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OCD: A Guide To Recognising Symptoms And Triggers

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health coverage, explores how to recognise symptoms and identify potential triggers for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


“OCD can touch the lives of anyone, no matter their age or gender,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.


“According to the World Health Organization, OCD is one of the top 20 causes of illness-related disability worldwide for individuals between 15 and 44 years of age, but there have been cases of children as young as six displaying the early signs of OCD. This means it’s important for everyone to watch for the early signs.”

What is OCD?

OCD is a mental health illness defined by persistent, unwelcome thoughts, desires, or images (obsessions) that cause people to engage in repeated actions or mental acts (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions frequently disrupt everyday tasks and cause considerable distress.

Recognising the Symptoms

OCD symptoms can manifest in various ways. The most common symptoms of OCD are obsessions and compulsions.


Obsessions are persistent, intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that cause distress or anxiety. Common themes include:

Fear of contamination or dirt: Worries about germs, getting dirty, or becoming ill.

Doubts and the need for perfection: People need things to be symmetrical or in perfect order, and they doubt if doors are locked, or appliances are turned off.

Harm: Fearing causing harm to oneself or others, often accompanied by vivid, disturbing images.


Compulsive Behaviour

Compulsions are repeating actions or mental activities that an individual feels compelled to undertake in response to an obsession. These might include:

Excessive cleaning and handwashing: Being driven by fears of germs or contamination.

Ordering and arranging: Needing things to be in a specific order or symmetry.

Checking: Repeatedly checking doors, appliances, or other items to prevent harm, fire, leaks, or other feared events.

Mental compulsions: Counting, praying, repeating certain words, or performing tasks a certain number of times to reduce anxiety.

Understanding Triggers

 Triggers for OCD can vary widely among individuals but recognising them can be a critical step in managing the disorder. Common triggers include:

Stress: Significant life stressors can exacerbate OCD symptoms or trigger the onset of the disorder.

Changes in routine: Disruptions in one’s daily routine or environment can act as catalysts for OCD behaviours.

Illness or health concerns: Fear of illness, either personal or about loved ones, can heighten OCD symptoms, particularly those related to contamination.

Information overload: Excessive exposure to news, social media, or other information sources can feed into obsessions, particularly in the digital age.

Understanding Your OCD Diagnosis


Pinpointing OCD isn’t as straightforward as taking a blood test. Instead, mental health experts rely on detailed conversations and specific assessments to figure out if someone has OCD. One essential tool they often use is the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS), which helps gauge how intense someone’s obsessions and compulsions are.

For those curious about their own experiences and wondering if they align with OCD symptoms, there’s a self-screening test available. While it’s not a replacement for a professional’s insight, it can be a helpful first step in recognising if what you’re going through might be related to OCD.

Other Conditions to Consider


OCD is rarely a stand-alone condition. It’s common for someone with OCD to also grapple with another disorder, making comprehensive care from a skilled mental health professional even more crucial.

Conditions that frequently accompany OCD include:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorders
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)
  • Feeding/Eating Disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Tic Disorders/Tourette Syndrome (TS)

Coping Strategies and Seeking Help


Understanding and recognising OCD symptoms and triggers is the first step toward effective management. Here are five strategies and considerations for those coping with OCD or supporting someone who is:


  1. Education: Learning about OCD can empower individuals and families to understand the nature of the disorder and debunk common misconceptions.
  2. Professional help: It is crucial to speak to mental health professionals, such as psychologists or psychiatrists. Treatments like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), particularly Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), have proven effective.
  3. Self-care: Positive lifestyle changes, such as regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and ensuring adequate sleep, can all help manage stress and reduce OCD symptoms.
  4. Mindfulness and relaxation: Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and deep breathing techniques may all help you control your anxiety and compulsive tendencies.
  5. Support networks: Joining support groups or interacting with individuals with OCD may bring a feeling of belonging and understanding.

About Affinity Health


Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health coverage provider, offering you a range of options at affordable rates, including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Our healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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