Managing OCD symptoms feels like a full-time job. Even with proper treatment, people with OCD still face common challenges and anxiety brought on by symptoms that slip through the cracks. The lifestyle changes listed below won’t cure OCD symptoms — nothing can do that. But combined with therapy or medication, they can help reduce OCD-sparked stress and provide patients with coping mechanisms for the most difficult symptoms.
Though no formal research exists, some dietitians hypothesize that eating foods heavy in tryptophan — an amino acid linked to serotonin production — can have positive effects on OCD symptoms. Foods that are rich in tryptophan include turkey, milk, eggs, cottage cheese, beans and legumes, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, and other nuts.
Aside from that, eating an all-around balanced diet can help manage your blood sugar levels — decreasing stress and reducing the possibility that you’ll fall back in to a compulsion. Don’t skip meals, and work to make mealtimes calm and relaxed. This means no eating on the go, or eating hastily over the kitchen sink. Set aside some time each day to calmly enjoy a healthy meal — just sit and relax, reflect on your progress, and work on managing your stress levels.
Other tips to follow:
- Avoid or limit caffeine
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Don’t use food as comfort or stress relief. Guilt-induced overeating can be especially damaging to someone with OCD, who may be more likely to suffer from body dysmorphic disorder and have an unrealistic body image. If overeating is a problem for you, try finding an alternative like walking the dog or taking a warm bath.
- Exercise regularly
Meditation as Stress Relief
One hallmark of OCD is crippling stress — the anxiety caused by obsessions and compulsions can easily bleed in to other areas of your life. Perhaps a fear of contamination is causing you to blow off friends and leading to increased social isolation, or maybe your need to check the stove 14 times each morning is making you frequently late for work. Even after treatment starts, these side effects of anxiety can be hard to handle.
That’s where meditation comes in. Setting up a meditation routine can help you calm the obsessive chatter in your brain, while giving you the space to look at your disorder from a non-judgmental place — helping you accept that it’s not your fault.
If you’re new to meditation, work with a teacher or a guided meditation video until you feel comfortable forging out on your own. To successfully meditate on your own though, try following these simple tips:
1. Find a mantra to repeat to yourself. This can be about your OCD (“I am more than this disorder”) — or not[[br]]
2. Get comfortable. Some meditation experts prefer sitting, but you may feel most comfortable lying down. If you’re worried about falling asleep, set an alarm.
3. Take slow, even breaths, and focus on the sensation of breathing. Every time you feel your attention start to drift — whether it’s toward an obsession or not — gently refocus yourself on your breath.
4. Stick with it! Meditation will get easier the more you do it, and the further you progress in your OCD treatment will make it even easier still.
A powerful source of treatment for anyone with OCD is the love and support of friends and family. Depending on the nature of your obsessions, your therapist may ask your family members or close friends to participate in therapy sessions. Being open and honest with them about your condition — and acknowledging how OCD has strained your relationships — can help loved ones come to terms with the role they can play.
Make sure you schedule time for fun, too! OCD can feel like it’s taken over your life at times. If you stay close to friends and family, and take care of your body and mind, you’ll find it easier to cope with your OCD and get back on track.
When you’re feeling particularly stressed, give yourself permission to try these things:
- Take a warm bath
- Get a massage
- Drink a warm, non-alcoholic beverage
- Take a walk
- Try a yoga class
- Listen to soothing music