Although OCD is a very challenging condition to live with, there’s, fortunately, plenty of research and case studies out there on how to cope with it. Since OCD is a common mental health condition, it’s not difficult to find support if you have OCD.
According to studies, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD affects over 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children. When most people think about this condition, they can’t help but think of stereotypical characters in movies like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man who had an obsession with numbers, or Jack Nicolson in As Good as It Gets with an obsession overturning his door locks. Though it may seem funny to see these characters skipping over tiles, washing their hands repeatedly, or going berserk over a particular seat, OCD is not a laughing matter.
What may seem like silly quirks to outsiders is a very serious and overwhelming compulsion for those diagnosed with OCD. Apart from affecting the patient, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder also adversely impacts the family members who can sometimes feel frustrated with how their loved ones behave. It’s therefore very normal for OCD to put a strain on relationships. It’s important to remember that OCD comes in various forms, composed of obsessions, compulsions, or both.
Obsessions are thoughts that make a person feel very helpless and restless. These intrusive thoughts and obsessions can result in severe panic attacks or anxiety attacks. OCD and anxiety disorders often go hand-in-hand.
Compulsions are behaviors that are performed to curb obsessive thoughts or impulses. For example, someone with a germ obsession may repetitively wash their hands. Often, these compulsions are temporary fixes to alleviate the uncertainties brought on by obsessive thoughts.
If you are suffering from OCD, it is critical to get professional help. Get support for yourself and your family. Always keep in mind that being diagnosed with OCD is not your fault. There’s no need to feel ashamed because what you have is a medical condition. What you’re going through is more than just a nervous tic or quirk, so you need treatments and therapies to cope with the challenges of this disorder. Below are some strategies to help you cope with OCD.
Conquer Your Fears
OCD is a force to reckon with because it centers on your fears, worries, and apprehensions. It feels like an uncontrollable force that’s waiting to unleash its wrath, akin to the boogie man in your closet as a child. Don’t allow your OCD to become a faceless villain. Instead, face it head-on and acknowledge you are having issues.
When you conquer these thoughts, you bring them from the shadow into the light. Hence, it becomes easier to acknowledge their existence. Discuss your struggles with your family members without any shame or embarrassment. This is an illness that you have no control over, but you can try to practice control of how you react to the stimuli. View your OCD as a separate entity from your individuality. Remind yourself that it is not your fault you think or behave this way, and you have no reason to be ashamed.
Track Your Triggers
Keeping a journal feels cathartic and freeing if you have OCD. Many people keep a journal to track their days, record their thoughts or keep a log of what they eat. In the same token, you could use a journal to track your triggers and how you respond to them. Keeping a diary may also help you explore new triggers and assess the state of your overall health.
Choose a small journal so you can carry it with you and record your thoughts. Keeping it close by will also help you write down what you did after a compulsion kicks in. You can describe the situation, how you felt as it happened, and what the solution was for your obsession. This can help alleviate your anxiety. Besides, keeping your mind and fingers busy will prevent you from thinking more obsessive thoughts and performing compulsions.
Learn the Value of ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention)
The therapy called ERP is one of the most common ways you can face and relieve obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors. You can do this with the guidance of your mental healthcare specialist. This entails exposing yourself to a situation that triggers an obsession. Then, you are advised not to alleviate it with a compulsion. From there, you build an OCD ladder wherein you list down your fears and subsequent triggers. You number them from 1 to 10 in order of severity.
When starting with ERP, begin with the first or lowest level trigger. After you’ve tried it out and face your trigger, wait at least 10 seconds before following it up with your usual compulsion. From there, slowly build up the time before you use your compulsion. The goal is to increase the time up until the point you can control the trigger without resorting to your compulsion. Repeat this exercise and slowly progress up the OCD ladder to see if you can conquer all your fears and triggers.
Learn How to Refocus Your Thoughts
If your obsessions or compulsions suddenly strike, it would help to learn how to refocus your attention immediately. This can be done by engaging in mental or physical activity. Although it can be hard, trying to refocus will help you fight your invisible demons. Once the refocusing period ends but you still feel the obsessions and compulsions are rearing their ugly heads, then you can try to repeat your refocusing sessions.
To help you resist your obsessions and compulsions, you must learn to refocus. You can try these physical activities:
- Take a walk around the block when you’re feeling anxious or obsessive
- Sing a favorite song
- Play with a fidget spinner or other toy
- Spend time with a pet
- Follow a guided meditation on YouTube
You can also try mental activities to occupy your mind, such as the following:
- Take a mental list of 5 things you see, hear and smell
- Spell your name in your mind backward
- Repeat the alphabet backwards
- Think of all the colors in a 64 crayon box
Thinking about other things, such as the above ideas, is much healthier than allowing yourself to get pulled into obsessive thoughts.
Reward Yourself for Small Victories
When you’re working on your OCD, make sure that you take the time to celebrate all your victories. This includes the small successes. Combating OCD is very challenging, so even if you’ve just successfully extended your ERP for 20 seconds, you must give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. You must celebrate this accomplishment because it was hard-won.
Reward yourself for these small victories. The rewards don’t have to be fancy. Sometimes, even just ordering pizza for dinner will do the trick. Having this reward will help you stay motivated to reach your goals. Keep in mind, providing the right balance between your goals and rewards, so you don’t create any unrealistic expectations. Just know that all your efforts are applauded by your loved ones.
Mitigate Your Stressors
Living with OCD is hard enough. It takes a lot of work to focus and stay clear-headed. However, your efforts will be in vain, and everything will seem harder when you have a lot of stress in your life. Studies show that stress can significantly increase OCD symptoms. Thus, keeping your stress level down is vital for living a more peaceful life.
You must learn how to de-stress. Start by balancing out your daily schedule by ensuring you don’t bite more than you can chew. You can also try other relaxing activities such as the following:
- Read your favorite book
- Watch a movie
- Paint your nails
- Go to the spa
- Get a message
- Try one of these breathing exercises to calm the mind
Forgive Yourself and Allow Room for Setbacks
Anyone who has OCD will tell you that it’s very easy to spiral out of control. Once you get triggered, anxiety and self-doubt pounce on you. When your thoughts go wild, and your compulsions get out of whack, it’s very easy to blame yourself. However, you must learn how to break this vicious cycle and allow yourself room for setbacks.
The moment you start feeling guilty for having this disorder, remind yourself that it is not your fault. OCD is a diagnosed medical condition. Remember, you would never be angry or mean towards a friend who had asthma. This person will need to pause and rest to use his nebulizer to ease breathing difficulties. In the same token, don’t get angry at yourself or feel guilty when you perform certain behaviors that alleviate your anxiety. What’s important is you understand you have a medical condition, you’re seeking help, and you’re working on making things better.
Look Out for Yourself
Talking to someone you trust is vital to help you cope with OCD. Apart from speaking with a mental health professional such as a therapist, keep open communication lines with your family and close friends. Doing so can help reduce the fears you associate with your obsessions. Doing physical, productive, and creative activities with them like sports, dancing, or crafting can help you fight intrusive thoughts and boost your mental well-being.
Remember, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to reach out to other people. On top of that, you must follow the action plan given to you by your mental healthcare provider.
If you’re curious if you have a genetically higher risk of developing OCD or another mental illness, find out your genetic risk with a CircleDNA test.