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How to Care for a Loved One With OCD
If you have a friend or family member that is one of the millions of sufferers who are affected by obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), you know how difficult it can be. OCD impacts your loved one’s everyday life. However, it also reaches beyond into the lives of those around him or her such as yourself.
The good news is that there is not only effective treatment available for your loved one, but many resources and strategies to help your friend or family member cope with obsessive compulsive disorder. You and your loved one are not alone and, together, you can find success in treating, coping and managing your loved one’s OCD. Read the sections below to learn more about the disease and how can you provide support to those struggling with it.
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If you do not have OCD, it can be difficult to understand the thought process your loved one is going through. It is common to feel a mix of emotions – frustration, annoyance and even anger — especially when your loved one’s actions seem irrational or misguided to you.
Seeking to understand, gaining more information and educating yourself are good ways to practice empathy. Putting yourself in his or her shoes can help to combat negative feelings. Remember the following when caring for a person with obsessive compulsive disorder:
- His or her OCD is not personal or an attack against you. Your loved one isn’t intentionally trying to make anyone’s life difficult. Mentally separating your loved one from his or her condition is a helpful strategy in compartmentalizing. Work together against OCD. When you are fighting the battle together, the first thing you need to do is know your common enemy.
- There are some common misconceptions about OCD. The disorder is not caused by lack of willpower, laziness or bad parenting. Your loved one may be aware in the moment that his or her behavior is not normal, but he or she may feel powerless to stop giving in to compulsions.
With obsessive compulsive disorder, the sufferer experiences recurring unwanted, intrusive and obsessive thoughts and impulses, including performing repetitive behaviors called compulsions. These compulsions consume excessive amounts of time and energy, causing significant distress and interfering with normal, daily functioning.
- OCD gets in the way of enjoying life, work and cultivating positive relationships. Obsessive compulsive disorder is extremely burdensome and demanding. Obsessive thoughts and intense fears such as the fear of something terrible happening, fear of contracting a disease or fear of germs often lead to the need to frequently seek reassurance and give way to compulsions.
Some common compulsions include frequent hand washing, repetitive cleaning and excessive checking of things such as an oven, door lock or stove. These repetitive behaviors are aimed at reducing anxiety but they are not actually based in reality.
- Sufferers have specific triggers. Visual, auditory or tactile sensory sensations can trigger compulsions or rituals. However, compulsions are not always triggered by external events. Rather, individuals may have internal feelings such as discomfort that causes them to repeat a behavior until they feel relief.
Symptoms may intensify when they are criticized, so it is important to stay away from judgmental statements and oversimplified answers. These only serve to generate more anxiety and feelings of guilt or shame. Instead, encourage continued treatment and/or therapy, be supportive and practice compassionate listening.
Strategies for Caring for a Loved One With OCD
Beyond helping your loved one find an appropriate treatment, supporting him or her and learning all that you can about OCD, there are some additional strategies to keep in mind. Practice the following caregiving strategies to help your loved one live with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Encourage Gradual Change, but Expect Setbacks
For your loved one, change of any kind can be stressful. Even though he or she may be involved in treatment and it may be going well, keep in mind that even positive changes can cause symptoms to flare up. Try to help moderate stress levels by making the home a positive place, free from unnecessary conflict.
Modify your expectations and be realistic about the process. Setbacks are common. Avoid day-to-day comparisons, as ups and downs are common in the treatment process. While it is great to expect your loved one to function at his or her highest ability, expecting perfection is counterproductive. Be patient. Any improvement, even slow or gradual, is a step in the right direction. Acknowledge and celebrate even small accomplishments.
Follow Treatment Plans and Be Engaged
Do not undermine the professional advice, treatment plan and medication instructions provided by the medical professional familiar with your loved one’s case. Ask your loved one if he or she is comfortable with you joining doctor appointments or participating in joint therapy sessions.
Meeting with a therapist together fosters open communication. The therapist can also offer suggestions for additional communication strategies such as avoiding lengthy explanations in response to questions seeking constant reassurance. The therapist can also explain why practicing certain strategies are effective.
Do not be afraid to ask questions or seek clarification, especially regarding prescribed medication. Getting to know the side effects and possible interactions between medications is important. Encourage your loved one to take medication as prescribed.
Practice Relaxation Techniques and Healthy Habits
Relaxation techniques are one way to calm anxiety. While they will not make obsessive thoughts disappear, they can provide temporary relief.
Mindful meditation, deep breathing and yoga can reduce stress and help your loved one manage his or her compulsive urges better. Practicing relaxation techniques is most effective when done regularly so they can establish new, positive patterns and habits.
Avoid alcohol and nicotine, which cause symptoms of anxiety when they wear off. Nicotine is a stimulant that leads to higher levels of anxiety. Establishing other healthy habits like getting regular exercise, having adequate sleep and eating nutritious meals also contribute to your loved one feeling more stable. Exercise is a natural way to refocus the mind and help control OCD symptoms. While exercise and sleep will not cure obsessive compulsive disorder, it can make it easier to manage.