If you or a loved one has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you know it can be a difficult journey. It is estimated that over 2% of adults in the United States have OCD, and it affects every person differently.
People living with OCD may experience intrusive thoughts, worries, or emotions that can lead to compulsions. These recurring behaviors can interfere with their daily activities, without treatment. While there is no cure for OCD, there are several useful ways to manage symptoms.
Let’s take a closer look at the condition and discuss four tips on how to cope with OCD in daily life.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes people to experience persistent, unwelcome thoughts that are typically rooted in fear (obsessions).
To try to cope with these obsessions, they may engage in repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions). Examples of compulsions include hand washing, counting, checking things multiple times, and organizing items in a specific way. If the condition is left untreated, these obsessions and compulsions can affect an individual’s ability to work or maintain relationships.
Fortunately, there are several ways people can take control of OCD and live calm, happy lives.
How to Cope with OCD in Daily Life
1. Get a Professional Diagnosis
You’ve probably heard people say “I’m so OCD” when referring to their personal quirks about cleanliness or organization. Some people are more controlling of their environment or habits than others. While these individuals may be coping with undiagnosed anxiety, it does not mean they have OCD. The only way to know for sure is to schedule a screening with a mental health professional. In a screening, a provider will evaluate you for comorbid diagnoses (or multiple conditions happening at the same time) and discuss treatment options.
If you are diagnosed with OCD, working with a mental health professional who specializes in treating this condition is one of the best ways to cope with it long-term and to reduce the interference it can cause in daily life. A psychiatrist or therapist will provide a personalized treatment plan tailored specifically for your needs, which could include medication, psychotherapy, and/or another remedy.
2. Identify Your Triggers
After receiving a diagnosis, recognizing your triggers is the next step in your journey with OCD. Triggers refer to any person, place, or situation that brings on your obsessions or compulsions. Keep a list of each trigger and the behavior it provokes, as well as the intensity of anxiety you feel.
Being aware of your triggers allows you to develop an action plan to face them (or avoid them altogether) while reducing your compulsions. Journaling, calling a friend, or taking a deep breath are all examples of action plans people use to cope with their triggers.
Identifying your triggers may also be part of your treatment plan with your provider. Many mental health professionals use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure response and prevention therapy (ERP) to treat OCD.
Under the guidance of the professional, these processes involve patients listing their obsessions and compulsions, ranking them in severity, and gradually having exposure to triggers while working to avoid compulsive behaviors. Your provider will use results from your screening to determine which methods may work for you.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Another way to manage OCD is through mindfulness, or the ability to be fully present and aware in a particular moment. It often involves techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help your mind relax.
Rather than stopping intrusive thoughts, mindfulness challenges you to acknowledge them for what they are – just thoughts – without acting on them. Practicing mindfulness will likely be challenging at first, especially if your OCD is severe. However, over time it can help your brain break free of fight-or-flight mode and give you more control over your thoughts.
4. Develop Healthy Routines
Exercising regularly, eating nutritious meals, and getting enough sleep all help promote positive mental well-being for everyone. For people with OCD, however, these healthy habits also provide structure that can help reduce stress levels and offset obsessions. The mind and body are intrinsically connected, so when you take care of your body, a healthier mind will follow.