Checking OCD; what makes you check?

What is checking OCD?

Checking OCD is where you feel compelled to repeatedly check and re-check your actions to prevent something terrible from happening. It is the most common type of compulsion, affecting over 80% of OCD sufferers.

Examples of checking OCD include:

  • Checking to ensure lights and appliances are turned off.
  • Checking whether car and house doors are locked.
  • Re-checking personal items.


Beth automatically locks the door once she comes in. When going to bed, she checks the doors are locked, even though she locks them once she enters.

She has a particular way of checking that she has locked up properly. She checks the handle, but more than one try is needed. She repeatedly presses down on the handle to ensure no one can open the door without access to the key. 

She then unlocks, relocks the door to make sure, and retries the handle again.

She also repeats the phrase out loud, locked, locked, locked.

10 Key Points About Checking OCD:

  1. Constant reassurance seeking: Checking OCD involves a compulsive need to verify things repeatedly, often due to fears of harm, mistakes, or imperfection. This can involve checking locks, appliances, alarms, health concerns, or even small details in everyday tasks.
  2. Not just about safety: While some checking focuses on physical safety, it can also extend to emotional reassurance, seeking endless confirmation from others, or mentally reviewing past actions or conversations for errors.
  3. Temporary relief, lasting anxiety: Checking provides temporary relief from anxiety, but the reassurance never lasts, leading to an endless cycle of checking and growing distress.
  4. It’s not your fault: Checking OCD is a treatable anxiety disorder, not a personal weakness. Understanding the underlying anxiety can be crucial for recovery.
  5. Breaking the cycle is key: Recovery involves resisting the urge to check, tolerating uncertainty, and learning to manage anxiety in healthier ways.
  6. CBT is powerful: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can equip you with strategies to challenge intrusive thoughts, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and break the checking cycle.
  7. Professional help is vital: Don’t suffer in silence. Seeking help from a therapist specializing in OCD treatment is crucial for proper diagnosis, personalized treatment plan, and ongoing support.
  8. Self-care matters: Prioritizing sleep, exercise, and relaxation techniques can boost your overall well-being and resilience against anxiety, making coping with checking easier.
  9. You’re not alone: Checking OCD is more common than you might think. Connecting with others who understand can offer valuable validation and encouragement. Online communities and support groups can be helpful resources.
  10. Hope for the future: Checking OCD is manageable. With dedication, support, and the right tools, you can reclaim control over your checking compulsions and live a fulfilling life. Focus on progress, not perfection, and remember, your worth is not defined by your OCD.

How to recognise checking OCD?

The symptoms and signs of checking OCD include feeling a need to check repeatedly for problems, such as checking 

  • taps, 
  • alarms, 
  • door locks, 
  • house lights, and appliances 
  • to prevent leaks, damage, or fire; 
  • checking your body for signs of illness; 
  • confirming the authenticity of memories; 
  • repeatedly checking communication, such as emails, for fear of making a mistake or offending the recipient; 
  • obsessional fears around fires, burglaries, or other catastrophes; repeatedly checking the placement of paper, curtains, or furniture; 
  • locking and unlocking doors a certain number of times; 
  • asking others for reassurance; calling loved ones repeatedly to check for safety; 
  • leaving work to check if lights and appliances are off at home; 
  • leaving events to see if the car and house doors are locked; 
  •  compulsively checking personal items to ensure they have them; 
  • taking longer to complete tasks; 
  • visually inspecting objects; 
  • and turning things on or off repeatedly until it ” feels right,”
Fire could break out and hurt me or people I loveWhat is behind the behaviourCommon Link
DoorsChecking if family member got home safelyDoubt
AppliancesChecking if a family member got home safelyDoubt
EmailsI could make a mistake and offend others or get in troubleDoubt
Fear that a loved one make be in trouble or involved in an accidentFear that someone could break in and harm the people I love or meDoubt

What are the causes of checking OCD?

Imbalanced Brain Chemistry

Genetics play a role in checking OCD, as people with a first-degree relative with OCD are more likely to develop the disorder. Brain imaging studies have also shown that people with OCD often have differences in brain structures.

Traumatic Events

Traumatic events are experiences that overwhelm an individual’sindividual’s emotional, psychological, or physical abilities. They can range from a natural disaster to an unexpected death, severe injury, or violent attack or abuse. Traumatic events often result in feelings of helplessness, fear, and intense distress. These extreme emotional reactions to traumatic events can cause a person to develop a form of OCD called checking OCD.

Checking OCD is characterised by obsessive thoughts that cause a person to engage in compulsive checking behaviours to ensure the safety of themselves and their loved ones. In some cases, the obsessive thoughts and checking behaviour may be related to a particular traumatic event or series of events. For example, a traumatic event such as a severe conflict or serious illness could trigger the development of checking OCD within six months of the event.

Traumatic events can have a lasting impact on an individual’sindividual’s mental health and cause significant distress. It is important to seek professional help if you are experiencing symptoms of checking OCD or having difficulty managing a traumatic event’s aftermath. Seeking help can provide an opportunity to address the underlying issues and develop helpful coping strategies that can reduce the intensity of the symptoms.

Anxiety Disorders

The relationship between anxiety disorders and checking OCD is one of cause and effect. Anxiety disorders, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), can lead to checking behaviours that severely affect your ability to function. Additionally, the checking can increase relationship stress and lead to physical health issues.

How is checking OCD treated?

Checking OCD is highly treatable, often through a combination of cognitive-behaviour therapy and, in some cases, medication. The most common and effective therapy for checking OCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This therapy helps identify the root of the obsessions and fears that drive the compulsive behaviour.

Step 1: Connect with a therapist to help you better manage OCD and its symptoms like “checking”.

Step 2: Develop a more balanced understanding of the obsessions.

Step 3: Start Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) exercises to face your fears and build confidence to resist the checking routines.

Read more on ERP

Step 4: Engage in mindfulness-based treatments such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to refocus on the present moment and disconnect from the feared story.

Step 5: Work with your psychiatrist to determine if medication is necessary to help manage your symptoms

Step 6: Schedule an assessment with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, to explore treatment options.

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