Helping you get through tough times

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder involving two elements: obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions are repetitive unwanted thoughts that make you feel anxious. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours and rituals.

With OCD you feel as if you have to complete these rituals or behaviours, otherwise something bad will happen.

Performing the compulsions can temporarily reduce anxiety you feel with OCD in certain situations.

Why does it happen?

The causes are not fully understood. Research suggests that OCD may be related to chemical, structural, and functional abnormalities in the brain.

Genetic and hereditary factors may also play a role in the development of OCD. It’s most likely the result of several interacting factors and is affected by stressful life events, hormonal changes and personality traits.

OCD affects people from all different backgrounds, classes, cultures, sexes and intelligence levels. Approximately 2-3% of people in Ireland experience OCD.

With OCD you might realise your thoughts are irrational, but the obsessions and compulsions are difficult to resist.

With OCD you experience some obsessive thoughts and a particular compulsion. However, the intensity and frequency can vary, and it’s not uncommon for it to be worse when you are particularly stressed (eg exam time, relationship problems).

Examples of obsessions include:

  • fear of contamination or dirt
  • fear of harming yourself or others
  • intrusive sexual thoughts
  •  fear of illness
  • religious or moral issues.

The common compulsions may be:

  • cleaning, doing or putting things in a particular order
  • washing
  • counting
  • hoarding
  • touching/repeating.

You may have experience in a range of emotions, including feeling:

  • stressed or anxious
  • annoyed and frustrated
  • down or depressed
  • a sense of shame (and a wish to hide your OCD from others).

OCD may affect other parts of your life too, finding you’re not able to enjoy things you normally would. You may feel the need to escape or numb overwhelming feelings by abuse of drugs or alcohol.

Things to do to help OCD

There are a number of different approaches to treating OCD. Using a combination of these may be the most effective.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

A doctor, psychologist or other health professional talks with the person about their symptoms, and discusses alternative ways of thinking about and coping with them.

Support groups

There are many support groups available for people with OCD where you can discuss experiences with others who have been through similar ones.

You can ask your local doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist if they know of any or contact your local community health centre. OCD Ireland have more information on getting help and support.

Write in a journal

You might like to write in a diary, or use an online journal.


Go for a run or walk in the park to use up excess energy.

Play a video game

The mobile phone game Angry Birds has been proven to help with moments of anxiety and can provide a distraction until the feeling passes.

Yell or sing

At the top of your voice on your own, or to music – don’t worry about the lyrics.

Relaxation techniques

Activities like yoga or meditation are often helpful in reducing anxiety.

Talk to someone

Talk with a trusted friend or contact a support service like Samaritans by phoning 116 123 or emailing for free and confidential support.

Medical help

In some cases, medication may be helpful, however this is something that you need to discuss with a psychiatrist or psychologist. Certain drugs help the brain to restore its usual chemical balance and help control the obsessions and compulsions.

The time for change

Changes in behaviour don’t happen overnight and it might take some time before all OCD symptoms go away.

Contact OCD Ireland, an organisation that helps people with the disorder, and families of people with OCD, by providing information and links to support groups and hosts online support forums.

You might like to try the following for support groups and also a treatment programme:

The Anxiety Disorders Programme St. Patrick’s Hospital, Tel: +353 1 2493200

A psychologist quoted on OCD Ireland also recommends the following books:  Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by David Veale, and Stop Obsessing! By Edna B. Foa and Reid Wilson.


OCD Ireland

This article was last reviewed on 02 August 2018

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