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Coping With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Care

Dr. Yvette Stupart is a clinical counselor and educator. She gives insights on how to experience emotional health and relational well-being.

Frequent handwashing is one of the compulsive symptoms of OCD.

Frequent handwashing is one of the compulsive symptoms of OCD.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic condition involving uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts called obsessions, and repetitive, ritualized behaviors known as compulsions. When these obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors become excessive, they interfere with people's daily life.

Anxiety is a major feature in OCD, and people with the condition, have a sense that something awful is going to happen. For example, a person with this condition might feel the need to check if the door is locked. This could be a perfectly normal feeling; however, what is abnormal for an OCD sufferer is the persistent feeling that he or she must follow the urge—and if not, anxiety immediately follows.

The age of onset usually begins before 25 years and is typically earlier in females than males. Children and adolescents also suffer from the condition, which usually starts at around ten years.

The "Family and Genetic Studies Research of OCD," conducted by Dr. Gerald Nestadt at the John Hopkins University, indicates that the incidence of this condition is six times higher among populations who have a family member with OCD, as compared to a control group. There is also some evidence that other anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), are more common in populations who have a family member with OCD.

The Effects of OCD on Families

Symtons of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD Symptoms

The symptoms of this condition involve both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, which could vary with different people. For the obsessive symptoms, these are upsetting uncontrollable thoughts, images and impulses. The following are some obsessive symptoms:1

  1. Fear of contamination, for example, fear of germs, body fluids
  2. Persistent unwanted thoughts, for example, forbidden sexual thoughts, and images
  3. Fear of losing control, for example, fear of harming self or others
  4. Perfectionism, for example, concern about evenness and exactness
  5. Religious inhibitions, for example, has excessive concerns about what is right or wrong, or morality
  6. Persistent fear that something terrible is going to happen.
Repeated thoughts, images and impulses flood your mind

Repeated thoughts, images and impulses flood your mind

Compulsive Symptoms

Compulsive symptoms are those behaviors that a person is driven to perform repeatedly. Usually, these behaviors are attempts to get rid of the disturbing obsessive thoughts. Compulsive symptoms include:

  1. Frequent hand-washing and showering
  2. Constantly cleaning and ordering objects
  3. Repeatedly checking for potential hazards, for example, checking lights, stove, and doors to make sure they are turned off or closed
  4. Performs certain routine activity repeatedly, such as sitting and getting up from a chair
  5. Constantly checking, for example, checking that nothing bad happens, or that he or she did make a mistake
  6. Hoarding things such as newspapers or empty containers resulting in significant clutter.

Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Treatment Methods

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is a chronic anxiety disorder that affects people worldwide, but effective treatment and help are available

OCD affects approximately 3 percent of people worldwide. It is characterized by obsessions, which include recurring thoughts and images that cause a high level of anxiety. There are also compulsions which involve the urge to repeat behaviors, for example, washing hands many times.

Coping with OCD can be challenging, and many people with OCD delay getting treatment, even where it is available. According to the International OCD Foundation, this delay is due largely to people trying to hide their symptoms, assuming that there is no treatment available, or getting the wrong diagnosis from health professionals.

There are a number of treatments options for OCD, but you will need to first talk to your doctor to rule out physical causes for your symptoms. He or she will then refer you to a mental health professional, to get proper diagnosis and treatment.

OCD is usually treated with psychotherapy, medication, or with both. In addition, implementing several coping strategies, and taking care of yourself, could markedly improve your quality of life.

Treating OCD: Using Exposure and Response Technique

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Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy2 that is especially useful for treating OCD. CBT techniques include cognitive restructuring, psycho-education, and relaxation techniques.

Cognitive restructuring techniques are used to challenge OCD patients to see the obsessive compulsive symptoms from a different point of view. It teaches them a different way of thinking and reacting to situations, which help them to be less anxious.

Through psycho-education OCD sufferers, get accurate information about the symptoms associated with OCD. With this understanding they are better able to cope with obsessive and compulsive symptoms.

CBT is usually combined with another type of therapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP), which helps to reduce compulsive behaviors in OCD. Exposure includes techniques such desensitization and flooding, where patients are exposed gradually or rapidly to situations that evoke obsessions or compulsions.

Response prevention involves preventing ritualistic thoughts and avoidance behavior. It helps the patient not to engage in the unhelpful coping strategies. So this reduces obsessive thoughts and performing compulsive behaviors by people with OCD.

According to Stanford Medicine,3 the only form of psychotherapy has been found in multiple trials to be effective in treating OCD. The article outlines steps to pursue a formal application of the intervention as follows:

  1. Explain the basis of the approach to treatment and patient must agree to tolerate the discomfort of not performing the ritual.
  2. Show patient the relationship between the compulsions and environmental events.
  3. Record what the patient avoids to prevent anxiety.
  4. Examine in depth the thoughts, images and impulses that increase anxiety or compulsions.
  5. Create a hierarchy of compulsions and things the patient avoids starting with what causes the least anxiety then moving to the one that causes the most anxiety.
  6. Design written homework for exposure in vivo (real exposure to feared stimulus) with response prevention.

The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focusing on exposure and response prevention strategies. The authors combine mindfulness activities with CBT that people suffering from OCD can practice on their own at home.

The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD


Various types of medication4 are used to treat OCD with varying levels of success. The most commonly prescribed medications for OCD are anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants.

Antidepressants are particularly helpful for OCD, if patient show signs of depression. The drugs not only alleviate depression but also decrease ritualistic behaviors. However, some patients report adverse reactions or side effects to some of these drugs such as, headache, nausea or difficulty sleeping.

Make sure you talk to your doctor about the treatment that is best suited for you. Monitoring of the effectiveness of medications and their side effect on your level of functioning is also important.

Living with OCD - Elizabeth McIngvale’s Story

OCD Coping Strategies: Promote your Self-care

Even if you are getting help for OCD, there are things you need to do to assist you to effectively cope. In the video, Elizabeth McIngvale shares her journey with OCD. She emphasizes the need for proper self-care and having positive goals.

Like Elizabeth, if you have OCD you might need not only to be a part of a support group but also to ensure that you enjoy time with family and friends. Aim to get balance in your life, take good care of yourself, and improve your well-being to enjoy a fulfilling life.

1. Learn About OCD

It is important that you understand the facts about OCD, for example, being able to identify the triggers that bring on your obsessions and compulsions. You could use an Obsessive Fear Monitoring Form, to help you observe these patterns. Knowledge of the symptoms of the disorder empowers you and is likely to motivate you to continue treatment.

You need healthy, supportive relationships to give you the encouragement and affirmation you need..

You need healthy, supportive relationships to give you the encouragement and affirmation you need..

2. Become Involved in a Support Network

Attend a support group for people with OCD. Involvement in such a group instils hope and helps you to feel that you are not alone. You can get explanation and suggestions about the symptoms of OCD, and learn from one another how to tackle problems.

Build your relationships including those in your family and at work. Good relationships are important to your well-being as this give you a sense of belonging and of being a part of a nurturing group. Here, you can share your thoughts and feelings, and gain mutual understanding and encouragement

3. Keep Focused on Your Priorities

Develop a routine that will improve your life, and frame goals to promote positive outcomes. Make up your mind to commit to your goals, keep motivated to move forward in your recovery program. Determine why your goals are important, this will help you to keep on track. Take small steps, and make the effort to stick to your treatment, and manage your condition.

4. Promote Your Self-Care

Take care of yourself; improve your spiritual, physical, mental, and social well-being through identifying your priorities and needs. Begin by structuring your time, and developing routines that are most suitable for you. For example, manage your time well, by planning your day's activities,

Be sure to get adequate amount of sleep, and eat well-balanced meals. You can begin by making small changes in your diet over time. Be sure to get involved in regular physical activity, such as, starting to exercise with a friend, which could give you the encouragement you need.

Learn and practice stress management techniques. For example, learn to relax, by using calm breathing techniques.5 Begin by taking slow and gentle breaths, breathing in through your nose, pause, and then breathing out through your mouth. You can also learn muscle relaxation to lower tension, stress and anxiety levels.

Find time to engage in prayer, meditation, and reading inspirational books. Find purpose in your life, start getting involved in helping others, and moving forward with your life.

Key Points to Remember

The obsessions and compulsions that people with OCD experience cause noticeable distress, are time-consuming, and could considerably interfere with their life. OCD can be a debilitating condition if left untreated. This means various aspects of OCD sufferers' lives could be negatively impacted, including social, career, and family functioning.

However, if you are experiencing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, you can get professional help to cope effectively with the problems. Along with the correct treatment for OCD, you will need to take specific steps to improve your spiritual, physical, mental, and social well-being.

References and Further Reading

1. International OCD Foundation (2012). "What is OCD?" Accessed May 30, 2013.

2. OCD Center of Los Angeles (n.d.). "OCD Treatment: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy." Accessed April 3, 2017.

3. Stanford Medicine (2017). "Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders." Accessed March 25, 2017.

4. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide (2006). "Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder." Accessed October 21, 2013.

5. AnxietyBC (n.d.). "Self-Help: Managing Your OCD at Home." Accessed October 21, 2013.

Gerald Nestadt (n.d.). Family Genetic Studies of OCD. Accessed May 30, 2013.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2013 Yvette Stupart PhD


Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on April 16, 2014:

Thanks for your comments CraftytotheCore. With respect to your son, according to Autistic Spectrum Disorders Fact Sheet:

"Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a common comorbid condition with autism and Aspergers syndrome because of the tendency to become fixated and obsessive over certain ideas, objects and activities. As a rough rule of thumb, a child or adult may be diagnosed when life is seriously disrupted by obsessive thoughts and/or compulsions."

CraftytotheCore on April 16, 2014:

I think this article is very helpful. My son displays characterists of OCD at times. He has Autism and does have anxiety issues. When he is nervous or upset, he often says things repeatedly or he'll open/shut doors nonstop. I have to intervene and find out what's triggering the episode until he eventually calms himself. It's very sad to watch him go through this and the meds he is on don't always help.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on February 25, 2014:

You are welcome MsDora. OCD is a psychological disorder, and the treatment approach is usually cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or both. In addition, there are steps the person can take to cope better with the condition.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 23, 2013:

Thank you for this breakdown on the topic. Very useful information on treatments and coping strategies. I wonder if it is possible for someone to just come to terms with their situation and quit, like it sometimes happen with drug or other kinds of addiction. Just wondering.

Yvette Stupart PhD (author) from Jamaica on October 22, 2013:

Thanks FlourishAnyWay. Yes, there are many compulsive behaviors that are common features of OCD in terms of cleaning, repeating, collecting and checking. Response prevention helps to stop the performance of these compulsive behaviors.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 21, 2013:

Very nice job on this hub, as I think it will be helpful to many people. I have seen the sad effects of compulsive hand washing, ordering, "collecting," and other such behavior in others. It is usually pretty obvious (to those other than the target individual) when symptoms interfere with one's lifestyle, but the individual often remains unconvinced. Voting up and more.

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