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We all have occasional anxious thoughts, and it’s not uncommon to be obsessed with something from time to time. But when these thoughts won’t go away and are accompanied by compulsive actions, it’s known as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Check out how you can deal with OCD and the tools available to help manage it.

This can help if:

  • you frequently have unwanted, intrusive thoughts or compulsive behaviours
  • you think you might have OCD
  • you want to manage your OCD
Boy in yellow shirt washing hands

Know what OCD is

Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, occurs when you have repeated unwanted thoughts (obsession), or feel that you absolutely have to do certain things (compulsion).

An obsession is when it’s hard to stop having an unwanted or inappropriate thought. Someone with OCD will focus intensely on a worry or thought and develop unhelpful patterns of behaviour around it (for example checking the front door over and over again). Common obsessions relate to cleanliness, keeping things in order, counting items, security or safety, religious issues or sexual actions.

A compulsion is an activity you feel you have to complete in order to ensure everything is okay. You may feel that you can only do things in a certain order, or that you have to clean your house repeatedly, count objects, or hoard certain items that have little or no value or purpose.

Know what OCD is (2)

See a professional for diagnosis

The first step is to see a psychiatrist, tell them your concerns and ask them to assess you. They will be able to tell you whether they think you have OCD and the next steps you can take in beginning to treat it.

Learn about what causes OCD

OCD is influenced by unhelpful thinking patterns – for example, a person with OCD might think ‘If I don’t clean the bench properly (five times, with ten wipes each time), someone might get germs and die.’ These thoughts can be very distressing and so, to manage their anxiety, the person with OCD will repeatedly clean the bench. The behaviour makes them feel less distressed in the short term, but it only makes their OCD worse in the long term, as the only way they can feel better is to constantly clean the bench. If you have OCD, you may feel intense shame about your behaviour, and try to keep your OCD secret, but please try to tell someone as secrecy only makes the problem worse.

Learn about what causes OCD

Seek treatment

If you’re feeling upset about having or potentially having OCD, remember that it is treatable. Professional help should be the first thing you do. A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is most effective. It includes:

  • Education: learning about obsessions and compulsions and how they impact you
  • Changing thought patterns: challenging your thoughts and developing a different perspective on things
  • Changing behaviour: learning how to stop engaging in compulsive behaviours when you feel anxious, and focusing on new behaviour patterns. In some cases, medication may also be effective, especially when taken in combination with CBT.

Join a support group

One of the most distressing parts of having a mental illness is feeling like you’re in it alone. Thankfully, that’s not the case. A really great thing to do is to join a support group, where you can talk to other people who have OCD. You can find support groups in your area here.

Practise self-care

Taking care of yourself is oh so important in making sure you are mentally well. There are lots of self-care techniques to try, some of them include:

What can I do now?