Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects approximately 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the United States, with more than five million adults in the U.S. having been diagnosed with OCD.1 People with OCD struggle with obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause distress and anxiety, and compulsions are behaviors the person feels compelled to perform to ease the anxiety caused by their thoughts. Common OCD obsessions include contamination, washing, cleaning, arranging, and even religious OCD. As one of the most challenging mental disorders to manage, our rehab in Boca Raton, Florida, is sharing OCD coping methods that can help you or a loved one.
Obsessions may leave a person with OCD feeling fearful, disgusted, and restless. An OCD obsession can also manifest itself in the form of intrusive thoughts that can lead to severe anxiety. In an attempt to cope with or quell these thoughts, the person may engage in certain compulsions.
Compulsions are used to “correct” or “fix” the source of the person’s thoughts. For example, a person with OCD may reorganize a table they’re sitting at in a restaurant to fix the incorrectness of the previous arrangement. These compulsions can manifest in a variety of forms, ranging from flicking the light switch on and off a certain number of times to rearranging a desk the same way every time.
OCD is often downplayed or inaccurately portrayed in the media, movies, and TV shows, making it seem more like a quirky condition rather than a life-changing disorder. But OCD is more than just quirks; it can take over a person’s life and make it impossible for them to be entirely happy. If you or someone you know is diagnosed with this disorder, below are a few OCD coping methods that can help.
One of the most common tips to overcome OCD is journaling, and for good reason. You may not be fully aware of your most common or intense intrusive thoughts and compulsions unless you write them down. Taking control of OCD has a lot to do with understanding your triggers, and having your pattern of behavior on paper gives you a visual of how your mind works in certain situations concerning OCD. An “OCD journal” can help you keep track of the things that trigger you, how you reacted to them, what the situation was actually like, and what you can do better in the future.
In your journal entries, write about the situation you were in (such as using a public pen at a bank), the issue with the situation (your fear of contracting diseases or illness and spreading it to others), and what your solution was (such as washing your hands for minutes). Be completely honest in these entries. When you’re done journaling for the day, ask yourself what triggered the situations, what would have really happened if you hadn’t performed your compulsions, and whether there’s any real evidence to support your fear.
If you’re experiencing OCD thoughts and compulsions, try to focus on something else. Draw your attention away from the triggering situation. This could mean doing jumping jacks or humming a song listing everything you see, or saying the alphabet backward.
Coping with OCD has a lot to do with coping with stress, which is a triggering feeling for people with all kinds of disorders. Living and managing OCD can be even more difficult when stress is part of the picture. Stress produces overwhelming anxiety, which can worsen intrusive thoughts and lead to more compulsions. If stress is not managed properly, OCD symptoms can worsen and take over your entire day.
A great way to cope with stress is to set aside time every day to relax. This means giving yourself at least an hour to read, go for a walk, run, watch a show, or take a nap. Finding an hour to decompress every day can be incredibly beneficial to your mental health.
OCD comes with a lot of self-doubts, blame, shame, and anxiety. It can take a toll on you emotionally and lead to a lot of self-directed anger and bitterness.
Would you be angry at someone with asthma who needed to stop and use their inhaler? Of course not, so you don’t need to feel guilty or angry with yourself whenever you feel crushed by your symptoms. Be patient with yourself and remind yourself that you have a medical condition and are working on improving it.
Exposure therapy works wonders for many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Learning how to stop compulsive behavior and obsessive thoughts takes practice, so what better way to practice than gradually exposing yourself to your fears? Does this sound scary? Yes, but it’s a great way to test your strengths and get out of your comfort zone so you can grow and improve.
A great way to do this is to create a fear ladder. List your fears or things that produce anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the scariest and 1 being the least scary. For instance, if you have a fear of contamination, being at a friend’s apartment might be lower on the list than using a public restroom. Little by little, go through your list, starting from the least scary thing to the scariest.
While gradually exposing yourself to these fears, be sure not to practice avoidance during exposure. For instance, if a fear you want to work on is touching doorknobs in public places, don’t use one finger to touch the doorknob. You also have to resist the urge to give in to your compulsions during or after exposure.
This can be difficult to do the first few times you expose yourself to fears. When you’re first trying this, delay your response by a few seconds so it’s easier to completely restrain yourself from giving into compulsions in the future. If you do end up performing a compulsion, re-expose yourself to the same fear until you stop performing the compulsion.
These OCD coping mechanisms may not work for you, and that’s okay. These are only some steps to overcome OCD and not the solution. If you or a loved one has obsessive-compulsive disorder, our Florida mental health rehab can help. Our inpatient mental health treatment offers patients a safe space where they can work with our counselors individually and in groups to learn more about their conditions, develop important life skills, and rebuild their lives.