Obsessive Behavior: 10 Ways To Cope With OCD

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated July 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness characterized by a series of fears that become obsessions. These obsessions can cause a person to repeatedly perform certain actions or compulsions. Some of the more well-known compulsions include locking doors multiple times, washing hands excessively, and repeating words or noises a certain number of times.

Typically, a person with OCD feels a deep need to perform their compulsions to relieve anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts. If they try to resist them, they can become anxious, irritable, or even angry. Despite the challenges of OCD, there are ways to treat OCD and learn how to keep intrusive thoughts from interfering with your happiness and well-being. 

Below are 10 strategies that may help you cope with OCD more effectively:

Do your research

Getty/AnnaStills
Obsessions and compulsions are not uncommon

Perhaps the first step to helping yourself is to understand your symptoms. Consider doing some research to find out everything you can about your condition.

If you don't understand OCD, you may end up trying treatments that are ineffective or even harmful. For example, some may try to ignore their symptoms as a way to forget their obsessions. However, this is not typically a viable solution.

Take a break

If you feel overwhelmed by obsessive behaviors, you may want to take a break. When you are experiencing these compulsions, the anxiety and distress you feel can be overwhelming. You might focus on your breathing and pay attention to the tenseness in your shoulders and throughout your body. As you breathe, you may feel your body start to relax.

Another thing you can do is take a simple walk (or run) in the park or at the gym. Exercising releases endorphins—happy chemicals that tend to relax your mind and body. 

Even though taking a break may not eliminate your obsessive thoughts, it may make their presence less stressful.

Practice self-care

Getty/Halfpoint Images

Self-care can consist of simple strategies tailored to your needs. Consider setting aside time to pay attention to yourself and your needs or wants. You can take this time to do activities that make you feel relaxed. Some people choose to listen to soft music or take a bubble bath. Others prefer to practice medication or engage in other restful activities.

Another benefit of self-care is that it may give you some control over how you feel. While it may not directly address your OCD symptoms, it can revitalize your mind and equip you to not act on urges that arise.

Don’t suppress your thoughts

While thoughts and obsessions can create stress and anxiety, it may be counterproductive to try to suppress them. Instead, it may be helpful to acknowledge your thoughts but resist the urge to act.

At first, this could prove to be difficult. You might feel an overwhelming urge that seems to get worse the longer you fight it. As time goes on, though, it may get easier. You might notice your urge start to fade, and eventually, you may not have the urge at all.

If you are experiencing multiple obsessions, you might want to try to focus on one at a time. Taking on all (or many) at once can sometimes be overwhelming. Consider setting realistic goals and starting small. This may help you resist the urge to fall into perfectionism

Keep your support system close

Your support system may be one of your best tools to manage compulsive behavior. This can include friends, family, a mentor, and a licensed counselor or therapist.

It may be especially helpful to include people that you can call or text when you feel an obsession arise. They can encourage you and possibly help distract you from things that trigger your thoughts.

You might also consider enlisting the help of a licensed mental health professional. There are therapists who can give you homework assignments and other tips to help you manage your OCD.

Avoid drugs and alcohol

For many trying to manage their obsessive behavior on their own, it may be tempting to turn to drugs or alcohol.

While these substances may provide temporary relief, many of the health risks associated with drug and alcohol use can be as difficult or worse than OCD. Further, the effects of drugs and alcohol may make your condition worse in the long run.

Use technology to your advantage

Technology can be a helpful tool in your journey to manage your OCD. Perhaps you have an obsession with making sure the oven is turned off or the door is locked. If this is the case, you might consider installing a camera facing the areas you find yourself checking multiple times. This might serve as a way to avoid going home to check again. 

However, it may be important to limit the number of times you check so that you don’t develop a new obsession with checking the camera. 

Don't engage intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome, irrational thoughts that come on suddenly. They can range from mild to extremely disturbing. 

When you think of an intrusive thought, it may help to acknowledge it without giving it power. You may want to remind yourself that intrusive thoughts are a part of your condition but are not indicative of who you are as a person.

Celebrate yourself

Getty/Luis Alvarez
Obsessions and compulsions are not uncommon

Consider celebrating your small victories. This may give you the strength and perseverance to keep pushing forward, especially when it gets tough.

When you reach a milestone, no matter how big or small, consider making it a point to reward yourself. This can be something simple like treating yourself to your favorite meal, or you can do something more lavish such as going out to a nice dinner with friends or throwing a party.

You may also want to continue reminding yourself that you are undergoing treatment and that it's sometimes going to be tough. Still, if you celebrate yourself, the happiness and joy that you feel after you accomplish something significant could give you enough energy to keep pushing forward.

Be patient

As you work toward coping with OCD, it may help to be patient with yourself and grant yourself grace where needed. Recovery typically doesn’t happen overnight. There may be many slips and falls on your journey. This may frustrate you, and you might think more than once about giving up on treatment. You might experience less anxiety if you are patient with yourself just as you would be with a friend experiencing the same thing.

Getting help with OCD

If you’re experiencing challenges with OCD, it may help to speak with a licensed therapist. If your symptoms make it difficult to leave home for therapy, you might consider online therapy, which research has demonstrated to be just as effective as in-person therapy. One study published in the journal Cureus found that internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) was effective for OCD, anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder. 

With online therapy, you can communicate with a therapist in a way that’s most comfortable for you—by audio, video, live chat, or a combination of these methods. Also, BetterHelp allows you to message your therapist at any time through in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. This may prove to be helpful if you experience urges in between sessions and want to write them down in the moment.

Below are some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing intrusive thoughts.

“Melanie is such a thoughtful and caring counselor. She has really helped me in dealing with my OCD and provided me with a lot of support through the conversations we have had as well as providing me with helpful coping mechanisms. Melanie is very non-judgmental and is really willing to help you deal with any anxieties you are having while ensuring that you stay on the right track.”

“Laura has been a lifesaver, literally. Without her, I would have drowned in my compulsive, obsessive, irrational thoughts. Thank you for saving me from me and making me feel worthy, safe and valid. You are an angel Laura!”

Takeaway

If you’re experiencing challenges with intrusive thoughts related to OCD, know that you don’t have to face them alone. In addition to using the above strategies, you may find it helpful to speak with a licensed counselor, whether in person or online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people with OCD, and you can typically start within 48 hours. Take the first step toward finding relief from OCD and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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