How to Best Manage Your OCD

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

Did you know that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects around 2-3% of Americans? OCD is a mental health condition that can affect people of all backgrounds and genders. Symptoms can appear at any time during a person’s life but are more likely to develop in the pre-teen and early adolescent years.

Those with OCD may find that routine activities are more challenging to complete. They might spend hours worried about the proper way to perform a task, get stuck in repeating that task, or doubt if they completed it altogether. They overthink and overcomplicate, causing them to procrastinate on responsibilities and, in turn, add to the inefficiency of task completion. 

This guide offers information and tips about OCD in order to help you keep your anxiety and intrusive thoughts at bay. The goal is to learn how to reduce your anxiety, manage time more efficiently, and ultimately move more fluidly throughout your day.  

What Is OCD?

Many people encounter obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors during some point in their lives. However, that does not mean they necessarily meet clinical criteria for the diagnosis. 

OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder in which it’s victims are consumed in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions for at least an hour per day. The symptoms have a significant impact on day to day functioning and interferes with one’s quality of life.

What is an Obsession?

Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, urges, fears, images or preoccupations that are recurrent and intrusive and cause a build up of anxiety and tension. 

The following are just a few examples of the different types of obsessions a person with OCD can struggle with:

  • Fear of being responsible for something bad happening to oneself or someone else
  • Fear of making contact with a contaminated substance
  • Fear of making mistakes and not being perfect 
  • The need to know something with certainty 
  • The need for symmetry 

What is a Compulsion?

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors performed to temporarily relieve the anxieties and tensions that are triggered by the obsessions. Unfortunately, the compulsions act to reinforce the long-term obsessive loop, making it increasingly more difficult to break the anxiety cycle. 

Common examples of compulsions can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Verifying that you didn’t harm anyone
  • Excessive bathing, grooming, or showering
  • Checking that you didn’t make a mistake
  • Rewriting or rereading
  • Repetitive body movements like blinking, tapping, staring
  • Ordering and arranging until items are “just right”

Ways to Manage Your OCD

As you can see, OCD is a complex mental health condition that often requires an evidence-based treatment approach. Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is the gold standard for people with OCD. 

 Exposure Therapy (ERP)

Using a systematic hierarchy, your behavioral therapist and you will make a list of OCD triggers and put them in order from least to most distressing. You will be encouraged to face the fears that cause you moderate anxiety while resisting the urge to perform any anxiety-reducing compulsions. Your therapist may encourage you to read, speak, or write some of the thoughts that are anxiety-producing until your body desensitizes. It takes a highly skilled clinician to tease out some of the hidden motivators behind OCD and to troubleshoot before it roots itself in a new direction. OCD can masquerade as a ’normal’ routine and can be rigid to change. This is not a manualized treatment, rather it is individualized to target each person’s specific presentation. 

In addition to ERP, the following are some OCD management steps you can try on your own to start improving your mental wellness. 

Explore Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to the practice of being aware of one’s present state by attending to one’s thoughts, bodily sensations and emotions in the moment. When you’re mindful, you regulate your emotions by accepting your current experience without judgment of yourself or others. You do not react or try to escape your present situation. 

Some ways you can practice mindfulness include:

  • Meditating
  • Breathing exercises
  • Connecting to the earth and ground under your feet

You can also practice mindfulness by identifying and observing what you’re feeling and thinking. Acknowledge what you’re experiencing, whether that’s an obsession or a compulsion, and let it pass. You’ll notice that you don’t have to act on your feelings to help them go away. 

Understand Your OCD

Staying informed about OCD and all it’s hidden intricacies is one of the best ways to understand it. It wears many costumes and can present very differently among its sufferers. The more you can learn about OCD, the better equipped you will be to manage its symptoms. 

Establish an Exercise Routine

Exercise is effective for battling against anxiety and the stress that accompanies OCD. Whether you exercise in small spurts or in longer durations, it is believed that physical activity helps to rewire the neuro-circuitry of the brain and keep your mind from going on repeat mode. Both aerobic exercise and yoga are beneficial in helping the OCD mind become more flexible and resilient.

Connect With Friends and Family

OCD symptoms can be extremely isolating, especially if you do not have a support network that understands how OCD can take such a heavy psychological toll on your mental health. You may choose to isolate from people and avoid participating in daily activities. Unfortunately, isolation and avoidance can worsen OCD. If you are leaning on your loved ones for support, beware of the tendency to pull them into your compulsive tendencies or to seek out reassurance for your chronic worries. While you might think it’s harmless behavior, it can create a dependency and lead to worsening symptoms. 

Make Sleep a Priority

Quality sleep is important to keep daily anxiety at a manageable level. Unfortunately, intrusive thoughts can make it particularly difficult to get a good night’s sleep. In fact, the worry about sleep can become an obsession in and of itself. 

Some ways you can improve your sleep routine include:

  • Limiting your screen time one hour before going to bed
  • Following a consistent bedtime routine each night
  • Taking a healthy supplement that helps you sleep
  • Drinking chamomile tea

If your fear of not sleeping becomes an obsession, leading to a compulsive time-consuming and stressful sleep hygiene routine, it is advised to seek the help of a professional.

Schedule an Appointment With a Mental Healthcare Provider

Managing and treating your OCD requires a multi-pronged approach. While you can employ various self-care tactics to reduce your stress, you should always contact a mental healthcare provider to receive a diagnosis. Your happiness and quality of life are our top priorities. 

Dr. Suzanne Feinstein looks forward to creating a comprehensive treatment plan to manage your OCD. She combines various modalities to provide her patients with the highest quality care. Schedule an appointment today.

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