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.

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.

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.

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.

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.