Living With OCD: Advice For OCD People And Their Loved Ones

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 06/24/2022

When you or someone you know receive(s) an OCD diagnosis, it may feel like the entire world has come to a halt. Though there is a lot of public misconception about what OCD is, many of us know that it can be a serious and intense mental disorder.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways that you can be supportive of others with OCD. There are also ways to help others understand how they can also be supportive, either toward you or others. 

Young married couple communicating on threshold of house

Living with OCD is not simple, but it is doable. Through proper treatment and some of the tips we'll discuss below, it's possible to live a happy and full life even with OCD.

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is a chronic mental disorder in which a person experiences intense, uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions

  • Obsessions: Repeated thoughts or imagery or invasive/uncontrollable thoughts. Obsessions usually cause a great deal of distress and may lead an individual to resort to compulsions.
  • Compulsions: Repeated behaviors that someone with OCD uses to cope with the distress caused by obsessions. It's important to note that not all repetitive or routine behavior is considered a compulsion.

Both obsessions and compulsions can interrupt a person's daily life and severely impact their functionality. OCD patients often recognize that their obsessions/compulsions are irrational but still cannot control or get rid of them. 

To make things even more challenging, many individuals with OCD feel little actual relief from performing rituals/compulsions, meaning that they may feel unable to remove themselves from their disorder.

Specific symptoms of OCD typically revolve around the specific obsessions and compulsions individuals struggle with. 

For example, an individual who struggles with health anxiety and intense obsessions with germs may experience high levels of stress surrounding cleanliness and frequently clean themselves (hand washing is common) to compensate. Other common obsessions revolve around fear of harm, unwanted sexual thoughts, religion and spirituality, and perfectionism.

Person Washing Hands

We all have intrusive thoughts from time to time, and all perform our sorts of rituals (and we may even be perfectionists, too!). Still, it's important to differentiate between the symptoms of OCD and normal, healthy behavior. OCD is a serious mental health condition that causes a great deal of distress and significantly impacts multiple aspects of a person's life.

OCD Test

The symptoms of OCD can be complex and very individual, so it might be a little challenging to identify whether or not your own experiences might match up. You also might be worried or overwhelmed if you suspect that you or a loved one might be dealing with OCD - this is completely normal and entirely understandable. 

Fortunately, OCD is a very treatable illness. The first step to treatment, though, is establishing whether or not a disorder is present. A great tool to help you analyze and better understand your symptoms is our free, confidential OCD test. This test is not a diagnostic tool, nor is it meant to encourage you to try and diagnose yourself. Instead, you will be prompted to answer questions about your symptoms to give you a better idea of where you stand.

Always speak with a healthcare professional about your concerns regarding mental health. It can be very helpful and reassuring to educate yourself and utilize resources available online (forums, informational guides, and even our test!). Still, they do not replace the care of an actual doctor.

Life With OCD

Living with OCD is no easy feat, and it can honestly look different from day-to-day. The severity of an individual's symptoms will largely impact their experience.

Individuals with OCD are at an increased risk of developing other mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, in addition to their obsessive and compulsive symptoms. The presence of other disorders may also impact a person's experience and treatment plans.

Even those who have their OCD symptoms under control may still have bad or especially symptomatic days. Like many other mental disorders, OCD can change and evolve based on other factors in a person's life. That's why it's important to educate yourself and be aware of the different ways OCD can show in behaviors, emotions, and thoughts.

Serious woman using laptop while listening to music in earphones

How To Live With OCD

There is no one correct way to live with OCD, but many people find success and relief from their symptoms through a thoughtful treatment plan. Having a great support system is also important, and it's possible to access one even if you can't access the support of friends or family!

One of the best ways to live with OCD and cope with its symptoms is to commit to taking care of yourself (to the best of your ability). Not only does self-care make you feel physically and emotionally better, but it also helps you regain confidence and a sense of control over life. 

Self-care doesn't have to be big or extravagant. It might be something as simple as getting out of bed and getting yourself dressed, or maybe preparing a nutritious meal. A good sleep schedule and regular physical activity are also key ingredients to a healthy body and mind. 

Reaching Out To Others

Another crucial component of OCD treatment for many, as mentioned previously, is the support of others. If you can speak about your challenges with friends and family (and feel comfortable doing so), it's a great first step. 

Some individuals may need to seek support outside of just loved ones or feel more comfortable speaking about their experiences with others who can personally relate. In either scenario, a support group is an excellent solution. 

Group of People Near Wall

Support groups may take some of the burdens out of sharing how you feel - after all, there's less of a need to explain how compelling OCD symptoms can be to someone who has personally experienced them. Regardless of where you turn to find support and compassion from others, it's an important step on the road toward well-controlled symptoms.

Of course, the most significant part of living with OCD may be the treatment that comes along with it. Because OCD is not a curable condition, it typically requires consistent, long-term treatment.

OCD Treatment Options

There are different types of treatment available for different levels of severity when it comes to OCD. Patients dealing with more intense or debilitating symptoms may benefit from inpatient care, for example, even though the average patient may not.

OCD treatment almost always includes some type of therapy. Therapy may target the source of obsessions/compulsions, address how to manage stress or anxiety, and more. You may also work with various healthcare providers to address both your physical and mental healthcare needs as you go through treatment.

As we've discussed, some individuals might find support groups or group therapy to be especially beneficial. Be sure to speak with your doctor about what sort of options are available to you locally if you're interested. 

It's also important not to dismiss the resources that can be obtained just through the internet. Telehealth services are constantly evolving, and it's now possible to connect with both healthcare professionals and other OCD patients right from your own home.

Supporting Those With OCD 

Since support is such a big part of living with OCD, what sort of things can you do as a loved one to help them? 

A great way to answer that question is to ask your loved one what you can do to be supportive. Because every person and every case of OCD is different, what works for one person or at one time might not be universal.

When it comes to OCD, shame, embarrassment, and frustration can all be common occurrences. That's why it's a good idea to educate yourself on OCD as much as possible. 

Even if you don't personally experience it, keeping yourself well-versed in what it's like to live with OCD will likely make you a much more empathetic and supportive ally. Don't worry - you don't need to be an expert!

Two Women Sitting on Ground Near Bonfire

Another way to be an ally is to encourage others to be aware and considerate of OCD and how it affects those who deal with it. It's easy to simplify OCD or buy into the misconception that it's merely a tendency to be tidy or nitpicky, but the reality is that OCD is a serious disorder. It can shake the world of those who live with it and drastically impact their lives.

OCD In Media

Representation is a great way to get the general public to be more informed about and aware of mental health conditions, including OCD. 

The media isn't completely free of OCD representation, but we still have a far way to go. For celebrity Mara Wilson, OCD isn't something to be ashamed of. Wilson, who has openly discussed her struggles with OCD, has done amazing work to inform the public about OCD. 

Conclusion

Life with OCD may be challenging, but that doesn't have to mean it's impossible. 

Patience, understanding, and flexibility are all key when it comes to treating OCD. This is true even if you're not dealing with the disorder itself; friends, family, and other loved ones are also important parts of the recovery process.

There might not be a quick fix for OCD, and there may not be a cure, but there are certainly ways to navigate your diagnosis and live a full life. Remember, treatment can be lengthy and may involve several different trials and techniques; take care of and be kind to yourself and others no matter what.