Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can sometimes feel like a very lonely existence. Most people describe OCD as living between a series of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Repetitive negative thoughts (obsessions) drive people with OCD to perform repetitive behaviors or habits (compulsions).
Not everyone understands your thoughts, behaviors, or feelings. While therapy and medication are viable treatments for OCD, the journey towards a happier, healthier lifestyle starts with you. By learning some self-help tips for OCD, you can start taking control of your life and finding treatments and techniques that work for your individual needs.
Keep reading for a few suggestions to get you started on the path to living your best life.
Research the Type of OCD You Have
You can’t start treating your OCD without knowing more about the specific type you’re dealing with. While some experts believe there are four main types of OCD, others break these categories down even further into seven types. These include:
- Cleaning/contamination (fear of germs or compulsive need to cleanse yourself)
- Order symmetry/counting (an intense urge to rearrange things until they’re “just right” plus superstitions about certain numbers or patterns)
- Harm (an extreme worry that you will harm yourself or others or obsessive thoughts and worry that something bad will happen to you or loved ones)
- Hoarding (obsessively collecting items that don’t hold value)
- Aggressive or sexual thoughts (fear of behaving in a violent, sexual, or aggressive way that is inappropriate)
The more you know about the type of OCD you have, the more equipped you are to take the next steps toward recovery.
Exercise is a common way to destress, improve your mood, and reduce anxiety. Because OCD is a type of anxiety disorder, exercise and physical activity can help you manage your symptoms.
When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins like dopamine and serotonin which promote feelings of calm, relaxation, and happiness. In this positive state of mind, you feel more in control of your thoughts and actions. Exercise is also good for your physical health and wellbeing. This is especially beneficial for those suffering from harm or contamination OCD including obsessive thoughts and worries about getting sick or experiencing harm.
Avoid Unhealthy Triggers
In addition to adopting a healthier exercise routine, avoiding unhealthy foods and stimulants can help reduce intrusive thoughts and feelings. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol all contain stimulants that interact with your nervous system, increasing anxiety symptoms. Try limiting your caffeine intake to just one serving per day prior to 3:00 p.m. This will also promote better sleep and a more balanced mood.
Some OCD sufferers turn to alcohol as a way to relax and calm their nerves. While this might work at first, as the alcohol wears off, you’ll actually feel more anxious and on edge. The same holds true for nicotine, which is another powerful stimulant. Smoking cigarettes to reduce your stress can actually do the opposite, increasing your chances of experiencing OCD symptoms including anxiety.
Try replacing these unhealthy triggers with healthier behaviors like daily exercise, yoga, outdoor activities, and a well-balanced diet.
Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
When it comes to reducing anxious thoughts and feelings, nothing works quite as well or quite as fast as meditation and mindfulness. If you’re feeling out of control or at the mercy of your intrusive thoughts, these two holistic practices can help ease stress so you can adopt more clear and realistic thought patterns. This is just one reason these methods are commonly used in both in-person and online OCD programs.
Although similar, mindfulness and meditation work differently. Mindfulness is about accepting your thoughts, feelings, and state of mind in the present moment. During mindfulness, you’re encouraged to remain present at the moment at all times. By doing so, you can reduce compulsive behaviors like checking your door locks repetitively or touching the same spot a specific number of times. While practicing mindfulness won’t stop the intrusive thoughts completely, it will offer you a new way to deal with them. Soon, you’ll be able to ignore them, suppress them, or alter your reaction to them.
Meditation works a little differently by working to relax your mind, easing your anxiety, and achieving an overwhelming sense of calm. By practicing daily meditations, including yoga, your mind develops a habit of being more relaxed. You can tap into this place of serenity when faced with OCD symptoms or issues. Now, you can work with your anxiety instead of it working against you.
Challenge leads to change. One of the best ways to reduce OCD symptoms is to challenge the intrusive and obsessive thoughts that trigger your compulsive behaviors. By challenging your fears and worries, you learn to look at them objectively and with evidence rather than viewing them from a strictly emotional perspective.
Ask yourself whether the fear or thought you’re having is realistic if you’re confusing proven facts with assumptions, and what the disadvantages are of negative thinking. By challenging your fears and intrusive thoughts, you open yourself up to a new way of thinking. This is a specific type of therapy known as MCBT (mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy) that works to change your thought processes, reducing OCD symptoms over time.
Self-Help is the First Step in Living with OCD
Self-help books and seminars have often gotten a bad rap. But the truth is, your strongest defense against a mental health disorder like OCD is your inner strength. By accepting your condition, you can start taking the necessary steps toward recovery. Paired with therapy and, in some cases, medication, these self-help tips can help you take control of your life and reduce many of your OCD tendencies.