Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. If you’ve ever wondered how to treat OCD on your own, then you already know it isn’t easy. Symptoms are often overwhelming and can interfere with day-to-day life.
However, those with mild OCD conditions may be able to treat it without the help of a psychiatrist. Throughout this article, we’re going to explore ways in which you can have your OCD cured permanently.
How to Treat OCD on Your Own | 10-Step Guide
As you learn how to treat OCD on your own, you’re going to find different strategies work for different people. With that in mind, it’s likely not all the points in this 10-step guide are going to work for you. Furthermore, you may need to experiment around with each point in order to find the best outcomes.
1.) Understand Intrusive Thoughts Aren’t You
One of the most debilitating factors of OCD are intrusive thoughts – odd or disturbing thoughts and images that a person has no control over. These thoughts tend to reoccur and cause specific repeated behaviors. ¹
For example, you may have intrusive thoughts about germs and cleanliness, causing you to constantly wash your hands.
Intrusive thoughts can come in a variety of different images, but one thing remains constant. These thoughts are NOT you! Just because you have a “bad” thought doesn’t mean you’re a “bad” person.
In fact, even people without OCD struggle with intrusive thoughts. In a study interviewing 777 college students, it was discovered that 94% of them had experienced at least one undesired intrusive thought within the previous three months. ²
People with OCD simply tend to be more aware of these thoughts than others – causing them to feel overwhelming. While you may assume it’s in your interest to suppress intrusive thoughts, studies reveal suppression can actually lead to more intrusive thoughts. ³
Instead, it’s best to just pause a moment and recognize your thoughts before they control you. To understand that they aren’t a product of you and therefore, you don’t need to act on impulse.
2.) Practice Mindfulness
In order to continue your efforts in reducing intrusive thoughts, it may be beneficial to practice mindfulness. To put it simply, mindfulness is garnering the ability to be fully present in the moment and welcoming the experience without feeling the need to escape it.
This can be a critical practice for people with OCD as the condition is a form of anxiety. People with anxiety tend to struggle with large amounts of stress that inhibits their ability to function through daily responsibilities. ⁴
Mindfulness can be practiced at any moment – all it requires is you observing your thoughts and feelings. Understanding that they exist and will pass and that you don’t always need to act on these feelings.
Naturally, as someone with OCD, it’s understandable if you struggle with mindfulness when you begin practicing it. However, you may find certain practices to be beneficial in helping you achieve this headspace.
3.) Look Into Holistic Therapies
While psychotherapies are recommended for people with OCD, they aren’t always necessary. In some instances, alternative therapies work just as well in helping someone reach a state of mindfulness.
But what are these therapies?
- Forest Therapy is an outdoor guided healing practice that dates back thousands of years. Besides teaching you to be one with your environment, forest therapy also exposes you to phytoncides – an essential oil released by trees. These have been found to relieve stress, improve attention, lift mood, and help your immune system. ⁵ Studies also show it can help with depression. ⁶
- Meditation is the practice of mindfulness and can take a number of different forms. If you struggle to guide your own meditation, it’s likely classes and spiritual guides are available near you. Studies show that people with OCD who practice meditation see a significant reduction in symptoms over time. ⁷
- Yoga not only allows you to practice mindfulness, but can also help get your body moving. In one case series, it was found that one month of yoga therapy helped reduce core symptoms of OCD (when practiced alongside traditional treatments). ⁸
If you’re interested in exploring holistic therapies, there are other forms available that may be beneficial for OCD.
4.) Get the Right Amount of Exercise
Many have found that exercise can be a great tool in combatting OCD symptoms. This is partly due to the fact that endorphins (chemicals released during physical activity) can improve mood and reduce anxiety. ⁹
However, it also has to due with the idea of releasing energy. When we exercise, we’re naturally wearing our brains and bodies out. In turn, we’re less susceptible to anxiety, stress, and intrusive thoughts.
Experts say that just 30 minutes of exercise a day is all that’s necessary. And this doesn’t have to be all at once – you can break it up into three 10-minute sessions. ¹⁰
While exercise in and of itself won’t be a cure to OCD, it can be an extremely useful tool. When paired with mindfulness and other points on our list, you can begin to see how to treat OCD on your own.
5.) Diet Accordingly
We are what we eat – studies show that our diet plays a major role in our mental health. ¹¹ Simply put, the more unhealthy foods we consume, the more vulnerable we leave ourselves to mental health conditions.
Since people with OCD often struggle with serotonin (a mood-regulating neurotransmitter) levels, foods that help to regulate serotonin are often suggested. ¹² These include:
- Cottage cheese
- Root vegetables
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Whole grains (i.e. brown rice)
By consuming these types of foods, you’re increasing the production of serotonin in your brain.
Not to mention, some specialists suggest a hypoglycemic diet. Foods found in this diet can help to balance blood sugar levels and prevent stress hormones from releasing. ¹³
6.) Seek Out Herbal Remedies
Since prescription medication may come with many unwanted side effects, some are turning to herbal remedies for OCD. Currently, research has pinpointed that the following supplements may benefit people with OCD:
- Kava Kava helps to relieve nerve tension and restlessness. Furthermore, it may help relieve mild forms of depression. ¹⁴
- Milk Thistle may be just as effective at treating OCD as Prozac (fluoxetine). ¹⁵
- N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) helps to create glutathione which may benefit people with OCD. ¹⁶
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids are an important fatty acid that our body cannot produce on its own. Therefore, it may be essential in helping relieve mental illness. While there are no studies concerning OCD, some have found it beneficial for various anxiety disorders. ¹⁷
- St. John’s Wort is sometimes used for anxiety and other mood disorders. Some research has found it can disrupt serotonin and therefore, may be beneficial in treating OCD. ¹⁸
If you’re on medication for OCD or any other health condition, we recommend consulting your doctor before using any of these supplements.
7.) Get Plenty of Sleep
People who struggle with OCD tend to have higher rates of insomnia compared to the general population. ¹⁹ While everyone’s case is unique, it’s likely due to the fact that intrusive thoughts make it more difficult to get some shut-eye.
Luckily there are a few things you can do to promote better sleep:
- Follow a schedule – make sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Don’t use a screen before bed
- Take supplements that promote sleep, such as melatonin, cannabidiol (CBD), chamomile, and valerian root
It may take some trial and error before you find the best techniques for sleep. Furthermore, you likely won’t see the benefits of better sleep immediately – it will take time for your brain and body to adjust.
8.) Avoid Substance Abuse
Some people with OCD may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating. In fact, you may even be prescribed certain medication (such as antidepressants) that can develop an addictive behavior. ²⁰
While drugs and alcohol may provide you with short-term relief from your OCD symptoms, they’re likely going to cause more problems in the long-term. For example, you may find yourself: ²¹
- Becoming aggressive when confronted
- Developing irritability
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Spending more time alone
- Stealing money or running into financial difficulties
The list of signs for a substance abuse disorder is lengthy, but you can see how drugs and alcohol only further complicate your situation.
9.) Find Your Support
Since OCD symptoms effect you on a day-to-day basis, you may find yourself becoming isolated from family and friends. While this isolation may relieve you in the short-term, it’s actually causing symptoms to worsen. ²²
We understand that reaching out for help isn’t easy. However, just taking the first step in talking to someone you trust can make all the difference. Over time, you’ll likely develop a list of people you can reach out to when times get difficult.
Furthermore, you may want to see if your area offers OCD support groups. This is a great way to meet others with similar struggles and learn from their experiences. If none are offered in your area, there are plenty of similar resources online.
Keep in mind that people with OCD sometimes struggle with excessive reassurance seeking. ²³ Be careful not to constantly look for reassurance in your friends and family.
10.) Consider ERP Therapy
While traditional therapies aren’t for everyone, research reveals exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is very effective in reducing OCD symptoms. ²⁴
Through ERP therapy, you’ll explore your obsessions, avoidances, and compulsions alongside a therapist. Your therapist will then develop exposure exercises that force you to face your fears.
The goal is by exposing you to these fears, your anxiety will decrease over time. Furthermore, you brain will develop healthier responses to OCD triggers.
While OCD can be overwhelming, there are ways to manage symptoms on your own. However, the best course of treatment still remains traditional; medication and psychotherapies.
If you’re currently seeing specialists for your OCD, we recommend mentioning some of the techniques discussed on this list. From there, you can determine which is the best treatment path for you.
Still have questions about how to treat OCD on your own?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further advice to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Repetitive Behaviors Take Over
² Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders: Part 1—You can run but you can’t hide: Intrusive thoughts on six continents
⁴ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Anxiety Disorders
⁵ Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine: Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function
⁶ International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Effects of Forest Therapy on Depressive Symptoms among Adults: A Systematic Review
⁸ Asian Journal of Psychiatry: Yoga therapy for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
⁹ frontiers in Psychiatry: Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety
¹⁰ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Physical Activity
¹¹ Missouri Medicine: Food, Mood, and Brain Health: Implications for the Modern Clinician
¹² The British Journal of Psychiatry: Role of serotonin in obsessive-compulsive disorder
¹³ Case Reports in Psychiatry: Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Hypoglycemia Symptoms Improved with Diet Modification
¹⁵ Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry: Comparison of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. with fluoxetine in the treatment of Obsessive−Compulsive Disorder
¹⁶ Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry: Nutraceuticals in the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
¹⁸ The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: An open-label trial of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in obsessive-compulsive disorder
¹⁹ Journal of Psychiatric Research: Obsessive compulsive symptoms and sleep difficulties
²⁰ HHS Public Access: Pharmacological treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder
²¹ National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): How To Recognize a Substance Use Disorder
²² Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: Exploring the Association Between Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms and Loneliness
²³ Cognitive Therapy and Research: Why Do People with OCD and Health Anxiety Seek Reassurance Excessively? An Investigation of Differences and Similarities in Function
²⁴ Indian Journal of Psychiatry: Exposure and response prevention for obsessive-compulsive disorder