OCD can bring feelings of anxiety or shame into many areas of your life, but there are also ways to reduce those feelings.
If you’ve received an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) diagnosis, chances are you’re feeling uncertain. But you’re not alone.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), about 1 in 100 children and 1 in 40 adults in the United States experience OCD.
OCD doesn’t always look the same from person to person. But it can take some common forms, including:
- worries of contamination leading to excessive cleaning
- feeling like items need to be symmetrical or ordered in a certain way
- experiencing impulsive or forbidden or taboo thoughts
- a desire to hoard and retain items
“It’s important to remember there are different types of OCD, and not everyone experiences it the same way,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University.
While the condition can be challenging, there is hope. Various treatments are available, and many people see fewer symptoms following either one or a combination of these.
No matter how your OCD manifests, the symptoms (compulsions and obsessions) tend to be intrusive and dominating. It can be difficult to push them aside to focus on anything else, even if you’re aware they’re unfounded.
It can be almost impossible to quash the need to perform a particular action – including washing your hands or arranging items — as the desire to do so “just once more” becomes irresistible.
You may feel helpless and out of control, which can be overwhelming, upsetting, and disheartening. It can also be difficult to envision a future without these thoughts and compulsions dominating your daily life.
In the long term, living with OCD can be tiring — especially if you’re trying to hide it from family, friends, and coworkers — and frustrating if it prevents you from partaking in and enjoying everyday activities.
For some, the anxiety and upset can snowball into panic attacks.
OCD can be unpredictable and all-consuming, meaning symptoms “can interfere with day-to-day activities, such as work or school,” according to Hafeez. So what are the main aspects of life OCD can affect?
We all find it hard to focus at times. But OCD can amplify this, causing productivity rates to drop and making the simplest of tasks far more challenging.
You may feel heightened anxiety at being unable to carry out safety behaviors (like hand washing) as frequently or worry what colleagues will think if they catch you engaging in them. In severe cases, fears and compulsions can prevent you from leaving the house to go to work.
Loved ones might have trouble comprehending your OCD, be unsure how to react to your compulsions, or feel pressured to offer reassurance.
Another challenge can arise, notes Hafeez, since “some people with OCD may excessively worry about the safety of their loved ones, [and] therefore demand their friends/family to do things a certain way.” All these factors can strain relationships.
Some people experience relationship OCD (ROCD) when their symptoms are focused primarily around relationships.
Children need a lot of attention, and persistent OCD thoughts or compulsions can make it even harder to give them your full focus.
You may feel unable to interact with your child in ways you would like, such as sitting on the floor to play, which can be distressing. Or you might exhibit extreme safety behaviors due to anxiety — like refusing to let them ride a bike in case they get hurt — that could impact their development and enjoyment.
Like adults, it can be difficult for children and young adults with OCD to concentrate when intrusive thoughts arise. “If someone experiences fear of not doing something perfectly, they may have trouble finishing assignments,” notes Hafeez.
You might also fear that certain classes, such as painting or sports, will cause you to become contaminated or dirty.
In addition to causing disruption, it might feel like OCD stops you from engaging in hobbies altogether.
Fear of being marked by the wool’s dye might prevent you from knitting, for example, or you may worry that battling in video games will cause loved ones harm in real life. Either way, it can be upsetting to feel you can no longer partake in activities that bring joy.
OCD can make socializing difficult and tiring. Anxious thoughts might prevent you from enjoying yourself. You might fear becoming contaminated from someone else’s actions or worry you’ll accidentally cause someone harm while with them.
Plus, being unable to switch off from compulsive behaviors could mean you’re often late to events or miss them altogether.
Of people who live with OCD, about
Some research suggests that depression symptoms don’t always go away with OCD treatment alone, so someone with both might need care for depression in addition to the support they receive for OCD.
“Hoarding, or the compulsive desire to keep stuff, is a way for those with OCD to manage their intrusive thoughts,” explains Hafeez. People who live with OCD and who hoard can also start to feel anxious about inviting others into their home and may become isolated.
Substance use disorder
“Those with trichotillomania may pull hair from eyebrows, scalp, genital area, or beard/moustache,” Hafeez says. While some people with OCD have a lot of trouble resisting compulsions around this, others do so in an attempt to manage their thoughts and anxieties.
This condition involves regularly picking at the skin until it bleeds, and it’s usually used by those with OCD to help relieve stress or upset. As with OCD, the compulsions to do this are often unstoppable, even if you know it’s causing pain and harm.
Almost 1 in 3 people with OCD experience a tic disorder, ranging from repeated nose twitching to tapping to saying certain words. For some, compulsive thoughts may cause you to do a tic until it’s completed “correctly,” while others believe not doing them will lead to something terrible.
Medical professionals use a variety of medications and therapies to reduce signs and symptoms of OCD.
“Medications, such as antidepressants, can increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, and increased levels of serotonin can help alleviate OCD symptoms,” shares Hafeez. Research suggests around
Medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include:
Psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) offer similar
It can be a good idea to search for a therapist experienced in treating OCD and working with CBT or ERP. You don’t need to be afraid to ask questions about their approaches. The International OCD Foundation offers a list of qualified professionals who can help.
If OCD causes your mind to continually be filled with anxious thoughts, it can be exhausting. Taking extra steps to maintain your well-being can be helpful.
We know regular exercise is beneficial for overall mental well-being, but there’s even more reason to get involved.
Although it can be challenging for those with OCD to calm their brain, mindfulness techniques can aid in managing and letting go of compulsive thoughts.
Getting a good night’s rest is also important, as later bedtimes are linked to perceived difficulty managing obsessive thoughts.
Finally, there are workbooks available that you can complete at your own pace, with “The OCD Workbook: Your Guide to Breaking Free from OCD” and “The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD.” Therapists and people with OCD alike highly recommend them.
You can work with your doctor or therapist to put together a treatment program tailored to your symptoms. Simply knowing you have plans in place can offer relief.
You could also connect with an online support group to speak with others experiencing OCD:
- The International OCD Foundation lists U.S.-based groups.
- OCD-UK hosts a large support forum.
- Friends With OCD is a popular private Facebook group.
While you might feel overwhelmed and isolated, it’s important to not be hard on yourself and recognize that help is available. Although OCD isn’t likely to resolve completely, many find it’s manageable.
Your life doesn’t have to be dominated by intrusive thoughts and compulsions. Finding and applying the right approaches to meet your needs could help.
Chantelle Pattemore is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She focuses on health, lifestyle, beauty, food, and fitness.