Ever missed out on something because your OCD decided it was in charge for the moment, hour, or even the whole day? Yeah, us too. In fact, most of us already know what it’s like to feel as if our day-to-day life is ruled by OCD.
If you've ever been too distracted by obsessions or compulsions to focus on a good book or enjoy a cup of coffee, then you know what it's like to have life's simple pleasures robbed by OCD. Repetition and predictability are integral to a sense of security and groundedness in our daily lives, but when OCD hijacks these choices, usually, more obsessions follow.
What if we could turn the tables? What if, instead of OCD “choosing” rituals that ultimately lead to increased anxiety, we could make healthy choices to integrate productive daily habits and rituals, which could help control and mitigate rather than contribute to OCD?
Clinicians like Alison Bested, MD, and Richard Brown, PhD, are asking some important questions about our daily habits – specifically how our eating and exercise routines affect mental disorders like OCD, including treatment-resistant cases.
Dr. Brown, clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, chose a sample group of fifteen patients currently receiving therapy, medication, or both, who showed significant OCD symptoms despite treatment. He enrolled the patients in a twelve-week aerobic exercise program, and monitored OCD symptoms throughout the trial. At the end of the twelve-week trial, Dr. Brown noted a clinically significant reduction in symptoms. He then re-tested the patients three weeks, six weeks, and six months after the trial had ended, and noted a sustained decrease in OCD symptoms– even though the patients were no longer participating in monitored exercise routines.
In the words of Lena Dunham, who openly struggles with OCD, it can be “mad annoying when people tell… those struggling with anxiety, OCD, [and/or] depression...to exercise.” We get that. Adding exercise into your daily routine probably won’t make your OCD go away, and it doesn’t guarantee a decrease in symptoms, either. But making exercise a part of your daily routine – in addition to practicing ERP, or taking an SSRI if prescribed by your doctor, or both - might still be worth a try.
Even dedicating just a few minutes per day can lead to results. Justin Strickland at the University of Kentucky thinks strength training is the most effective way to treat anxiety through exercise, noting that “resistance training at a low-to-moderate intensity produces the most reliable and robust decreases in anxiety.” That doesn’t mean you need a fancy gym or strict workout regimen to see benefits – here are some exercises that require zero equipment and only nine minutes of your day. If working this routine into your daily schedule helps decrease your OCD symptoms, you might save a lot more than nine minutes per day in the long run!
The way we eat matters, too. The link between gastrointestinal and mental health dates back all the way to 1933, when clinical psychiatrist Joseph Kilman suggested in Psychiatric Quarterly: “We feel justified in recognizing the existence of cases of mental disorders which have as a basic etiological factor a toxic condition arising in the gastrointestinal tract.”
Alison Bested, MD, would probably agree. Dr. Bested is making the gastrointestinal relevant with her research on correlations between dietary choices, gut health, and mental health. She and her team noted that a diet rich in fermented foods, leafy greens, and probiotics can lead to decreased anxiety and depression as well as decreased intestinal permeability, which she correlates to mental health.
Have you noticed any correlation between your physical and mental health? Have you incorporated any routines into your daily life that have decreased your OCD symptoms? Let us know in our new community feature in our free app, available to download here!