Jokes of “I’m so OCD!” may materialize when a friend apologetically swipes away a water ring from her kitchen island. But for many people, obsessive-compulsive disorder is no laughing matter. It’s a serious mental health condition that deserves care, compassion, and treatment to manage each day.
OCD’s impact on individuals can be as mild as underlying repetitive thoughts that lay below the surface. However, others suffer from uncontrollable urges to complete tasks, often repeatedly, no matter how disruptive. Even if the person facing OCD intellectually knows that the compulsion is unnecessary or unrealistic, the urge overtakes logic. If your OCD is negatively impacting your life, there are steps you can take to manage your condition.
1. Explore Medication Options
As a person diagnosed with OCD, you may understand that your compulsions are often out of your control. No matter how hard you try, logic and reason don’t always compel you to resist your urges. That’s why getting mental health treatment is so important. While acknowledging your diagnosis and triggers is monumental, it’s doing something about it with expert support that matters.
The first step to managing your condition is to acknowledge and accept what you know about yourself. OCD isn’t you, and you aren’t your OCD diagnosis. What you are is an individual who is willing to make strides toward understanding and managing OCD. Impacting over 2.5 million adults, and three times as many women as men, you aren’t alone. Some people experience symptoms in childhood, but most individuals are diagnosed in adulthood.
Medication can help reduce compulsions by increasing serotonin in the brain through selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. Serotonin is often referred to as a “feel good” chemical and can help improve focus, emotional stability, and cognition. This medication takes time to build up in your body, so work with your provider to develop a treatment plan.
2. Commit to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Medication alone may not be enough to wrangle your OCD symptoms. Learning more about why your compulsions exist, what triggers you, and how to manage your condition is essential. Just like you’d learn about your career field, creative pursuit, or sport, so too should you learn about your brain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is more than just talk therapy. CBT helps you learn how to work through the situations that put your OCD into overdrive. Through exposure to feared events or situations, individuals learn how to work through them, learning coping skills in a safe environment. The experience can be especially draining, but your commitment to the process can help you manage your symptoms.
You and your therapist will develop an exposure plan using evidence-based guidelines. Starting first with in-office exposure and situations, you’ll gradually move toward more intense situations. Once you’ve made progress in a closed environment, you’ll advance into situations at home and eventually in public. Over time, you’ll be better equipped to manage your OCD, no matter what life throws at you.
3. Garner Support from Loved Ones
Experiencing life with a mental health issue alone can be excruciating. That’s why it’s important to share your diagnosis, experience, and treatment plan with those you love and trust. It’s up to you to decide how much to share and with who. However, going it alone can make challenging days with OCD even worse.
Consider the people you interact with daily, and set aside time to talk when your symptoms are at bay. Break the ice by letting them know that you’re going to share something personal, so they understand where you’re coming from. Share why they’re going to learn this information about you and why you trust them with it. This approach can help them arrive in the right headspace, ready to listen and learn from you.
Once you’ve shared the news of your diagnosis, tell them about what you’re doing to manage it. While you don’t have to give them the rundown of your medical chart, sharing your treatment plan can be therapeutic. If your provider has made you aware of ways others can support your treatment, ask for your loved one’s consideration. Sometimes, this is simply understanding what life with OCD is like. Other times, it’s serving as a sounding board or alert of triggering situations, all of which can help you cope.
Life With OCD Can Be Managed
On your worst day, OCD can overrun your existence. But with the right medication protocol, therapy, and support from people in your circle, you can thrive. What’s important to remember is that you are in control – not your OCD. Stay in tune with your body and track your symptoms, feelings, and treatment in your planner. Review your log for patterns and discuss your findings with your care team.
As you navigate life with OCD, pay attention to how you’ve learned to identify triggers and manage them. Create routines that support your treatment plan like taking your medication at the same time and committing to consistent therapy. Over time, you’ll fine-tune your management plan with your support team and treatment plan. And when your condition is well-managed, you can focus on enjoying life, in the moment, without the compulsions of OCD.