Coping with OCD
Coping with OCD: Obsessive Compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts and repetitive compulsions. Whilst many sufferers take refuge in medication and therapy to treat OCD, the work is often incomplete and requires self-care and coping strategies to manage it. Coping with OCD takes practice and a lot of dedication to be well-implemented. With focused strategies, the benefits can change the way you lead your life. In the following article, ten of the best coping with OCD tips are listed that can help you become an expert of your own condition.
Coping with OCD tip #1: Use Relaxation Techniques
OCD, like many mental health disorders, manifests with physical and psychological states of stress and tension. It throws your mind and body into anguish as you battle with nagging obsessions and intrusive thoughts. A good coping mechanism that many sufferers use to manage these effects is to practise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing techniques to centre your mind. Relaxation techniques can take many forms, including self-hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness. Relaxation techniques can involve the use of imagery, visualisation and affirmations to focus your awareness in an engaging way.
There is growing evidence that relaxation techniques can play a significant part in your overall treatment. They have the advantage of being mobile; you can practise them anywhere, whether at home, at work or just relaxed breathing when you are on the go.
If you have tried relaxation techniques and found them to have limited benefit when coping with OCD, sampling a live hypnotherapy treatment will intensify the effect. Whilst relaxation is not the overall aim of hypnotherapy, hypnotherapists who specialise in teaching breathing techniques will transform your relaxed breathing ability to another level.
Coping with OCD tip #2: Challenge Your Thoughts:
Obsessive thoughts make up half of the struggle when coping with OCD. If you are exposed to triggers, they tend to rush in almost immediately and can set off your anxiety for hours afterwards. Some OCD patients with different types of OCD for example, describe that they have intrusive thoughts about harming someone; others worry about whether they have locked their doors securely, turned off the oven, or even have paranoid scenarios about the safety of their loved ones if they are away from them.
When these thoughts perpetuate, you can feel like you are a victim of these thoughts. Managing these distressing thoughts or reducing their power, will alleviate many of the compulsions that stem from them. But, unfortunately, trying to resist these thoughts by fighting them might achieve the opposite result, as it is the lack of flexibility with these thoughts that give them their power over you. In a sense, you can end up repressing them and giving them too much importance.
Coping with OCD effectively requires techniques like exposure to these thoughts or the expression of these thoughts to deprive them of their power. For example, you can benefit by using a journal and writing your thoughts down, or typing them on your smart phone or laptop. The method is to simply write these thoughts as many times as you want or express your feelings or worry regarding them. Alternatively, you could use a daily writing period of 15 minutes specifically made for worry. To your mind, this will be a time where it can vent all that disturbs it in a “safe zone” but it’s important to stay limited by a timeframe so that constructive worrying doesn’t take over your day.
If free expression of your thoughts isn’t always effective, it is also useful to “question your thoughts”, again on paper or your “tech” device. Ask hard questions about the truth and credibility of these thoughts. Do you have evidence for their truth? Is it strong evidence? How do you know you are not wrong? And what would be a realistic understanding of the situation if you are certain?
As an additional or alternative activity, make an audio recording of your written content. Then listen to your recording, interacting with your content to vent or challenge your obsessive thoughts.
Coping with OCD tip #3: Identify Your Triggers
Your OCD compulsions and thoughts do not arise in a vacuum. They are the result of triggering cues, situations or beliefs that make the distressing compulsions necessary to please. They create doubt and worry or generate irrational fears over which you have very little control. However, whilst such triggers play this important role, many OCD patients who haven’t studied their situation well can remain oblivious to how and why certain triggers set off their symptoms.
When you are coping with OCD effectively, you are able to identify your triggers and pay attention to how they create your fears and anxiety. General examples of such triggers can be using a public toilet seat that you believe is contaminated, attending a job interview or a social meeting where you obsess about what you did wrong, or the lack of symmetry and order in certain places that you visit.
Without a good understanding of how and what affects you, you can be a constant victim of OCD. One good technique to use is to keep a notebook and record your triggers, and then rate their emotional intensity out of 10. Since the most intense are likely to give you sustained distress and severe OCD symptoms, focus on managing the lower levels to build confidence. Then gradually approach the higher levels. For example, you could focus all of your attention whilst wiping the public toilet seat so that you can be assured that it’s cleaned well enough and won’t contaminate you. If it’s a job interview that you obsess over, set moderate standards about how it can progress. This will enable you to deal with it more effectively at the interview and in your review of your performance to pre-empt your OCD symptoms from emerging.
Coping with OCD tip #4: Confront Your Fears
The next step that can give you power over your triggers is your ability to confront your fears. Of course, all OCD fears can be very distressing to you, but they are, in fact, quite illusory. You can confront your fears with graduated exposure, paced at a level that suits you. For example, a source of panic can be a dirty floor, disturbing asymmetry in objects, or a job assignment that fills you with debilitating perfectionism. Sometimes, your worst fear can be to lose control and feel contaminated, feel guilty or fear failure.
Use a grading notebook to rate your fears out of 10 and then make a plan to expose yourself to the least fearful thing in the list. When you withdraw from the fearful situation, use the relaxation techniques (from tip #1) to visualise remaining in the “fear zone”. Immerse your mind in that low level of fear, gradually allowing it to disperse without the need to physically do anything. The achievement is to keep it as a mind process, gradually noticing that the fearful emotion at these lower levels can be diminished without force.
Like many sufferers who are coping with OCD effectively, this is a highly useful practice to be able to tolerate your anxiety over time, even for your worst fears.
Coping with OCD tip #5: Do some physical activity (exercise)
The benefits of exercising are vast, and they certainly include the efficient coping with OCD symptoms. Regular exercise (with integrated rest days) can have a lasting positive effect on your susceptibility to stress and tendency to adopt negative and irrational thinking.
Following a medical health check to investigate if you have any contraindications to exercise, regular enjoyable exercise has the ability to rewire your body and mind. With enough commitment you can escape the dark pit of constant reactivity to triggers and repetitive OCD behaviours.
If you want to keep your OCD under control, take up an easy exercise plan that suits your schedule and stay committed to it. Coupled with other coping techniques, exercise will have a major role in changing your OCD symptoms for the long-term.
Coping with OCD tip #6: Talking to others about your OCD
This tip is one of the most dismissed and underrated ways to cope with OCD. While many other techniques have a direct effect on your behavioural and psychological symptoms, the act of talking about your OCD and sharing your experiences can completely reframe your attitudes to the condition.
OCD is not just a simple compulsive reaction to disturbing triggers; rather it’s a complex mental health condition where your symptoms can also thrive in the feelings of shame, lack of self-knowledge, and psychological vulnerability. In times of anxiety and obsessive thinking, for instance, you can lack realism and the psychological fortitude that talking about your condition can bring about.
Sharing your struggle and outlook on your situation with other people builds acceptance and openness to your inner world. It also fosters social belonging and the realisation that you are not alone. You may know some isolated sufferers with OCD. You will find they are more likely to engage in distorted thinking and feelings of worthlessness. These negative moods can aggravate your symptoms.
So, to step away from an isolated perspective, it is important to find friends or close individuals who make you feel safe and are interested in listening to your struggles. Some those people are probably good listeners and with an understanding of your OCD condition can follow helpful listening guidelines.
Coping with OCD tip #7: Seek effective Therapy
Research shows that Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is most effective form of treatment for treating OCD. It represents a treatment of the two forms in which OCD presents itself; recurring obsessions and connected behavioural compulsions. Research has also shown that ERP can be incorporated into other treatment modalities like hypnotherapy.
Making use of ERP therapy will address your issues at a more fundamental level, especially with the help of a therapist. ERP will challenge your believed fears using questioning techniques, exploring your over-generalisations, catastrophic thinking and other cognitive distortions. It will then focus on exposing you to your fears and developing your self-control to resist doing your compulsions. For example, if you fear contaminated toilet seats, you are helped to use a toilet seat and then to proceed without any de-contamination behaviour such as “excessive” hand or body washing. You are supported as your contamination-fears diminish. Breaking that thought/emotion-behaviour pathway is the essence of ERP.
All obsessions remain fearful and disturbing when they are not tolerated at first. For that reason ERP tries to reveal to your mind and body how the fear of the trigger is harmless and recoverable without behaviour. Initially it’s very discomforting, but the longer you stay in the presence of those situations and triggers, the more you develop the strength and flexibility to cope with them.
Coping with OCD tip #8: Explore help from your community
Other than help from your therapist, seeking out extended forms of help will complement the work that you are already doing to assist your condition. There is a huge amount of resources and mental tools to be gained from other people and communities. Ignoring that resource will slow down your progress and make your strategies limited.
Anything from joining OCD associations, finding online communities, and making friends with other OCD sufferers can boost your skills and mood to cope with OCD. Reach out and ask questions or request help from your peers and friends. Many of these individuals can share with you their practical strategies that they use to handle their own OCD, strategies that you may not have thought about before. They might also help with recommending therapists, books, or local groups to join.
You may believe that you have all of the information that you need but even the exchange of sharing your learning with others will help you reflect on aspects that are specific to your condition. Discussions can also help you analyse the process and build confidence into what makes your learning so useful.
Coping with OCD tip #9: Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Attending to other lifestyle issues will help to stabilise your anxiety and impact on your OCD. If you are constantly lacking sleep and eating unhealthily, you will be an easy prey to fatigue. Poor sleep and diet can create a cycle that thwarts the efficiency of other coping techniques.
Start first by regulating your sleep habits and making sure to “hit the bed” on time. Your 7 or 8 hours of sleep needs to be a non-negotiable part of your day, preferably starting early at night to wake up early for a fresh and clear-minded day. As for diet, have your full meals well-spread throughout the day and make sure they consist of healthy foods. With commitment, sufficient sleep and healthy eating and will give you a firm baseline which can improve your energy levels and positive moods.
Coping with OCD tip #10: Celebrate your wins and guard against relapse
In common with understanding your addiction triggers, it is often said that full recovery is only 50% of the solution and that maintaining your recovery is the other 50%. Many OCD patients fall for the mistake of thinking that once their recovery is achieved in the short term, their OCD is gone forever. However, this is a grave error as OCD is a chronic condition and can resurface if you don’t keep an eye on your routine, stress levels, and lifestyle habits.
A relapse is possible if, for example, you stop taking medication without informing your clinician. A relapse can also be common when, having partially confronted your fears and not performed any compulsions recently, your over-confidence lowers your guard and the OCD rituals gradually worm their way back into your life.
Being clear and honest about your progress helps you to pay attention to possible scenarios that can give room for OCD to reappear. In addition to this, it’s highly useful to celebrate your victories and keep progress of small achievements. Feeling proud of your consecutive wins against OCD will motivate you for your next challenges and, more importantly, remind you of the serious work that is still needed.
More information on professional treatment for OCD.