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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Let’s look at what OCD is and explore how to cope and thrive.

Teen running away from giant hands

What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorders are a type of anxiety disorder. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions: repeated unwanted thoughts that make you feel stuck and distressed. It can help to think of these as intense worry thoughts, or 'sticky thoughts' (they get stuck in your head).

Compulsions: repeated behaviours that make the thoughts feel better temporarily.

Examples of common OCD compulsions (behaviours)

Compulsions are deliberate behaviours used to try and manage distressing obsessions (thoughts).

People often describe having an intense ‘urge’ to do the behaviour, and feel relief after doing it. These behaviours are often physical (and are sometimes called rituals because they are temporarily soothing and are repeated). However, many people also have ‘mental compulsions’ (deliberate thoughts) they use to manage OCD as well.

Physical compulsions: 

  • Repeatedly washing hands 
  • Ordering, arranging and cleaning surrounding spaces (e.g. room, house, study space etc) 
  • Checking things repeatedly (e.g. that the door is definitely shut and the hair straightener is definitely off)  
  • Repeating, touching, tapping, e.g. turning a light on and off repeatedly until it feels ‘just right’, or tapping a water glass against your teeth four times when you sip because it feels like ‘something bad might happen’ if you don’t do it 
  • Seeking reassurance from others that everything is ok  
  • Avoiding any situations or places that could potentially trigger obsessive thoughts or behaviours, e.g. a public restroom due to fear of germs, not using the stove due to fear of burning down the house 

Physical compulsions are sometimes called ‘rituals’. 

Mental compulsions: 

  • ‘Thought neutralisation’ - deliberately replacing distressing thoughts with more pleasant ones, e.g. thinking about your dog playing, after having imagined him being badly hurt 
  • Mental checking – bringing up obsessive thoughts to ‘check’ how you feel about them at different times/on different days 
  • Mental rehearsal – practicing future events in your mind to help you prepare, e.g. practicing going to a doctor’s appointment 
  • Self-punishment – mentally abusing or judging yourself for bad thoughts, e.g. ‘I’m a terrible person for thinking these things’ 
  • Self-reassurance – telling yourself good thoughts about yourself, especially when you have distressing thoughts, e.g. ‘I’m still a good person’
  • Prayers, mantras or repeated phrases, e.g. thinking, ‘It’s not me, it’s my OCD’ after a distressing thought 
  • Wishing your OCD away
  • Trying to ‘solve’ OCD 

Coping with OCD obsessions (thoughts)

Don't engage with the thoughts and try to 'figure them out'

Accept the thoughts and don't try to argue with them (this can make the thoughts worse)

Know these thoughts are automatic - they pop into your head for no reason and don't 'mean' anything bad about you

Coping with OCD compulsions (behaviours)

Remember compulsive behaviours can feel helpful and bring relief at first – but unfortunately, they are often ‘good guys in disguise’ - they can get more and more controlling

Know your triggers - this can help you prevent/avoid a compulsion before it becomes too intense

Schedule them at a certain time - sometimes, trying to stop altogether can be tough. Putting a 'boundary' around when you do it can help you feel more in control

Change the behaviour – you might delay it, shorten it, or change the pattern in other ways, e.g. instead of washing your hands with three pumps of hand soap, use two

Build up time between when you feel the 'urge' and when you do the behaviour

Other ways to cope with OCD

Here are some other things that might help.

  • Share your experience with someone you trust - you don't have to do it alone! 
  • Try practicing mindfulness – some people find this helpful in managing intrusive thoughts 
  • Spend time doing things you love - it's so important to ‘fill up your cup’ so that you have energy to cope with your experiences of OCD 


You can also chat with Kids Helpline. Give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email anytime, for any reason.

This content was last reviewed 15/09/2023

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