Updated: Sep 8
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions) that can significantly impact an individual's daily life.
While OCD can be challenging to live with, there are coping strategies and support systems available that can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Let’s explore various techniques and tips for living with OCD.
What Is OCD?
OCD is a mental health condition characterized by recurring thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions) that significantly impact an individual's daily life. People with OCD often experience intense and intrusive thoughts or images that cause anxiety and distress. These thoughts are difficult to control and can be unwanted, irrational, or even contrary to an individual's values or beliefs.
Obsessions are persistent and unwanted thoughts, impulses, or images that repeatedly occur in a person's mind. These obsessions can revolve around various themes such as cleanliness, orderliness, symmetry, aggression, sexuality, religion, fear of contamination, or a need for reassurance. Examples of obsessions include excessive worry about germs, a fear of causing harm to oneself or others, or concerns about making mistakes.
Compulsions, on the other hand, are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that individuals with OCD feel compelled to perform in response to their obsessions. These compulsions are often engaged in to prevent or reduce anxiety, even though they may not logically be connected to the feared outcome. Common compulsions include excessive handwashing, repeated checking of locks or appliances, counting, arranging objects in a particular way, neutralizing or trying to get rid of thoughts, or seeking reassurance from others.
People living with OCD typically engage in these compulsive behaviours as a way to temporarily alleviate their anxiety or distress caused by their obsessions. However, these behaviours provide only temporary relief and often lead to a cycle of obsessions and compulsions that can consume significant amounts of time and energy, interfere with daily functioning, and disrupt relationships.
Coping Strategies for Living With OCD
One of the most effective treatments for OCD is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), including an approach called exposure and response prevention (ERP). ERP involves gradually exposing individuals to their obsessions and helping them resist the urge to engage in compulsions. CBT helps individuals identify and challenge irrational thoughts and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is also an evidence-based treatment approach for OCD. This approach can be particularly helpful for so-called pure “O” OCD subtypes as it provides specific skills and strategies for learning how to relate to thoughts and internal experiences in a more helpful way.
In some cases, medication may be prescribed alongside therapy to manage OCD symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed as they can help reduce the intensity of obsessions and compulsions. It is important to consult with a psychiatrist or your doctor to determine the most appropriate medication and dosage.
Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques
Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully present and engaged in the current moment without judgment or attachment to thoughts, emotions, or external circumstances. It is a state of active awareness and acceptance of one's experiences, both internal and external, as they arise.
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help individuals with OCD develop an awareness of their thoughts and emotions without judgment. These techniques can assist in reducing anxiety and enhancing overall well-being. Although relaxation skills do not treat OCD per se, they can help by reducing your baseline anxiety and therefore making it less likely that you will experience OCD symptoms. Mindfulness practices can help with OCD symptoms more directly as they enable you to develop a new relationship with your OCD and learn to not engage in compulsive behaviours. In fact, mindfulness-based approaches such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for OCD have recently been developed to provide a fully mindfulness-based treatment approach for OCD. Whether you learn mindfulness skills as part of a structured approach or as a supportive practice, mindfulness can be an invaluable tool in OCD treatment.
Exercise and Physical Activity
Engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. Exercise helps reduce stress, increase endorphin levels, and improve overall mood, which can be beneficial for individuals with OCD. It is worth noting that with OCD, almost anything can become a compulsion, including exercise. Therefore, it is important to maintain an awareness of this risk and ensure that the habits you engage in are being driven by what’s important to you; not anxiety and OCD.
A Note on Coping Skills
In general OCD treatment requires more than learning coping skills. Treating OCD requires learning how to not engage in compulsive behaviours which reinforce obsessive thoughts, setting off incredibly challenges OCD loops and behaviours. Additionally all coping skills run the risk of getting hijacked by OCD to the point that you may find yourself engaging in something that is supposed to be a coping skill (i.e. mindfulness meditation) but rather than do it because you want to be doing it, are doing it because you NEED to do it, or because OCD is telling you to do it. OCD is a tricky, nefarious, and challenging disorder that shows up in ways that can be subtle and insidious. That being said, if coping skills and used as a support and do not turn into rigid compulsions, they can make the lives of people with OCD easier and put you in a better position to be able to effectively engage in treatment approaches such as exposure and response prevention (ERP) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
Support Systems for Living With OCD
Joining a support group for individuals with OCD can be incredibly beneficial. Sharing experiences, insights, and coping strategies with others who understand can provide a sense of belonging and support. Support groups can be found online or through local mental health organizations for OCD such as the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF).
Family and Friends
Building a strong support network with family and friends is crucial. Educating loved ones about OCD and how it affects you can help them provide understanding, empathy, and support during difficult times. Involving family and friends in your OCD treatment is also important as family members can often unintentionally reinforce OCD behaviours. When family and friends are involved in treatment they can better help you identify whether your OCD is activated and support you in engaging in the hard work of OCD treatments including exposure and response prevention (ERP). The Family Guide to Getting Over OCD by Jonathan Abramowitz is an excellent guide and supportive resource for family members of someone with OCD.
Seeking professional help from therapists, psychiatrists, or counsellors who specialize in OCD can provide invaluable guidance and support. These professionals can assist in developing personalized treatment plans and provide a safe space to discuss challenges and progress.
The internet offers a wealth of information and resources for individuals living with OCD. Websites, forums, and online communities dedicated to OCD can provide a platform for education, sharing stories, and connecting with others who have similar experiences. Although care and diligence should be utilized to ensure that you are finding information from reputable sites, such as the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), knowledge is power. The more that you can learn about OCD the more you can recognize how it shows up in your life. In addition, it can be incredibly validating to learn and recognize your OCD symptoms as described by others. This is especially the case for OCD subtypes that are not commonly spoken about including Pedophilia OCD, Harm OCD, and any other OCD subtype that results in paralyzing shame, fear, and worry about other people learning about thoughts that you have had.
Prioritizing self-care is essential for individuals with OCD. Engaging in activities that bring joy, practicing relaxation techniques, and setting boundaries are all important aspects of self-care. It is vital to remember that taking care of oneself is not selfish but necessary for managing OCD effectively. We are particularly vulnerable to OCD symptoms in the midst of increasing stress, sleep deprivation, and other life challenges. The better we can take care of ourselves, the better position we are in to managing OCD.
Find Support With a Trusted OCD Therapist in Toronto
Learning how to live with OCD can be challenging, but with the right coping strategies and support systems, individuals can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. It is important to remember that treatment approaches may vary for each person, and finding what works best requires patience and persistence.
By utilizing coping strategies such as psychotherapy, medication, mindfulness techniques, and building a support system through support groups, family, and professionals, individuals with OCD can find relief and support. Remember, you are not alone, and help is available.
If you’re looking for an OCD therapist in Toronto, Shlomo Radcliffe & Associates is here to help. Our therapists can provide you with effective psychotherapy approaches for OCD including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and exposure and response prevention (ERP) so that you can start taking your life back from OCD. Contact us today to learn more.