Self-care is a fundamental aspect of managing and coping with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); conditions such as these can be overwhelming, with the potential to impact the daily lives and well-being of their sufferers significantly. Still, by integrating self-care strategies into your routine, you can create a more balanced, healthy approach to managing the array of symptoms that arise.
Heather Wilson, LCSW, LCADC, CCTP at Epiphany Wellness says: “Self-care is not just an act of self-love but a fundamental part of the healing journey for those battling anxiety and OCD. Remember, every step taken towards understanding and nurturing yourself is a step away from the shadows of these conditions; it’s about finding balance, embracing patience, and acknowledging that progress, no matter how small, is significant and should be celebrated – acknowledged at the very least.”
Understanding anxiety and OCD
Before diving into self-care tips, it’s crucial to understand what anxiety and OCD are and what exactly they entail. Anxiety can be a normal response to stress, but it can become overwhelming and persistent, interfering with daily activities and going beyond the broad condition of a ‘natural amount of concern.’ OCD, meanwhile, is characterised by uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions) that the individual feels the urge to repeat over and over.
“The path to managing anxiety and OCD is often paved with small, daily self-care practices. Metaphorically, these practices serve as anchors in a stormy sea, providing stability and grounding, especially when waves of uncertainty hit. It’s essential to cultivate a toolkit of strategies that resonate with your needs, as this personalisation is what makes self-care a profound agent of change,” says Lindsey Tong, LCSW and Clinical Director at Profound Treatment.
Self-care tips for managing anxiety and OCD
Engaging in self-care is akin to speaking a language of compassion towards oneself, especially for those navigating the complexities of mental health conditions like anxiety and OCD. As Dr. Paul Daidone at True Self Recovery says: “It’s crucial to remember that self-care doesn’t imply selfishness; rather, it’s about equipping oneself with the strength to face challenges. By prioritising our well-being, we not only enhance our resilience but also forge a path towards a more balanced, peaceful way of living.”
- Establish a routine. Creating a structured daily routine can provide a sense of stability and predictability, which is especially beneficial for individuals with anxiety and OCD. Aim to maintain regular sleep, meal times, and exercise schedules to help best manage stress levels and improve your mood throughout the day.
- Practise mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation can be particularly powerful tools for managing anxiety and OCD symptoms. These practices help you stay present and grounded, reducing the power of intrusive thoughts and worries. Even just a few minutes a day can make a significant difference to your overall well-being and state of mind. The more calm energy you can cultivate in your mind, the easier it will be to develop and maintain hope, optimism, and determination to overcome the challenges you face.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity is a natural anxiety reliever, as regular exercise can help decrease tension, improve mood, and enhance sleep. Activities like walking, running, yoga, or any form of exercise that you enjoy, for that matter, can be beneficial. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
- Connect with others. Social support is vital for managing anxiety and OCD. Connecting with friends, family, and/or support groups can provide some much-needed emotional support while reducing feelings of isolation. Sharing your experiences with others who understand can also offer up a space for learning some new coping strategies and insights.
- Limit exposure to triggers. If certain situations or activities trigger your anxiety or OCD symptoms, it may be helpful to limit your exposure to these triggers when possible. While avoidance isn’t a long-term solution, strategically managing your exposure can help you gradually confront and overcome these triggers in a controlled manner.
- Focus on nutrition. What you eat can affect your mood and energy levels. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support brain health and directly reduce symptoms of anxiety and OCD; word-to-word, we all need the occasional treat, but do try to limit caffeine and sugar intake, as these can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
- Practise sleep hygiene. Quality sleep is crucial for managing anxiety and OCD, and developing a relaxing bedtime routine, limiting screen time before bed, and creating a comfortable sleep environment can make a massive difference. Aim for 7–9 hours of sleep per night to help your body and mind rest and recover.
- Set realistic goals. Setting small, achievable goals can help you build confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Break larger tasks into manageable steps and celebrate your progress at each step; this approach can significantly reduce feelings of overwhelm and help you stay grounded and focused on the present moment.
- Engage in relaxation techniques. Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery can help reduce anxiety and OCD symptoms. These practices can be done anywhere and only take a few minutes, making them a practical addition to your self-care routine.
- Seek professional help. While self-care strategies are essential, seeking professional help is often necessary for effectively managing anxiety and OCD. A mental health professional can provide therapy, medication, or a combination of both, tailored to your specific needs.
- Find what works best for you. Living with anxiety and OCD can be challenging, but incorporating self-care strategies into your daily routine can significantly improve your quality of life. Remember, self-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to be patient with yourself and keep trying different strategies until you find what best supports your mental health. Above all else, remember that seeking professional help is a sign of strength (not weakness!) and an important step towards managing your symptoms and going on to lead a fulfilling life.
Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.