Do You Have OCD—or Are You Just Really Anal-Retentive?

Allow us to explain the difference.

You obsess over missed texts. You compulsively clean. But are you OCD? The odds would suggest no.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects only about 1.6 percent of American adults, according to the National Institutes of Health. And while people do suffer from sub-clinical symptoms, most people who throw around sayings like, “I’m so OCD about my hair, my closet hangers, etc.,” actually just, well, aren’t.

“When you are type A, it’s part of your personality,” says clinical psychologist Jeff Szymanski, Ph.D., executive director of the International OCD Foundation and author of The Perfectionist’s Handbook. “It might stress you out, but you like it.” (Check out why more and more women are getting hooked on stress.) “You own your perfectionism and maybe even get a feeling of achievement or self-esteem from it,” says Szymanski. “For people with OCD, their obsessions and compulsions don’t feel like them. They don’t identify it as part of themselves. The compulsions are driven not by preference or enjoyment, but by severe anxiety.”

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder are consumed by fears (called obsessions) that lead them to perform repetitive behaviors (compulsions) in an effort to prevent the situation or temporarily relieve the anxiety.

Some people obsess over exaggerated fears of germs, of being anything less than perfect, or of losing control—and fall victim to compulsions such as scrubbing their hands for hours at a time, frantically repeating words, phrases, or prayers in your head, or checking locks, burners, and the symmetry of your desk items multiple times per day.

And while it’s not clear why some people turn to specific obsessions and compulsions over others, their underlying theme is anxiety.

In fact, the fifth edition of the DSM includes a new chapter on obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, after increasing evidence has shown that OCD is linked to other high-anxiety disorders, such as body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), hoarding disorder, and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder.

What’s more, the compulsions are not productive (read: having to get up at 6 a.m. every day for your morning workout or keeping impeccable Excel spreadsheet to-do lists).

To meet the DSM-5's clinical criteria for OCD, people must spend at least an hour per day engrossed in their compulsive activities, which are most commonly cleaning, organizing, and checking.

In cases of moderate to severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, people often devote so much time to their compulsions that it interferes with daily life, says Szymanski. Many people lose jobs, relationships, and become estranged from friends and family.

For those who suspect they may indeed have obsessive-compulsive disorder (take Szymanski’s quiz to find out if your perfectionism is healthy or not), it’s best to speak an OCD specialist (not just your family doctor or general therapist) about your symptoms and, if necessary, possible treatment options.

“Everyone is obsessive and compulsive on a continuum,” says Szymanski. It’s just a matter of determining if your quirks cross the line from being cute and productive to anxiety-ridden and destructive.

More from Women’s Health:
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Anxiety—and How to Conquer It
9 Ways Stress Messes With Your Body
12 Happiness Myths—Debunked

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