If you've ever heard someone say that they "totally have OCD" because they like to be neat and organized (cough cough, Khloé Kardashian), you probably get why some people tend to think of obsessive compulsive disorder as only a tendency to need routine and order — even though it's more than that.
We all need some sense of routine to function in our day-to-day lives. But what distinguishes a routine from OCD is why you do that routine, and how it affects you.
"Routines help us to be more efficient and happier," says Tamar Chansky, PhD, founder of the Children's and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety and author of Freeing Your Child From Anxiety. "OCD is you’re feeling like you have to do things a certain way because if not, something bad will happen."
In other words, if your desire to keep to a certain routine is taking on a life of its own and becoming a burden for you — and yet you can't stop — that's when it might be a sign of OCD.
"The diagnostic criteria of OCD is that you have obsessions and compulsions that are time consuming, that take more than an hour a day," Dr. Chansky says. You might, for example, like organizing your bag before you leave in the morning to make sure it doesn't turn into Narnia when you're fumbling for your keys later, but if you take more than an hour to do it and it distresses you to the point of severely impacting your life, that could be a symptom of unhealthy compulsion.
OCD is you’re feeling like you have to do things a certain way because if not, something bad will happen.
Tamar Chansky, PhD
Dr. Chansky gives the example of locking your door at night and double-checking that it's really locked: Checking once, even twice is a good thing — but for people with OCD, it might feel like being on the brink of disaster if they don't check the door a certain number of times, or check until they get that "just right" feeling. People with OCD might often be late to work because they have to perform a routine a certain number of times.
If you're wondering if your love of routines could really be a sign of OCD, Dr. Chansky says the main question to ask yourself is if the routine is something that works for you or against you.
"Is it something that helps you run more efficiently or is it grabbing more of your time and attention and not helping you to feel better?" she says.
If you are struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder and are in need of information and support, please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-6264. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NAMI” to 741741.