Coping with OCD – how to cope with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder facts. OCD facts
People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) often live in a state of constant anxiety and worry, which they try to control through creating rituals or habits that bring comfort. Sadly, these rituals can often bring their own problems and become dysfunctional over time. Worries of being robbed can turn into checking and rechecking locked doors, and over time, increase to an excessive scale (E.g. locking the front door 30 times). If these rituals are not performed, they can in-turn cause more anxiety and stress for the individual. Coping with OCD is often very difficult for the sufferer as the anxiety can become overwhelming and lead to struggles in their daily lives. Similar to other anxiety disorders, coping with OCD is about accepting uncertainty and working with yourself to sooth your anxiety in other ways. This page focuses on helping you cope with OCD symptoms that are mild to moderate. Symptoms that fall into the severe category are less likely to be helped by this page, as you will need more support and help from a professional. We therefore recommend that if you suffer from severe OCD symptoms seek help from a mental health care professional and avoid trying to do it all on your own.
At Barends Psychology Practice obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment is offered (also online). Go to contact us to schedule a first, free of charge, first session.(Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).
Coping with OCD – Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Understanding obsessive-compulsive disorder is an important first step to recovery. By understanding this mental disorder, it is easier to recognize the cognitive processes that lead up to certain compulsive and obsessive behaviours and to try to change them. The OCD Circle image shows why people (slowly) develop rituals over time and they stick to these rituals. Let’s explain the circle using a common example:
People have negative thoughts such as anger and guilt. I don’t want to make other people sick.
They start to obsess about them. I need to make sure other people won’t get sick because of me. What if they do?
Their tension and anxiety levels increase. People may die or get a serious illness if I am not hygienic enough.
They have a compulsive urge which (they believe) neutralizes the obsessive thoughts. I need to wash my hands with soap for about a minute in hot water.
As a result they experience a short-term reduction of anxiety and tension. My hands are clean now. I cannot make other people sick anymore.
After a short while this repeats itself, especially after they’d done something in the mean time. I opened the mail box and the mail box contains a lot of germs and bacteria. I am certain my hands are dirty. I need to wash my hands again, and longer this time, because I may have deadly bacteria on my hands
As you can see, it’s a repetitive cycle and it becomes worse over time. The moment a certain compulsive urge doesn’t reduce the tension and anxiety, it is likely that the person with OCD add something extra to the ritual. This is their way of coping with OCD. Unfortunately, this is not effective.
The OCD circle also explains why it is so difficult to stop with certain rituals and behaviours. The moment someone doesn’t perform their ritual, their anxiety and tension levels rise (or will not reduce), so there is no immediate positive feedback that this new strategy is working. Rather the contrary.
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Coping with OCD – keeping a journal.
A good way to get started with reducing the impact the OCD symptoms have on your life is by keeping track of your obsessions and compulsions. A common fear of those suffering from OCD is that the amount their obsessive thoughts and compulsions will increase, but this is not true. By keeping a journal you see how often you are actually doing something and how often you obsess over things. At the same time it becomes clear over which categories you obsess the most.
Example of journal:
Time in minutes:
Washing hands (35 times)
Checking front door (60 times)
Checking stove (25 times)
Coping with OCD – reducing obsessions and compulsions
When people obsess over things, they are afraid of that something bad may happen to them or others around them. Especially for people with OCD, a list of worst fears can be created. It’s these fears that trigger people to obsess over certain things and eventually to perform compulsive rituals. These fears are persistent and strong and can upset someone with OCD easily. Coping with OCD means reducing obsessions and compulsions either completely or to a healthy level. For those with OCD who are willing to try: take a look at your journal and see if it’s possible to reduce some of the compulsions. Instead of checking the front door 60 times, try to check the front door only 30 times a day. Do not forget to see if your worst fear came true at the end of the day. For instance, if the door was locked the next morning. If that’s the case, you know you can trust yourself and you can stick to the new compulsion: checking the front door only 30 times a day. Once you are completely used to this new standard, you can slowly reduce it even more.
Please note that this change in behaviour will increase your levels of anxiety and tension in the beginning, but after a few times you’ll most likely feel that the levels of anxiety and tension restore to the same level as they were when you needed to check the front door 60 times a day. If, however, you have the feeling you can’t deal with this elevated anxiety and tension, then please stop this behavioural experiment immediately and contact us.
Coping with OCD – Expose yourself to your fears.
Obsessing over something basically means you’re trying to stay in control over the situation. It also means that you can’t deal with this insecurity of not knowing. Obsessions won’t go away if you distract yourself from them, because they will come back and perhaps even stronger. The only way for someone to get rid of their obsessions is by facing them. We’ve already discussed the most important steps: understanding the OCD circle, keeping a journal, and reducing some compulsive behaviours. Now it’s time to start fighting those thoughts that trigger these compulsive behaviours. These obsessions are the result of some of your fears.
Face your obsessions (and thus fears) and test them. An example may be: ‘Everything I do with my left hand I need to repeat with my right hand’.
For this example we’ve listed a few example questions you can answer yourself:
What happens if you don’t repeat everything with your right hand?
How likely is it that your compulsions prevent this from happening?
Have you ever tried to not repeat everything with your right hand?
In case you did: what happened? Is there an alternative explanation for what happened?
What happens to your tension and anxiety if you do not repeat everything with your right hand?
For how long do your levels of anxiety and tension increase?
Will these increased levels of anxiety and tension stay like this forever?
Would you like to experience what happens with your levels of anxiety and tension if you do not repeat everything with your right hand?
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Instructions for when you feel like giving in to your compulsive urge:
Take a seat in a comfortable chair
Allow yourself to experience these uncomfortable feelings of tension and anxiety and guilt.
Do not act upon your compulsive urge.
Notice whether or not your feelings worsen. If they do, please keep observing.
Wait for approximately 10 minutes. Do not do anything else but to observe these feelings.
Remember: nothing bad can happen while you are sitting in this chair.
After 10-12 minutes: compared to 8 minutes before, how are you feeling now?
By now you’ll probably experience that your levels of anxiety and tension reduce.
Repeat this process every time you feel this compulsive urge to come up.
As you will notice, these feelings of anxiety and tension come and go, even if you do not act upon them. By practicing more and more, you’ll see that these intense feelings of anxiety and tension will reduce significantly.