8 Tips for Living With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN on June 16, 2020
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    Coping With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
    At any given time, nearly 3 million American adults are living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a mental health condition marked by intrusive thoughts and repetitive behavior that can interfere with daily life. OCD is a chronic condition; there’s no cure, but there’s a lot you can do to minimize the power of obsessions and compulsions. Learn more about managing OCD symptoms, coping with OCD effects, and available obsessive-compulsive disorder treatments, such as keeping an OCD symptom journal.
  • Young Caucasian man talking to middle aged female Caucasian therapist in outdoor setting
    1. Seek professional help.
    Only a trained professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist can diagnose obsessive-compulsive disorder. An accurate diagnosis is the first step toward appropriate treatment that can alleviate your symptoms.

    Approximately 70% of people with OCD will notice significant improvement with medical treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy and/or prescription medicine. It may take time to find the best treatment (or combination of treatments) for you. Your healthcare provider will work with you to find an effective treatment plan.
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    2. Use an OCD symptom journal to track triggers.
    Becoming aware of your intrusive thoughts and reactions can help you eventually modify your response. Keep track of your symptoms and triggers, or events that stimulate obsessive thoughts or compulsive behavior. Record when these occur, as well as what you’re feeling (tired? hungry? overwhelmed?) at that point in time. This information can help you notice patterns—and help your therapist better understand your OCD experience.

    You can download or buy OCD diaries and symptom journals online or create your own.
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    3. Get moving!
    Regular physical exercise has been proven to improve mood and reduce anxiety. Incorporate movement throughout your day and schedule time for exercise, particularly activities that get the heart pumping. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “aerobic exercise is a key complimentary intervention that can work to improve the quality of life for people with OCD.”

    Walking, biking, dancing and sports are all good options. Outdoor exercise may be particularly beneficial.
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    4. Join a support group.
    It’s easy to feel alone in your experience. A support group can connect you with others who understand and appreciate your challenges. Support groups are also great places to learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorder and local treatment options. You’ll learn additional tips for living with OCD as well.

    Support groups are also available for family and friends of those with OCD.

    The International OCD Foundation maintains a list of OCD support groups, including online and phone options.
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    5. Stay busy.
    It’s easier for intrusive thoughts to sneak in and take up brain space if you’re not actively engaging your brain and body. Deliberately planning activities—including hobbies, work, home projects, and time with friends and family—can help you maintain focus throughout the day. According to NAMI, “simply doing other tasks helps keep your mind away from obsessions and compulsions.”

    You don’t have to pre-plan every minute of the day, but a loose schedule of activity can increase your overall quality of life.
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    6. Avoid drugs and alcohol.
    Street drugs and alcoholic beverages can temporarily silence obsessive thoughts and ease the pain of OCD, but regular substance use can quickly become problematic. According to an article in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, approximately 25% of people who seek OCD treatment also meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. Oftentimes, people who develop OCD symptoms as children or teenagers begin using drugs and alcohol to cope with their intrusive thoughts and fear, before they even realize their symptoms suggest a treatable mental health disorder.
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    7. Follow your OCD treatment plan.
    Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic condition. If you take prescription medicine to manage OCD symptoms, keep taking the medicine as prescribed, even if your intrusive thoughts seem to disappear. Suddenly stopping your medicine can lead to unpleasant physical effects, such headaches, insomnia and nausea, and the return of OCD symptoms and increased anxiety.

    Do not stop taking your medicine or alter your dose without first consulting your healthcare provider.
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    8. Don’t give up on treatment.
    It takes time for OCD treatment to work. Cognitive behavioral therapy can take weeks or months. If you are newly diagnosed with OCD and starting on medication, it’s helpful to know that prescription medications aren’t immediately effective either. It typically takes weeks of daily medication before consistent improvement is noted.

    Unfortunately, that means you may need to invest weeks to determine if a particular treatment is effective for you. Invest the time. If one treatment doesn’t work, go back to your doctor. Another treatment option may give you the relief you deserve.
8 Tips for Living With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men. Most recently, she is the author ofThe First-Time Mom's Guide to Raising Boys: Practical Advice for Your Son's Formative Years.
  1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/obsessivecompulsivedisorder.html
  2. What is OCD? OCD Foundation https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/?adfree=true
  4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Obsessive-compulsive-Disorder
  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.shtml
  6. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts Take Over. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-when-unwanted-thoughts-take-over/index.shtml
  7. Mancebo M, Grant J, Pinto A, et al. Substance use disorders in an obsessive-compulsive disorder clinical sample. J Anxiety Disord. 2009;23(4):429-435. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2008.08.008. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2705178/
  8. Antidepressant Withdrawal: Is There Such a Thing? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressant-withdrawal/faq-20058133
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jun 12
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.