Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Upon diagnosing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the next step is to start the road to recovery with a treatment plan. As a serious mental illness, treating OCD depends on the patient's needs and what personal goals they want to achieve. Various treatments are available with many circumstances requiring a combination of therapy, medication, and self-care strategies depending on the severity of symptoms.
Studies continue to look at how people can recover from OCD, including how long symptoms subside or go into remission. Since there are different approaches to treating symptoms, you must understand your symptoms and the help you need. There are many approaches to treating OCD symptoms, including the following:
Several medication options help control OCD behaviors, such as compulsions and obsessions. Many common name brand antidepressant medications known for treating anxiety and depression are also useful for OCD. Patients need to discuss which option is best, depending on symptom severity, with their doctor or mental health specialist. Some medical professionals may also offer specific psychiatric medication options as well.
Your doctor or mental health specialist will help determine which option is best based on several factors. Sometimes more than one medication is necessary to help control symptoms. The doctor tries to prescribe the best option with the lowest dosage possible. Patients are encouraged to give the medicine time to achieve results. It may take a few weeks to see improvements in symptoms.
It is essential to understand the possible side effects of medications. It is also important to mention any medicines you are currently taking to ensure the right medicine is selected to avoid interactions. Some people require special monitoring to ensure their medicine provides results. Let your doctor know about the side effects experienced. In some cases, people could be at risk of self-harm, but as your body gets used to the medicine, the risk decreases as your mood improves.
As mentioned previously, it is essential to let your doctor or mental health specialist know about any other medicines you take, including over-the-counter and vitamin supplements. Some antidepressants lose their effectiveness when interacting with certain drugs or ingredients from other substances. In rare cases, it could cause adverse reactions.
Take your medication as directed by your doctor. If you feel like your antidepressant isn't producing results or have other health concerns, contact your doctor. Do not stop taking your medication unless you have permission from your doctor. Stopping without proper guidance could create more problems. If you start to feel better after taking medication for a while, continue your medication until your doctor says it's safe to stop. Stopping your medication abruptly could cause a relapse of your symptoms.
Therapy for OCD includes using one or more therapy types to understand the emotions behind compulsive behaviors. Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is used to focus on multiple components associated with OCD. An effective therapy option is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps explore thoughts behind exaggerated actions. People learn healthy ways to approach obsessive thoughts without compulsion.
Therapy helps reduce the intensity and frequency of symptoms. Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) is another behavioral therapy that helps patients control their symptoms by repeatedly exposing patients to the source of their obsession to encourage healthy behavioral responses. Sometimes OCD affects other people in the patient's life, such as family members and friends. Family therapy promotes understanding to reduce conflicts among family members. Family and friends also learn how to support their loved one with OCD to stay motivated to complete treatment.
Some people benefit from group therapy sessions by sharing their thoughts with peers who suffer from OCD. Group therapy helps reduce feelings of isolation while gaining encouragement from peers. It is possible to engage in one or more therapy types depending on your situation to achieve favorable results. Therapy also helps patients deal with emotional pain from their past, including unaddressed emotional stress from traumatic events. Such stress can fuel OCD symptoms, and, in some cases, it needs to be resolved before treatment is effective.
When you're not attending therapy, practice the techniques you learn. Some include managing your symptoms, and it will require regular practice to see results.
Many following an OCD treatment plan may be encouraged to change their lifestyle to gain and sustain results. These actions may range from adopting new habits to acknowledging old habits that lead to unhealthy behaviors. The right lifestyle changes may help reduce OCD symptoms and keep away emotions such as worry, fear, and anxiety.
Regular exercise provides a natural boost to your energy and mood. It may help your body stay focused and in control of symptoms. By spending 30 minutes per day, a few days a week you can start to see benefits to both your body and your mental health. It may include any activity that you are comfortable doing such as brisk walking, jogging, or aerobics. You can use your physical exercise as mental exercise also by focusing your attention on your physical movements. It is another way to calm your mind while being productive.
Get plenty of sleep at night. A sleep schedule reduces the risk of being tired during the day leading to anxiety or insomnia. Lack of sleep also fuels anxious thoughts. When you have plenty of rest, it makes it easier to cope. If you have an anxiety disorder, it may help reduce related symptoms as well as OCD concerns.
Avoid nicotine and alcohol. These elements may help reduce anxiety and worry, but it is only temporary and quickly wears off leaving you with more anxiety in the future. Some people experience higher anxiety levels and increased severity of OCD symptoms after consuming nicotine or alcohol. Learning how to manage stress by using relaxation techniques is another way to calm your mind when you feel uneasy or worried. Methods to consider include deep breathing, yoga, and mindfulness meditation.
Know Triggers, How To Resist, And Combat Obsessive Thoughts
Your triggers are warning signs that happen before you engage in compulsive or obsessive behavior. Your doctor may help you identify these issues. Make a plan to help you prepare if your symptoms return. If you experience changes in your symptoms, contact your doctor.
ERP therapy provides skills and techniques to help with compulsions. Your triggers lead to compulsive behavior, and you need to learn how to resist engaging in repetitive behaviors. You can practice by being exposed to what triggers your symptoms but refrain from acting on the urge. ERP helps you do this in baby steps, and you'll work your way up. It also helps if you learn how to better tolerate anxiety to make dealing with challenges easier.
Challenging obsessive thoughts is a struggle, but you can do so with practice. Keep a journal and write down your obsessive thoughts. You can write the urge over and over again until it passes. As you write it over and over, it loses its control and power over you. Engaging in writing while having the urge presents a challenge, but it helps the urge disappear sooner than you think. Allow yourself to worry, but minimize how long you do so to keep them from taking over. Challenge your thoughts by asking questions and determining the facts. Take time to understand your feelings and what is causing your fear or worry.
Moral Support For Coping
When you feel lonely or not in control, dealing with OCD symptoms becomes more challenging. In some cases, they could worsen if you don't have support to help you stay focused. Besides OCD counseling, you should have a select group of individuals you can reach for support. Staying connected with people you care about is important because it helps you feel less vulnerable. Some suffering from OCD find it helpful to have a friend to talk to when an urge comes. It helps take away the impulse to act on an obsession or compulsion.
Isolation may aggravate symptoms, and you're more likely to engage in impulsive behaviors. Try to have at least one person you can have face-to-face conversations with when having an urge or feeling worried. Talking to that person may help your urges feel less threatening. Another option is to join a support group for OCD and connect with peers. A support group is a reminder that you are not alone in your struggle. They provide a space to share your thoughts, feelings, and let you cope with others. You're enabled to share and help each other while dealing with similar experiences.
Alternative Treatment Options
There are other options, also known as OCD interventions, that may help with controlling behaviors. Sometimes talk therapy and medication may not be enough. You can talk to your doctor or mental health specialist about treatment-resistant options such as residential treatment programs, outpatient programs, brain stimulation or DBS, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). These methods are commonly used when traditional approaches produce little or no results. When considering treatment-resistant options, learn how they have been approved for the treatment of OCD symptoms.
Treatment for OCD symptoms includes understanding the personal needs and goals of the patient. A treatment plan may consist of a combination of options to produce effective results. Patients need to work closely with their doctor or mental health provider to achieve results.