OCD Checking - Understanding Compulsive Behavior

Jordan Brown

There is a type of behavior that some people do when they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

It's associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but I've found that it's common with all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations.

It's "checking behavior."

In this post, I'll focus on OCD checking, but know that there are other kinds of checking behavior related to anxiety and other mental health issues.

Maybe you've heard of it, maybe you haven't.

Even if you have, you'll want to keep reading to know what checking behavior means in layman's terms--and how you can know if it's affecting your life.

It all comes down to one simple question.

OCD Checking and Compulsive Behavior

To give you an idea of what I'm referring  to, I'll share some examples from my own life.

When I get really anxious, I engage in checking behavior.

What I mean is that I check on something over and over to get a status update. I check my face as I pass by mirrors. If my anxiety is really bad, I'll check my face in whatever reflective surface I happen to be in front of--building windows, car windows, cellphone or laptop screens, you name it. If it's in front of me and I'm feeling very anxious, I have a tendency to do it. I also score fairly high on the OCD spectrum, so I'm more inclined to check things than the typical person. I don't even always consciously know what I'm looking for. Sometimes it's what I perceive to be unsightly blemishes. Sometimes it's just anything that looks "off" to me.

And what I've realized is that checking behavior actually has a lot of implications for everyday life. For instance, I sometimes check the same two or three apps on my phone. On days when my anxiety is high, when I first log onto my computer, I'll immediately check The Mental Health Update to see if I have new subscribers. Or I'll check to see if there has been traffic to my website. Most recently, I've been checking order statistics for my new book more than I should. This isn't a good use of my time, and I know that. But it's something that happens as a way to self-soothe, to gain a small amount of control over my life.

I know I'm not alone when it comes to this kind of thing, but, when it's happening, I feel foolish and feel like I'm the only person in the world to waste my time checking and looking at things that are not going to change from one second to the next.

What to Know About Compulsive Checking Behavior

By now, you might be thinking of some behaviors that you rely on when you get stressed or feel anxious.

Please don't beat yourself up about it. That's only going to make things worse.

Still, it's important to realize when it might be time to take checking behavior a bit more seriously and get some help if you need to.

Here's a very important question you should ask yourself if you or someone you love seems to be stuck in the checking downward spiral:

Is this behavior affecting my quality of life and preventing me from  doing things that I normally do?

That question can be applied to you or someone else.

Obviously, it's more difficult to know exactly what's going on in another person's life. You don't live in their brain, but your input as an outside observer is actually incredibly useful. It's what mental health professionals rely on for many mental health diagnoses--they want to collect as much evidence as they can, and sometimes outside observation is the only way to verify behaviors that people may not even realize they're doing.

Once you've asked yourself that question, you're on the right path. Why? Because you've brought your behavior into awareness. You can't change anything until you know it's happening.

There's not enough time or space in this weekly mental health issue to discuss all the steps you could take to overcome checking behavior. But the most important first step you can take when you're understanding your behaviors is to get a sense of where, when, and how they manifest in your life. From there, you have data to make better decisions.

Is checking behavior popping up in your life like it does mine?

It's not the end of the world. It's actually a good place to begin.

You may feel uneasy when you're crossing a high bridge, but, when you think about it, it's actually an opportunity and vantage point that shows you where you need to go.