If you’ve ever experienced recurring thoughts that bring you anxiety or discomfort, you’ve likely experienced some of the effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again, and those thoughts are truly out of our control. Many people with obsessions have OCD about contamination, making things symmetrical or orderly, cleaning, and more; in response to these thoughts, action is often taken in an attempt to relieve the discomfort being experienced. For example, a person with OCD obsessions related to contamination may act by washing their hands several times before and after touching public doorknobs. Although these actions provide some temporary comfort, they ultimately perpetuate the cycle of OCD, which can have an effect on everyday life.
A 2015 study published in the Clinical Psychology Review sought to explore some healthy coping strategies for those with OCD – in particular, those with contamination-related OCD and who experience disgust frequently. Researchers from the study suggested 3 effective strategies to cope with unwarranted, unruly thoughts:
- Exposure with response prevention – previous research has shown that heightened exposure to something (for someone with contamination OCD, this could be a dirty cooking pan, for example) actually decreases fear to that thought. By slowly exposing oneself to what they fear most, they are able to train their mind to become less frightened and therefore no longer (or at least not as often) require immediate action (compulsions).
- Evaluative conditioning – changing one’s attitude or the meaning of a specific context related to one’s OCD can be particularly helpful in them moving past it. For example, a person with contamination OCD may wish to question their own beliefs on this – when did it all start? If a dirty pan is touched, will a person truly die or become sick? What evidence has been shown to prove this obsession true or false?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly effective therapy approach that can be used with individuals who experience OCD. The basis of CBT is to start recognizing one’s thought patterns and how they influence the actions they take; from there, the client is given many tools to work towards changing their thought patterns towards more positive, productive thoughts that will be conducive to their happiness and success.
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