When obsessions and compulsions arise, many methods can help you manage your OCD symptoms.
The symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can make daily activities and tasks more challenging. Obsessions, doubt, and rumination mean that you may spend hours at a time repeating a task or questioning if it was done right.
If you live with OCD, you’re not alone. The condition affects about
Every person with OCD manages their symptoms differently. What works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa. One person might find significant relief with medication, while another person may have more success with certain therapies.
OCD is a complex disorder and finding the right treatment can take time, but there are some things that you can do today to start addressing your OCD symptoms. Below are some helpful mental strategies to keep in mind when your intrusive thoughts start to flare up, as well as tips to reduce your anxiety at home.
In certain real-world circumstances, fear plays a vital role in our lives. Fear prompts us to take action and fight back, or it moves us away from danger and toward safety. For instance, if you come across a poisonous snake in your yard, fear will compel you to get away as fast as you can. That’s a good thing.
But with OCD and obsessive thoughts, your exaggerated anxiety is not protecting you — it’s tricking you. The anxiety you feel with OCD is like a malfunctioning smoke detector, constantly alerting you that there’s a fire when there is none.
If the smoke detector in your home kept going off, even during false alarms, it wouldn’t be helpful to keep dousing your furniture in water each time you heard it. But that’s exactly what OCD wants you to do — to keep throwing water on the imaginary fire and keep the fear/compulsion cycle going and going.
Instead, try to recognize when your internal “fear alarm” is sending out false signals, and whether there’s a real fire to put out or not.
OCD can create many dilemmas without offering a true resolution. When the dilemma arises, you feel compelled to constantly try and resolve the source of your anxiety. This pulls you into an endless loop of circular thoughts, or ruminations, that are hard to stop.
For instance, imagine you have an intrusive fear of hitting someone with your car, which is a common OCD anxiety. Let’s say you’re driving along one day, and you run over a pothole. The bump in the road triggers feelings of panic, and racing thoughts start to bubble up and overwhelm you.
The rational part of your brain knows that it was only a pothole. Regardless, your anxiety continues to increase, and you then misinterpret this anxiety as a signal that something terrible has happened.
To ease your anxiety, you feel compelled to drive back just to “check.” And even when you get home, the intrusive thoughts continue — your brain tells you that you didn’t look hard enough and that the police will be at your door any minute.
Why is your brain doing this?
Research tells us that when you have OCD, there’s too much brain activity in the area that detects errors — and too little activity in the areas that tell us to stop compulsive behaviors.
So the next time your OCD presents a dilemma that makes you anxious, see if you can try to resist the temptation to ruminate for too long or try to “solve” the problem by engaging in compulsions. The longer you sit with the feelings of uncertainty, the less power they will have over your behaviors. Your anxiety will reduce over time, a process known as habituation.
Obsessions and compulsions are difficult to overcome, and it takes practice. It can be very helpful to practice with the help of a trained mental health professional’s guidance.
Intrusive thoughts come in many forms. Some of these thoughts might even feel downright scary. For instance, many people with OCD fear that they’re going to harm themselves or another person.
If you have thoughts like this, remember that thoughts are not real — and having these thoughts is not a character flaw. It’s simply the nature of the disorder to pick the thought that disturbs you the most.
Try your best not to resist or react to the thought. This is because the more you react, the more intense it can get. Imagine the thought as a cloud floating overhead. Thoughts come and go. You are not your thoughts.
Take advantage of all the great OCD resources and information that you can find online. There are many fantastic articles, forums, and YouTube channels dedicated to helping people with OCD.
You can learn how OCD works in the brain, get real advice from therapists, and learn how other people manage the disorder.
Sometimes, simply reading other people’s experiences with OCD can give you encouragement and remind you that you’re not alone.
Here are a few helpful links:
- The OCD Stories is a YouTube channel with hundreds of audio clips featuring experts and people sharing their experiences with OCD.
- The International OCD Foundation offers real help for living with OCD.
- OCD and Anxiety is a YouTube channel featuring a therapist who discusses OCD.
- The American Psychiatric Association provides real stories of people living with OCD as well as the latest research.
Finding ways to manage your anxiety on a daily basis can also be extremely helpful. By taking the time to explore your own interests and focusing on your own well-being, you can help quiet down some of your anxious thoughts.
Consider trying out these evidence-based strategies:
- Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the ability to remain in the present moment and observe your thoughts without judgment. One
studypublished in 2016 found that mindfulness-based cognitive strategies may help reduce the dysfunctional beliefs or cognitive distortions in OCD.
- Yoga. A
2018 studyshows that anxiety, depression, and stress decreased significantly in women after 12 sessions of regular hatha yoga practice.
- Exercise. Research from 2019 shows that aerobic exercise improves mood and anxiety in people with OCD.
- Journaling. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you in a variety of ways. A
studypublished in 2018 found that online journaling improved anxiety, mental distress, and well-being in distressed participants with medical conditions.
- Supplements and herbs. If you have any nutritional deficiencies, consider taking a high-quality daily multivitamin. There are also many herbs you can try for anxiety. These include valerian root, kava kava, and ashwagandha. Be sure to talk with your doctor first before starting any new supplement or herb, as some of these can interfere with medication or other treatment methods you’ve been prescribed.
6. Talk with a mental health professional(Video) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Treatments and Relapse Prevention | Mass General Brigham
6. Talk with a mental health professional
If you feel that the symptoms of OCD are greatly impacting your quality of life or you think they are becoming more than you can handle, consider talking with a mental health professional.
Talking with someone experienced in treating OCD can help in properly diagnosing your symptoms and finding a treatment tailored to your specific needs.
One of the most successful types of therapy for treating OCD is exposure response prevention (ERP). This type of therapy gradually exposes you to the things that can trigger your OCD and works to help you manage your obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.
By slowly introducing you to your triggers and letting yourself see that they don’t lead to the dire consequences that you had imagined will cause these triggers to lose some of their power and influence over your thoughts.
If you or a loved one is living with OCD, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You don’t have to do this alone. If you haven’t done so already, talk with a trusted healthcare professional or reach out to a support group.
You can also join an online forum where you can meet and interact with other people who have OCD, read about their experiences, and even share your own story.
There are so many books, articles, and podcasts that can help you learn more about OCD and see how it influences your life. The more you’re able to understand and recognize your intrusive thoughts, the better you can know how to handle them.
What is the best way to manage OCD? ›
- Practice mindfulness to manage stress. Two key characteristics of OCD are high anxiety and the presence of intrusive thoughts. ...
- Get plenty of exercise. ...
- Sleep well and enough. ...
- Avoid nicotine and alcohol. ...
- Reach out to family and friends. ...
- Find an ERP therapist.
- International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation.
- OCD Mid-Atlantic: The Mid-Atlantic Affiliate of the IOCDF.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
- Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
- Trichotillomania Learning Center.
In a series of graphics, Earnshaw breaks down the 4 Rs: relabeling, reattributing, refocusing, and revaluing—a therapy technique developed by psychology Jeffrey Schwartz that's often used in treatment for OCD.What are OCD therapy techniques? ›
The psychotherapy of choice for the treatment of OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP), which is a form of CBT. In ERP therapy, people who have OCD are placed in situations where they are gradually exposed to their obsessions and asked not to perform the compulsions that usually ease their anxiety and distress.What are brain exercises for OCD? ›
Mindful meditation, breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback. Many other relaxation techniques empower individuals with the ability to take the focus off of their problem thoughts and behaviors. While engaging them in more productive behaviors.How do you treat OCD without medication? ›
Psychotherapy or talk therapy has been used effectively to treat OCD. This type of therapy works especially well when it is combined with medication. Your therapist may suggest cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help with your OCD. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT that works well for OCD.What are 5 of the main symptoms of OCD? ›
- Fear of contamination or dirt.
- Doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty.
- Needing things orderly and symmetrical.
- Aggressive or horrific thoughts about losing control and harming yourself or others.
- Unwanted thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects.
The best way to put an end to the cycle is to practice exposure and response prevention. This means you “accept” the thoughts, live with the uncertainty, and refrain from engaging in compulsions.What is the core of OCD? ›
The manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) centers around two core symptoms, obsessions, and compulsions. Symptoms can range in severity and content type, creating a diverse presentation depending on what is most distressing or prominent.What is the first line treatment for OCD? ›
Serotonergic antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and clomipramine, are the established pharmacologic first-line treatment of OCD. Medium to large dosages and acute treatment for at least 3 months are recommended until efficacy is assessed.
What is the gold standard treatment for OCD? ›
The gold standard treatment for OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a kind of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) called “exposure with response prevention,” or exposure therapy.What are the best vitamins for OCD? ›
Vitamin B12 and folate are thought to be effective in OCD treatment due to their associations with neurotransmitters. Depending on their antioxidant effect, zinc and selenium can be used in augmentation therapy for OCD.How can I quiet my OCD mind? ›
Attend to the intrusive thoughts; accept them and allow them in, then allow them to move on. Don't fear the thoughts; thoughts are just that—thoughts. Don't let them become more than that. Take intrusive thoughts less personally, and let go of your emotional reaction to them.What exercises can I do to stop intrusive thoughts? ›
This will help you stay grounded when you start to have intrusive thoughts or if they get worse. Yoga and meditation are great ways to practice mindfulness. While mindfulness can be a challenging skill to learn, it is a great way to beat your intrusive thoughts.
Imaging, surgical, and lesion studies suggest that the prefrontal cortex (orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortexes), basal ganglia, and thalamus are involved in the pathogenesis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).Does listening to music help OCD? ›
Several empirical studies have suggested the benefits of music therapy on OCD. For example, receptive music therapy helped reduce obsessive symptoms with comorbid anxiety and depression .How I cured my intrusive thoughts? ›
- Mindfulness meditation. ...
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) ...
- Remember, 'This too shall pass' ...
- Visualization techniques. ...
- Spend time with a pet. ...
- Externalize the thought. ...
- Ground yourself in the present. ...
- Take a walk in nature.
“There are many natural ways to help manage OCD symptoms, such as exercise, meditation, and light therapy. Natural methods do not replace the need for medication in severe cases but can help decrease the intensity of symptoms.Can OCD be treated on its own? ›
OCD doesn't go away on its own, and it has no cure. You can't ignore it or think your way out of the repetitive thoughts and behaviors that control your life. What you can control is your decision to get treatment. The first step is to see your doctor.What is the biggest symptom of OCD? ›
The main symptoms of OCD are obsessions and compulsions that interfere with normal activities. For example, symptoms may often prevent you from getting to work on time.
What is the most common OCD behavior? ›
Some common obsessions that affect people with OCD include: fear of deliberately harming yourself or others – for example, fear you may attack someone else, such as your children. fear of harming yourself or others by mistake – for example, fear you may set the house on fire by leaving the cooker on.How can I permanently remove negative thoughts from my mind? ›
- Pause a Moment. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or stuck in negative thinking patterns, PAUSE. ...
- Notice the Difference. ...
- Label Your Thoughts. ...
- Choose Your Intention.
- #1 Change Your Focus. ...
- #2 Become the Witness. ...
- #3 Use Creative Visualization. ...
- #4 Set Aside Time for Your Thoughts. ...
- #5 Have a Plan in Place.
Studies show that OCD patients have excess activity in frontal regions of the brain, including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which could explain their intrusive thoughts and high levels of anxiety, respectively.What does OCD focus on? ›
Common obsessive thoughts in OCD include:
Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas. Fear of losing or not having things you might need. Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right”. Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious (although some people describe it as 'mental discomfort' rather than anxiety).What is cognitive therapy for OCD? ›
Cognitive-behavior therapy is a type of treatment that helps individuals cope with and change problematic thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The treatment you are beginning is a specialized type of cognitive-behavior therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) called Exposure and Ritual Prevention.What is the cure rate for OCD? ›
Wishing to Cure OCD
Without treatment, remission rates among adults with OCD are low, with the APA settling full remission rates at 20% for those who have been re-evaluated over 40 years. Additional sources have found that between 10-20% of patients reach full recovery from this condition.
Unfortunately, OCD doesn't just go away. There is no “cure” for the condition. Thoughts are intrusive by nature, and it's not possible to eliminate them entirely. However, people with OCD can learn to acknowledge their obsessions and find relief without acting on their compulsions.What is the root cause of OCD? ›
Experts aren't sure of the exact cause of OCD. Genetics, brain abnormalities, and the environment are thought to play a role. It often starts in the teens or early adulthood. But, it can also start in childhood.
How do you grow out of OCD? ›
You Can't Outgrow Childhood OCD Without Help
It's not something that a child is likely to just outgrow or forget about. Kids with OCD need specialized therapy. The right counseling can help them learn how to deal with the intrusive thoughts that cause their anxiety and push them to repeat actions over and over.
Therapy. Several types of psychotherapy can be used to help someone with OCD manage obsessive thoughts. The most common is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically an approach known as exposure therapy. People with OCD are often treated using an approach called exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP).What vitamins are good for OCD? ›
Vitamin B12 and folate are thought to be effective in OCD treatment due to their associations with neurotransmitters. Depending on their antioxidant effect, zinc and selenium can be used in augmentation therapy for OCD.How do you break the cycle of obsessive thoughts? ›
- Distract yourself. When you realize you're starting to ruminate, finding a distraction can break your thought cycle. ...
- Plan to take action. ...
- Take action. ...
- Question your thoughts. ...
- Readjust your life's goals. ...
- Work on enhancing your self-esteem. ...
- Try meditation. ...
- Understand your triggers.
Sertraline. Sertraline(Zoloft) can be used to treat OCD as well as depression, panic disorder, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Sertraline is taken once daily and can treat OCD in adults and children 6 years and older.What aggravates OCD? ›
Trauma, stress, and abuse all can be a cause of OCD getting worse. OCD causes intense urges to complete a task or perform a ritual. For those who have the condition, obsessions and compulsions can begin to rule their life.What happens to brain during OCD? ›
Studies show that OCD patients have excess activity in frontal regions of the brain, including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which could explain their intrusive thoughts and high levels of anxiety, respectively.Does being tired make OCD worse? ›
A bad night's sleep can significantly affect the next day by making OCD symptoms more severe. A 2017 study found that people with OCD who do not get a sufficient night's rest tend to have a harder time the next day managing their OCD symptoms.How long do OCD episodes last? ›
Getting recovered takes time
Speaking from experience, I would say that the average uncomplicated case of OCD takes from about six to twelve months to be successfully completed. If symptoms are severe, if the person works at a slow pace, or if other problems are also present, it can take longer.