Coping With Stress When You Have OCD

Woman sleeping in her bed
Astronaut Images/Getty Images

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you know that one of the biggest triggers of OCD symptoms is stress. While there are a number of ways that people choose to cope with stress, not all coping strategies are healthy. In fact, some can do more harm than good. Let’s review both healthy and unhealthy ways to manage your stress to help keep your OCD symptoms under control.

Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress

Getting a good night's sleep. An average of eight hours a night will do for most people, but this can vary, so experiment if you feel sleepy during the day.

Exercising consistently. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise even just three times a week can help reduce anxiety.

Turning to friends, family, and/or a support group. Support groups can reduce feelings of isolation. Supportive friends and family can also provide a welcome source of distraction from symptoms and listen to you when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Trying meditation or relaxation exercises. Meditation and deep breathing exercises calm the mind and body, which allows you to recover from the effects of stress.

Starting a gratitude journal. Grab a notebook and at the end of the day, write down everything you're grateful for, even if it's just one thing. Focusing on the positive rather than dwelling on the negative can help reduce stress and even help you become more grateful for the good things in your life, no matter how small.

Participating in activities you enjoy. Whether it's learning to play the guitar, singing karaoke at the local club, photographing the local scenery or reading a book, be sure to keep doing the activities you love regularly.

Participating in activities you love gives you a sense of joy and something to look forward to, along with relieving your stress.

Sticking to your treatment regimen. Make sure you are going to therapy and/or taking your prescribed medications as directed. When you're stressed, you particularly need the benefits your treatments provide.

Dealing with problems as they arise. You’ll get the best results by coping with your symptoms every day, instead of putting things off until they are really bad.

Unhealthy Ways to Cope With Stress

Using alcohol or other drugs. Although your symptoms might go away temporarily, they often become worse when you stop using.

Ignoring your problems. They aren’t going anywhere and will likely become worse the longer you ignore them.

Isolating yourself. You need the support of your friends and family to cope with OCD, so make sure you keep interacting with them as often as you can. Consider joining a support group in your community to boost your support even further. The people in your support group will understand what you deal with on a daily basis.

Blaming yourself for your OCD. Are you harder on yourself than you would be with a friend who had this illness? Practice being kind to yourself. You wouldn't have OCD if you had a choice, and you certainly are not to blame.

Trying to control things that you can't. Control what you can, like managing your stress in healthy ways, and let the rest take care of itself. It can be hard to give up control, but once you do, life can be a lot more enjoyable.

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