Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions, or pervasive and upsetting thoughts, and compulsions, rituals used to help manage the obsessions. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 2 percent of the adult population in the United States suffers from OCD at some time in their life and symptoms normally appear around the age of 19. Symptoms can come and go - being a nuisance at times and severely interfering with your life at others.
Treatment for OCD usually consists of medication, psychotherapy or both. There are also a number of self-help strategies you can use in your daily life to help manage symptoms.
Learn about OCD. Understanding that OCD is a type of anxiety disorder and that it is real can help.
Understand your anxiety. Think about what situations make you anxious or worsen your feelings of anxiety. Think about which are realistic and which aren’t. Often, when you have anxiety, you know your fears are unrealistic but feel powerless to stop. Writing down anxious thoughts and exploring each one, noting whether it is a realistic worry or not may help. Be sure to include what happened before so you can begin to identify your anxiety triggers.
Challenge your interpretation of the situation. Think about your fears and challenge them by asking yourself whether this is a realistic fear, whether you are confusing facts with thoughts, whether your thoughts are accurate, what are the disadvantages of thinking this way. When you challenge your fears you open yourself up to finding new thought processes.
Accept that your OCD is interfering with your life. Acceptance is always the first step to taking proactive steps to control your anxiety.
Keep a journal. Write down your unwanted and intrusive thoughts, noting what rituals or compulsions you did to try to combat these thoughts.
Try to slowly cut back on your compulsive behaviors, for example, if you must check to see if the stove is turned off 10 times, allow yourself to check 8 times, then 6, then 4 until you are able to check only once.
Delay performing your ritual. If you must immediately perform a ritual, for example, if you touch someone you must immediately wash your hands, try to delay washing your hands for 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, etc. Try to continue to delay the time between the incident and the ritual until you feel comfortable not performing the compulsion.
If you are still struggling with OCD, talk with your doctor or therapist about other types of treatment and work closely with a therapist to come up with additional self-help strategies for your unique situation.
You may also want to work with a therapist to develop exposure strategies. Exposure is frequently used to combat anxiety, however, it is often difficult to do this on your own and may work better if done in conjunction with an experienced and qualified therapist. Exposure works in this way: imagine you are afraid to go into a public bathroom for fear of contamination and germs. Your therapist may show you a picture of a public bathroom until you can comfortably look at the picture without feeling anxious. You might then stand outside a public bathroom, then stand inside and continue slowly until you are comfortable with each step. Exposure, depending on the fear, can take several weeks or months.
“How to Effectively Manage Obsessions,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Anxiety BC https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/Managing_Obsessions.pdf
“Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts Take Over,” Revised 2010, Staff Writer, National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-when-unwanted-thoughts-take-over/complete-obsessive-compulsive-disorder-when-unwanted-thoughts-take-over.shtml
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.