Obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD is a disorder whose symptoms can disrupt your daily life in numerous frustrating, time consuming and embarrassing ways. Intrusive thoughts, uncontrollable, disturbing obsessions and compulsions that you can’t always explain but know that you have to do can be a significant cause of stress and dissatisfaction with your life.
Fortunately, there are treatments available that can reduce the severity of and even altogether eliminate the symptoms of OCD. These treatments, including psychotherapy, medication and supplemental treatment activities, are described below.
There are very real, very effective ways to cure OCD. Make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out where to start.
Psychotherapy for OCD
Psychotherapy for OCD involves a type of therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT potentially involves 3 types of treatment, which can be used individually or in combination. The treatments include exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, and relaxation training. You should also consider my free anxiety test to learn more about some other potential options.
Exposure therapy is recognized as being highly effective in treating OCD. It can be performed either with a therapist’s supervision or individually, once coping mechanisms are established that can help to decrease anxiety in the presence of an anxiety-producing stimulus. The idea is to desensitize the brain by confronting it with stimuli that cause anxiety and remaining in the presence of those stimuli until control can be regained. This teaches the brain to tolerate the presence of the stimuli, and that the ignoring the compulsions that the stimuli produces does not, in fact, have any negative consequences.
At a therapist’s office, this type of treatment is often performed by exposing the client to a “contaminated” object, such as a doorknob, or as an even milder form of exposure, a sheet of paper that touched a sheet of paper that touched a pencil that touched the hand of a person who shook someone else’s hand without washing afterwards, or variations on this theme. The client must then try not to wash their hands. As these feats are accomplished, the client’s tolerance grows and their concern over exposure diminished until they find that they skip unnecessary hand-washing without thinking about it. Even if your fears aren't germ based, the process may involve similar methodologies, such as:
- Exposure to thoughts that cause OCD.
- Exposure to other compulsions, like leaving an oven on.
It is also possible to perform this type of treatment at home with similar materials. Often this can be harder due to the lack of external pressure not to wash and the need for self control, but it is possible, particularly if a person is already receiving advice or developing tactics regarding relaxation techniques.
Cognitive restructuring is a process of discovering the negative beliefs and thought patterns that underlie the OCD person’s obsessions and compulsions and replacing them with positive beliefs and thought patterns that promote healthier behavior.
Writing in a journal is a useful way to uncover your unhealthy thought patterns and underlying beliefs at home. Knowing the specifics of the beliefs you need to conquer can help you to more directly address your disorder, and can also be of help to a therapist in treating you.
Relaxation training provides the client with useful tools for overcoming the anxiety that can result from not giving in to compulsions. These tools may include visualization exercises, controlled breathing techniques, or physical/mental triggers for stimulating positive states. Employing relaxation techniques when faced with stimuli that usually trigger OCD behaviors can help your brain learn to relax instead of panic in the presence of these triggers.
Relaxation techniques can easily be done at home. Meditation is a great way to practice controlled breathing and mental tranquility, and relaxing visualization exercises can be found on YouTube or even invented yourself.
While there are many therapists who specialize in the CBT treatments of exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and relaxation training, recreating them in your own home is a good way to practice using the lessons you are learning in the place where you need them the most.
The medication that is shown to work best in treating OCD and most other anxiety disorders is a type of antidepressant known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
SSRIs function by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a brain chemical, specifically a neurotransmitter, that is responsible for mood regulation and relaxation when present in normal quantities. SSRIs are effective in treating OCD because people with OCD, like most people who suffer from anxiety, are generally serotonin deficient.
It is as yet unknown whether medications or psychotherapy are consistently more effective than the other in treating OCD, and are frequently used in combination.
Supplemental Treatment Activities
To reduce your overall stress and raise your serotonin levels without medication, the following activities are recommended as supplemental treatments for OCD:
- Regular Exercise Exercise is a powerful serotonin stimulant. Your brain releases serotonin when you exercise to compensate for the hard work being done by your cardiovascular and muscular systems. Regularly raising your serotonin levels through exercise helps to keep your body and mind feeling as relaxed and stable as possible.
- Meditation Meditation is a positive habit that, through repetition, teaches your body and brain all kinds of useful relaxation abilities. These abilities include learning to control one’s breathing rate, letting go of stressful concerns, and building awareness of obsessive thoughts, how they start, and how to banish them.
- Healthy Dietary Habits Eating right is good for maintaining a healthy body, which, in turn, is good for the mind. Irregular meals and meals with little nutritional value can cause your body undue stress and make it easier for automatic obsessive and compulsive thoughts to take over your conscious mind. Reducing this type of stress as much as possible by eating regular, nutritious meals and avoiding junk food as much as possible will help keep you relaxed enough to control your disorder-related urges.
- Healthy Sleeping Habits Getting enough sleep is crucial for maintaining a healthy mind. Sleeplessness impairs judgment and concentration as well causing irritability, which can compound preexisting anxiety symptoms. To help yourself sleep better, you should practice getting to bed at a regular hour. In addition, in is a good idea to sleep with all lights and electronics turned off, so as not to disturb REM sleep.
Getting your OCD anxiety under control may require some lifestyle changes, but it may help to remember that by working to change your OCD behavior, you will no longer be allowing your OCD behavior to change you.
You should also find out more about effective OCD treatments by taking my free anxiety test now. This test is a great way to learn more about how to control your OCD symptoms.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.