Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder can be challenging. Understanding OCD’s impact on daily life and developing coping strategies are key to managing it.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by repetitive, intrusive thoughts and irrational, repetitive behaviors. OCD can negatively impact many aspects of daily life, including a person’s relationships, career or education. Although living with OCD can be challenging, most people live happy, healthy lives with proper treatment. By understanding how OCD impacts one’s life and learning healthy coping strategies, OCD can be managed successfully.

What Does OCD Feel Like?

The recurrent obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors characterizing OCD can consume someone’s mind and lead to significant anxiety. People with OCD often feel ashamed and isolated, in part due to common societal myths about OCD. An individual with OCD is unable to control their negative, irrational thoughts, so they rely on repetitive behaviors to temporarily relieve stress and anxiety. The obsessive-compulsive cycle of OCD can lead to a variety of severe, challenging symptoms.

Some of the most common OCD symptoms include:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Repeated hand washing
  • Excessive worry about safety or illness
  • Need to perform tasks in a specific order or a certain number of times
  • An uncontrollable desire for items to be placed in a specific order
  • Inability to throw away items
  • Fear of bad things happening to loved ones
  • Feeling that specific numbers or colors are good or bad
  • Persistent awareness of body sensations such as blinking, breathing or swallowing
  • Repetitive checking of doors, windows or appliance controls to ensure they are locked or turned off
  • Compulsive cleaning or organizing
  • Excessive fear of potentially contaminated surfaces including doorknobs, public restrooms or other people’s hands

The Importance of Reducing Stress

Stress and OCD go hand-in-hand. Stress is a common trigger for OCD symptoms, while the constant negative thoughts that characterize OCD lead to considerable strain. Breaking this cycle of stress is critical in successfully managing OCD symptoms.

Stress management techniques that may be helpful include:

  • Seeking professional psychotherapy
  • Practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Developing a support network of family and friends

How Does OCD Affect Lives?

OCD affects daily life significantly. For example, an individual with OCD may become so consumed with obsessive thoughts or focused on checking behaviors that they neglect responsibilities at home, work or school. The constant negative thoughts and repetitive actions that characterize OCD impact both personal and professional relationships. The stigma and misconceptions surrounding OCD can also make it difficult to function in society.

OCD and Relationships

How does OCD affect relationships? OCD places a significant strain on both personal and professional relationships. Building and maintaining strong relationships requires considerable time and energy. However, harmful thoughts and compulsive behaviors can dominate a person with OCD’s life and headspace, leaving little room for relationships. OCD symptoms may also cause an individual to obsessively doubt and analyze their current relationships, leading to additional interpersonal challenges.

OCD in Families

OCD can run in families and presents several challenges for family dynamics. Studies show that an individual is more likely to suffer from OCD if they have a family member with OCD. This connection may be due to a genetic link, although further research is needed to investigate the causes of OCD. How OCD affects family members depends on the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors specific to the individual. Living with an OCD family member can be challenging, as the outward compulsive behaviors such as cleaning, organizing or hoarding impact shared living spaces.

Despite OCD’s challenges, the patience and support of family members are critical in successfully managing OCD. Studies demonstrate that family-inclusive treatment strategies result in more significant improvements in patient functioning.

OCD in the Workplace

Managing OCD in the workplace can be challenging. Employment with OCD can be difficult to sustain long-term, as symptoms may get in the way of completing duties in the workplace. Since OCD symptoms are not always apparent from the outside, employers may think the individual is performing poorly when they are actually suffering from OCD symptoms. Some people may choose to disclose their OCD to employers to receive reasonable accommodations. If disclosed, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laws can protect people with OCD. Although the stigma attached to mental health conditions can make it difficult to open up to colleagues, a supportive work environment can help an individual with OCD achieve professional success.

Coping With Stigma

Societal myths about OCD are widespread and damaging. People commonly joke that they have OCD because they are organized or enjoy cleaning. Others think people with OCD are simply uptight and need to relax. Such misconceptions and jokes can make people with OCD feel isolated and minimize their severe condition. People may cope with negative OCD stigma in different ways. Support groups provide a safe place to discuss the daily challenges of living with OCD, free from society’s misconceptions. Talking openly and honestly with loved ones can also help clear up OCD myths while building a strong support network.

Tips for Managing OCD

Successfully managing OCD requires a combination of professional help, self-care and a reliable support system. Tips for managing OCD include:

  • Seek education about OCD to gain empowerment and motivation
  • Identify and limit contact with OCD triggers
  • Have regular contact with a mental health professional
  • Remain committed to a treatment plan and regularly take prescribed medications
  • Get at least eight hours of sleep per night
  • Learn ways to manage stress such as meditation, muscle relaxation, breathing exercises and yoga
  • Exercise regularly
  • Learn coping strategies that can be used when OCD symptoms flare up
  • Stay occupied with productive activities such as work, hobbies or fitness
  • Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol
  • Regularly attend OCD support groups
  • Surround oneself with supportive loved ones

If you or a loved one living with OCD and a substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative who can guide you through the initial steps of getting treatment. You deserve a healthier future; call today.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Candace Crowley, PhD
Dr. Candace Crowley received her B.S. in Biochemistry from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and her Ph.D. in Immunology from UC Davis, where her thesis focused on immune modulation in childhood asthma. Read more

Browne, Heidi, et al. “Genetics of obsessive-compulsive disorde[…]nd related disorders.” The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, September 1, 2015. Accessed August 13, 2019.

Spencer, Marilynn. “Americans with Disabilities Act: The Law[…]king People with OCD.” International OCD Foundation, 2010. Accessed August 13, 2019.

Thompson-Hollands, Johanna, et al. “Family involvement in the psychological […]der: a meta-analysis.” Journal of Family Psychology, June 2014. Accessed August 13, 2019.

NAMI. “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2019. Accessed august 13, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.