Tips for Living Better With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Men and women sitting and talking
Portra Images / Getty Images

Living with OCD is similar to living with other types of chronic illness, like diabetes, asthma or heart disease; it requires courage, support from friends, family, and co-workers, as well as a strong partnership with both medical and psychological primary supports.

The Importance of Finding OCD Coping Strategies for You as an Individual

As with all chronic illnesses, your focus should be on the day-to-day management of your symptoms, rather than a final cure. This does not mean, however, that you have to be miserable or that you should give up on your goals. With good coping strategies and proper treatment, many people with OCD can lead normal, fulfilling lives.

Becoming an expert on your own condition is the key to living with a chronic illness. Unlike an acute illness like a heart attack, where you can rely on health professionals to take care of you, living successfully with a chronic illness like OCD means learning the triggers that make your OCD symptoms worse, as well as discovering which coping strategies reduce your suffering and allow you to get the most out of life.

Why Reducing Stress Is Essential to Coping With OCD

Stress often triggers symptoms of OCD. One way of thinking about the effect of stress is to imagine a "stress bucket." Each of us has a stress bucket; some of us have deep buckets, while others have buckets that are quite shallow. The stress that you experience each day is like water being poured into the bucket, and because we all have different-sized buckets, some people's buckets fill up more quickly than others. If your bucket overflows, you get wet.

If you have OCD, your bucket might be smaller than other people's, leaving you more prone to "overflows" when stress levels become high. Practically speaking, this means that you might experience an increase in your OCD symptoms. An important part of successfully coping with OCD is to keep an eye on how full your stress bucket is and to empty it when the water level gets too high. Relaxation techniques can be helpful in reducing stress levels.

Finding Support Can Be Extremely Helpful When Living With OCD

If you have OCD, you know that the stigma attached to mental illness can make it difficult to cope. Even though it is clear that OCD, like other chronic illnesses, has biological roots, there are people who continue to believe that people challenged with mental illness should be able to "snap out of it." This attitude can be particularly hurtful when it is held by friends, family, and intimate partners.

Because mental illnesses such as OCD cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or seen by others, you may have experienced the doubt that people can have about the legitimacy of your symptoms and their effect on your life. You may have even experienced discrimination at work for taking time off to cope with your illness.

Joining a support group or participating in group therapy can be an excellent way to get the social support you need. You are not the only one experiencing these symptoms — however strange or distressing they may seem.

Support groups also can provide a safe place for you to discuss your illness and its challenges. People with OCD often understand the challenges you are facing in a way that few others can.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Munford PR. International OCD Foundation. Self-Directed Treatment for OCD: The Irony of Doing the Opposite.

  2. Adams TG, Kelmendi B, Brake CA, Gruner P, Badour CL, Pittenger C. The role of stress in the pathogenesis and maintenance of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks). 2018;2. doi:10.1177/2470547018758043

  3. Manjula M, Sudhir PM. New-wave behavioral therapies in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Moving toward integrated behavioral therapies. Indian J Psychiatry. 2019;61(Suppl 1):S104-S113. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_531_18

  4. Nestadt G, Grados M, Samuels JF. Genetics of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2010;33(1):141-58. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2009.11.001

  5. International OCD Foundation. How is OCD Diagnosed?.

  6. Safak Y, Karadere ME, Ozdel K, et al. The effectiveness of cognitive behavioral group psychotherapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Turk Psikiyatri Derg. 2014;25(4):225-33.

By Owen Kelly, PhD
Owen Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, professor, and author in Ontario, ON, who specializes in anxiety and mood disorders.