There’s nothing wrong with exercising a little caution — at least that’s what you tell yourself when you get out of bed to check the stove or drive back to your house to make sure the front door is locked. Each time you check after the first time, it’s getting harder to rationalize the behavior and you’re worried that something else is at play, namely obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Your concern isn’t misplaced and you’ve come to the right place. In this month’s blog post, Dr. Diana Ghelber and the team at Institute for Advanced Psychiatry are going to focus on an aspect of OCD that’s called checking. More importantly, we take a look at when this behavior crosses over from cautionary to problematic.
OCD at a glance
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder and has a lifetime prevalence among adults in the United States of about 2.3%.
As the name implies, there are generally two sides to OCD:
- Obsession — the intrusive thoughts and images that cause distress
- Compulsion — acting on the intrusive thoughts
This is an overly simplistic definition of what is a very complex disorder, but our goal is to focus on one aspect of OCD here — checking. To be sure, OCD can manifest in many other ways, but checking is one of the more common outward behaviors associated with the mental health issue.
When checking moves beyond caution
You leave the house and, before you’ve gone a mile down the road, it occurs to you that you may have forgotten to lock the door. Worried that you didn’t, you turn around and go back to your house to check. Satisfied that the door is, in fact, locked, you get back into the car again and get on with your day.
In our estimation, you’ve done nothing more than practice a little extra caution and there's nothing wrong with this scenario.
Now, let's see it through the lens of someone with OCD: You get a mile down the road and all of a sudden you’re bombarded with thoughts or images of intruders in your house because you forgot to lock the front door. In a state of panic, you turn around and go back to your house to check. After satisfying yourself that the door is locked, you get back into the car. All too soon, the same thoughts enter your head and you wonder whether you really did lock that door. So, you turn around and go back to check.
This second scenario is a classic example of how the obsession and compulsion conspire together to turn you into a checker, which is defined as someone who “repeatedly checks things … that they associate with harm or danger.”
You can substitute the locked door for any number of things, such as checking on the stove, an iron, a faucet, the garage door, etc.
The OCD, in these cases, comes with a high level of anxiety or fear of the consequences of things being left on or open. And the only way to relieve the anxiety is to go and check, over and over.
As you can imagine, this form of OCD can greatly impact your life as you live in a state of anxiety and you lose considerable time to your checking activities, which can get you in trouble with work or school.
If this checking cycle sounds familiar or you’re seeing it in a loved one, it's time for an assessment. To get started, simply contact us at the Institute for Advanced Psychiatry in Granbury or Fort Worth, Texas, to set up a consultation.