Living With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
The anxiety disorder can interfere with your daily routine and life in general. But you can learn how to manage those obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

Everyday Health
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you know that checking to make sure your alarm clock is set correctly before going to bed is something you might do 10, 20, or 100 times, along with checking the stove, the door locks, the windows, and more. You know that washing your hands is an act you might repeat so often that your skin becomes raw or breaks down. These sorts of obsessive thoughts and repetitive, compulsive actions are what characterize OCD.

How OCD Can Affect Your Life

OCD causes people to become fixated on anything from germs to accidents to injuries, which, in turn, leads to developing rituals to calm these obsessive thoughts. Some people with this anxiety disorder develop intrusive thoughts that they will inadvertently harm someone else. Jeff Bell, author of Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, was terrified that he might injure someone with his car.

"What if I unknowingly through my negligence harmed or might harm somebody?" Bell used to ask himself. Obsessed with his fear of hurting someone, he became anxious each time he drove over a pothole or bump in the road, convinced that he had hit someone.

Bell was a news anchor at the time and frequently had to drive to cover stories. Eventually, he started taking cabs to assignments because of his OCD. What’s more, his driving obsession led to other obsessions, like washing his hands compulsively.

Finally, Bell sought treatment for his OCD. With the aid of cognitive-behavioral therapy that helped desensitize him to his fears, Bell learned to manage his OCD. While Bell admits that his OCD may not be truly cured, he says he has learned to cope with the disorder and now lives a full life. “I still face challenges, but I have the tools that I need to confront the disorder and the more I confront it, the fewer challenges I have to face on a day-to-day basis," notes Bell.

OCD: Managing Anxiety Disorder Day-to-Day

If you're struggling with OCD, here are some tips that can help:

Explore your anxieties. Be honest about subjects that provoke your anxiety and then explore which fears are truly realistic and which aren't. "Anxiety loves ignorance, and anxieties are generated by these images in one's mind,” says Martin N. Seif, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City and Greenwich, Conn. “The imagery becomes so intense that you start to believe it." Challenging the validity of your obsessions can help offset some of your fear and discomfort.

Make a list. Write down your obsessions and compulsions, and slowly try to reduce your compulsive behaviors. Seif suggests actively trying to cut back on these behaviors: If you check the door 10 times before bed, try checking it only twice.

Acknowledge that compulsive rituals interfere with your life. Becoming aware of the negative impact that compulsive behaviors have on your life means you're ready to get help, says Seif. OCD can affect your job and your social life, and may quickly expand beyond your initial obsessions and compulsions. When you recognize that every day is disrupted by your rituals, it's time to seek therapy.

Face your fears with therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy uses repeated exposure to anxiety-provoking objects and situations to help desensitize you and alleviate your symptoms. Slowly you'll face and eventually overcome your fears. If you see that nothing bad happens even when you don’t wash your hands 20 times, you can slowly take control of your compulsive behaviors. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help you through this process.

While living with OCD can be challenging, it is a disorder that can be managed effectively. When you want to take back control of your life, reach out for help.

Last Updated: 06/02/2009
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