Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that can be very debilitating.
Intrusive thoughts and images create a lot of anxiety. The compulsions and rituals that go along with them can take over your life.
It can feel as though you’ll never get back in control of your thoughts and behaviour. Fortunately, there are ways that you can manage OCD and get back in control of them.
Here are some of my tips on how to manage OCD.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for OCD
As a ‘talking therapy’, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you to alter your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes.
According to OCD UK, around 75% of people with OCD are successfully treated with CBT so there’s a great chance that it will work for you.
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) also recommends it as their treatment of choice for OCD.
Not all talking therapies are necessarily CBT. This can affect how likely your treatment is to be successful in helping you to overcome OCD symptoms. CBT is more effective than other talking therapies so it’s the best option for most people.
If you’re not sure whether you’re receiving CBT or another talking therapy, OCD Action have put together this CBT Checklist. This can help you get a good idea of whether the sessions are going to be right for treating OCD and what they will and won’t do in terms of treatment.
Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP)
There is a specific type of CBT that can work really well for treating OCD.
Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) encourages you to face your intrusive thoughts and images without performing your usual compulsions afterward. Instead, you’re asked to try to ride out the anxiety you feel.
MIND describes ERP as “helping you confront your obsessions and resist the urge to carry out compulsions”.
ERP is a huge challenge and potentially very scary to begin with. However, with repeated exposure, it helps you to understand that the anxiety provoked by your OCD obsessions is fuelled by your compulsions and that it will eventually die down if these aren’t carried out as they normally would.
You probably know deep down that far from taking away the anxiety, compulsions actually keep the obsession-anxiety-compulsion cycle going. ERP acts as the proof of this in your mind.
One thing you’ll gain from CBT is the knowledge that it isn’t an intrusive thought that causes the problem. It’s the fact that this thought or image is given a huge amount of importance in your mind and is reacted to in a certain way. Once this power is taken away, the anxiety eventually starts to go away too.
This is why as you engage more with ERP, OCD obsessions generally start to produce less anxiety. The fear they do create is not as intense and doesn’t last as long as it did originally. At the same time, OCD compulsions are also reduced as the anxiety isn’t as strong.
Sometimes, CBT isn’t enough to fully manage OCD and medication may be recommended alongside it.
If your anxiety is really severe, medication can help it to be reduced in the short term so you can get the most out of CBT, for example.
Antidepressants are one of the most likely medication options for OCD. NICE generally recommends using Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) if medication is needed.
Self-care for OCD
Self-care is important for all of us but even more so when you have anxiety. It’s definitely not selfish to take time for yourself – it’s actually one of the best things you can do for your anxiety!
Relaxation: Stress can make OCD symptoms worse so it’s important to learn how to relax. Whether it’s deep breathing, meditation or yoga, try to do it as often as you can to help to manage OCD.
Exercise: Being active is a natural anxiety treatment, with the added bonus of directing your mind away from potential OCD triggers. If you can fit exercise in a few times in the average week, it can help to manage anxiety disorders, including OCD.
Sleep: Anxiety and insomnia can go hand in hand and it’s more likely that you’ll struggle with anxious thoughts if you’re not sleeping well.
Avoiding alcohol: If you’re tempted to try to ‘treat’ your anxiety with alcohol, it can actually make things a lot worse. People who are already prone to anxiety can experience alcohol anxiety the day after drinking. So staying clear of too much alcohol is a good self-care move for anxiety in general!
Here are a few more self-care tips for anxiety.
Trying to manage OCD can seem like a never-ending battle. It can though be treated with talking therapies such as CBT and, if necessary, medication can be used too.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself too!