Tips for Living Well With OCD

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition in which a person experiences obsessions (repetitive, intrusive thoughts or urges) and compulsions (irrational behaviors used to mitigate the anxiety caused by the obsessions). OCD can be very disruptive to everyday life, but there are treatments available and ways to manage symptoms.

This article discusses how to live and cope with OCD.

Man experiencing OCD

Aleli Dezmen / Getty Images

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

Symptoms of OCD can include obsessions and/or compulsions that interfere with all aspects of a person's life, including personal relationships, work, and school.

Examples of obsessions include:

  • Fear of contamination (such as germs)
  • Unwanted (often disturbing) thoughts involving religion, sex, or harm
  • Doubting tasks have been completed properly, such as locking the door or turning off the stove

Examples of compulsions include:

  • Excessive cleaning
  • Excessive handwashing
  • Arranging or doing things in a particular order or a specific way
  • Repeatedly checking certain things (such as that the door is locked)
  • Counting compulsively
  • Repeating routine activities
  • Intentionally thinking certain thoughts to counteract the negative ones

How Common Is OCD?

It's estimated that 1.2% of adults in the United States had OCD in the past year.

The Effects of OCD

OCD can have significant impacts on multiple areas of a person's life.

Physical

Some people with OCD experience tics. Motor tics involve repetitive movements that are sudden and brief, such as:

  • Eye movements (like blinking)
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Facial grimacing
  • Head or shoulder jerking

Vocal tics may include repetitive throat-clearing, sniffing, or grunting noises.

Emotional

People with OCD often feel shame, embarrassment, and secrecy about their symptoms, which can make them reluctant to seek help.

They may also experience extreme anxiety, worrying that they will be blamed or held responsible if something bad happens.

Relationships

A person's OCD symptoms can be stressful for their loved ones.

Their friends and family members may try to do things to help them avoid their anxiety in an effort to protect them. While this is done out of love, it can make OCD symptoms worse because it takes away opportunities for a person to face and overcome their stressful thoughts.

Work and School

OCD can make it difficult to focus on and complete tasks at work or school, which could affect performance and cause frustration.

Treatment and Therapy

Medication and psychotherapy are the first-line treatments for OCD. They may be used alone or in combination.

OCD Medication

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to help manage OCD symptoms.

These medications may include:

  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)

If medication is managing symptoms well, it may be helpful to keep taking the medication for one or two years, or even longer, to prevent relapse.

Don't stop taking SSRIs abruptly. Discontinuing these medications should be done by gradually tapering off of them over time under the direction of a healthcare provider.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy in which problematic thought processes and behaviors are identified and examined. Over several sessions, these thought processes and behaviors are replaced by more productive ones.

CBT is usually conducted by a trained mental health professional in either an individual or group setting.

Exposure and Response Prevention

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a form of CBT commonly used for treating OCD. It is generally considered the most effective psychotherapy approach for OCD.

During ERP sessions, the person with OCD is intentionally exposed to what causes them anxiety (such as touching dirty objects) but does not perform the compulsion (such as washing their hands).

Exposure can be built up, starting with things that cause a small amount of anxiety and working incrementally up to the most anxiety-inducing thoughts, objects, or experiences.

Facing the obsessions without relieving them with compulsions helps the person see that nothing bad happens when the compulsion isn't acted out, leading to greater tolerance for the anxiety and eventually a reduction in anxiety and symptoms.

Self-Care Tips

In addition to professional treatment, there are measures you can take to help manage the anxiety and stress that often come with OCD.

Diet and Exercise

Blood sugar levels can affect your mood and energy levels. Eating nutritious foods regularly can help keep blood sugar stable and give your body the fuel and nutrients it needs to help keep you healthy.

Physical activity is also important for both physical and mental health. This can include organized workouts, but anything that gets your body moving helps.

Consider trying activities like:

  • Swimming
  • Going for walks
  • Yoga
  • Dancing (even around your room)
  • Chair-based exercises, if mobility is an issue for you

Rest and Relaxation

Stress and anxiety can make handling OCD symptoms harder. Practicing relaxation techniques can help you manage your stress levels.

An important part of rest and relaxation is ensuring you get enough good quality sleep. If you are struggling with sleep, speak with your healthcare provider to determine if you have a sleep disorder and discuss ways to address your sleep problems.

Mindfulness

Principles of mindfulness may be woven into CBT therapy, and many mindfulness and mind-body techniques can be practiced at home to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Activities you may choose to try include:

Social Support

Even if you aren't ready to talk openly about your OCD, spending time with friends and family can help you feel more comfortable and supported.

You may also find an OCD support group helpful. Support groups can:

  • Give you a chance to talk to and socialize with others who understand your feelings and experiences
  • Help you feel less isolated
  • Offer reassurance and advice for coping with OCD
  • Provide resources and information for you or those close to you who want to understand your OCD better

Summary

OCD is a mental health condition characterized by intrusive and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that cause anxiety, and behaviors (compulsions) that are performed to relieve that anxiety.

In addition to professional treatments, such as medication and therapy, self-care practices can help manage the stress and anxiety that comes with living with OCD. These include nutritious eating, physical activity, rest and relaxation, mindfulness, and social support.

A Word From Verywell 

It's understandable to find yourself feeling stressed or anxious while living with OCD. If you are experiencing OCD symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional to develop a treatment plan. Once you've started actively treating your OCD, you should remember self-care too.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is there a cure for OCD?

    There is no cure for OCD, but there are effective treatments available that can help manage symptoms.

  • Does OCD go away as you get older?

    OCD symptoms can come and go. Sometimes, but not always, OCD can improve with age.

  • Can you treat OCD without medication?

    OCD can be treated with therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and its subset, exposure and response prevention. These treatments can be used on their own or in combination with medication, depending on which approach works best for you.

  • Are there certain foods that help with OCD?

    Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods is beneficial for your physical and mental health. People with OCD may wish to limit or avoid caffeine, which can make stressful situations seem more intense, and/or alcohol, which is sometimes used in excess to "self-medicate" for stress and anxiety relief.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: when unwanted thoughts or repetitive behaviors take over.

  3. National Health Service. Overview - obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

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  5. National Health Service. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) self-help guide.

  6. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. OCD at school.

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