People can experience minor obsessions and compulsions, such as worrying if the door was locked properly and avoiding cracks on the sidewalk, which don’t tend to impact their lives significantly. But if you experience OCD, your obsessions and compulsions might have a bigger interference on your life. That’s why we’ve gathered experts’ advice on important things to keep in mind if OCD is part of your daily life, including possible causes and how you can access treatment, support, and guidance to help yourself, friends, and family.
OCD Self-care tips
Often, those who struggle with OCD spend a lot of time and effort trying to avoid or distract themselves from anything that might trigger their compulsive and obsessive symptoms. There are many self-care tips that one can do from the comfort of their home, here are a few examples:
- Meditation exercises are a great way to help relax your mind. Using meditation exercises on a daily basis such as yoga, calming music, or prerecorded meditation practice can help your mind become relaxed. In turn, you will have a better handle on obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
- Mindfulness is a very effective technique that is practiced in overcoming anxiety and thus helps with OCD. Being mindful means to be aware of everything around us, in any present moment with a sense of acceptance, without judging, striving, or resisting. The key is to do everything with a present mind. With practice, you may still experience obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, but you will notice that you have more control to choose differently.
- Regular exercise is not only great for our bodies but is also great for our minds. It can reduce the severity and intensity of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. The exercise you engage in does not have to be intense and the goal at hand should be moving your body in a way that works for you. Reducing caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine intake can reduce anxious feelings as it has stimulating effects on the nervous system.
- Getting enough sleep is essential for anyone, especially if you have OCD. You may have suffered from sleepless nights because of your OCD, but for self-care OCD control, ensuring you have the right schedule for sleep and following it every day is a must.
- Patience is the key to any successful journey and one of the most effective self-care tips for those who struggle with OCD is having patience.
If you are practicing meditation, mindfulness, having fixed sleep patterns, or any other technique to feel better, you must not expect things to change overnight. Be mindful that it takes time to see and feel the changes that you have already started to practice.
– Kayla Bilodeau from ADAM.
How to identify if someone is dealing with OCD and start helping?
OCD often start therapy due to encouragement from an employer or a loved one about their rituals and how it’s interfering with their daily life. Sometimes they have done an OCD quiz and sometimes they rely on a testing instrument from a clinician like the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale and other instruments to assess for OCD. If you are a friend or family member and questioning some of the unusual behaviors you are observing, asking the questions in an OCD survey can help you gain insight into what might be going on. Normally treating OCD involves finding a specialist who is trained in working with OCD and finding the medication that helps to lessen the effects of OCD. OCD bullies those individuals who are affected by it and the treating clinician will likely need to work with the individual and their significant others to help grow awareness of what to do, what not to do, and the treatment path ahead. Inevitably exposure, response, prevention and exposure hierarchy to the very items that they attempt to avoid is going to be a part of treatment. It helps to have significant others involved and on the same page so they know how to support, how not to support, and what the treatment plan looks like. Also, OCD frequently runs in families and can be comorbid with things like Autism.
What should you do if you suspect a loved one might have OCD?
- Do an online OCD quiz like the one from Psychcentral or the Yale-Brown and look up the scoring.
- If the data is inconclusive or likely, I would suggest consulting with an OCD specialist or getting an assessment done to rule out what is going on.
- If it’s definitely OCD, I would suggest building a comprehensive treatment team (MD and an OCD specialist) to work with your loved one. OCD is challenging to treat but those who are well versed in its challenges can help guide you.
- If you happen to live in a town without an OCD specialist, you could also work with a therapist or a family member on The OCD Workbook to try and treat your OCD on your own. You might also consult with a local physician to see if a medication could also be prescribed. I have had clients tell me that medication has helped to muffle their compulsive thoughts a bit and that helps to not be as enveloped by them. Medication alone will likely not cure OCD. Working directly on the items that the individual is seeking to avoid will help them to get better but they will have to build up tolerance over time with a carefully made plan.
– William Schroeder from Just Mind Counseling.
What are some essential home adjustments for someone with OCD?
If you have OCD it’s important to make sure your home and the things inside it are designed to reduce your stress and help prevent flare-ups of OC behavior. If you live with others, be communicative of your triggers, standards, and practices so housemates understand what you’re going through and know how to work together with you to achieve success. If you’re comfortable sharing, let housemates know some signals to look out for that might indicate you are having a hard time. It’s pivotal to have a space in your home that is always ready for you to practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques. This can be a space for meditation, exercise, rest, or even nutrition. Always have healthy snacks available so you keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. Low blood sugar can affect your mood negatively and make small moments feel much larger. In case you find yourself ruminating or fixating, have things readily available as an alternative to rumination. Your favorite book, a creative outlet, or something physical you can concentrate on in place of ruminating.
Investing in a smart home setup can be very helpful. In this day and age, there are so many ways technology can work for you to help you feel good. You can program smart home commands to help ease your compulsion to check on things. If you set your system to turn off all appliances with a voice prompt, and you always use that prompt when you leave your home, you’ll always know everything has been turned off. Make sure your home and sleeping space are working with you to provide the rest you need. One of the biggest steps towards stress management and its relationship with OCD is proper rest. Preset smart home lights to dim and speakers to play relaxing sounds and music as your approach bedtime.
– Justin Klosky from O.C.D. Experience.
Possible consequences of not treating OCD
People often say that they’re “so OCD” when describing their need to clean or keep things a certain way, but this minimizes what can be a truly debilitating condition if left untreated. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) doesn’t actually describe someone who is nitpicky about being tidy, though some people who have OCD may struggle with an uncontrollable urge to clean. If you have OCD and don’t get professional treatment, you may feel overwhelmed by the intrusive thoughts, or obsessions, caused by this condition. This can make it hard to concentrate at school, at work, or while trying to have everyday conversations. These thoughts can also drive you to do things over and over again, taking so much time out of your day that you may not be able to accomplish other things you want to do.
When you feel like you aren’t in control of your thoughts or actions, that can be stressful. It can even make you feel so anxious that you start to avoid certain situations or specific places that trigger the need to carry out those compulsions. But if you’re having trouble explaining why you keep canceling dinner or movie night with your friends or family, you’re not alone. A lot of people who have OCD feel ashamed about the intrusive thoughts they’re having and worry that their loved ones will judge them because they’re struggling to control the actions they trigger. This can be incredibly isolating, and the loneliness usually only worsens without appropriate treatment for OCD. But by getting professional OCD treatment, you can learn to manage the thoughts and actions associated with this condition and start living the life you deserve.
– Diane Carugati, CEO at Timberline Knolls.
Can the pandemic have worsened OCD and what to do about it?
The COVID-19 pandemic was a stressful event that most people were entirely unprepared to deal with. Preliminary research has indicated an overall worsening of mental health across the nation, putting those with preexisting psychiatric conditions in an, especially vulnerable position. In the population of those with OCD specifically, fear of dirt, bacteria, contamination, and excessive washing is among the most common varieties of obsessions and compulsions affecting nearly 50% of OCD patients. Therefore, in addition to the emotional toll isolation and social distancing had on people, those with a history of OCD may have been negatively impacted by health advisories that emphasized frequent washing. Moreover, those with OCD may have been unintentionally enabled to develop contamination-related obsessions and compulsive actions, such as avoiding door handles, that began as normal, protective behaviors.
The first known study that sought to understand the relationship between changes in OCD symptoms and the COVID-19 pandemic was published in September 2020. Even at that relatively early stage in the development of the post-pandemic world, the study’s results raise cause for concern. Using the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive (Y-BOCS) Severity Score, researchers found an experimentally significant increase in obsession and compulsion severity in individuals with OCD. In patients who were remitters of OCD symptoms before quarantine, about 13% still returned to clinically significant Y-BOC severity scores. It is crucial that those with a history of OCD seek treatment from a mental health professional if they believe their symptoms may have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychotherapy and medication are the two most common methods of OCD treatment, and using them in conjunction can often maximize a treatment’s efficiency. In psychotherapy, a therapist may help an individual develop coping skills, practice managing triggers, and identify the source of their OCD-related thoughts and behaviors. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the medications most often prescribed to those with OCD. These medications can increase serotonin levels in the brain, which can help OCD patients feel more receptive to psychotherapy.
– Kirsten Thompson, M.D. from Remedy Psychiatry
Best kind of support can family and friends offer to someone dealing with OCD?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the largest grassroots
mental health advocacy organization in the nation, over 2.2 million Americans are
affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) each year. OCD is characterized by
repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to
do certain actions (compulsions). Symptoms typically begin during childhood, the
teenage years, or young adulthood, although males often develop them at a younger
age than females.
Navigating an OCD diagnosis can present unique challenges for patients and
caregivers alike. Fortunately, there are many resources and supports available for
individuals with OCD and their loved ones. Tackling this diagnosis head-on, and
developing healthy coping mechanisms, can help you build a safe and supportive
environment in the home.
NAMI Georgia provides free resources to individuals with lived experiences and their
caregivers. Some examples of programs include:
- NAMI BASICS is a program for parents and other caregivers of children/adolescents
living with mental illness. Participants gain confidence and stamina for what can be a
life-long role of family understanding and support and are empowered to be effective
advocates for their children.
- NAMI Family-to-Family is an 8-session educational program for families, significant
others, and friends of people living with mental illness. The group setting allows you to
connect with others and build a community of support.
- NAMI Peer-to-Peer is an 8-session educational program for adults with mental health
conditions who are looking to better understand themselves and their recovery.
- NAMI Support Groups follow a structured model to ensure you have an opportunity to
be heard and to be helped. All NAMI Georgia support groups are free and confidential
and require no registration.
– Mary Rose Hayes from NAMI Georgia.
Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy help with OCD and can it be done from home?
Yes, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help with OCD. In fact, I would say that it is probably one of the most effective forms of therapy for OCD.
CBT can be done virtually. Many therapists offer virtual therapy, and research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that virtual therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy. The study relates to depression and anxiety but I think that the results would apply to OCD, as well.
CBT helps with OCD by helping individuals cope with the obsessive thoughts common in OCD. During CBT, the therapist helps the person learn to identify and respond in a more adaptive way to obsessive thoughts. This can help reduce compulsive behaviors.
– Justin Larkin, Counselor and Adventure Lead at The Ohana Addiction Treatment Center.
How can hypnosis help treat OCD?
OCD is a type of anxiety disorder. People who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder typically have repetitive behaviors or thoughts that are beyond their control. Hypnosis is a simple, drug-free way to help control these symptoms. The following are seven ways can hypnosis assist in dealing with OCD:
- Healthier Choices: Hypnosis can program your mind to help you make healthier choices, like eating nutritious food and exercising.
- Slowing Down: By slowing down your brain waves, hypnosis can keep repetitive thoughts and behaviors from happening.
- Refocusing: Hypnosis helps refocus your mind on what’s reasonable, rather than irrational.
- Face Negative Feelings: Hypnosis helps face and manage negative feelings, instead of running from them.
- Recreation and Relaxation: Hypnosis can train the mind to slow down and enjoy life instead of turning to OCD behaviors.
- Preparing: Instead of being unprepared, hypnosis gives the mind tools to use when it starts to feel obsessive thoughts and urges.
- Sleeping Well: Hypnosis can help you get a good night’s sleep, which allows the body to restore itself and slow brain waves.
– Eli Bliliuos from NYC Hypnosis Center.
Can kids develop OCD and how can parents help?
Kids can develop OCD since it can start at any time from preschool to adulthood. The most typical age range when OCD tends to first appear is usually between the ages of 8 and 12 in children. Parents can help in a number of ways. Usually, parents want to take away whatever is causing their child distress when it comes to OCD, however, this actually feeds into it and makes it worse. Despite only the best intentions, parents are only reinforcing their child’s symptoms and maintaining the anxiety and OCD since it is maintained through avoidance. Treating childhood OCD is the most effective when parents are acting as co-therapists. They also need to learn how to stop “accommodating” or “catering” to their child’s OCD. Parents feel inclined to rearrange their family life in order to avoid triggering their child’s OCD or anything that may set off their anxiety. In OCD treatment, it is of paramount importance that parents learn to help their child face their fears instead of engaging in avoidance. Children tend to seek reassurance from their parents, and many parents provide it as they feel this will help manage their fears and alleviate any discomfort they are feeling. Unfortunately, this may only make the child feel better temporarily in the moment and can cause frustration for the parents as well. It becomes an endless cycle, and in turn, does a disservice to the child as they are not able to learn that they can tolerate uncertainty. Building coping skills, helping your child learn to face their fears, and reminding them of the strategies and the strength they have will help them fight the OCD.
– Holly Schiff, Psy.D. from JFS Greenwich.
Dealing with OCD is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, or yourself, these tips are meant to help manage OCD from the comfort of your own home. Although this article can aid in understanding and supporting those with OCD, always seek professional help when needed.