Obsessive-compulsive disorder tips and tricks: More than just "being OCD"

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“I’m so OCD.”

This phrase is casually tossed around to communicate being particular or fastidious, or to suggest that someone is “Type A.”

But “OCD,” or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is actually a serious mental health disorder that is even misunderstood by providers who don’t specialize in it, which can lead to disastrous implications, for sufferers, such as incorrect treatment recommendations (Glazier et al., 2015).

“Obsessions” refer to repetitive images or thoughts that trigger distress, and “compulsions” refer to the mental or physical behaviors enacted in response to try to alleviate the obsessions. The unwanted, intrusive thoughts, or obsessions, often centered around germs, cleanliness and organization, or taboo thoughts about religion or sex, can create anxiety, guilt, shame and doubt in sufferers. In response, sufferers try to stop thinking about the obsessions and/or engage in compulsive behaviors to try and “undo” these painful thoughts. Ironically, enacting these behaviors that provide temporary relief leads to more obsessions in the long run, and exacerbates OCD over time.

An individual struggling with OCD can be negatively impacted in many ways, ranging from disruptions to daily functioning to an overall decrease in quality of life. Life becomes about stopping, avoiding, escaping or undoing obsessions, which makes accomplishing daily tasks or reaching life goals difficult. Researchers (Subramaniam et. al, 2013) recently found that patients with OCD had a diminished quality of life compared to patients without OCD and patients with schizophrenia, and suggested that depression or depressive symptoms among OCD patients are predictors of decreased quality of life.

OCD can affect all people in all stages across the lifespan. Although it can develop at any time, it typically occurs for the first time between the ages of 8-12 (early onset OCD) and late teens to early adulthood (late onset OCD).

  • Males are more likely to develop OCD earlier than females and are more likely to have early onset OCD than females while both sexes are equally as likely to develop late onset OCD (Taylor, 2011).
  • About 1 in 100 (2 to 3 million) adults in the U.S. currently have OCD, according to the International OCD Foundation.
  • The lifetime prevalence of OCD for adults in the U.S. is 2.3%, according to a recent study conducted by the NIH.

If you or someone you know might be struggling with OCD or obsessive thoughts, consider these tips:

  1. Understand that OCD is not a character flaw; it is an illness. Recognize that OCD is not a character flaw, and is not “you.” It is an illness trying to bully you into feeling doubtful, afraid, guilty, ashamed and/or sad. No matter what form it takes - you may fear that you or someone you love will get contaminated, come to harm by your own actions or those of others or you may become distressed if things are in disarray or be plagued by taboo thoughts about sex or religion - it still stems from an illness called OCD.
  2. Don’t try to stop your obsessive thoughts. Trying to stop intense, perpetual thoughts doesn’t work. Just like it’s impossible not to think about a pink elephant when someone tells you “don’t think about a pink elephant,” trying to stop unwanted thoughts can make these thoughts come back even stronger. Instead, try to watch your obsessive thoughts run their courses without trying to shut them down. You may find that your obsessions just pass away on their own.
  3. Wean away from behaviors slowly and progressively. Try to gradually cut back on the repetitive mental or physical actions you may be using to “undo” your obsessive thoughts by easing away from them. If your urge to do a behavior is strong, start by delaying the action, disconnecting it from the thought. It will get easier to delay them even further in the future. Do this until your urge to do them subsides and you discover that your obsessive thoughts are just thoughts, which will pass on their own.
  4. Surround yourself with social support. A supportive base can give you the strength and confidence to tackle the challenge and stand up to OCD. Communicate with friends, family and significant others about the difficulties you're facing and let them know if you need help. Make sure that the support they offer is to help you overcome OCD and not to support OCD or give in to its demands. If you or your supportive base gives into what OCD is demanding, your OCD will get worse in the long run.
  5. Consider intensive CBT treatment. CBT is an effective treatment for OCD. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your obsessions and compulsions, consider intensive treatment in the beginning or as a supplement to weekly treatment. Research shows that intensive CBT has stronger effects in the short term, while weekly treatment helps consolidate and extend gains. CBC offers ongoing OCD therapy as well as special OCD intensives for adolescents throughout the year (next upcoming this winter).

Glazier, K., Swing, M. & McGinn, L. K. (2015). Half of obsessive-compulsive disorder casesmisdiagnosed: Vignette-based survey of primary care physicians. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 76(6), 761-767. *

Hunter, N., * Glazier, K., McGinn, L. K. (2015). Identical symptomatology but different diagnostic impression: Treatment implications of an OCD versus schizophrenia diagnosis. Psychosis: Psychological, Social, and Integrative Approaches, 8(1), 85-87.

Subramaniam M, Soh P, Vaingankar JA, Picco L, Chong SA. Quality of life in obsessive-compulsive disorder: impact of the disorder and of treatment. CNS Drugs. 2013 May;27(5):367-83. doi: 10.1007/s40263-013-0056-z. PMID: 23580175.


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