How to Manage OCD: 6 Methods and Resources (2023)

When obsessions and compulsions arise, many methods can help you manage your OCD symptoms.

The symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can make daily activities and tasks more challenging. Obsessions, doubt, and rumination mean that you may spend hours at a time repeating a task or questioning if it was done right.

If you live with OCD, you’re not alone. The condition affects about 2.3% of U.S. adults in their lifetimes. Of adults with OCD, at least half of them (50.6%) may experience serious impairment as a result.

Every person with OCD manages their symptoms differently. What works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa. One person might find significant relief with medication, while another person may have more success with certain therapies.

OCD is a complex disorder and finding the right treatment can take time, but there are some things that you can do today to start addressing your OCD symptoms. Below are some helpful mental strategies to keep in mind when your intrusive thoughts start to flare up, as well as tips to reduce your anxiety at home.

In certain real-world circumstances, fear plays a vital role in our lives. Fear prompts us to take action and fight back, or it moves us away from danger and toward safety. For instance, if you come across a poisonous snake in your yard, fear will compel you to get away as fast as you can. That’s a good thing.

But with OCD and obsessive thoughts, your exaggerated anxiety is not protecting you — it’s tricking you. The anxiety you feel with OCD is like a malfunctioning smoke detector, constantly alerting you that there’s a fire when there is none.

If the smoke detector in your home kept going off, even during false alarms, it wouldn’t be helpful to keep dousing your furniture in water each time you heard it. But that’s exactly what OCD wants you to do — to keep throwing water on the imaginary fire and keep the fear/compulsion cycle going and going.

(Video) BEST and WORST of OCD treatments

Instead, try to recognize when your internal “fear alarm” is sending out false signals, and whether there’s a real fire to put out or not.

OCD can create many dilemmas without offering a true resolution. When the dilemma arises, you feel compelled to constantly try and resolve the source of your anxiety. This pulls you into an endless loop of circular thoughts, or ruminations, that are hard to stop.

For instance, imagine you have an intrusive fear of hitting someone with your car, which is a common OCD anxiety. Let’s say you’re driving along one day, and you run over a pothole. The bump in the road triggers feelings of panic, and racing thoughts start to bubble up and overwhelm you.

The rational part of your brain knows that it was only a pothole. Regardless, your anxiety continues to increase, and you then misinterpret this anxiety as a signal that something terrible has happened.

To ease your anxiety, you feel compelled to drive back just to “check.” And even when you get home, the intrusive thoughts continue — your brain tells you that you didn’t look hard enough and that the police will be at your door any minute.

Why is your brain doing this?

Research tells us that when you have OCD, there’s too much brain activity in the area that detects errors — and too little activity in the areas that tell us to stop compulsive behaviors.

So the next time your OCD presents a dilemma that makes you anxious, see if you can try to resist the temptation to ruminate for too long or try to “solve” the problem by engaging in compulsions. The longer you sit with the feelings of uncertainty, the less power they will have over your behaviors. Your anxiety will reduce over time, a process known as habituation.

(Video) #LetsTalkAboutIt: How to overcome OCD?

Obsessions and compulsions are difficult to overcome, and it takes practice. It can be very helpful to practice with the help of a trained mental health professional’s guidance.

Intrusive thoughts come in many forms. Some of these thoughts might even feel downright scary. For instance, many people with OCD fear that they’re going to harm themselves or another person.

If you have thoughts like this, remember that thoughts are not real — and having these thoughts is not a character flaw. It’s simply the nature of the disorder to pick the thought that disturbs you the most.

Try your best not to resist or react to the thought. This is because the more you react, the more intense it can get. Imagine the thought as a cloud floating overhead. Thoughts come and go. You are not your thoughts.

Take advantage of all the great OCD resources and information that you can find online. There are many fantastic articles, forums, and YouTube channels dedicated to helping people with OCD.

(Video) 6 Thinking Patterns that Make OCD and Anxiety Worse

You can learn how OCD works in the brain, get real advice from therapists, and learn how other people manage the disorder.

Sometimes, simply reading other people’s experiences with OCD can give you encouragement and remind you that you’re not alone.

Here are a few helpful links:

Finding ways to manage your anxiety on a daily basis can also be extremely helpful. By taking the time to explore your own interests and focusing on your own well-being, you can help quiet down some of your anxious thoughts.

Consider trying out these evidence-based strategies:

  • Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the ability to remain in the present moment and observe your thoughts without judgment. One study published in 2016 found that mindfulness-based cognitive strategies may help reduce the dysfunctional beliefs or cognitive distortions in OCD.
  • Yoga. A 2018 study shows that anxiety, depression, and stress decreased significantly in women after 12 sessions of regular hatha yoga practice.
  • Exercise. Research from 2019 shows that aerobic exercise improves mood and anxiety in people with OCD.
  • Journaling. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you in a variety of ways. A study published in 2018 found that online journaling improved anxiety, mental distress, and well-being in distressed participants with medical conditions.
  • Supplements and herbs. If you have any nutritional deficiencies, consider taking a high-quality daily multivitamin. There are also many herbs you can try for anxiety. These include valerian root, kava kava, and ashwagandha. Be sure to talk with your doctor first before starting any new supplement or herb, as some of these can interfere with medication or other treatment methods you’ve been prescribed.

6. Talk with a mental health professional

(Video) 25 Tips for Succeeding in Your OCD Treatment

If you feel that the symptoms of OCD are greatly impacting your quality of life or you think they are becoming more than you can handle, consider talking with a mental health professional.

Talking with someone experienced in treating OCD can help in properly diagnosing your symptoms and finding a treatment tailored to your specific needs.

One of the most successful types of therapy for treating OCD is exposure response prevention (ERP). This type of therapy gradually exposes you to the things that can trigger your OCD and works to help you manage your obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.

By slowly introducing you to your triggers and letting yourself see that they don’t lead to the dire consequences that you had imagined will cause these triggers to lose some of their power and influence over your thoughts.

If you or a loved one is living with OCD, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You don’t have to do this alone. If you haven’t done so already, talk with a trusted healthcare professional or reach out to a support group.

You can also join an online forum where you can meet and interact with other people who have OCD, read about their experiences, and even share your own story.

There are so many books, articles, and podcasts that can help you learn more about OCD and see how it influences your life. The more you’re able to understand and recognize your intrusive thoughts, the better you can know how to handle them.


What are healthy coping mechanisms for OCD? ›

Given that stress and worry are major triggers of OCD symptoms, one of the best ways to boost your OCD self-help skills is to learn and practice a number of relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can be very effective additions to any OCD self-help strategy.

What are the 4 R's of OCD? ›

In a series of graphics, Earnshaw breaks down the 4 Rs: relabeling, reattributing, refocusing, and revaluing—a therapy technique developed by psychology Jeffrey Schwartz that's often used in treatment for OCD.

What is the most effective way to overcome OCD? ›

25 Tips for Succeeding in Your OCD Treatment
  • Always expect the unexpected. ...
  • Be willing to accept risk. ...
  • Never seek reassurance from yourself or others. ...
  • Always try hard to agree with all obsessive thoughts — never analyze, question, or argue with them. ...
  • Don't waste time trying to prevent or not think your thoughts.

What are the three C's of OCD? ›

The mnemonic of “The Three C's” (Catching, Checking, and Changing) can be particularly helpful to children in learning this process. To engage children in treatment, therapists often frame the therapy experience as “becoming a detective” to investigate their thinking.

What are healthy habits for people with OCD? ›

Regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and getting adequate sleep can have a positive effect on your treatment. Also, avoid drugs and alcohol: while they might temporarily reduce symptoms, they can make you feel worse over time.

What are 3 good coping mechanisms? ›

Take care of your body.
  • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
  • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.

What are the 6 domains of OCD? ›

These are beliefs pertaining to: (1) inflated responsibility; (2) overimportance of thoughts; (3) excessive concern about the importance of controlling one's thoughts; (4) overestimation of threat; (5) intolerance of uncertainty; and (6) perfectionism.

What is breaking the rules OCD? ›

Breaking the Rules is a show for mental health professionals designed to help you build confidence in treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Effective treatment of OCD requires commitment, creativity and the recognition that things can sometimes get a little … messy.

How do you stop OCD spirals? ›

The best way to put an end to the cycle is to practice exposure and response prevention. This means you “accept” the thoughts, live with the uncertainty, and refrain from engaging in compulsions.

How do you calm OCD down? ›

  1. Manage your stress. Stress and anxiety can make OCD worse. ...
  2. Try a relaxation technique. Relaxation can help you look after your wellbeing when you are feeling stressed, anxious or busy. ...
  3. Try mindfulness. You might find that your CBT therapist includes some principles of mindfulness in your therapy.

How do you break the cycle of obsessive thoughts? ›

How to Deal with Obsessive Thoughts: 7 Tips
  1. Acknowledge your thoughts. ...
  2. Recognize the patterns and name them. ...
  3. Accept that it's out of your control, but manageable. ...
  4. Explore meditation and mindfulness benefits. ...
  5. Find ways to distract yourself. ...
  6. Challenge your thinking. ...
  7. Seek Therapy.
Jun 5, 2018

What triggers OCD? ›

Ongoing anxiety or stress, or being part of a stressful event like a car accident or starting a new job, could trigger OCD or make it worse. Pregnancy or giving birth can sometimes trigger perinatal OCD.

What is the golden standard of OCD? ›

The Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (YBOCS) is the most widely used severity rating scale for OCD in both adults [9] and children [10] and is considered a gold standard instrument to measure severity of OCD.

What is the rarest type of OCD? ›

The Five Least Common Types of OCD
  • Harm OCD. This subtype of OCD involves intrusive thoughts of harming others or committing some sort of violent act. ...
  • Sexual Orientation Fixations. ...
  • Pedophilia OCD. ...
  • Scrupulosity or Religious OCD. ...
  • Postpartum OCD.
Apr 22, 2022

What is the hardest form of OCD? ›

Primarily obsessional OCD has been called "one of the most distressing and challenging forms of OCD." People with this form of OCD have "distressing and unwanted thoughts pop into [their] head frequently," and the thoughts "typically center on a fear that you may do something totally uncharacteristic of yourself, ...

What not to do to an OCD person? ›

Avoid talking about obsessions and compulsions like they are character flaws or quirks, instead remember that obsessions and compulsions are symptoms of a medical condition. Try to focus on other aspects of the person.

What foods to avoid if you have OCD? ›

Foods to avoid if you have OCD
  • candies and desserts.
  • sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • baked goods.
  • foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
  • honey and syrups.
Apr 26, 2022

What do OCD people avoid? ›

Contamination OCD: may avoid public restrooms or shaking hands with someone. Harm OCD: may avoid places where people are vulnerable or avoid handling objects like knives. Religious OCD: may avoid going to church or offending God. Pedophilia OCD: may avoid schools or playgrounds where children may be.

What are the 5 main coping strategies? ›

There are five main types of coping skills: problem-focused strategies, emotion-focused strategies, meaning making, social support, and religious coping.

What are the 4 sources of coping? ›

Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies: appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive), problem-focused (adaptive behavioral), emotion-focused, and occupation-focused coping. Billings and Moos added avoidance coping as one of the emotion-focused coping.

What are the 4 major coping strategies? ›

What are some common coping strategies?
  • Lower your expectations.
  • Ask others to help or assist you.
  • Take responsibility for the situation.
  • Engage in problem solving.
  • Maintain emotionally supportive relationships.
  • Maintain emotional composure or, alternatively, expressing distressing emotions.
Nov 24, 2020

What causes OCD to get worse? ›

These obsessions and compulsions can range in severity, but what causes OCD to get worse over time is not properly managing the condition earlier on. Stress, trauma, avoidance, or even something as seemingly innocuous as a change in routine can all contribute to the worsening of OCD.

What are the 6 types of dysfunctional beliefs associated with OCD? ›

The OBQ captures six domains that tap dysfunctional beliefs: (1) inflated responsibility, (2) importance of thoughts, (3) control of thoughts, (4), overestimation of threat, (5) intolerance of uncertainty, and (6) perfectionism.

What is the five factor model OCD? ›

The five broad personality trait domains composing the FFM are neuroticism, extraversion, openness-to-experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

What is the first step to beating OCD? ›

  1. Step 1: RELABEL. Recognize that the intrusive obsessive thoughts and urges are the RESULT OF OCD.
  2. Step 2: REATTRIBUTE. ...
  3. Step 3: REFOCUS. ...
  4. Step 4: REVALUE.

Should you ignore OCD rituals? ›

Although it is hard to ignore OCD given its wide and persistent presence in your life, you do not have to interact with it. Interacting with it occurs when you do the rituals it tells you to do, or you avoid the activities and aspects of your life that it insists are dangerous.

How do you stop an OCD episode? ›

Other ways to stop an OCD attack include:
  1. Pause when the intrusive thought pops up in your head.
  2. Practice patience and kindness to self when struggling with feelings of guilt, shame, hate, or embarrassment.
  3. Keep away from stress factors.
  4. Listen regularly to guided meditations.
Sep 22, 2022

How do you stop OCD hyperawareness? ›

Relying heavily on distraction to avoid having the thoughts. Reassurance seeking that the awareness will go away or that it's normal to be aware. Mentally reviewing how it must have felt before hyperawareness set in.

How do you beat OCD magical thinking? ›

Like all types of OCD, Magical Thinking can be treated with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), specifically with treatment approaches called Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Mindful-Based CBT teaches patients that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts.

How do you fight OCD triggers? ›

How to manage OCD triggers
  1. Begin a mindfulness practice. Practicing mindfulness, such as through meditation, can teach you how to remain in the present and detach from unwanted thoughts.
  2. Pace yourself to avoid stress. ...
  3. Take care of yourself. ...
  4. Don't hesitate to ask for help from loved ones. ...
  5. Try therapy.
May 3, 2022

What are the most common OCD thoughts? ›

Common obsessions include:
  • Fear of germs or contamination.
  • Fear of forgetting, losing, or misplacing something.
  • Fear of losing control over one's behavior.
  • Aggressive thoughts toward others or oneself.
  • Unwanted, forbidden, or taboo thoughts involving sex, religion, or harm.

How do I stop replaying conversations in my head? ›

How to stop replaying events or conversations in your head
  1. Grounding exercises. ...
  2. Adjust your expectations. ...
  3. Counter your brain. ...
  4. Do a state change. ...
  5. Write it out. ...
  6. Zoom out. ...
  7. Focus on your strengths. ...
  8. Practice mindfulness.
Aug 9, 2021

How do I stop constant thoughts? ›

There are a variety of ways to control racing thoughts and reduce their occurrence.
  1. Focus on now, not the future or the past. ...
  2. Take deep breaths. ...
  3. Think about other options. ...
  4. Use mantras. ...
  5. Try distractions. ...
  6. Exercise. ...
  7. Inhale lavender essential oil.

Is OCD inherited from mother or father? ›

The inheritance pattern of OCD is unclear. Overall, the risk of developing this condition is greater for first-degree relatives of affected individuals (such as siblings or children) as compared to the general public.

How long does an OCD flare up last? ›

Speaking from experience, I would say that the average uncomplicated case of OCD takes from about six to twelve months to be successfully completed. If symptoms are severe, if the person works at a slow pace, or if other problems are also present, it can take longer.

Is OCD caused by trauma? ›

The onset of OCD is not limited to the original meaning of trauma; rather, traumatic experiences such as unexpected exposure to contaminants or various stressful life events often cause the onset of OCD.

What is the 85% rule OCD? ›

OCD. The 85% rule can also be used to help you identify what is normative. If out of 100 people from your church, 85% or more do something, then it is normative. Scrupulosity sufferers often feel they are failing in their faith which only tends to increase shame.

What is pure OCD personality traits? ›

For pure OCD, a 2011 study and a 2015 study observed that symptoms involve mental compulsions like:
  • praying.
  • mental counting.
  • persistent and disruptive self-reassurance.
  • mentally repeating phrases, affirmations, or mantras.
  • mentally singing a specific song or reciting a poem.
Sep 15, 2022

What does severe OCD look like? ›

People with severe OCD have obsessions with cleanliness and germs — washing their hands, taking showers, or cleaning their homes for hours a day. Sometimes they're afraid to leave home for fear of contamination.

What are uncommon OCD habits? ›

Other Unusual OCD Obsessions

Being bothered by certain sounds or noises (e.g., sound of chewing food) Intrusive (non-violent) mental images (e.g., cartoons, faces, or clouds) Intrusive nonsense sounds, words, or music that pop into a person's head and won't go away. Losing one's personality or positive qualities.

What is OCD most comorbid with? ›

In fact, a reported 90 percent of people with OCD have comorbid disorders such as: Depression and other mood disorders. Anxiety disorders. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Is OCD more common than ADHD? ›

Prevalence Rates of ADHD

ADHD has a higher prevalence than OCD and is overall one of the most common psychiatric disorders, with a worldwide prevalence of 5.2 % among children and adolescents (Polanczyk et al.

Is OCD one of the worst mental illnesses? ›

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is one of the most disabling mental health disorders in our world but also a highly misdiagnosed one. Due to this lack of knowledge, OCD sufferers usually go undiagnosed for ten or more years.

What's the opposite of OCD? ›

OCPD is a personality disorder. It looks and feels different than OCD. People with OCPD are strongly focused on—even obsessed with—a goal of perfection for themselves and others.

Does OCD get easier with age? ›

Symptoms fluctuate in severity from time to time, and this fluctuation may be related to the occurrence of stressful events. Because symptoms usually worsen with age, people may have difficulty remembering when OCD began, but can sometimes recall when they first noticed that the symptoms were disrupting their lives.

What are common defense mechanisms in OCD? ›

The commonest type of defense mechanism that people with obsessive compulsive disorder use more frequently are impartiality, denial, seclusion, regression, reaction-making, justification, and sublimation.

What are the defense mechanisms in OCD? ›

Obsessive Thoughts

OCD acts as an overactive defense mechanism that disrupts the individual's mental health system. This is due to distress and anxiety that arises from ruminative, obsessive thoughts and repetitive, compulsive behavior that is often meant to dissipate them.

What is the first line of defense for OCD? ›

The best medication for OCD symptoms depends on the person, how they respond to specific drugs, and other factors. Typically , SSRI antidepressants are the first line of defense, often in combination with therapy. However, a doctor may prescribe another kind of drug or treatment if the first one is unsuitable.

What are the 7 defense mechanisms? ›

Freudian defense mechanisms and empirical findings in modern social psychology: Reaction formation, projection, displacement, undoing, isolation, sublimation, and denial.

What is the most common compulsion in OCD? ›

Common compulsive behaviors in OCD include:

Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they're safe. Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety. Spending a lot of time washing or cleaning. Ordering or arranging things “just so”.

Can people with OCD control their actions? ›

In general, people with OCD: Can't control their obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, even when they recognize those thoughts or behaviors as excessive. Spend at least 1 hour a day on these obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors.

What are the two main aspects of OCD? ›

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions.
  • Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. ...
  • Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession.

What is an example of OCD response prevention? ›

Ritual prevention eliminates the compulsions (the things someone does to reduce their anxiety/distress). Examples include excessive handwashing, seeking reassurance from family and friends on whether they'll get sick, and repeatedly checking temperatures of meat to ensure it is cooked thoroughly.


1. 6 ways to heal trauma without medication | Bessel van der Kolk | Big Think
(Big Think)
2. Be A Fear Facer! Conceptualizing and Treating OCD - Part 6
(Clarity Child Guidance Center)
3. Ep. 283 6-Part Series: Managing Mental Compulsions (with Jon Hershfield)
(Your Anxiety Toolkit)
4. Intrusive Thoughts and Overthinking: The Skill of Cognitive Defusion 20/30
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
5. Trauma, Triggers and Emotional Dysregulation: 10 Ways to Regulate Your Nervous System w/ Anna Runkle
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
6. OCD Treatment: Therapy & Medication Options For Obsessive Compulsive Disorder | Stanford
(Stanford Center for Health Education)


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