Understanding and managing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be a challenging journey, however with the right support, guidance and strategies it can help improve your quality of life.
From practical techniques to mindfulness exercises, learn how to navigate the challenges of OCD and improve your quality of life.
The daily impact of OCD
OCD is a complex mental health condition and anxiety disorder, characterised by unwanted, persistent thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions).
OCD is different for everyone and symptoms can vary in intensity.
The characteristic symptom of intrusive thoughts can include things like fears of contamination, doubts, or aggressive impulses.
Along with compulsive behaviours like excessive cleaning, checking, or counting these symptoms can be time-consuming, causing significant distress and anxiety.
These symptoms can greatly impact daily life in all kinds of ways that can be frustrating and distressing.
However it's important to remember that with the right strategies, it's possible to manage OCD well.
To keep learning more about what OCD is, head to our blog: What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and how do I know if I have it?
How to manage OCD on a daily basis
With the right strategies in place, you can manage your OCD in a way that works for you and allows you to get back to doing the things you love.
Let's take a look at some management techniques you can try.
Obsessions are any thoughts, feelings or worries that are unwanted, intrusive and won't go away.
While they can feel distressing, worrisome and out of your control, there are things you can implement daily to help you manage these thoughts and feelings.
Acknowledgement without engagement
Recognise that your obsessive thoughts are a symptom of OCD, not a reflection of your character. Gently remind yourself that these thoughts are just thoughts, and consciously choose not to engage with them. This could mean simply noticing that a thought is there, without coming up with a direct response. You may even like to try and remind yourself that it is your OCD talking, and nothing else.
Schedule worry time
Designate a specific time each day solely for your worries. This approach helps in containing obsessive thoughts to a particular time, reducing their intrusion throughout your day. During the day, note down any unwanted thoughts that appear, and acknowledge that you'll come back to them during your scheduled time. When this time comes around, reflect on your list of thoughts – you may find that many of them are easier to let go of, now that some time has passed. For thoughts that remain, try and name them, accept them and potentially even make fun of them or exaggerate them to help you let the thoughts pass.
Embrace mindfulness activities like meditation and deep breathing to stay present. This practice helps you observe your thoughts without judgment, reducing the intensity and frequency of obsessions over time. Remember that mindfulness is something that requires practice, and may not 'work' the first time.
Don't attach meaning to every thought
Try not to understand, justify or place a meaning on every thought you have. Remember that your thoughts are often untrue, and sometimes they are nothing more than a thought that may come and then pass.
Have an affirmation mantra
Counteract obsessive thoughts with positive affirmations. These can be simple, reassuring statements that reinforce your strength and ability to cope, such as, "I am capable and strong. My worth isn't defined by my OCD."
Journaling about your intrusive thoughts can offer a way to express and process them, without actively engaging with them. It can be a safe space to confront your fears without judgment and to reflect on the patterns of your thoughts. Try to approach journaling as if you are observing your thoughts from afar, and watching how they appear and disappear.
Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.
These behaviours are often performed in an attempt to reduce distress or prevent a feared event or situation from occurring, even though these actions are not realistically connected to the outcome they aim to avoid, or they are excessive.
To help you manage your reaction to your compulsions, we've put together some coping tips and strategies you can try.
Acknowledge your compulsions
The first step in managing compulsions is to recognise and label them. For instance, if you find yourself repeatedly checking if the stove is off, acknowledge this behaviour as a compulsion. Say to yourself, "This is my OCD making me check the stove repeatedly. Recognising it helps me take control."
When you feel the urge to perform a compulsive behaviour, try to delay the action. This might be challenging initially, but with practice, you can gradually increase the delay, thereby reducing the compulsion's hold over you. For example, if you feel the urge to check that your emails are free of mistakes, try waiting for a few minutes before rechecking them, gradually increasing this delay.
Habit reversal training
This involves identifying the triggers of your compulsive behaviours and practising a healthier response. It's about recognising the early signs of compulsion and consciously choosing a different action that is positive and constructive. If you compulsively pull your hair, recognise the trigger (like feeling stressed) and replace it with squeezing a stress ball as often as you can.
Keeping a record of when and why you engage in compulsive behaviours can increase your awareness and understanding of these patterns. This self-reflection is a step towards managing and eventually reducing compulsive acts, as it helps you reflect on them objectively. Keep a diary of when you feel compelled to repeatedly do an action. Note when you felt this compulsion, what triggered it and how you felt before and after.
Gradually expose yourself to the situations that trigger your compulsions, but resist the urge to perform the compulsive act. This slow, controlled approach helps in building tolerance and reducing the anxiety that fuels compulsions. If you have a compulsion to avoid stepping on cracks, practice walking on a tiled floor and consciously step on a line, noting that the feared outcome does not occur.
Techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation can help ease the anxiety that often drives compulsions. These practices can provide a sense of calm and control when urges arise.
Test the beliefs fuelling your compulsions by not performing them and observing the outcome. Often, you'll find that the feared consequences are not as severe or likely as you thought, which can diminish the power of compulsions. For example, if you believe not arranging your books in a specific order will cause unease, try leaving them unordered and note the actual impact on your day.
When you feel the urge to engage in a compulsive behaviour, try substituting it with a positive activity. This could be something like going for a walk, calling a friend, or engaging in a creative hobby – anything that offers a healthy and satisfying substitution. For example, replace the urge to check locks multiple times with writing a short story or doing a crossword puzzle, activities that engage your mind in a different way.
General self-care strategies
Beyond specific strategies to help you cope with your OCD symptoms, there are many self-care techniques you can implement to help you through some of your regular challenges.
Recognise and accept your symptoms
View your thoughts and compulsions as part of OCD, not a reflection of who you are as a person.
Maintain a structured routine
Implementing a routine can provide a sense of control and minimise OCD-triggered stress.
Practice mindfulness and relaxation
Techniques like meditation and yoga can help in staying centred, calm and present in the moment, and can provide a much-desired break from intrusive thoughts and feelings.
Writing down thoughts and feelings can be a therapeutic way to process your emotions in a positive and effective way.
Sharing experiences with friends and family you trust or support groups can offer support and lessen feelings of isolation in your experiences.
Focus on your strengths
Concentrate on your abilities, strengths and achievements, looking beyond the challenges of OCD. This plays a part in recognising your worth is not tied to your OCD.
Seeking professional help
While there are many strategies to help you manage your OCD symptoms and give less control to your obsessions and compulsions, professional mental health support is the best way to seek treatment and learn what strategies may work best for you.
It's important to seek help from a mental health professional who specialises in treating OCD, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed therapist.
These professionals can offer evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication management, tailored to address your specific symptoms and needs.
Alongside psychological support for your mental health, there are also other professional supports available to help you live the life you want, on your terms.
There are many out there, some of which include:
- SANE Australia – a national mental health support organisation and helpline, specialising in complex mental illness issues.
- ReachOut – a safe, confidential and online platform where young people can express themselves, created to better mental health and wellbeing for all young people.
- APM Disability Employment Services – support to help anyone living with a disability, injury or health condition find a job that suits your needs.
- Head to Health – a free confidential service that connects you with the right resources and support to help you with your mental health.
Living with OCD requires courage and resilience.
By practising coping strategies and seeking professional support, you can learn to manage your symptoms and lead a fulfilling life.
By incorporating these management techniques and self-care strategies into your daily life, you can take control of your journey with OCD and improve your overall quality of life.
It's important to remember that with the right support and resources, it is possible to effectively manage OCD and live life on your own terms.