The symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be overwhelming and get in the way of living your life. It’s easy to feel helpless.
The good news is that even if you’re just getting started learning how to treat OCD, there are habits and practices you can use to lessen anxiety and manage your OCD stress.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment, accepting your experience without judgment or the need to escape it. You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere. All you have to do is notice and observe your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge that they exist and will pass, like a car driving by on the street outside, and that you don’t have to act on your feelings for them to go away on their own.
Don’t expect it to be easy right away. Acknowledging your thoughts without acting on them is easier said than done, especially with OCD. Find a practice that feels good to you, whether that’s meditation, yoga or something else entirely. Eventually, your OCD mindfulness practice will become easier and feel more natural.
Exercise is an effective way of fighting OCD stress and anxiety. It helps to refocus your mind when intrusive thoughts and compulsions arise.
Experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once. In fact, three 10-minute sessions of mindful exercise is much better than one 30-minute session of distracted jogging or bicycling.
It’s possible to exercise and still be ruminating on something distressing, but it’s possible to exercise and still be ruminating on something distressing, but as you continue to practice mindfulness you may find that upsetting thoughts and ideas fade into the background more easily.
Like exercise, sleep is an anxiety antidote. Unfortunately, good sleep can be elusive for people with OCD, who have higher rates of insomnia than the general population.
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Intrusive thoughts can keep you awake long into the night, robbing you of the precious shut-eye you need to fight anxious moments the next day. Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your OCD symptoms and get better sleep. For example:
Pay attention to what techniques work for you and build your bedtime routine accordingly.
When you have OCD, especially when you’re just learning to manage it, self-medication can be tempting. Many people turn to alcohol and nicotine, substances that have a false reputation for calming and actually worsen OCD symptoms. Alcohol feels like it relaxes you at first, but as it wears off it increases your anxiety levels. Nicotine is a stimulant from the get-go and will exacerbate your OCD symptoms.
OCD symptoms can sometimes be so intense that they take over your day-to-day life and keep you isolated from family and friends. Isolation can make OCD symptoms worse, so make sure you prioritize time with people you care about.
It’s okay and even helpful to talk about your OCD experiences with supportive friends. Just be careful not to ask over and over for reassurance. Excessive reassurance seeking is a common pattern in people with OCD, and while it seems harmless at first, it gets in the way of your ability to manage your symptoms independently.
OCD is a vicious cycle. It hijacks your brain and convinces you that you can only handle intrusive thoughts by doing compulsive rituals. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy helps you learn otherwise, which is why it’s the first-line treatment for people with OCD.
In ERP therapy, you explore your obsessions, avoidances and compulsions with a therapist and set goals for what you want to be able to do despite your OCD symptoms. You and your therapist then design exposure exercises to help you face your fears, starting with the least distressing. You practice working your way through scary situations without turning to avoidance or compulsive rituals. In time, your anxiety decreases and you learn how to healthily respond to triggers instead of letting OCD run the show.
Therapy is the most important tool in your OCD management arsenal. At NOCD, we can match you with a licensed ERP therapist who can help you to develop a personalized strategy and plan. All it takes is a 15-minute call to get started.
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