7 Things NOT to Do If You Have OCD

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you know that life can feel like it’s out of your control. All those unwanted intrusive thoughts swirling in your head drive you to engage in compulsive behaviors that interfere with daily living. That’s hard enough, but did you know that your everyday habits could be making your OCD symptoms worse?

That’s right, by engaging in some common lifestyle choices, you may be unknowingly exacerbating your mental health condition. It’s time to discover what not to do if you have OCD and find healthier habits that improve OCD symptoms.

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WHAT IS OCD?

OCD is a mental health condition involving obsessions and compulsions.

  • Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted thoughts, urges, or mental images. These thoughts can be frightening, tend to get stuck in a person’s mind and loop over and over.
  • Compulsions are the ritualistic behaviors people engage in to cope with the feelings of distress or anxiety that occur due to the obsessions.

When OCD remains untreated, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors may lead to serious consequences that can negatively impact every aspect of life. It can damage your relationships, job performance, family dynamics, and more.

COMMON OCD SYMPTOMS

Obsessions typically involve repetitive thoughts, feelings, worries, fears, or doubts. These thoughts and mental images often revolve around topics, such as:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Forbidden thoughts about sexuality
  • Harming others or yourself
  • Fear of losing of control
  • Fear of losing or misplacing things
  • Fear of forgetting something
  • Taboo thoughts about religion
  • A need to symmetry
  • Perfectionism

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors performed to alleviate the feelings of anxiety that accompany obsessions. Common compulsive actions include:

  • Excessive washing, especially handwashing
  • Excessive and unnecessary cleaning
  • Compulsive counting and an urge to stop on a “good” number or a “safe” number
  • Repeating words, prayers, names, or phrases—aloud or silently
  • Excessive checking—making sure the door is locked or the stove is turned off
  • Repeatedly touching things, frequently in a specific sequence
  • Arranging things symmetrically

All of us may occasionally engage in such behaviors. It’s when you know these actions are excessive, but you can’t control them that they become compulsive. And it’s when they interfere with daily living that it’s likely a mental health problem.

Although these are the most common symptoms of OCD, they aren’t the only ones. In fact, there are many overlooked symptoms of OCD that you should be aware of.

OCD AND THE BRAIN 

Brain-imaging studies at Amen Clinics using SPECT scans show abnormal blood flow and activity patterns in people with OCD. In particular, overactivity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG) is commonly seen in people with OCD.

The ACG acts like the brain’s gear shifter, helping you go from thought to thought or from one activity to another. When there’s too much activity in the ACG, people tend to get stuck on thoughts and actions.

spect scan of healthy brain

Healthy Brain – Active SPECT Scan

  OCD brain spect scan

OCD Brain – Active SPECT Scan

People with OCD also tend to have lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. When serotonin levels are low, it is associated with increased risk of clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and chronic worrying. Scientific studies show that people with OCD often have co-existing mental health disorders.

7 HABITS THAT MAKE OCD WORSE

  1. Trying too hard to control thoughts: Exerting too much effort trying to stop intrusive thoughts that pop into your head can actually lead to more obsessive thinking. It’s as if you think obsessively about your obsessive thinking.
  2. Not managing your stress: Research shows that psychosocial stress can exacerbate OCD symptoms. During difficult times, don’t keep your emotions all bottled up inside. In addition, don’t turn to unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol or marijuana.
  3. Perfectionism: If you tend to obsess over your performance at work or in other areas of your life, it can set you up for additional compulsions. Toxic perfectionism in OCD can lead to intense fear of making a mistake as well as a strong need for things to be perfect.
  4. Too much personal responsibility: People with OCD may feel like it’s up to them to keep mishaps from happening to others. For example, they might think they need to take some sort of action to prevent someone from having a heart attack, getting a divorce, or going bankrupt. They may even think they have personal responsibility for natural disasters. All of this can lead to compulsions in an effort to prevent bad things from happening.
  5. Thought-action fusion: Research shows that thought-action fusion is often associated with OCD. This is when you believe that thinking about doing something wrong is just as bad as actually doing it. For example, you might believe that having unwanted thoughts about harming your dog, stealing something, or having sex with your spouse’s best friend is the equivalent of taking action.
  6. Skimping on sleep: A 2017 study found that a night of poor sleep makes it more difficult for people with OCD to manage their symptoms. Having OCD also means you may be prone to lying awake at night with anxious or fearful thoughts running through your mind. This can lead to a harmful cycle of disrupted sleep and worsened symptoms.
  7. Eating simple carbs: Consuming high-glycemic carbohydrates may feel soothing for people with OCD in the short-term because they quickly boost serotonin levels. However, the increase rapidly falls and leads to increased anxious thinking in the long run.

7 HEALTHIER HABITS TO IMPROVE OCD SYMPTOMS

  1. Notice and acknowledge your thoughts. Gain awareness of unhealthy thinking patterns when they arise and acknowledge that they are simply that—obsessive thoughts. Understand that these thoughts are not a reflection of your character. They are simply thoughts.
  2. Learn to distract yourself. When you start getting stuck on thoughts or actions, find a distraction. For example, sing a song, take a walk, or listen to music that makes you feel good.
  3. Question your thoughts. Just because a thought pops into your head doesn’t mean it’s true. Be sure to question your automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). Ask yourself, “Is it true?”
  4. Practice living with uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. Learning to tolerate emotional discomfort can help you avoid compulsive behaviors and habits that exacerbate OCD symptoms.
  5. Feed your brain. To calm an overactive ACG, consume foods that are high in the amino acid tryptophan, which increase in serotonin levels in the brain. Tryptophan-rich foods include sweet potatoes, turkey, chicken, and pumpkin seeds. In addition, take nutritional supplements—such as saffron and 5-HTP—that boost the brain’s production of serotonin.
  6. Optimize your brain health. Understanding that OCD is associated with abnormal brain function can motivate you to adopt healthier habits. When you commit to better brain health, you can calm the ACG. 
  1. Seek professional help. If you’re struggling with OCD symptoms, get help from a mental health professional. Traditional doctors miss many things about OCD, so make sure you choose someone who understands that OCD is a brain-based disorder.

OCD, anxiety disorders and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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