Ways To Manage OCD

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 10, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness characterized by unwanted, reoccurring thoughts and feelings. The OCD Awareness Week every 2nd week of October aims to enlighten people about the symptoms of OCD so that more can get effective treatments. Living with the symptoms of OCD can feel isolating, but treatment options are available. 

The constant flow of unpleasant thoughts, obsessions and compulsions may irritate you or make you feel unhinged. It is essential to know that you are not alone; this disorder affects more than 2.2 million people across the world, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. From intensive treatment and medication to a healthy diet, behavior therapy and more, there are several different treatments to effectively manage obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Symptoms

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a “long-lasting mental health disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and 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 obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which include symmetry, contamination, doubt and harm, and unacceptable thoughts. However, not everyone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experiences one of these four types as a textbook case. 

Is OCD becoming more difficult to manage?

There are many branches of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) associated with the four main types. For example, many people experience OCD symptoms focused on food as a type of contamination OCD. These people may experience no other symptoms of contamination OCD but feel that some foods are dirty and should be avoided. This can result in anxiety and disordered eating as the person with OCD endeavors to find “safe” foods. 

Another example is confession OCD, wherein people with OCD must confess their perceived wrongdoings or unpleasant thoughts. This symptom of OCD is likely rooted in shame about obsessive thoughts. One OCD subtype is relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD), wherein an individual experiences obsessive thoughts about their partner and/or their relationship with them. There’s also PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections), a type of OCD that occurs in childhood following strep infections.

As you can see, there are many different symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and not everyone matches the “standard” types. As with other mental health disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder is often complex and multifaceted.

How to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder effectively: Coping mechanisms for OCD, therapy, and more

The American Psychiatric Association notes that OCD is considered a chronic disorder, meaning it is a lifelong mental health condition. People with OCD will likely see symptoms return or experience some symptoms forever, regardless of treatment. There are also examples of treatment-resistant cases. 

However, this does not mean the condition is untreatable. From deep brain stimulation to exposure and response prevention (ERP therapy), people can effectively seek the treatment of OCD to improve their quality of life. The symptoms may not go away entirely, but through psychotherapy, the person with OCD typically gains more control and stability in everyday life.

OCD is constantly being researched, and new treatment methods are discovered every few years. Still, the treatment methods listed below are the most effective at reducing compulsive behaviors for those who experience obsessive-compulsive disorder.

1. Determine what provokes you

One way to get treatment for OCD is to acknowledge the things that activate your obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Although the condition can sometimes be a constant flow of obsessive thoughts throughout the day, you likely have some things that provoke you, whether you realize them or not. Sometimes, OCD symptoms are activated by the fear of losing loved ones and family members. Or, they can be provoked by concerns about getting sick. For some, a lack of sleep can make OCD symptoms worsen significantly the following day. 

When you understand the things that cause your compulsive rituals, you can begin to manage your symptoms. You can learn to prepare yourself for the activation. Then, you can generate healthy coping mechanisms such as taking deep breaths or going for a walk.

2. Understand your obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Understanding OCD can be helpful for those with the disease. 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. 

One such book is Brain Lock by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz. In this book, Dr. Schwartz explains his findings while studying OCD at UCLA and outlines some practical ways to heal your brain. The book offers expert insight and brain scans to help you understand how OCD is treated.

The more you understand your symptoms, the more control you may have over your racing thoughts. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain. Thus, coming to an understanding of your disorder can be comforting. 

3. Get to the root of your obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Many people with OCD can pinpoint the moment their compulsions start. Typically, these starting points occur in times of fear or uncertainty. Sometimes, understanding why your OCD started and the feeling that caused you to have the compulsions can help you.

Knowing when your symptoms started can help you further understand why your brain is doing what it’s doing. It is widespread for people to start compulsions as a coping mechanism, only to have them develop into an endless, painful cycle. When you pinpoint the start of your disorderly behaviors, you can do some self-reflection. If you have a counselor, it may be a good idea to tell them the beginning of your compulsions so that they can also understand the root of the disorder.

4. Improve your diet 

When learning how to treat OCD symptoms, a factor that should not be ignored is the food you eat. Dropping blood sugar, for example, can lead to possible side effects such as feeling low or tired, which could trigger a downward spiral into obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. To prevent this, it is recommended people with OCD eat breakfast each morning. Eating nutritious foods and complex carbs throughout the day can help stabilize blood sugar levels. People with OCD may consider keeping a food journal to track their food consumption relative to the anxiety they experience. This can help you pinpoint which foods tend to accompany specific OCD symptoms. This can improve your OCD symptoms and make them more manageable.

5. Consider taking an SSRI

Another way to treat OCD is to take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- or SSRI -- which is a medication prescribed to help increase serotonin levels in the brain. A lack of serotonin can contribute significantly to OCD symptoms. Although SSRIs and medications cannot cure OCD, they can make it easier to manage symptoms as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

There are many types of SSRI medication on the market. Talking openly about your side effects and levels of anxiety about the drug you are taking will help you find the right one instead of simply taking higher doses. Remember that it can take a few trials to find the best SSRI for you and your symptoms and that SSRIs can also be helpful for other mental health concerns, such as depression or recurring suicidal thoughts.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Support is available 24/7.

Is OCD becoming more difficult to manage?

6. Find treatment for OCD: Exposure and response prevention to treat OCD

One thing you can do when experiencing OCD is to seek the help of a licensed counselor for treatment. One effective treatment for OCD is exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP therapy, a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Through these exposure and response prevention therapy sessions, the patient and counselor will find healthy ways to cope with OCD symptoms and manage compulsive behavior. Exposure and response prevention therapy for OCD isn’t the only option. Others, like acceptance and commitment therapy, intensive outpatient treatment, talking therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (using magnetic fields), and others may also be helpful . A social worker, counselor or therapist can help you learn how to effectively manage and get your OCD treated while becoming an important part of your support group.

The benefits of online treatment with obsessive-compulsive disorder

It may not be easy for a person with diagnosed OCD to keep an in-person appointment at a therapist’s office. Sometimes, the compulsions associated with this mental illness can be time-consuming and even debilitating. Online therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be a viable solution. With this treatment, you can connect and talk therapy with trained mental health counselors via the Internet at a time and place that works best for you. It can be possible to complete both cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure and response prevention therapy online. 

You may wonder if online counseling is an effective way to treat your symptoms. Research suggests it can be. A recent OCD UK study funded by the NHS talking therapy service found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) reduced OCD symptoms and anxiety and depression related to the disorder among study participants. 

For online counseling, BetterHelp is one option. BetterHelp has hundreds of licensed counselors specializing in OCD and other anxiety disorders. They can help you better understand your symptoms and seek healing from OCD.


Managing OCD symptoms can be overwhelming, but you don't have to struggle on your own. When you reach out to a licensed online therapist at BetterHelp, you'll be matched with a mental health professional within 48 hours who will then work with you to identify your goals and use evidence-based techniques for mitigating OCD symptoms. Whether you're hoping to identify the source of your triggers, improve your diet, or learn more about SSRIs, an online therapist can serve as a valuable resource.

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