You’ve probably heard the term “OCD” bandied about as some type of catch-all that describes any mild neuroses.
Unfortunately, throwing the term around often diminishes the severity of actual cases of OCD. The 1 in 40 Americans living with obsessive-compulsive disorder can definitely attest to that fact.
While everyone has their own ways of doing things, behaviors and quirks like disliking untidiness or sticking to a strict routine often have nothing to do with OCD. These are just common characteristics shared by many people. Alone, they don’t really imply anything about their mental health.
Moreover, when pressed to change routines or behaviors, most people don’t struggle to make adjustments. Sure, the dishes in the sink might be irritating. But it won’t send the average person into a state of emotional chaos.
Whereas those suffering from OCD can’t “let things be.”
Instead, a person with OCD will often get anxious when things aren’t done a specific way. Plus, they might feel compelled – uncontrollably so – to repeat behaviors and tasks until completed to their liking.
Diving Deeper into OCD
As a chronic anxiety disorder, OCD consists of behavioral responses when someone experiences uncontrollable, unreasonable, or recurring thoughts.
As the name suggests, there are two components to this mental illness: obsessions and compulsions.
Repeated urges, mental images, or thoughts that cause anxiety are classified as obsessions. Compulsions are the triggered, repetitive behaviors that result from obsessive thoughts.
Here is how compulsions often play out in people suffering from OCD:
- People with OCD will repetitively wash their hands, check something, move objects, stare, seek symmetry, or pray. In other words, they act compulsively.
- Typing a search into Google, asking Siri, or checking with loved ones to seek reassurance is another way OCD can play out.
- Walking around objects or forgoing social interactions are both signs that a person with OCD is avoiding triggers.
- OCD might also entail repeating words, mental checking, thought suppression, replacing unpleasant thoughts with pleasant ones, etc. These are called mental compulsions.
Intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and unsureness are all adverse effects of OCD. Such symptoms damage one’s overall quality of life because of how unpredictable and all-consuming they can be.
Those dealing with OCD might find it hard to leave their home because the behaviors can draw unwanted attention.
Fortunately, for those who do suffer from OCD, there is light at the end of the tunnel. First and foremost, getting a firm handle on your symptoms requires guidance and treatment from a trained professional. But you can help yourself further by following the self-help strategies discussed below:
Knowledge is Power: Learn About OCD
In business, if you’re competing with a fierce industry rival, you’re likely to learn every last detail about them. The knowledge you gain about them will guide your strategy in overcoming any threat they pose to your company.
Chronic illness is very much the same. You can’t productively manage any ongoing condition without putting in the research and understanding the challenges you’re facing.
The fact is, OCD is sticking around for the long haul, given its chronic nature. There’s no “cure.” There’s coping. And coping starts only when you gain an expert level of knowledge.
Get Comfortable with Stress Reduction
Stress is one of the most common OCD triggers.
As such, learning ways to offset your stress should be a top priority. There is a caveat here: ensure these coping mechanisms actually positively impact OCD.
For instance, drinking or smoking to manage stress will make you feel worse and likely trigger negative behaviors.
Another coping mechanism that makes things worse is using avoidance strategies. Doing so will increase your stress levels surrounding whatever trigger you’re avoiding. These stressors must be dealt with head-on (preferably with the guidance of a trained professional) while using other, healthier methods.
The following behaviors will help build a sturdy coping foundation to relieve stress:
- Get a whole night’s sleep EVERY NIGHT.
- Learn about and stick to a stress-fighting diet.
- Frequently exercise
- Learn to meditate
- Stick with your prescribed treatment plan
Keep in mind, if you can’t offset your stress levels, you’re unlikely to successfully manage your OCD. One hand feeds the other.
Get a Grip on Your Anxiety
Anxiety – similar to stress – is a trademark agitator when it comes to OCD. It causes excessive worry, potentially revolving around the themes of your obsessions or your illness’s outcomes. These worries can also extend to work, paying bills, and other everyday activities.
These types of worries can overwhelm you. When they do, it’s the number-one enemy to your relaxation, causing further stress and triggering your OCD.
Therefore, you’ll need to learn strategies to manage your anxiety. Many professionals suggest figuring out how likely you are to face a worst-case scenario, then deciding how to handle the situation if everything happens to go wrong.
Improve Your Relaxation Skills
The idea of “learning” to relax seems odd at first. Shouldn’t relaxation come naturally?
It turns out that relaxation is hard work, especially for people with OCD.
Think about how difficult it is to find a sense of calm when your OCD is triggered by stressors and anxiety. Leveling out and easing your tension in these situations requires learned skills and techniques.
Without developing the necessary skill set, you’ll remain at the whims of your obsessions and compulsions.
Relaxation techniques include:
- Deep breathing
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Part of relaxation is prioritizing your own wellbeing and treating yourself with compassion. So, don’t be afraid to book a massage or spa appointment.
Commit to an Active Lifestyle
According to one study, OCD symptoms generally decreased when participants added moderate-intensity aerobics (e.g., running) to their treatment regime for 12 weeks.
Further research (involving mice running on a wheel) showed that exercising created connections in brain neurons. These findings suggest that exercise causes changes in the human brain, resulting from growth factors that might offset OCD symptoms.
Another advantage of exercise is the resulting endorphins, which help with managing stress.
Lastly, staying active generally increases one’s self-esteem, which is a massive contributor to good mental health.
The above outcome often results from feeling better physically and mentally, building self-confidence, and reducing anxiety/stress levels. With those OCD symptoms managed, the condition becomes far easier to cope with.
Embrace the Practice of Mindfulness
The core philosophy of mindfulness is being aware of sights, sounds, emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations. And you must practice this awareness in an entirely non-judgmental way.
Mindfulness’s origins are in the eastern spiritual traditions (e.g., Buddhism), and it’s a holistic approach to coping with OCD.
Being mindful of your thoughts that distress or disturb you, can help you confront them. It works the same way as someone afraid of dogs spending time with a dog to overcome their fear.
Through mindfulness techniques, you might see that your thoughts are just words or images and aren’t scary. Meaning you won’t be as invested in your thoughts, which helps reduce thought-action fusion–a process that worsens OCD symptoms.
Don’t Be Afraid of Alternative Remedies (As Long as They’re Safe)
No matter your condition, you should always be skeptical about what you’re putting into your body. It’s a matter of your own well-being, and you deserve to feel safe before trying any medicine–pharmaceutical or otherwise.
Still, you should consider alternative medicines because these treatments might positively impact your OCD.
For instance, St. John’s Wort is a popular herbal remedy used for mental health symptoms. The science is split on whether such treatments are effective, but it’s always worth a shot if there’s a potential for improvement.
With St. John’s Wort (and other herbal remedies), you must speak with your doctor before trying it out. These compounds can cause a bad reaction if you’re on other medications.
Be Compassionate to Yourself
A chronic mental illness like OCD isn’t overcome at the snap of a finger. Yes, wanting to get better is the first step. And following the healthiest steps will give you the best chance to overcome symptoms.
However, you could do everything “right” and still have lapses where you respond poorly to triggers.
In these instances, don’t get frustrated with yourself.
You should instead show yourself forgiveness and compassion. Remember, you’re only human, and you’re dealing with a taxing mental illness that requires a lot of energy to manage.
Remind yourself during tough times that taking steps to cope healthily already shows tremendous courage.
Note that showing compassion to yourself helps you understand your OCD better because you’ll equip yourself to face your anxieties and stressors. You’ll then look at your pain without judging yourself poorly or criticizing your own actions.
Take it One Day at a Time
Overcoming OCD takes a lot of work. It’s not something that fixes itself with prescription medication or surgery. You must adapt your lifestyle to deal with symptoms and triggers constructively.
In other words, successfully coping with OCD is a lifelong journey. Understand that each day brings with it the chance to make small changes.
Following these tips is a crucial first step. But they’ll only be lastingly effective if you receive the necessary professional counseling to guide you through your OCD journey.
Our dedicated team of professionals is experienced in treating a range of mental health conditions.
For more information about how we can help you or your loved one, contact us today.