Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which a person has unwanted intrusive and repetitive thoughts that become obsessions. These obsessions then make them do things to relieve the thoughts, a behavior called compulsions. Because this learned ritual offers only temporary relief, the probability people will engage in compulsions again is increased and often becomes excessive.

the full story
Intro to OCD

Imagine waking up one day with a strange thought in your head. Over the next few days, the thought becomes more negative and more intrusive. Then it starts to control you, distract you, and cause you anxiety.

Finally, you find something that calms the thought down. And from that moment on, every time the thought comes back, you compulsively repeat what helped you before. 

Everyone experiences random intrusive or strange thoughts. But most of us have brains with a spam filter that can put them aside. In around 2% of people, these disruptive thoughts get stuck and lead to obsessive-compulsive behavior, or OCD.

understanding OCD
Understanding OCD

OCD is a mental condition in which a person has unwanted, intrusive, and repetitive thoughts that become obsessions. These obsessions then make them do things that relieve them from these thoughts, a behavior known as a compulsion.

This is why it’s called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

OCD tends to develop most frequently in children 10–14 years of age with symptoms that range across a wide spectrum. Some just have repetitive thoughts, others experience extreme obsessions that make living a normal life difficult. For many, it comes and goes in waves.

symptoms of ocd
Symptoms of OCD

Symptoms of OCD are often grouped into four factors: symmetry, forbidden thoughts, cleaning, and hoarding. Some might experience other symptoms, and still others a mix of multiple factors. Miko, Ann, Jane, and Joe each have their own version of OCD. 

Symmetry OCD

Miko is obsessed with symmetry and he can spend hours sorting books. And whenever he enters his library, he has to leave it the exact way that he came in — backward.

OCD Forbidden thoughts

Ann began having “forbidden” negative thoughts after she lost her mom. Ever since she’s constantly afraid that others around her may die including herself. Her forbidden thoughts can strike at any time. Her heart starts pounding, and a terrifying image crosses her mind. To make them go away, she starts biting her nails until they bleed.

OCD Cleaning

Jane is obsessed with cleanliness and gets anxious when things appear dirty. She washes her hands like 50 times a day. And when she’s done, she washes the soap too, because in her world everything is covered in germs —  especially the things she touches. 

OCD Hoarding

Joe is constantly thinking about losing things and to relieve his anxiety he begins hoarding. When leaving his house, he checks the lock on the door again and again. Then, 5 minutes later he starts wondering if he’s closed the windows. And so he returns — thinking he was so obsessed about locking the door, that he might have missed the windows.

So how come that in a group of people, just some have OCD?

Causes of OCD

People with OCD are often born with a genetic predisposition with about 1 in 4 having an immediate family member with the disorder. At some point in life, environmental factors, such as childhood trauma, can initiate the onset of OCD or exacerbate its intensity. 

While the neurobiological origins are still being studied, brain areas regulating thought processing may be disrupted in minds with the disorder.

As a result, their thoughts can’t shift properly, and instead get stuck, repeated, and lead to a loss of control. Someone who has to check if they locked the door over and over again, has the thought “Did I lock?” repeating endlessly without being resolved.

While obsessions just seem to appear in one’s head, compulsions are learned responses that help reduce the anxiety associated with intrusive thoughts.

So if Jane experiences an ever-present fear of germs, she reduces her anxiety by washing her hands. Because this ritual temporarily offers relief, the probability that she will do it again is increased.

the ocd cycle
The OCD Cycle

Once the OCD Cycle is established, obsessions lead to anxiety which triggers the compulsion that brings the relief — and then it starts again. As a result, compulsive behavior not only persists but actually becomes excessive — often with negative consequences and makes living a normal life impossible. When you begin having OCD you often aren’t aware of it and, as a result, some of the terrible thoughts in your brain lead you to believe that you are a bad person. This is why it’s important to seek professional help to understand and eventually “quiet the brain”.

OCD treatment

Treatment of OCD includes:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: to overcome intrusive thoughts by not indulging in any compulsions 
  • Rumination: focused exposure with response prevention that focuses on obsessions
  • Medication 
  • Or nicknaming to relabel, reattribute, refocus, and revalue your thoughts
what do you think?

What about you? Have you ever experienced obsessive thoughts? And if so, what kind of compulsions did you turn to? Please share your insights and strategies for dealing with your mental monster in the comments below!


Dig deeper!

Classroom activity

In the following activity students will learn about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and its symptoms. 

  • Ask the class what they know about OCD and why they think the disorder has this name. 
  • Show the class Sprouts’ video on OCD
  • Ask students how they think OCD can be debilitating in modern society and how the symptoms of OCD can impact someone’s life. 
  • Ask the class how they think other people can help those with OCD. 
  • As a follow up, ask the class how society can help people with OCD live a better life and what social programs can be put in place to make OCD less debilitating (free healthcare – work adaptations).


  • Script: Jonas Koblin
  • Artist: Pascal Gaggelli
  • Voice: Matt Abbott
  • Coloring: Nalin
  • Editing: Peera Lertsukittipongsa
  • Production: Selina Bador
  • Fact-checking: Ludovico Saint Amour Di Chanaz
  • Sound Design: Miguel Ojeda

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