How To Deal With OCD Hand Washing Without Losing Your Sanity

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a long-lasting chronic condition that affects 1.2%¹ of the US population.

OCD involves obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are recurring thoughts that you can’t control. Compulsions are certain behaviors that you have the urge to repeat over and over.

Repetitive hand washing is one of the most common manifestations of OCD.

People with OCD have thoughts and fears that compel them to perform repetitive actions. These actions help them deal with those fears. Your OCD might make you fear germs and dirt, and repetitive or even ritualized hand washing may help you cope.

Repetitive behavior, like compulsive hand washing, can interrupt your daily life and dictate your routines, preventing flexibility and freedom. Understanding how to handle OCD hand washing is essential to living a life free of the worry and anxiety OCD triggers.

Let’s look at these approaches to coping with OCD hand washing.

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Seek medication and treatment

The effectiveness of OCD treatment varies from person to person. 

OCD treatment typically involves psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or medication, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). Your doctor could recommend both.

You might find CBT to be more effective than medication. This kind of therapy is essential because it can help you identify, challenge, and alter thoughts related to your obsessions and compulsions. It could also help you develop coping mechanisms.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT. It exposes people to stimuli that trigger their symptoms and urge them to resist common tendencies (like hand washing) in obsessive situations. ERP can help you learn how to overcome your obsessional worries.

CBT and ERP benefit some people with OCD, but a study² found that roughly 50% of people who receive OCD treatment do not benefit from it. This is why it’s critical to develop alternative strategies to help manage your symptoms.

Reduce your stress levels

Your OCD symptoms may worsen when you face a stressful situation. Learning how to manage your stress levels is another crucial coping mechanism.

Stress management may not treat your OCD, but it can help you understand your stressors and lessen their impact.

Avoiding situations that cause anxiety is an important stress control method. You can also lower stress by building emotional resilience to help you deal with difficult situations.

Try out different relaxation exercises, like:

  • Mindfulness meditation

  • Deep breathing

  • Yoga

  • Going for a walk surrounded by nature

Explore a few of these tactics to see which feels right for you. Set aside time to practice them daily to help relieve tension and worry.

Eat a healthy diet

Another approach to coping with OCD is eating a healthy and balanced diet.

This has a lot to do with your blood sugar levels. For example, your blood sugar levels decline when you’re hungry, making you feel tired and sometimes even sad or down. Therefore, checking your blood sugar levels is key to maintaining your mood and preventing OCD symptoms.

Incorporate food such as nuts and seeds in your diet to take advantage of their healthy nutrients. Consume protein, like beans and eggs, to energize your body and maintain a healthy balance of foods. Complex carbs, like fruits and whole grains, also help stabilize your blood sugar levels.

Limited research has been conducted on how nutrients can help people with OCD. Researchers³ believe zinc, selenium, vitamin B12, and folate can positively impact people with OCD by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain or providing antioxidant effects. However, speak to your doctor before taking nutritional supplements as they may interfere with any medication you are taking.

Get enough rest

Getting enough high-quality sleep can help ease the stress and anxiety associated with OCD.

Researchers have established strong links between sleep and OCD symptoms,⁴ so getting enough rest could help ease them.

There are several ways to get better sleep, including:

  • Avoid watching TV or using your cell phone before you go to bed.

  • Invest in a comfortable mattress if yours is unsuitable.

  • Create a relaxing sleeping environment. Try candles and relaxing music, for example.

  • Establish a routine and stick to it. Try going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.

  • Do enough exercise during the day.

Get more active

Exercise has several benefits for people with OCD.

Keeping active could help you:

  • Get better quality sleep, which could help ease your symptoms.

  • Reduce feelings of stress by regulating your cortisol levels.

  • Distract you from intrusive thoughts by giving you something else to focus on.

  • Help you create social connections through your local gym, exercise classes, or sports teams. These social connections can distract you from your symptoms and provide emotional support.

Ask for support from friends and family

2.5 million adults in the US have OCD, so don’t think you are alone and have to suffer in silence.

Speak to your doctor about your experience and seek support from close friends and family. Doing so can help reduce your anxiety and develop a more positive perspective.

Do research to find a local OCD support group near you or learn more from other people with a similar condition.

The lowdown

Some patients with OCD wash their hands compulsively or ritualistically. They do so to ease their fear of dirt and germs. OCD hand washing and other similar behaviors can disrupt your work and social life. The good news is that there are ways to combat this behavior.

Managing stress, improving your diet, and seeking medication and treatment are just some possible strategies for dealing with OCD hand washing. You could also consider seeking support from others with similar experiences.

Explore each method discussed in this article to determine the one that works best for you.

Managing your OCD effectively can help reduce your chances of developing more severe symptoms or co-occurring conditions and help you get your life back on track.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Do you want to know if there are any Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?
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