Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a mental condition, characterized by repeated thoughts and ideas that create a constant urge to perform a specific action. In simple words, an OCD brain would trick you into believing that you need to perform an irrational task in order to avoid disastrous consequences. For example, a number of people with OCD tend to wash their hands more often in order to avoid germs, for they think they might catch an incurable disease otherwise. OCD can take various forms; from people refraining from shaking hands to even getting into a habit of offering prayers 29 times a day, just to ensure that their family members don’t die.
It is important to note that most people follow certain rituals, like waking up early or brushing daily, but these do not necessarily qualify as obsessions. A habit takes the form of an OCD when its resistance leads to anxiety, and it starts interfering with the normal day-to-day activities of one’s life.
OCD tends to get worse with time, especially due to ignorance and lack of proper treatment. Severe cases of OCD often lead to patients becoming housebound in order to avoid compulsions. Moreover, OCD also paves the way for other mental health disorders such as anxiety, including social anxiety, separation anxiety, and panic disorder. People with OCD tend to be very embarrassed regarding their compulsive behaviours since these behaviours are often illogical. This embarrassment causes people to put great effort into hiding their disorder, giving it more time, which makes it worse.
While the exact causes of OCD remain unknown, they are supposed to be caused due to the following reasons:
- genetic and hereditary factors
- structural and functional abnormalities in the brain
Apart from these, OCD can also be a result of learned behaviours that turn repetitive to calm anxiety.
Common symptoms of OCD include:
- Avoiding physical contact, in order to avoid contamination from germs.
- Excessive perfectionism.
- Blasphemous thoughts.
Common compulsions include:
- Excessive washing of hands.
- Repetitive checking of locks, gas appliances, electrical switches, and other devices concerned with safety and security.
- Forming mental ideas of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ numbers and places.
- Excessive praying.
- Placing objects in a particular design of symmetry.
- Touching objects a certain number of times, or moving them in a particular way.
Why does OCD need attention?
Shockingly, 1 in every 25 adults suffers from OCD, which makes up for approximately 2.2 million people from the total world population. The stigma associated with help regarding mental health often causes people to refrain from getting therapy. Moreover, many people suffering from OCD experience guilt and loneliness, which also prevents them from seeking medical help. Most people, thus, battle OCD alone, until the symptoms start turning severe. Very severe.
This article provides 25 measures that you can use in order to help yourself or someone you love.
1. Recognising and writing down patterns:
Keep a pen and a pad handy and try writing all your compulsive thoughts. Writing down repetitive behaviours urged by the brain helps in both identification and control of obsessions. Repetitive writing causes thoughts to lose power, as well as helps in keeping a check on the frequency of thoughts. Also, writing involves more effort than thinking, causing the thoughts to disappear sooner.
2. Fighting your fears:
As it is rightly said, the best way to conquer your fears is to face them. This technique of fighting your fears, known as the Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) in medical terms, is proven to be one of the best ways of curing OCD. This process involves exposing oneself to thoughts or situations that trigger obsessive behaviour, and not responding to them. This technique was first tested in the 1960s by Victor Meyer on two of his patients suffering from a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
One of the patients was obsessed with cleaning while the other was haunted by blasphemous thoughts. The patients had not shown any signs of improvement with shock therapy, supportive therapy or medication. Just before they were made to undergo a surgery, Victor Meyer locked the former patient in a room full of dirt without allowing her to clean, while the other patient was purposely made to rehearse blasphemous thoughts without performing the rituals she otherwise would’ve performed. This treatment was the first to decrease the patients’ symptoms and has been in continuous practice for treating OCD since then.
3. Challenge to resist:
Another way of controlling thoughts is by recognizing and labeling them as ‘just thoughts’. Training the brain to understand that a call for a compulsive behavior is just a trick played by the hormones helps to have control over one’s action. Continuous resistance, eventually, in turn, helps in pushing the action out of habit. Having a belief that whatever worse could happen, will happen, gives the brain a sense of freedom that it is not in charge of all wrong.
4. Take risks:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, more often than not number of times, tend to affect the decision making abilities of the patient. In a study conducted by the US National Library of Medicine based on the “framing effect”, which investigates decision making based on whether monetarily equivalent choice options are framed in terms of a potential to either lose or gain, patients suffering from OCD were reported to be more indecisive and fell more often in the loss section. Taking risks challenges the brain and helps in providing more exposure, which in turn helps proper decision making.
5.Talking to friends:
Most OCD patients are often shy in talking to a doctor or visiting therapy as they tend to suffer from a sense of constant guilt, which is worsened by the stigmas attached to mental health disorders. Having a conversation with your friends can help in getting rid of the emotional burden, without the fear of being judged. Moreover, talking about obsessions usually reveals behaviours or contexts that would’ve otherwise gone unnoticed. This further helps in having a better grip on your OCD.
6. Don’t strive for perfection:
Though being a perfectionist sounds like an all-time advantage, an obsession for perfection is a very common symptom in OCD patients. The strive for perfection takes a wrong turn when one starts having standards for excessive perfectionism, which are impossible to attain. Not being able to achieve these standards leads to a sense of negativity and sows seeds of feelings of worthlessness, all of which have negative impacts on the brain. This can be handled in two effective ways. By setting an attainable standard of perfection, and/or by accepting imperfections directly.
Refocusing works by drawing the attention away from one’s compulsive thoughts and focusing it somewhere else. For example, in case of a thought of compulsive praying, the focus can instantly be directed to the weather outside instead, thus drawing attention away from the obsessive thought. Refocusing takes time and is not the easiest method to practise, but it’s you winning at the end. The fifteen-minute rule, as proposed by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’s in his “Four steps towards beating OCD” involves the patient delaying the compulsive behaviour for fifteen minutes, before returning back to the urge. Any decrease in the desire to perform the ritual provides for motivation to wait for a longer period. The patient can start from a delay of five minutes and can extend it until the duration when the desire completely fades away.
The most common problem faced by people who suffer from OCD is that they continuously keep falling prey to their compulsive thoughts, in order to ease the anxiety. Self-help in this field involves the visualization of already having done the compulsive task. This is a technique of tricking your brain into thinking that you’ve already completed the compulsive task, whereas, in reality, you have not. For example, if one has a continuous urge to wash his hands, he can visualize already having washed his hands, which would trick his brain into not sending hand wash signals anymore.
Meditation, since times immemorial has been used to increase mindfulness. Meditation helps to treat OCD in two ways:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorders have scientifically been proven to affect the conscious area of the brain. Most mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, and OCD are a direct result of the conscious mind overload. Regular meditation helps in exercising control over the subconscious mind, which then helps in preventing negative thoughts, while also repaving the damages done by prior repetitive thoughts.
- Boosting low levels of dopamine via artificial means has long been used in OCD treatments since the disorder has been noted to cause a decrease in dopamine levels. Meditation causes dopamine levels to increase naturally, helping OCD.
10. Get rid of old trauma:
OCDs can be caused due to a number of reasons. These might include biological, genetic, behavioural, cognitive or environmental causes. However, a number of times, OCDs are developed as a result of childhood trauma or past traumatic experiences. The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps to treat OCD by understanding one’s history and analysing past experiences that could’ve led to the growth of compulsions. CBT is a short term therapy and helps the patient in changing his thought patterns. CBT is available online on a number of reliable platforms and can also be performed on one’s own by analysing past traumas and changing thought patterns related to the same.
11. Avoid alcohol and nicotine:
Cigarette smoking, alcohol and nicotine have shown to have detrimental effects on a majority of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and OCD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) states that alcohol and nicotine can both cause dependence and can lead to an extension of OCD, causing other mental disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. Avoiding alcohol, nicotine and added products can thus prevent the disorder from getting worse.
Exercising helps in releasing endorphins, which are natural stress busters. A study examining relations between aerobic exercise and OCD asked half of OCD patients undergoing therapy to go for a brisk run post their therapy sessions for a period of 12 days. The results showed a significant decrease in the OCD symptoms of the patients who exercised as compared to the ones who did not. Moreover, exercise also provides for a distraction from the compulsions and provides a healthier channel for your energy.
Repetitive thoughts while trying to sleep often result in distractions and it does not take long for it to turn into insomnia. Studies have shown that people going to bed late have less control over their OCD symptoms as compared to the ones who got proper sleep. OCD and sleep thus form a vicious cycle, as OCD causes lack of sleep, which in turn worsens the disorder. Listening to soft music to keep the mind distracted while trying to sleep helps in having proper sleep cycles, which eventually help in reducing symptoms of OCD.
14. Proper diet:
Messages are transferred between brain cells with the help of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin, also known as the mood-influencer, is formed from the protein tryptophan and is a reported deficit in a majority of OCD patients. Consuming food rich in tryptophan thus helps in increasing serotonin levels, which helps in reducing OCD symptoms. Tryptophan is present in a variety of protein-rich foods such as turkey, chicken, milk, eggs, and cheese. It is also present in whole-grain foods, beans, and pumpkins. Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts are also rich sources of tryptophan.
15. Manage stress:
Stress is not a cause of OCD but major OCD symptoms are triggered under situations of stress. Stress management can thus prove to be of great help in dealing with OCD symptoms. Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga and even slow breathing help in calming the mind and managing stress better.
16. Get mad:
A large number of OCD patients get sudden rushes of rage, commonly termed as anger attacks. This anger is easy to understand as people suffering from untreated OCD do not only feel compelled to perform obsessive behavior to keep their anxiety calm but also are under the constant stress of not letting their tasks get hampered, as that feels equivalent to letting someone die. These anger attacks can often take a turn of violence, where the patient may try to physically hurt others. As scary as this might sound, small bursts of anger that do not run severely out of control have been proven to help OCD patients. Outbursts help in calming the mind, helping it relax.
Stress or panic attacks are common symptoms of OCD. In the case of such a scenario, the grounding techniques work wonders. These techniques usually follow a non-complex process to make one more mindful of one’s surroundings. Something as simple as having a bite of chocolate, and feeling the way it melts on your tongue, can be an effective method of grounding. Another method, called the 5 – 4- 3 – 2 – 1 technique of grounding involves acknowledging five things that you can see, four that you can touch, three things that you can hear, two that you can smell and one thing that you can taste around you. The process is followed by slow breathing and is by far the easiest most effective method of grounding to manage stress.
18. Healthy Channelizing:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder patients have been shown to consume more than one hour per day practicing rituals in normal cases, whereas the time dedicated was increased to approximately three hours per day in severe cases of OCD. This energy can instead be channelized more productively in other tasks. Distracting the brain to focus on things other than the compulsions is one of the most effective ways of treating OCDs. It is easy to accomplish, and more importantly, is not accompanied by the urge to perform the compulsion later. While exercising provides for a great distraction along with physical benefits, you can also try giving more time to your hobbies, or visiting nearby places to channelize your energy more productively. Keeping yourself busy throughout the day would lessen the chances of your mind being attacked by compulsions.
19. Plan a vacation:
Going on a vacation is always fun, but it’s additionally beneficial in the case of OCD patients. A change from the normal surroundings breaks the usual thought patterns, thus lowering the frequency of performing compulsions. While some are able to completely let go of the previous thought patterns, the anxiety due to OCD in other patients sometimes tends to get worse. This again happens due to a disruption in usual thought patterns as the regular compulsions are not being performed. However, regular triggers help the brain, especially when they are least expected. A vacation thus, is a win-win in both cases.
20. Try self-help resources:
Self-help resources, just like this article, are guides that you can use to work on your OCD yourself. It is important to understand that self-help does not necessarily mean doing it all on your own. Mutual self-help groups or self-help online platforms are also effective in guiding self-care. Reading books on self-help is also an effective method that works in two ways: by serving as a source of distraction, as well as by providing the necessary self-help details.
21. Don’t Rush:
An understanding of the fact that OCD treatment can take time is necessary to not lose hope. A desire to recover immediately causes more stress, making the compulsions stronger. Pushing oneself over the limits will only lead to negative impacts and a worsening of the symptoms. A slow process, handling one compulsion at a time, works the best.
22. Maintain a Journal:
Getting over OCDs is a long process and can often get tiring. A constant source of motivation and regular reminders of progress are therefore necessary in order to not lose track. Maintaining a journal with habit trackers does not only provide motivation but also helps in keeping a check on one’s compulsions. It thus becomes easier to spot warning signs and red flags when an obsession starts getting stronger. Ease your urges by getting a journal today!
It is necessary to understand that mental disorders can only be well treated if one is willing to work on them on one’s own. Slow or no improvements during the initial days of therapy can often lead to distress and outbursts on friends, family, and even the therapist, but it is important to realize that therapy is just for help. The real work has to be done on one’s own part, and improvements will only be seen when you start trying yourself. Medicines and therapy can only help in making the process easier, but cannot cure the disorder.
24. Appreciate your efforts:
Acknowledging the hard work put towards a better version of oneself serves as another source of motivation to keep the brain going. Congratulate yourself every time you get over a compulsion, and treat yourself every time you are able to control your urge for a duration longer than the previous. After all, a little motivation goes a long way.
Not losing hope is the key to OCD treatment. There occur numerous instances when patients give up to their compulsions, but what is more important to understand, is that it’s okay. You might fall, but you win every time you manage to get up. These instances of downfall are often demotivating, but it is important to not let it grow on you. Remember that every step you take leads you to a healthier tomorrow.
Self-help accompanied with regular therapy sessions, medications and homework exercises help in speeding up the recovery process. With the rising awareness regarding mental health diseases, OCD treatments are now available widely across the world. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, like most other mental disorders, takes its time but can be cured completely with proper medication and self-help.