Some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience a type of compulsion called compulsive counting. These individuals may feel the need to count objects, people, or actions.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that causes obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are repetitive thoughts, mental images, and urges. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors a person feels the need to do. Compulsions often occur in response to an obsession.

Compulsive counting is one type of compulsion a person may experience. Other types of compulsions include excessive cleaning or handwashing and ordering or arranging items in a precise way.

This article takes a closer look at compulsive counting and how it relates to OCD. It also explains other OCD symptoms and treatment options that are available.

Runners on a numbered trackShare on Pinterest
Clerkenwell/Getty Images

Compulsive counting, also called OCD counting, is a type of OCD compulsion. Some experts classify it as a type or subtype of OCD.

The main characteristic of compulsive counting is ritualistic and repetitive counting behaviors. Someone experiencing counting compulsions may feel the urge to count almost anything. This may include:

  • people
  • objects
  • actions and behaviors

Some people may count steps, and others may count the items on the desk in front of them or tiles on the floor. A person may count in their head or out loud.

Compulsions such as counting do not always occur for a specific reason. However, anxiety or fear may be a trigger. It can vary from person to person and even incident to incident.

Compulsions are one part of OCD. They are repetitive behaviors and mental acts that a person can feel driven to perform, usually in response to an obsession. Compulsions can often relieve an individual’s anxiety or distress over an obsession. This can cause them to perform the behaviors more often in the future.

While compulsions may be directly related to an obsession, such as excessive handwashing in response to a fear of contamination, they can also occur unrelated to a person’s obsessions.

In severe cases of OCD, a person’s compulsions and rituals can fill their entire day. This can make it difficult or impossible to maintain a typical daily routine.

Not everyone with OCD will experience the same compulsions. According to older research from the UK’s National Health Service, around 2% of people with OCD experience counting as a compulsion. The severity of OCD symptoms can vary from person to person as well.

Learn more about OCD.

As mentioned earlier, a person with OCD will generally experience obsessions, compulsions, or both.

It is important to note that not all repetitive thoughts are obsessions. Similarly, not all habits or rituals are compulsions.

Factors that tend to set OCD obsessions and compulsions apart from typical thoughts or behaviors include:

  • the inability to control one’s obsessions or compulsions, even when they know they are excessive
  • spending more than 1 hour per day on one’s compulsions or obsessions
  • getting no pleasure from compulsions but possibly feeling a temporary relief from anxiety
  • experiencing significant problems in daily life due to one’s obsessions or compulsions

If a person is experiencing repetitive thoughts and behaviors that affect their day-to-day life, they should consider speaking with a mental health professional.

There is no cure for OCD. However, there are treatments available that can help a person manage the symptoms and engage in day-to-day activities.

Treatment for OCD typically includes:

A mental health professional may also recommend a combination of treatments.

The following are answers to questions people frequently ask about OCD and compulsive counting.

What is an example of OCD counting?

Examples of OCD counting include counting steps, how many times a person blinks, tiles on a floor, or items in a room.

Is counting a form of anxiety?

Compulsive counting may be a response to anxiety or fear that is triggered by a person’s obsessions.

Is there a disorder for counting?

Another name for compulsive counting that can be a part of OCD is “arithmomania.” This comes from the Greek words for numbers and mania. It can describe a compulsion to count objects or behaviors or perform mathematical calculations.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

Was this helpful?

Compulsive counting is one type of compulsion a person with OCD may experience. This may include a persistent urge to count objects or behaviors.

Compulsive counting may occur on its own or in response to OCD obsessions. A person may feel temporary relief from their anxiety when they perform counting behaviors.

There is no cure for OCD. However, treatments such as psychotherapy and medications can help a person manage their symptoms.