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Managing and coping with OCD at work

01 July 2021

We all have mental health. You will have days when your mental health is good, and days when your mental health is not so good. But if you have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), managing it at work can be hard.

If you have OCD, the pandemic may well have made your symptoms worse. You might be struggling to cope with your OCD since returning to your workplace. Or perhaps working from home has made your obsessions and compulsions harder to manage?

What is OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is where you have obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviours (things you feel you must do) or both.

Obsessions are unwanted, repetitive thoughts, images or urges that keep coming into your mind over and over again. They’re hard to ignore and can stop you from thinking about anything else.

Compulsions are repeated behaviours or mental acts that you feel you need to do to get rid of or block the obsessive thoughts. They might be physical acts, which people could notice, or they may be mental acts, which others won’t see.

Both obsessions and compulsions can interfere greatly with your work life, as well as your home life.

Why is my OCD worse in the workplace?

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made many people’s OCD worse. This may be especially true if your OCD is linked to hygiene or a fear of contamination from dirt, germs or viruses.

If you’ve worked from home throughout the pandemic, you may feel anxious about returning to your workplace and being around others. You may worry about other people noticing your compulsions and obsessions. Feeling anxious could then make your OCD harder to manage when you’re at work.

Should I talk to my manager about my OCD?

If you feel like your OCD is affecting – or will affect – your work, it can be helpful to talk to your manager. If this doesn’t feel possible, you might have a dedicated people team or occupational health team you can talk to instead. Your employer, and therefore manager, has a duty to support your mental health.

You could talk to them about any reasonable adjustments they could make that might help you to cope better. These may be things like:

  • flexible hours
  • working from home
  • starting work earlier or later to avoid busy commuting hours
  • using a quieter/less busy working area in your workplace
  • allowing time off to attend therapy if you’re having it (you may already be having cognitive behavioural therapy, or would like to start it)
  • reducing or helping you manage your workload if it’s affecting your mental health

Your manager may also schedule regular check-ins with you to see how you’re coping and feeling. They may refer you to occupational health (if that’s available to you) for an assessment and to find out what other reasonable adjustments might help.

What can I do to manage my OCD at work?

There are things you can do that may help you manage your obsessions and compulsions while working, or in your workplace.

Talk to a colleague

It can feel very daunting to talk about OCD. It’s natural to worry that people may not understand. But talking about it with a close colleague or someone you trust may help you feel supported at work and your OCD less powerful.

Find a local or online support group

Connecting with and talking to other people with OCD can be really helpful. They may share advice, experiences and helpful tips about managing OCD, both in the workplace and at home.

Manage your stress

Stress and anxiety can make your obsessions and compulsions worse. Make sure you take regular breaks at work and, if possible, get outside for some fresh air and a walk during the day.

Write down what triggers feelings of stress and anxiety and try to find alternatives or solutions. Talk to your manager about these things if you feel comfortable. It may be helpful to have a friend or family member you can call during breaks for support.

Learn some breathing techniques or mindfulness

Relaxation techniques are often very effective, and you can do them at any point during your day. Using mindfulness for OCD helps you acknowledge your thoughts at that moment in time, without trying to fight or dismiss them.

Look after yourself

Make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet, get enough good quality sleep and exercise regularly. Your physical and mental health are closely linked. Exercising releases endorphins and reduces stress hormones in your body, which will help you to feel better and support your overall wellbeing.

It can be helpful to plan enjoyable activities during your workday, such as reading a book on your break and taking a favourite snack with you. Have plans to look forward to after work, such as cooking a nice meal or going for a walk. These things will help you have a focus to your day other than work.

Sources:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised June 2018
  • Davide P, Andrea P, Martina O et al. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients with OCD: effects of contamination symptoms and remission state before the quarantine in a preliminary naturalistic study. Psychiatry Res 2020; 291: 113213. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113213
  • Fiorillo A, Gorwood P. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and implications for clinical practice. Eur Psychiatry 2020; 63(1): e32. doi: 10.1192/j.eurpsy.2020.35
  • OCD and coronavirus (COVID-19) – summary. OCD UK. www.ocduk.org, published March 2020
  • People managers’ guide to mental health. Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD). www.cipd.co.uk, published September 2018
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). How can I help myself? Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published May 2019
  • Mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy for OCD. International OCD Foundation. www.iocdf.org, accessed May 2021
  • How to look after your mental health using exercise. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, accessed May 2021


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