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8 things you probably describe as 'OCD' but aren't

by Sarah Graham
Tuesday 02 June 2015
1032 8308

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition estimated to affect around 740,000 people in the UK. It is characterised by intrusive, distressing thoughts and worries about harm, and people with OCD often believe the only way to relieve these obsessive thoughts is through compulsive, repetitive behaviours or rituals. In its most extreme form, OCD can have a seriously detrimental impact on people's ability to go about their normal, day-to-day lives.

However, the term 'OCD' has also found its way into everyday language, commonly used to inaccurately describe normal quirks and habits that many of us have.

As Registered Counsellor Brenda Silverman explains: "OCD is something that many people label themselves as having, or use about people they know, when they display tendencies of one kind or another that are regular features of their everyday lives. I'm sure, if you think about it, you can list at least three habits or rituals you always do in the same order."

She adds: "It is worth thinking about the things we do habitually and the reasons behind them. If they seem to have a valid reason, such as safety at home or cleanliness, or they're routines that save us time, then they are probably quite useful and have just become part of our lives. The opposite is true of people really affected by OCD, as in some severe cases it can stop that person from fully living their lives."

We asked Brenda, along with Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill, to list some of the common, everyday examples of habits you might casually describe as OCD but which, in reality, almost certainly aren't symptomatic of a serious mental health condition.

Let us know if you can think of any other examples, either on Twitter @RSCPP or via our Facebook page.


1. Always having the same morning routine

I always start the day by opening the windows, throwing back the bed covers, having my (almost always the same) breakfast sitting in the same spot. Am I OCD? No, merely used to having a routine.

Registered Counsellor Brenda Silverman


2. Polishing the glassware

 Polishing the glassware makes your glasses sparkly, but doesn't mean you're managing a psychiatric condition!

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill


3. Making sure the windows are all closed

This is another habit many people have - that nagging feeling, as you're leaving the house, that maybe you should double check the windows are closed one last time. Better safe than sorry, after all!

Registered Counsellor Brenda Silverman


4. Being clean and tidy

Keeping your surroundings clean and tidy may make you feel more organised to face the day, but that doesn't mean you have OCD.

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill


5. Keeping different foods separate on your plate

This habit often begins in childhood, when children are beginning to assert their choices and control. You may have particular likes or dislikes concerning the food on your plate, or a process in your mind about what goes with what and in which order. Or you may simply like to taste your food separately. It's a myth that this is a sign of OCD - whether you're a toddler or an adult.

Registered Counsellor Brenda Silverman


6. Carefully packing your holiday suitcase

This probably just means you want to enjoy your trip - nothing too concerning there!

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill


7. Being particular about cleanliness

Many people are very particular about cleanliness in public places - particularly when using the WC in public places or aeroplanes - and who can blame them? There are some people who will never use a public toilet, and are prepared to do anything possible to avoid using them but, unlike OCD, this does not usually impact on your ability to live your life. 

Registered Counsellor Brenda Silverman


8. Taking regular exercise

Unless your exercise habits become obsessive, taking regular exercise indicates a good level of self care and self esteem, but not much else.

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill

Finding support

You can find out more about symptoms and causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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Updated 02 June 2015