Self-help for OCD tip 1: Challenge obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), there are many ways you can help yourself in addition to seeking therapy.
Refocus your attention
When you’re experiencing OCD thoughts and urges, try shifting your attention to something else.
- You could exercise, jog, walk, listen to music, read, surf the web, play a video game, make a phone call, or knit. The important thing is to do something you enjoy for at least 15 minutes, in order to delay your response to the obsessive thought or compulsion.
- At the end of the delaying period, reassess the urge. In many cases, the urge will no longer be quite as intense. Try delaying for a longer period. The longer you can delay the urge, the more it will likely change.
Write down your obsessive thoughts or worries
Keep a pad and pencil on you, or type on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. When you begin to obsess, write down all your thoughts or compulsions.
- Keep writing as the OCD urges continue, aiming to record exactly what youre thinking, even if you’re repeating the same phrases or the same urges over and over.
- Writing it all down will help you see just how repetitive your obsessions are.
- Writing down the same phrase or urge hundreds of times will help it lose its power.
- Writing thoughts down is much harder work than simply thinking them, so your obsessive thoughts are likely to disappear sooner.
Anticipate OCD urges
By anticipating your compulsive urges before they arise, you can help to ease them. For example, if your compulsive behavior involves checking that doors are locked, windows closed, or appliances turned off, try to lock the door or turn off the appliance with extra attention the first time.
- Create a solid mental picture and then make a mental note. Tell yourself, “The window is now closed,” or “I can see that the oven is turned off.”
- When the urge to check arises later, you will find it easier to relabel it as “just an obsessive thought.”
Create an OCD worry period
Rather than trying to suppress obsessions or compulsions, develop the habit of rescheduling them.
- Choose one or two 10 minute “worry periods” each day, time you can devote to obsessing. Choose a set time and place (e.g. in the living room from 8:00 to 8:10 a.m. and 5:00 to 5:10 p.m.) that’s early enough it won’t make you anxious before bedtime.
- During your worry period, focus only on negative thoughts or urges. Don’t try to correct them. At the end of the worry period, take a few calming breaths, let the obsessive thoughts or urges go, and return to your normal activities. The rest of the day, however, is to be designated free of obsessions and compulsions.
- When thoughts or urges come into your head during the day, write them down and “postpone” them to your worry period. Save it for later and continue to go about your day.
- Go over your “worry list” during the worry period. Reflect on the thoughts or urges you wrote down during the day. If the thoughts are still bothering you, allow yourself to obsess about them, but only for the amount of time you’ve allotted for your worry period.
Create a tape of your OCD obsessions
Focus on one specific worry or obsession and record it to a tape recorder, laptop, or smartphone.
- Recount the obsessive phrase, sentence, or story exactly as it comes into your mind.
- Play the tape back to yourself, over and over for a 45-minute period each day, until listening to the obsession no longer causes you to feel highly distressed.
- By continuously confronting your worry or obsession you will gradually become less anxious. You can then repeat the exercise for a different obsession.