We all have those occasional moments where you feel a strong urge to go back and check that we locked the door or turned off the stove. It’s only human to want to ensure everything is in its place and done correctly.
But for people with OCD, compulsions don’t just go away after a quick check. They continue to come back, again and again, often accompanied by anxiety or fear. The compulsions can be time-consuming and disruptive, making it hard to keep up with work, school, or even basic self-care.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a debilitating mental illness that is characterized by intrusive, irrational thoughts, urges, and mental images (obsessions) that lead to repetitive, ritualized behaviors (compulsions).
The compulsions associated with OCD are often time-consuming and difficult to resist. In some cases, the compulsions can be so severe that they take up hours of a person’s day and make it impossible to even leave the house.
Examples of OCD Compulsions
OCD is a complex mental disorder, and the compulsions can vary significantly from person to person. Some common examples of OCD compulsions include:
- Excessive hand-washing or showering
- Checking door locks, appliances, or other objects multiple times
- Counting, tapping, or repeating certain words or phrases
- Arranging objects in a specific order or pattern or following a strict routine
While these compulsions may seem irrational, they are often rooted in a person’s attempt to control their anxiety or fear. For example, a person with OCD who is obsessed with germs may wash their hands multiple times to avoid contamination or getting sick. But even after washing their hands, they may continue to feel dirty and compelled to wash their hands all over again, sometimes to the detriment of their skin.
Overcoming OCD Compulsions
While compulsions may provide a temporary reprieve from anxiety, they only serve to reinforce the OCD cycle in the long run. Learning to delay or resist OCD compulsions can significantly reduce the symptoms of OCD and improve quality of life. Here are a few tips for overcoming OCD compulsions:
Change the ritual: If your compulsions involve a specific ritual or order, try mixing things up. For example, if you typically check the lock on your door five times before leaving the house, try checking twice instead. With time and practice, you may gradually reduce the number of times you perform the compulsion in a day.
Shorten the ritual: Another way to change the OCD cycle is to shorten the length of time spent on compulsions. The goal is to eventually break the compulsion down into manageable chunks of time that don’t interfere with your daily life.
Distract yourself: When you feel the urge to perform a compulsion, try to distract yourself with another activity. You can go for a walk, read a book, or call a friend. The goal is to find something to take your mind off the OCD thoughts and help you resist the urge to act on them.
Delay the ritual: If you can’t seem to break the compulsion altogether, try delaying it instead. For example, if you typically wash or sanitize your hands as soon as you touch a surface that you suspect might be contaminated, try and wait ten minutes before doing so. With time, you can gradually increase the delay period and consequently reduce the number of times you wash your hands in a day.
Talk to a professional: If you’re finding it difficult to manage your OCD compulsions on your own, consider seeking help from a qualified mental health expert. A professional can help you understand the thoughts and emotions driving your compulsions and help you develop healthy coping strategies to manage or overcome OCD compulsions.
OCD compulsions are often time-consuming and challenging to resist. But with treatment and self-help strategies, it is possible to overcome OCD symptoms and live a more fulfilling life. Remember to take things one step at a time and be patient with yourself. Recovery from OCD can be a long and challenging process, but it is possible.