Ways to deal with in OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
OCD, short for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, is a mental health condition characterised by two components that are linked: obsessions and compulsions. To understand exactly what OCD is, check out the Mind website for a detailed explanation.
Living with OCD can be challenging to self-manage at times, but with the correct support and attention, there are ways to manage the condition and feel better. If you or a loved one is affected by OCD, here are some approaches you might want to consider. Firstly, we’ll look at ways you can manage your intrusive thoughts better.
1. Accept you’ll have intrusive thoughts.
If you know you have OCD, it’s only natural to want to rid yourself of any unwanted or worrying thoughts. But the issue here is, very often the more we try to stop thinking about something, the more it starts to take over. Attempting to accept the thought for exactly what it is can be the first step to regaining control.
Take comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone; intrusive thoughts are actually very common. Research suggests that an average individual will experience 6,000 thoughts daily, with many people admitting that a number of these thoughts affect them in a negative way.
Rather than attempting to ‘do’ something with your thoughts, like banishing or improving them, simply allow them to exist in your mind as they are, this way you’re not giving this thought the freedom to develop into something bigger. In addition, consider naming the thought by saying in your head or out loud “there’s that thought that makes me anxious”.
Try using an object as a focal point, like a bracelet, fidget spinner or stone. When you have an unwanted thought, hold it and focus on it (perhaps whilst trying another controlling method simultaneously) until the intensity fades. Linking the thought with an inanimate object helps to reduce its significance.
2. Don’t try to explain, understand or resolve every thought
Keep in mind that having a thought doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with it or that it’s a fact. Sometimes, it’s just a thought. You don’t always have to analyse or justify every thought or feeling. Sometimes, you just feel a certain way, and that’s totally fine.
Avoid thinking in extremes. Life is often filled with shades of grey, not everything is black and white. For instance, if someone you care about is mad at you, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a terrible person or that they’ve stopped caring about you.
Imagine you’re thinking, “I’m a bad person.” Instead of arguing with it, replacing it with a different thought, seeking reassurance, or trying to prove it’s not true, simply acknowledge the thought. You don’t have to buy into it, rather accept that you can’t be certain of its truth. Be mindful that the distress it causes won’t last forever.
3. Accepting the uncertain
Remember, it’s normal to have doubts, and it’s rare to be completely certain about most things. Trying too hard to be absolutely sure and eliminate doubts can actually increase anxiety and uncertainty.
Accepting doubt doesn’t mean you don’t care about the truth; it means acknowledging that certainty is often elusive. Instead of fixating on questions like “Am I sure I’m not a bad person?” consider asking the reverse; “Am I sure I’m not a good person?”
You’re not responsible for everything, so don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Differentiate between what you can control and what you can’t. Focus on the things you can change and accept those beyond your control.
Realise that trusting your instincts might not always work, especially when OCD is involved. Compulsions can sometimes feel like gut feelings, so always try to approach them with caution.
Managing Compulsions Better
Recognising your compulsions is a good initial step in managing OCD, but detecting compulsions can be challenging, especially if they’ve become ingrained habits or a source of comfort.
Indicators that something might be a compulsion could be:
- Feeling an intense urgency to do it.
- Feeling like you have to do it, even though it lacks logical sense.
- Believing that repeating it will bring relief.
- Experiencing an initial sense of relief, but then needing to do it again.
- Feeling the need to do it more and more frequently.
- Feeling panicked or distressed when unable to do it.
- Feeling a lack of control over whether to do it or not.
- Experiencing a surge of relief afterwards.
- Feeling trapped in the action, conversation, or thought.
- Feeling conflicted, as if a part of you resists the compulsion.
- Experiencing shame, embarrassment, or guilt, despite inability to stop.
- Struggling to explain why the compulsion is necessary, even to yourself or others.
- Allocating increasing time to the compulsion.
- Maintaining faith that it will solve the issue, only to be frustrated when it fails.
- Prioritising the compulsion over important matters or acting against your values.
How can you build up resistance to your compulsions?
1. Resist the urge
Try to endure the unwelcome thoughts and feelings without seeking immediate relief. It might be uncomfortable initially, but it won’t last forever. Concentrate on accepting the discomfort rather than trying to eliminate it.
- When the compulsion urge arises, pause. Take a deep breath, take a moment and resist the urge.
- Recognise that practice makes progress. Resisting compulsions can be challenging in the beginning, but it becomes easier with practice.
- Don’t strengthen the power of OCD; remember that giving in to compulsions only reinforces them.
- Distract yourself. Engage in activities that divert your attention from the compulsion urge.
- Face your fears. Consider exposing yourself to feared situations and confronting the associated discomfort without resorting to compulsions. It’s advisable to do this under the guidance of a trained professional, particularly at the beginning.
- Start small. List your compulsions and arrange them from least distressing to most challenging. Begin by tackling the less difficult ones and work your way up the list.
- Respond differently. Instead of performing compulsions, react to intrusive thoughts with responses like “maybe,” “that could be true, who knows,” or “okay, but I can’t control that.”
- Challenge everyday compulsions. Practice resisting compulsions even in non-distressing situations; it can be beneficial.
- Have faith in your coping abilities. Remind yourself that you can handle difficult feelings and doubts. You don’t need to eliminate them to feel better.
2. Delay the compulsion
If the notion of resisting the compulsion feels too difficult, try delaying the compulsion in the first instance. Rather than succumbing to it immediately, try to accept and endure your feelings for a short period. If you achieve this successfully, try to increase these periods of abstinence for slightly longer next time. You can even set a timer if you like.
3. Reduce the compulsion
- Gradual reduction. Consider scaling back your compulsions, this could be by doing them less frequently, for shorter durations, or in a less satisfying manner. Strive to reduce them progressively over time.
- Challenging completed compulsions. If you’ve already performed a compulsion, you can challenge yourself by undoing it. For instance, if you feel the need to check something a certain number of times for a sense of safety, try doing it one more time to confront the compulsion.
- Avoid substitution. Resist the urge to replace one compulsion with another. Substituting compulsions, like avoiding your phone completely if you compulsively check it, is another form of compulsion and provides temporary reassurance, which is unlikely to benefit you in the long run.
- Keep track. Maintain a record of what has worked and what hasn’t in the past. You can use a journal or your phone for this purpose.
Managing OCD effectively is an ongoing process, and there are often times where it feels harder to manage. Be kind and patient with yourself. Bear in mind that different things work for different people at different times. If something isn’t working for you or doesn’t feel possible just now, try something else. Or come back to it at another time.
If you try any of the tips on this page and they start to become compulsive, read the Mind.org.uk information What if my self-care becomes compulsive?