Living with OCD: How to Care for Yourself

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), OCD is among the 20 leading causes of illness-related disability, in the world, for people between 15 and 44 years.

Like any other disease, when individuals are diagnosed with OCD, a lot of changes happen in their lives. They become aware of every obsession they have, and it can be quite frustrating. The symptoms and obsessions can start in one area of their life and spread to others eventually. The obsessions may be very disturbing to loved ones and workmates before adjusting, which could make it harder for the sufferer.

Can a Person Living with OCD Live a Normal Life?

If you have OCD, you can with no doubt live a normal life. It is like living with any other chronic disease. All you need is to focus every day on dealing with it and become comfortable with yourself. Unlike other lifelong illnesses like heart disease that require a practitioner to take care of the patient, with OCD, patients have to take care of themselves.

Living with OCD calls for the individual to be the master of their own condition. Understand what triggers your OCD and what worsens it. Find ways to calm yourself and reap the best out of life.

Here are a few secret tips to help you live happily with OCD;

Reduce Stress Levels

Stress is a major factor in triggering OCD. An effective way to understand stress effects is by thinking about a stress bucket. Imagine that every individual (living with OCD or not), has a stress bucket. Every stress bucket varies in size; some are deep, and others are shallow.

See stress as water filling the buckets. Individuals with deeper stress buckets may take time before their buckets get full and start overflowing. In this case, when a bucket overflows, you become wet. When dealing with OCD, your bucket happens to be smaller than others, hence filling quickly.

The only way to avoid the overflow is by regularly emptying your bucket. This can be done by the use of relaxation techniques such as;

  •     Breath focus
  •     Body Scan
  •     Mindfulness meditation
  •     Guided imagery
  •     Repetitive prayer
  •     Yoga, tai chi, and Qigon.

Cope with OCD by Joining a Support Group

There is a lot of stigmas associated with living with OCD. As much as the study shows that it is a chronic disease with biological roots, some people feel like patients can just snap out of it if they want. This can be very heart-breaking and hurtful especially if it is coming from close relatives or your spouse.

It can also be tough at work because OCD does not have blood tests or visible symptoms that others can see. Some workmates may doubt the legitimacy of your symptoms and how it affects your life. You are also likely to face discrimination for taking days off to deal with your condition.

It is, therefore, important to join a support group of people living with OCD. In the support group, you get to express yourself with no judgments. It is a chance to vent and feel all the overwhelming feelings you have been trying to bottle up around people who understand exactly what you are experiencing.

Eat Healthy and Stick to Your Prescriptions

It is tempting to miss a meal or grab a snack instead. To avoid anxiety attacks, you need to eat healthy food regularly. Hunger causes your blood sugar to drop, which in turns make you feel tired and cranky. Wake up to a heavy breakfast, and try to eat small portions after every few hours during the day instead of big meals at dinner and lunch.

Consider taking;

  • Complex carbs like whole grains, veggies, fruits, which helps keep your blood sugar levels steady.
  •  Seeds and nuts packed with healthy nutrients
  •  Proteins like beans, eggs, and meat which fuels you up and keeps your balance in a better place.
  •  Avoid coffee or stimulants in tea, soda, and energy drinks as they may kick anxiety levels to higher heights.
  • Drinking alcohol may seem like a shorter route to escape from OCD. However, it only triggers it before leaving the system. Stick to your prescription and avoid cigarettes as well as nicotine has the same effects.

Accept Your Condition and Celebrate Small Victories

One thing you need to remember is that OCD is chronic and it’s not going anywhere. Even if it disappears for a long time, always remember it is somewhere behind the scenes. This way, you don’t feel disappointed when you get a panic attack or experience the symptoms after a long time.

After coming in terms with the fact that it is there to stay, make it your friend. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed of living with OCD, be bold and comfortable.

See that you see all your small victories and milestones in your OCD journey and celebrate them. Being aware of your progress motivates you to keep getting better. Did someone insult you and you kept your head high? Celebrate. Did you get a panic attack and successfully calm yourself down? Celebrate. Be keen to appreciate and stay grateful for every good thing in your life.

Practice Being Mindful

The practice originates from spiritual traditions such as Buddhism. Mindfulness emphasizes awareness of sight, thoughts, emotions, and sounds with no judgment.

Being mindful of your obsessions may help you overcome them; similar to spending time with dogs if you are afraid of dogs. It may also help you become less invested in your thoughts by learning that they are just images or a collection of words.

This can help reduce thought-action fusion (this is when a patient believes that thinking about something is equal to carrying out the act) which worsens OCD. For instance, you may experience the same pain you would have felt if you stabbed your partner because you thought about it.

Explore Alternative Therapies

It is vital that you try alternatives such as herbal medicine that has worked for others. The use of herbal medicines has been significantly spreading in North America and Europe. One of the anxiety remedies that has worked for many people is St. John’s Wort. Ensure you consult with your doctor before you try any herb for medical advice.

Challenge obsessive thoughts

Understand that everyone has obsessive thoughts at some point. However, OCD causes the brain to stick on an anxiety-provoking thought causing it to play severally in your brain. Here are some ideas on how to un-stuck your brain;

Write down your worries and obsessive thoughts.  Have a paper, tablet, smartphone or a pad near you. Write down your thoughts or compulsions when you begin to obsess.

Keep writing as the OCD urge continues. Aim at recording exactly what is in your mind even if it’s the same urge or phrase.  Writing down the obsessions makes you know how repetitive the urges are. It also helps the obsession lose power. Writing down the obsessions is harder than thinking about them, so they quickly disappear.

Create an OCD worry period. Schedule your ‘worry’ instead of suppressing it. Choose 2- 10 minutes sessions every day to worry about everything. During these periods don’t correct yourself. After the “worry time,” take deep breaths, let the obsession go and carry on with your day. In case you start worrying during the day, journal and go through them during your “worry time.”

Create a tape of your OCD obsessions. Focus on one obsession, and record it. Recount the story exactly how it happens in your head. Listen to the tape for around 45 minutes every day until the thought no longer distresses you. By continually confronting your obsession, you become less anxious. You can then repeat the same process with different obsessions.

Four Steps for Conquering Obsessive Thoughts

The author of Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior, Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, recommends the following steps for dealing with obsessive thoughts;

  1. RELABEL- Recognize that urges and obsessive thoughts are just as a result of OCD.  For example learn to say to yourself, “I do not feel the need to clean my hands. I have an urge to perform the compulsion”
  2. REATTRIBUTE- Realize the intensity of the thought is caused by OCD; it’s a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Tell yourself, “it’s not me, it’s OCD,” to remind yourself they are false messages from your brain.
  3. REFOCUS- Work through OCD by focusing on something else for a few minutes every day. For example tell yourself, “I am experiencing OCD. I need to do something different”.
  4. REVALUE- Do not take the OCD obsession at face value. It is non-significant on itself. You can tell yourself, “That’s just my brain. It has no meaning”. Remember, you cannot get rid of the obsession, but you can move on to the next thought.

Source: Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders

Bottom Line

OCD is a chronic disease like any other. You owe no one an apology for living with OCD. Accept the fact that it is there and find ways to adjust and live a happy, normal life. It doesn’t happen overnight; sometimes it will be harder than other days. That is alright; it is part of the journey. Practice self-care tips and use any support system you may have in your life to overcome tough moments. Be your number one fan and celebrate any small milestone you make in your fight. It gets better with time.

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