Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be difficult, but exploring the best treatments can help ease your mind.

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It’s easy to doubt yourself when you’re in a hurry. You might leave the house in a rush and wonder if you remembered to pack your water bottle or lock the door.

That doubt might even keep you guessing for a bit before going about your day. But what happens if that doubt doesn’t go away or even gets worse?

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) then your daily routine can feel a lot like that. Doubt can overwhelm your thoughts and get in the way of your ability to focus on other things. It’s especially difficult to repress unwanted and irrational thoughts and impulses.

OCD doesn’t just affect adults either. In fact, one-third of adults with OCD reported experiencing OCD symptoms as a child. However, most people don’t start to show symptoms until they’re 19 years old.

If you have OCD, you certainly aren’t alone. Over 2.2 million people in the United States face the same uphill battle to manage their symptoms and avoid the potential triggers that can set off their OCD.

OCD is treatable and research has come a very long way in discovering what works and what doesn’t work for OCD. Today, OCD is treated and managed with a combination of medication and in-person therapy sessions with a mental health professional.

Some of the best OCD treatment options are:

  • a type of psychotherapy called exposure response prevention (ERP)
  • medication, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • a combination of therapy and medication

Exposure response prevention

One of the most scientifically proven treatment methods is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that’s meant to help you recognize and reframe negative or destructive thought patterns. The primary CBT method for treating OCD is known as ERP.

A 2019 review explains that exposure and response prevention works to help you confront the fears that are driving your obsessive thoughts.

Your therapist may expose you to your fear in real life, have you imagine your fear, or simulate some of the physical sensations you feel when you get anxious or uncomfortable.

The goal of these repeated exposures is for you to learn that whatever bad consequences you’d been worried about never come to pass. By exploring your OCD triggers and compulsive actions in a controlled therapy setting, you should be able to better handle these triggers outside of therapy too.

Research suggests that patients who continue ERP therapy are more likely to manage obsessive beliefs. Some recent studies have also shown that adding another therapy on top of ERP may also help with OCD treatment.

A 2018 study explored the effects of adding acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) — a therapy designed to embrace the thoughts and feelings you can’t control — on top of ERP. The study showed that ACT combined with ERP or just ERP alone were both very effective in managing OCD symptoms.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

An alternative to in-person therapy is medication that can help you manage your OCD symptoms. One popular medication for OCD is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This medication is an antidepressant that works to improve communication within your brain.

In short, certain parts of your brain can communicate with other parts by sending chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, across neurons to relay messages. One of these neurotransmitters is called serotonin.

Kind of like Snapchat, serotonin delivers its message and then just disappears. More specifically, serotonin gets reabsorbed by the brain cell that sent over the original message. This process is called reuptake.

If someone has lower levels of serotonin in their brain, it makes it more difficult for the brain to send messages.

To increase serotonin levels and give the brain more opportunities to successfully send messages, people with OCD may be prescribed SSRIs to block serotonin reuptake.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SSRIs, as well as some antipsychotics, can help decrease OCD symptoms. Although, it could take about 8 to 12 weeks for your SSRI medication to take effect. A 2019 study suggests SSRIs could also be effective in children.

Here are some FDA-approved SSRIs commonly prescribed to patients with OCD:

Combination treatment

As the name suggests, a combination treatment is when therapy and medication treatments are combined, and 70% of people find that a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication works best for them.

Talk to your therapist or a mental health professional to see if they would recommend a combination treatment for you. A mental health professional who specializes in OCD can help you through ERP and monitor how you’re responding to the medication.

Not all treatments are created equal, and it’s important to remember that not all interventions will be effective. Likewise, not all medication types that are similar to SSRIs will work well for OCD.

Consider looking into what treatments are best for you, so that you can avoid less effective treatments that might even worsen symptoms.

For example, the International OCD Foundation advises people with OCD to avoid interventions such as thought-stopping — actively distracting yourself from certain thoughts by verbally saying “No!” or slapping a rubber band on your wrist — which can in some cases make OCD symptoms worse.

Additionally, while SSRIs are also prescribed as an antidepressant, not all antidepressants can effectively treat OCD. The International OCD Foundation says that antidepressants such as imipramine and amitriptyline do not help with OCD.

If you think you might have OCD or your symptoms are dominating too much of your time, it’s worth talking to a mental health professional if you aren’t already. Your doctor can create a personalized treatment plan that begins to tackle your needs.

Selecting the best OCD treatment for your unique circumstance can also help you take back control of your life. While some treatments may be better than others, you should research your options and explore some OCD resources to learn which ones are best for you.

Managing OCD is a lifelong process, and it isn’t always easy. You’ll have your good days and bad days. But you are more than your diagnosis, and OCD doesn’t need to define you. It is treatable, and with the right support, it can get better.