“I have OCD – how do I get this under control?”

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In this blog, Cara Swanston answers an anonymous question on living with OCD.

“I have OCD and struggle to keep it under control. I’m scared to talk to people about it in case they judge me or don’t understand or think I’m a freak, which a lot of the time it feels like. I obsessively wash my hands and I’m worried about the cleanliness of items around me and the pandemic has made this worse. How do I get this habit under control?”

The power of positive self-talk

Firstly – be kind to yourself. Often when we have a habit or behaviour that we view negatively, we tend to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves. This only serves to make us feel more anxious and so the behaviour or habit often becomes worse. Remind yourself that YOU are ok and that if washing your hands is what you need to do to feel safe right now, then that’s OK too. Once you feel safer, maybe the behaviour will lessen of its own accord. Positive and kind self-talk is so powerful and it’s a great place to start.

Understand yourself

For some people it can really help them when they better understand their challenges. They feel less alone, and they become less afraid and frustrated by their feelings and behaviours. Keeping a journal or a daily record of your behaviour can help you understand the trigger points and why your OCD is connected to your fears or worries. Understanding OCD can also be a good first step in getting a handle on your relationship to your thoughts or habits.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition where a person experiences obsessive and compulsive habits and a strong urge to repeat activities or rituals. OCD can bring on feelings of anxiety and fear, and repeating activities can cause a person to develop repetitive habits to try to control their anxiety. Even though a person might understand that their habits or thoughts are unreasonable, OCD can leave a person feeling helpless and alone.

What are “obsessions”?

Obsessive behaviour can be frequent and uncontrollable thoughts or repetitive activities. Obsessive behaviour can be thoughts, worries, doubts or images that happen frequently and bring on feelings of anxiety. These thoughts could be worries about loved ones, fear of diseases, fear of making a mistake, worry that you might 

– Thoughts or fear of contamination or disease

Fear that you are spreading contamination or disease

– Fear that something bad will happen

Worry about a loved one

– Worry a person might cause someone else harm

Fear of making a mistake

– Intrusive thoughts about relationships and self-worth

What are “compulsions”?

Compulsions are repetitive habits that form out of obsessive thinking that you have to do them and this can stem from wanting to deal with the anxiety caused by obsessive thinking.

– Switching on or off a light

– Washing your hands or body often

– Arrange objects

Checking your body for disease or contamination

– Repeating a word in your mind

– Counting to a specific number or pattern of numbers

– Needing to repeatedly check with loved one that you’re ok

How does OCD affect a person?

Obsessions and compulsions can consume many hours of a person’s day and interfere with their ability to socialise and can affect a person’s employment or education.

When OCD is severe, the “avoidance” of controlling thoughts or behaviour can become as all-consuming as the behaviour itself. A person might avoid certain activities or occasions that might trigger their OCD and it can make it difficult for a person to do everyday activities, like eating or drinking. 

OCD is often experienced with symptoms of depression or other anxiety disorders, including phobias, social anxieties, panic disorder or separation anxiety. OCD can be a debilitating condition when left untreated as people often isolated themselves from others out of fear or embarrassment.

How to help yourself

One of the most beneficial coping techniques for living with OCD is self-care and developing habits that can help you delay the need to perform compulsive habit or can bring you peace of mind. When you experience obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviour, distracting yourself can help you change your thought pattern by replacing habit with something that interests or stimulates you. Developing hobbies, such as walking, exercising, arts and crafts, reading or cooking, can help.

Exercises to help 

Some things that can help with anxiety and anxious behaviour include breathing exercises, EFT and self-guided CBT. 

Self-care can be a helpful way of developing positive habits that nurture yourself at the same time as providing relaxation. Mindful colouring and getting a good night’s sleep can calm the mind substantially and bring greater feelings of contentment and relaxation, which can lessen impulsive behaviour.

If you feel these things don’t help it may be useful to consider talking therapy or CBT. There are plenty of local orgs that can offer this support. Sometimes people feel that because they had therapy in the past and that it maybe didn’t help, that they don’t want to pursue that avenue again. There are so many types of therapy and therapists, and you can explore local therapy or counselling providers in your area here. A bit like your hairdresser or mechanic, sometimes you need to try a few different therapists to see what works best for you. These tips for preparing for therapy can help you explore some of the things you might be looking for when it comes to finding the right fit.

If you have a question you would like answered anonymously by one of Find Help NI’s therapists, submit it by clicking on the “Ask a Question” button below this post and we’ll answer it in our next blog.

Eva Swanston
Author: Eva Swanston

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