Managing OCD in College

By Keara Valentine
4 min read
managing ocd in college

Any new setting or situation can exacerbate obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms, but it is often most evident in college. In this exciting, yet stressful environment, students who previously managed their OCD may once again begin to struggle, particularly if they’ve left their support system behind. Others may just begin to notice the signs of OCD as they take on new academic and social challenges. For many, college provides the perfect opportunity to begin tackling diagnosis and treatment.

Whether you’ve already been diagnosed with OCD or suspect you have the condition, you can take solace in knowing that it’s possible to thrive in college even as you deal with a variety of complicated symptoms. In fact, the symptom management skills you develop during this time will prepare you for the many additional challenges you’ll encounter as you enter the workplace. 

These suggestions will help you manage OCD in college.

Seek therapy and digital support early on

Whether you have been diagnosed with OCD before or are just beginning your treatment journey, it is always the right time for therapy. Whether you are in crisis, managing acute symptoms, or engaging in relapse prevention, it can be helpful to connect with resources at your school as early as possible. The sooner you get a sense of on-campus and online resources, the more support you’ll enjoy as you navigate the ins and outs of college. Then, when new difficulties arise, you’ll already have an advocate in your corner.

The therapeutic approach you try during college may depend on your access to professionals and your treatment history. Many college students report success with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which involves gradual exposure to triggering situations. 

Over time, ERP therapists encourage more intense exposure, until even the most nerve-wracking situations feel manageable. Some people also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves identifying and correcting problematic thoughts or behaviors.

In addition to one-on-one therapy, consider joining a support group if it’s available. It can help to know that you aren’t alone — and the students you meet in your support group can give you valuable insight into available resources or symptom management strategies.

If on-campus support groups are unavailable, try a virtual alternative. Many excellent groups can be found through social media or can even be enjoyed via videoconferencing apps. Discussion boards can also be a great source of comfort if you prefer a more anonymous approach.

Work on sleep hygiene

OCD can both trigger and be exacerbated by sleep deprivation, which is far too common among college students. Unfortunately, parties, all-night study sessions and general stress make it difficult to get a solid night’s sleep.

To encourage quality sleep, opt for as regular a schedule as you can arrange. Try your best to fall asleep and wake up at approximately the same times each day. If you have a roommate, work together to develop a basic schedule for quiet time and lights out. When you’re ready for bed, set your smartphone aside and read a book or listen to soothing music instead.

Practice mindfulness

A growing body of research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions may play a valuable role in managing OCD — especially in stress-heavy environments that tend to exacerbate the condition. Experts believe that mindfulness can contribute to better results while you undergo common therapeutic practices like CBT or ERP.

Mindfulness can be integrated into several aspects of your daily life as a college student. For example, if your school’s fitness center offers yoga or meditation classes, consider signing up. Otherwise, simply dedicating a few minutes each day to deep breathing can make a difference.

Record your symptoms

Your OCD symptoms may shift over time — and with them, the management tactics that work best. Awareness will help you understand which aspects of the college environment tend to trigger OCD symptoms. Given your busy and often chaotic schedule, however, you may not be in tune with your most concerning thoughts or behaviors. 

A journal or smartphone app dedicated to recording symptoms may help. Consistency is key, but even occasional notes will give you a sense of emerging patterns. Take note when you observe:

  • Obsessive thoughts or ruminations that interfere with your studying or social life.
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drug or alcohol use.
  • Insomnia that you suspect is primarily driven by OCD.
  • Compulsive behaviors that involve cleaning, counting or checking.

OCD can bring extra challenges to the college experience, but it doesn’t have to dominate your life. With ERP therapy, a healthy lifestyle, and a strong support system, you can manage your symptoms and make the most of your college years.

There’s no need to go it alone. You’ll find the support you need with the ERP-trained therapists of NOCD. If you’re ready to get started, contact us today.

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Keara Valentine
WRITTEN BYKeara Valentine