are likely to be mild
We invite you to follow along as we take a deeper look at the 10 most common signs of OCD:
1.) You Wash Your Hands Frequently
While it’s not prevalent in everyone, constant hand-washing and hand sanitization has become one of the most common traits of OCD. Most often, the desire to wash your hands is produced by the obsessive fear over germs. However, you may also feel you have a moral duty to do so (i.e. you don’t want to make other people sick).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, handwashing has likely become more common among the general population. It’s not necessarily an issue unless you find yourself still worrying about germs even after washing your hands.
Furthermore, if you find yourself worrying about irrational diseases (i.e. contracting HIV from touching an object) or washing multiple times to get every little detail, you may be struggling with OCD.
2.) You Find Yourself Compulsively Cleaning
“Washers” or people who compulsively clean are another common category of OCD patients. Similar to hand-washing, people of this category tend to have an obsessive fear of germs or feeling impure.
While cleaning should help in suppressing this anxiety, you may find that you continue to worry even just after cleaning.
If you find yourself cleaning daily, you’re likely struggling with what’s known as OCD cleaning. However, a better sign is if you begin to feel anxiety when you go a day without cleaning.
3.) You Struggle with Checking Behavior
Have you ever returned to your stove multiple times to make sure it’s off? Or have you gone to your door a number of times before bed to make sure it’s locked?
If so, you may be struggling with checking behavior – the compulsion to constantly check objects to ensure they’re in order. While it’s not the most common symptom of OCD, it does affect 30% of people with the disorder.
In order to know if you struggle with checking behavior, it can help to determine whether or not it’s a ritual. For example, you may find yourself checking the oven exactly three times.
Even in mild forms, checking behavior requires different treatment methods than other forms of OCD.
4.) You Perform Tasks to Number Patterns
Since orderly thoughts are a common instance of OCD, people will relieve these thoughts in different manners. One way is by performing activities in a numerical sense. For example, you may count the stairs as you walk up them or how many steps you take as you go about a walk.
The cause of number patterns isn’t clear, but some scientists believe it has to do with superstitions. ⁵ For example, people may place good luck on the number 7 and bad luck on the number 13. Therefore, when performing a task, they may purposefully take 7 steps and also avoid taking 13 steps.
However, counting behavior isn’t always a concern for people with OCD. If you find that it’s not inhibiting your day-to-day life (or interfering with others), then it’s likely not an issue you need to identify.
5.) You Need Things Organized
Continuing with orderly thoughts, some may find the best way to relieve these is through organization. Whether it be making sure every object in a drawer is placed just right or coming up with an interior design that’s perfectly symmetrical, these behaviors can become a problem.
Most people will just brush off this behavior as neat. However, it can lead to anxieties that are unnecessary. For example, if you visit a friend’s house and become anxious over the way they have things set up.
6.) You Struggle with Fears of Violence
It’s in our instinct to want to avoid violence or misfortunate situations. However, in people with OCD, the fear of violence becomes so irrational, it may consume your day-to-day life.
Where these thoughts originate is unclear, but some research suggests they may be a product of previous experienced trauma. ⁶
Everyone struggles with dark thoughts from time to time. However, if you avoid certain areas (i.e. parks) in order to avoid violence, you may struggle with OCD.
7.) You Have Unwanted Sexual Thoughts
Just like unwanted orderly thoughts, some people instead struggle with forbidden or taboo sexual thoughts. These can range in a variety of topics, from groping a coworker to getting confused over whether or not you’re gay.
Such thoughts are common in many people, even those without OCD. However, those with OCD may assume they’re the only ones with such thoughts or that they’re a horrible person for having such thoughts. ⁷
In some instances, people may even change their behaviors due to these thoughts. For example, a person who thinks about groping their coworker may avoid said coworker at all costs.
8.) You Dissect Your Relationships
Some people with OCD may find themselves obsessively thinking about relationships. Outside of romantic relationships, this can also be family, friends, or co-workers.
Most often, people with this type of OCD will constantly think of one event that may have had a negative outcome. For example, you may wonder whether or not a comment you made to a friend made them alienate from you.
Such occurrences are also common among most people. Therefore, becoming obsessive after a romantic break-up isn’t necessarily a sign of OCD. However, if you find yourself continually recalling events and, in turn, deeming yourself a bad person, there’s a chance you’re struggling with OCD.
9.) You’re Always Seeking Reassurance
As we’ve discussed, OCD is a form of anxiety that usually originates through obsessive thoughts. While everyone relieves these thoughts differently, some may find the best antidote is through reassurance from friends and family. ⁸
For example, if you embarrassed yourself at a family gathering, you may constantly ask your family about the incident. Or, if you’ve recently moved in with a significant other, you may find yourself always asking them whether or not the house is dirty.
It’s natural for us to use our friends as a way to reassure our own values. But if you find yourself repeating the same questions to your relationships, you may be struggling with OCD.
10.) You Obsess Over Your Looks
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is similar to OCD in the sense that a person will obsess over aspects of their body that aren’t perfect. ⁹ The obsessions here are usually specific areas that one thinks are unattractive or abnormal (i.e. hair, nose, or skin) and the compulsions are doing anything and everything to fix those areas.
Similar to other signs on our list, it’s natural for anyone to not like certain aspects of their image. BDD isn’t a concern until you find yourself spending hours a day in front of mirror, overlooking every minor detail.
BDD is different from an eating disorder as those who struggle with it don’t tend to focus on diet or weight changes. ¹⁰
What Does Mild OCD Look Like?
While research concerning mild OCD is slim, one study found that only 15% of adults diagnosed with the disorder have mild impairment. ¹¹ Since this is a small percentage of the OCD population, it may be assumed that it’s insignificant.
However, it’s very likely many people struggling with mild OCD aren’t diagnosed. Since mild OCD symptoms aren’t overwhelming a person’s day-to-day life, it’s much less likely they’ll seek out medical treatment.
The best way to determine if you have a mild form of this condition is to go over an OCD symptoms checklist (as we’ve laid out above) or an OCD test. From there, you’ll want to consider how much these symptoms are playing a role in your life. For example, if you find they’re inhibiting daily activities, it’s likely you’re struggling with a more severe form of OCD.
Even if you do determine you have mild OCD, it can be beneficial to seek out help from a mental health professional. Without proper treatment, OCD can worsen overtime. Furthermore, by identifying which type of OCD you have, you can take the right steps to resolving symptoms.
While mild OCD isn’t as much a concern as moderate or severe OCD, that doesn’t take away from the fact that it may have a negative effect on your life. If you’ve been able to identify mild OCD symptoms, chances are you can also identify a treatment plan that will work best for you.
We highly recommend reaching out to a mental health professional to get a better idea of your situation. If they don’t diagnose you with OCD, it can be beneficial to point out that you may only struggle with a mild form of the disorder. From there, you and your doctor can work out how you’d like to go about treating this condition.
Still have questions about how to know if you have mild OCD?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
² HHS Public Access: A Psychological and Neuroanatomical Model of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
³ Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine: Trauma-related obsessive–compulsive disorder: a review
⁴ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: The genetics of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a review
⁵ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Repetitive Behaviors Take Over
⁶ Journal of Anxiety Disorders: The effect of trauma on the severity of obsessive-compulsive spectrum symptoms: A meta-analysis
⁷ HHS Public Access: Sexual orientation obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder: prevalence and correlates
⁸ BMC Psychiatry: The role of reassurance seeking in obsessive compulsive disorder: the associations between reassurance seeking, dysfunctional beliefs, negative emotions, and obsessive- compulsive symptoms
⁹ World Psychiatry: Body dysmorphic disorder: recognizing and treating imagined ugliness
¹⁰ National Institute of Mental Health: Eating Disorders
¹¹ Harvard Medical School: National Comorbidity Survey (NCS)