Self-Help Tips for Managing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

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. 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.

Researching concept, book open in library.

Brush up on OCD facts

Understanding that OCD is a type of anxiety disorder is a great first step to understanding how to overcome it. 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 severely interfere with your life in various ways.

Anxiety word collage.

Understand your anxiety

Think about what situations make you anxious. 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.


Get some exercise

A small study published in 2017 found that aerobic exercise can reduce OCD symptoms. Researchers found that an exercise program, alongside existing OCD treatment, resulted in significant reduction of OCD symptoms, depression and anxiety. This was true whether it was a home-based exercise or a formal, health-based program.

"Face your FEARS" written in notebook.

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. One study found that mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (MBCT,) which helps change thinking processes, was helpful for people with OCD.

Contemplative man.

Accept that your OCD is interfering with your life

Acceptance is always the first step to taking proactive steps to control your anxiety. Information and understanding are helpful, but healing and recovery often come by acknowledging how the illness is impacting your life and shifting your mindset.

Anxious woman writing in journal.

Keep a journal

Write down your unwanted and intrusive thoughts, noting what rituals or compulsions you did to try to combat these thoughts. Be careful though, while journaling can help you objectively look at your thought patterns, it can also make you self-obsessed. Talk to your therapist about beneficial ways of using journaling.

Worried older man

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 eight times, then six, then four until you are able to check only once. 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.

compulsive hand washing ritual

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 one minute, three minutes, five minutes, etc. Try to continue to delay the time between the incident and the ritual until you feel comfortable not performing the compulsion.


Practice relaxation techniques

Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation all help you relax. The benefits from these techniques can last for hours. When you practice them each day, your overall feelings of stress may go down. Stress is often a trigger for OCD symptoms.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.