How To Treat OCD Effectively

Updated July 10, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

If you believe you are dealing with symptoms of OCD, it can feel incredibly isolating. The constant flow of unpleasant thoughts or compulsions can be incredibly irritating and make you feel, for lack of a better term, crazy. But it is important to know that you are not alone in the constant battle with OCD. This disorder affects more than 2.2 million people across the world, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Clearly, this disorder is fairly common, which means it has been researched. Thankfully, doctors, counselors, and therapists know how to treat OCD effectively.

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a “long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. There are at least four different types of OCD, which include symmetry, contamination, doubt and harm, and unacceptable thoughts. However, not every OCD sufferer deals with these four types as a textbook case. Symptoms can be very different for each individual who has OCD, but the purpose behind the compulsions remains the same-protection and comfort.

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There are many branches of OCD associated with the four main types. For example, many people struggle with OCD revolving food as a type of contamination OCD. Some people experience no other symptoms of contamination OCD but feel that some foods are dirty and should be avoided. This can result in disorderly eating, as the person with OCD struggles to find “safe” foods. Another example is confession OCD, where the person with OCD feels the need to confess their wrongdoings or unpleasant thoughts. This symptom of OCD has likely rooted in doubt and unacceptable thoughts about OCD types. As you can see, there are many different symptoms of OCD, and not everyone matches the “standard” types. With that being said, if you don’t match the four common types of OCD, you still could be diagnosed with it.

How To Treat OCD Effectively

OCD is considered a chronic disorder, meaning it is lifelong, and people with OCD will likely experience some symptoms forever. However, this does not mean OCD is untreatable. There are many effective ways to treat OCD that will improve the quality of life for the person affected. The symptoms may not go away entirely, but the person with OCD typically ends up feeling more control and stability throughout their everyday life. OCD is constantly undergoing testing, and new treatment methods are discovered every few years. But the treatment methods listed below tend to be the most effective for those who suffer from OCD.

  1. Find Out Your Triggers

A very helpful way to treat OCD is to realize what your triggers are. Although OCD can be a constant flow of obsessive thoughts throughout the entire day, you likely do have some triggers, whether you realize them or not. Sometimes, OCD symptoms are triggered by the fear of losing a loved one. Or, they are triggered by fears of getting sick. For some, a lack of sleep can significantly trigger their OCD symptoms the following day. No matter how great the day is or how safe the OCD sufferer feels, they can still struggle with an increase in symptoms because they are simply sleep-deprived.

When you start to understand your triggers that cause your compulsions, it can help to manage your symptoms. You can learn to prepare yourself for the trigger of an OCD compulsion and prepare yourself to go against what your brain is telling you. Then, you can generate healthy coping mechanisms such as taking deep breaths or going for a walk. It can also make your OCD seem more understandable, rather than leaving you feeling as if you are crazy.

  1. Understand Your OCD

Understanding OCD can be incredibly helpful for those who struggle with the disorder. Knowing what is going on in your brain to cause you to think the way you do can help you to heal. There are many books about OCD that explain what is going on inside the brain when someone feels the need to act on an obsession. An excellent book is Brain Lock by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz. In this book, Dr. Schwartz explains his findings on studying OCD at UCLA and very effective ways to heal your brain. The book offers great insight, along with brain scans, to help you understand how to treat OCD and what is causing you to do the things you do.

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No matter what book or article you read, try to find an understanding of OCD. The more you understand your OCD symptoms, the more control you have over your racing thoughts. OCD can be incredibly insolating. Looking at others who are seemingly “normal” can make you feel as though there is something wrong with you. But in reality, there is a chemical imbalance in your brain. So, finding an understanding of your disorder can be very comforting. When you can separate the symptom and the overwhelming feeling that something will go wrong, you can prevent yourself from acting on an obsession.

  1. Get To The Root Of Your OCD

For many people with OCD, they can pinpoint the moment they started their compulsions. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is very effective in terms of helping individuals deal with the obsessive thoughts associated with OCD. Typically, these starting points were in times of fear or uncertainty. Doing the compulsion helped them feel comforted in their situation because the compulsion protected them from further fear or pain. Occasionally, understanding why your OCD started and the feeling that caused you to the compulsions can help you.

Knowing when your OCD started can help you further understand why your brain is doing what it’s doing. It is very common for people to start the compulsions as a coping mechanism, but it turns into an endless, painful cycle. When you pinpoint the start of your disorderly behaviors, you can journal it and do some self-reflection. Consider why you continue to experience compulsions. Is it to protect others? Is it to prevent a catastrophic event? If you have a counselor, it is a great idea to communicate the start of your compulsions so they can understand the root as well.

  1. Improve Your Diet

When learning how to treat OCD symptoms in yourself, a factor that should not be ignored is your diet. According to WebMD, when your blood sugar drops, it can make you tired and in a worse mood. Any lack of control in your mood should be avoided when you have OCD. This disorder, as its name suggests, is very compulsive. So, when someone with OCD loses control of their emotions or mentality, it can turn into a downward spiral. To prevent this, it is recommended people with OCD eat a healthy breakfast each morning. Throughout the day, eating nutritious foods and complex carbs can help stabilize blood sugar levels. An article by Livestrong also recommends avoiding processed foods, as they can add unneeded stress on the body.

A great idea for people with OCD is to keep a food journal for yourself as you combat the disorder. Take note of your food consumption versus the anxiety levels you experience. This can help you notice which foods tend to accompany OCD symptoms. Every person is different, and every person processes foods differently. So, if you notice some foods such as dairy or gluten, put more stress on your body, try to avoid them. This can drastically improve your OCD symptoms and can make them much more manageable.

  1. Consider Taking An SSRI

Another helpful way to treat OCD is to take an SSRI. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are a type of pharmaceutical drug that helps to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. A lack of serotonin is a large contributor to OCD symptoms. With that being said, taking an SSRI can be an incredibly helpful way to treat OCD. Although many people still have symptoms of OCD despite taking medication, the symptoms typically become much more manageable. This brings a well-deserved sense of relief to the person suffering from this stressful disorder.

There are many different SSRIs on the market. So, be sure to consult your psychiatrist or doctor about which one is best for you. Talking openly about your side effects and levels of anxiety on the drug you are taking will help you find the right one for you. If it is taking longer than expected to find the right medication for you, don’t lose hope. It can take a few trials to find the best SSRI for you and your symptoms, but it will be worth it in the long run.

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  1. Get Help From A Licensed Counselor

One of the best things you can do when struggling with OCD is to seek the help of a licensed counselor. Very effective treatment for OCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Another term for CBT is talk therapy, in which the patient talks with their counselor about their symptoms. Through these therapy sessions, the patient and counselor will find healthy ways to cope with OCD symptoms. A counselor can help you learn how to treat your OCD effectively when you are going about your daily routine. So, it is highly recommended you find a counselor who can help you take on the battle of OCD.

If you are having difficulty finding a counselor near your home who specializes in OCD, online counseling can be a great solution. For online counseling, BetterHelp is an amazing resource. BetterHelp has hundreds of licensed counselors who specialize in OCD and other anxiety disorders. They can help you seek healing from OCD and can help you understand your symptoms.


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