OCD is an anxiety disorder and involves obsessive thoughts (e.g. my children will get sick if I don’t wash my hands) and compulsive actions (e.g. washing hands excessively often). Areas of life where OCD may appear are cleanliness, hoarding, sexual issues and continuous checking.

Signs of OCD are:

Obsessive thoughts and fears

Repeating the same activity in a particular way

Experiencing relief after completing the activity, followed by a building need to repeat it

Repeated behaviours interfering with normal life (e.g. work and visiting family)

What can be done?

OCD behaviours may be a source of shame for some, which can delay treatment seeking. There is a range of treatments to help people with anxiety and OCD learn how to control the condition. Medication, counselling and social support may be helpful as well as relaxation training. There is lots of support to help and improve your quality of life.

Some self-help tips include:

Identifying your triggers. The first step to managing your OCD symptoms is to recognise the triggers—the thoughts or situations—that bring on your obsessions and compulsions. Record a list of the triggers you experience each day and the obsessions they provoke. Rate the intensity of the fear or anxiety you experienced in each situation and then the compulsions or mental strategies you used to ease your anxiety.

Learning to resist OCD compulsions. It might seem smart to avoid the situations that trigger your obsessive thoughts, but the more you avoid them, the scarier they feel. Conversely, by repeatedly exposing yourself to your OCD triggers, you can learn to resist the urge to complete your compulsive rituals. This is known as exposure and response prevention (ERP) and is a mainstay of professional therapy for OCD. ERP requires you to expose yourself to the source of your obsession repeatedly—and then refrain from the compulsive behaviour you’d usually perform to reduce your anxiety.

Challenging obsessive thoughts. As with resisting compulsions, you can overcome disturbing, obsessive thoughts by learning to tolerate them through exposure and response prevention exercises. It’s also important to remind yourself that just because you have an unpleasant thought, that doesn’t make you a bad person. Your thoughts are just thoughts. Even unwanted, intrusive, or violent thoughts are normal—it’s only the importance you attach to them that turns them into damaging obsessions.

Reaching out for support. Stay connected to family and friends. Obsessions and compulsions can consume your life to the point of social isolation. In turn, social isolation will aggravate your OCD symptoms. It’s important to invest in relating to family and friends. Talking face-to-face about your worries and urges can make them feel less real and less threatening. Join an OCD support group. OCD support groups enable you to share your own experiences and learn from others who are facing the same problems.

Managing your stress. Physical exercise and connecting with another person face-to-face are two very effective ways to calm your nervous system. You can also quickly self-soothe and relieve anxiety symptoms by making use of one or more of your physical senses—sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste—or movement. You might try listening to a favourite piece of music, looking at a treasured photo, savouring a cup of tea, or stroking a pet. Mindful meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques can help lower your overall stress and tension levels and help you manage your urges. For best results, try practising a relaxation technique regularly.

Making lifestyle changes. Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment that helps to control OCD symptoms by refocusing your mind when obsessive thoughts and compulsions arise. Get enough sleep. Not only can anxiety and worry cause insomnia, but a lack of sleep can also exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings. When you’re well rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with anxiety disorders such as OCD. Avoid alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol temporarily reduces anxiety and worry, but it causes anxiety symptoms as it wears off. Similarly, while it may seem that cigarettes are calming, nicotine is a powerful stimulant. Smoking leads to higher, levels of anxiety and OCD symptoms.

What help is there?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy is the most effective treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder and generally involves two components:

1. Exposure and response prevention, which requires repeated exposure to the source of your obsession, as explained above.

2. Cognitive therapy, which focuses on the catastrophic thoughts and the exaggerated sense of responsibility you feel. A big part of cognitive therapy for OCD is teaching you healthy and effective ways of responding to obsessive thoughts, without resorting to compulsive behaviour.

For further support & advice contact EAP Assist.