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7 Strategies to Cope With OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, affects 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children, according to the WHO. Sometimes when people think of OCD, they think of humerus characters from TV shows or movies who like to sit in a particular seat, or who need to wash their hands repeatedly, but in reality, OCD is no laughing matter. What might seem like a funny quirk to outsiders is an overwhelming compulsion to those living with OCD. Additionally, OCD doesn’t only affect those who have been diagnosed – loved one of those struggling with OCD can be affected as well.

OCD can appear in various forms, and be composed of compulsions and obsessions. Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that repeat again and again; usually there is a feeling of being out of control when obsessive thoughts are present. Obsessions can leave those experiencing them with a feeling of fear, disgust, or restlessness. OCD obsession can also manifest itself in the form of intrusive thoughts that may lead to severe anxiety or panic attacks.

Compulsions are used to “fix” or “correct” the thoughts or feelings brought on by a person’s obsessions. An example might be if a third party sets the table for a person suffering from OCD at a restaurant that person may then need to reorganize the table to “fix” the incorrectness of the previous arrangement. Compulsions can manifest in a variety of forms.  

At Family Psychiatry and Therapy, we understand that OCD is more than just “quirks,” and strive to help both our patients and their loved ones find personalized coping mechanisms and solutions to some of OCDs biggest challenges. No two cases of OCD are the same, so why should your care be? Our friendly staff takes the time to build relationships with each of our clients to ensure that we are devising the best treatment plan. Below we have listed out seven strategies to cope with OCD. Always keep in mind that OCD is not the fault of the one affected, OCD is a medical condition just like any other illness and should be viewed as such.

  1. Greet Your OCD

OCD can feel like an uncontrollable force that is just waiting to pounce, sort of like the monster that use to live under your bed when you were a child. Instead of allowing your OCD to be a faceless villain, give it a name and a shape. Maybe you want to call your OCD Bully, Bob, or Buddy. Whatever name you give it will help bring your OCD out of the shadows and into the light, making it easier to acknowledge its existence. Next, give your OCD a shape; it can be anything from a purple blob to a cheetah.

If your child is suffering from OCD use this approach to discuss his or her OCD. For example, if you want to talk about your child’s OCD levels or actions at school that day you might say something along the lines of “How did your Bully do at school today?” or “Did Bob act up while you were at school today?” Viewing OCD as a separate entity can be helpful for both children and adults, always remember that OCD is not your fault and there is no reason to be ashamed.

  1. Keep an OCD Journal

You may have seen some people keep food journals to keep track of what they eat every day while on a diet, well an OCD journal plays the same role. An OCD journal can help you keep track of your triggers or find new ones, and help you assess the state of your overall OCD. Carry your OCD journal with you everywhere you go and record what happened after you have completed a compulsion.

Journal Example:

Situation Issue “Solution” “Resolution”
Used a public keypad The keypad was covered in germs. I could contract a serious illness and spread it to everyone I love. Wash hands and arms Washed hands and arms three times for 30 seconds for each washing cycle. Then dried hands for two 30-second cycles.

When you are done journaling for the day and read over your entries, then ask yourself the below questions.

    1. Why did these situations trigger my OCD?
    2. What would have happened if I hadn’t performed my resolutions?
    3. What evidence is there that shows that my fear, “contract a serious illness and spread it to everyone I love” would actually come true?
  1. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

ERP is a common way of facing and possibly relieving OCD. When using ERP one exposes him or herself to a situation that results in an obsession and then does not engage in their compulsion. Try building an OCD ladder by listing out your fears and subsequent triggers on a 10 rung ladder in order of severity from 1-10.

When you begin ERP start with a first level trigger, once you have confronted your trigger begin by waiting 10 seconds before using your compulsion. Slowly build up the amount of time before using your compulsion until you can stand to perform the task or confront the situation without needing your compulsion. Progress up your OCD ladder as you conquer your triggers.  

  1. Refocus Your Attention

If you are experiencing OCD compulsions or obsessions, or you feel one coming on try to refocus your attention from the situation. Refocusing your attention can be done physically or mentally. If at the end of the refocusing period you still feel the need to complete your obsession try repeating the session again.

Physically Refocus Your Attention By:

    • Doing jumping jacks
    • Get up and walk around
    • Hum a song
    • Play with a fidget toy or similar small object
  • Pet a furry animal such as your cat or dog

Mentally Refocus Your Attention By:

    • List everything you see
    • Name every color you can think of
    • Spell your name and your friend’s names backward
    • Say the alphabet backward
  • Recite the lyrics to your favorite song
  1. Reward Yourself for Success

Make sure that while you are working to cope with your OCD, you are taking the time to celebrate your successes. Battling OCD is hard, so when success is achieved it should be celebrated just like any other accomplishment. Determine your rewards before challenging yourself. For example, you could decide that if you can wait 20 seconds before completing your compulsion, then you are going to order pizza for dinner! You don’t need to have rewards or create expectations for every scenario, because that could create more stress. Maybe at the end of the week you could reward yourself for any progress you’ve made, or if you do decide to face a compulsion head on then reward yourself right away. The balance is up to you.

  1. Keep Your Stress at a Minimum

Living with and battling OCD is hard work that can be made even harder when stress is present. Stress has been shown to significantly increase OCD in people, so keeping your stress level down is crucial. Be sure to include time to destress in your daily schedule. Whether you decide to go for a run, read a book, or watch some TV, finding an hour of time every day to destress can be incredibly beneficial.

  1. Remind Yourself of the Facts

It’s easy to spiral into a loop of self-doubt and blame, but try to break that cycle. If you start feeling guilty for having OCD remind yourself that you have a diagnosed medical condition. Would you be angry at your friend who had asthma if he needed to stop and take his inhaler? Of course not, so you don’t need to feel guilty when you perform behaviors that are out of the norm or cause a slight delay. You have a medical condition and are working with it. End of story, no guilt needed.

Take Control of Your OCD Today

Coping with OCD can be hard, so if you’re ready to take the next step in battling your OCD we’re ready to help. At Family Psychiatry and Therapy our mission is to restore and rebuild lives while leading the way in transformational care so that every individual assisted can achieve what is possible. We’ll work with you to build a custom tailored plan to work on your OCD. We are conveniently open Monday – Friday from 9am-7pm everyday. We’re ready to help you get on the road to success today.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.