Compulsive alarm checking: Trying to beat alarm clock anxiety

Compulsive alarm checking can be debilitating. Although it may seem rational to recheck, over-checking can be an OCD compulsion.

The following contribution is anonymous. The aim is to help readers understand how common alarm anxiety is, and that professional help can improve things.

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I was once two hours late for my very first shift in a new hotel job. I was on a year-long international internship in Texas, travelling from England after graduating university.

The worst part? I was staying in that very hotel for the first two weeks whilst I found my own place. Thankfully my manager was cool and let me off, despite the occasional joke over the coming months.

Since then, I have this constant fear that I am going to be late for work.

Checking is one of the main subtypes of OCD people experience. It is the fear that if we do not check, something bad may happen. You may find this in other areas of your life, like checking the oven is off or the door is locked.

OCD is a disorder of obsessions and compulsions

The obsession here is worrying about being late for work or class. 

We might have an intrusive thought about being two hours late, and ruminate on this thought whilst we close our eyes. The compulsion is to keep checking the alarm, even after checking once, to try and stop the rumination.

Ten years later, I still have the same fears.

I now live in west London, and still work in hospitality. I have to be at work by 7am in Central London for every shift.

Early starts, along with two separate train journeys, makes my anxiety even worse.

My daily routine:

  • I set three alarms, the first for 5.15am, always making sure my battery is over 70% in case the phone dies in my sleep
  •  I turn silent mode on and then off again so I see the little bell is no longer crossed out
  •  I scroll through the minutes so I can hear the clicks as I scroll. This reassures me that the sound is on
  • I then stare at the little clock symbol in the top right hand corner of the screen until it feels right to stop
  • I lock my phone, the lock sound is when my routine finishes and I can now close my eyes

The endless cycle of checking the alarm

There is a well-known OCD cycle that makes rest difficult. 

OCD is often referred to as a “vicious” cycle because the obsessions and compulsions happen in a loop that can be extremely challenging to break. The longer you remain in the cycle, the more momentum and strength it gains, making it even more difficult to escape.

PsychCentral describes the OCD cycle as vicious

To break out of it, one must know they are in it. This can be equally challenging.

Each individual thought carries anxiety, and with that, a trip around this cycle.

What if my phone’s on silent?

Have I set the alarm for the wrong time?

Will my battery die overnight?

This cycle can be endless, and exhausting.

Breaking the cycle

Acknowledging compulsions is a major step to breaking the cycle.

This is difficult, especially when we get to the station on a morning and our brain tells us:

Breaking free from OCD’s grasp can be tough, especially on our own. Professional help is highly recommended, particularly to learn of the ways OCD has been controlling our behaviour.

Often, it is much more than we had known.

Is setting two alarms considered a compulsion?

It sure is comforting to know just how many of us worry about missing our alarm…

Alarm clocks do fail from time to time and batteries don’t last forever. To say that setting two alarms is a compulsion would be unfair.

Ten alarms? Yes. Two? Certainly not.

More and more of us go to our smart phones for the wake up call. As reliable as they are, phones are prone to short battery life, system crashes and midnight updates.

Although some smartphones ensure alarms still work in power-off mode, this isn’t universal among the brands. 

Our internal alarm clock

Our brain is pretty eager to wake us up at the right(ish) time. 

If our alarms decide to fail us, there is still a chance we will wake at the time we need to, or not too long afterwards.

Are you one of those people that wake a few minutes before the alarm? 

Although some of it is still a mystery, our body is on our side. Studies have shown that when we know we have to wake for a certain time, our body is prepared for it.

Alarms still work in silent mode!

Apple has this response when searching ‘do phone alarms go off in silent mode?‘:

Do Not Disturb and the Ring/Silent switch don't affect the alarm sound. If you set your Ring/Silent switch to Silent or turn on Do Not Disturb, the alarm still sounds.

So basically check your volume, and your iPhone will do the rest.

Other brands may be the same, you will need to check with your specific model.

When to seek help

A missed alarm isn’t as bad as OCD is. 

The repercussions of a missed alarm aren’t apocalyptic, however the strain OCD can have on mental health can be severe.

If you feel compulsions are difficult to prevent, you may require help from specialists. 

Knowing this behaviour is OCD is the path to healing.

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Hi, I'm Sam. I write about Tourette and OCD to help myself and others.


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