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Self-help for OCD: 17 of the most effective strategies

Written by Saya Des Marais

Published: Apr 16, 2024

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Geralyn Dexter

Table of contents

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious and chronic mental health condition that requires treatment. But, reports show that only around 40% of people with OCD seek treatment. Self-help for OCD can be a helpful addition to OCD treatment. It can also offer some relief for people who can’t access treatment.

In this article, 17 evidence-based self-help strategies — consisting of 11 of the most effective tips for self-help and 6 self-care tips for OCD — that you can use as part of a comprehensive treatment plan are included.

Take charge of your OCD symptoms. Schedule an appointment with a provider on Klarity today.

Does self-help for OCD work?

Some self-help strategies can be useful in managing OCD symptoms, especially when used along with professional treatment. All of the self-help strategies we describe here are borrowed from evidence-based treatment methods.

Research has consistently found that professional treatment, typically a combination of therapy and medication, is the only effective way to recover from OCD. One large meta-analysis concluded that OCD has “a chronic and unremitting course without treatment.” 

If you live with OCD, it’s essential to seek professional treatment from a licensed mental health provider rather than depend only on self-help strategies.

Self-help for OCD — strategies and tips

When choosing to use self-help for OCD, keep the following tips in mind.

  • OCD self-help isn’t a substitute for professional treatment. The only effective way to overcome this disorder is to receive OCD treatment.
  • Stay committed to practicing self-help strategies and the strategies your provider gives you. They likely won’t be effective after just 1 or 2 tries — consistency is key.
  • If you feel like your symptoms, overall, are getting worse, if you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts or spending more time engaging in ritualistic behaviors, or if you’re having a hard time completing daily living activities (like working or feeding yourself), it’s critical to talk to a mental health provider right away. 
  • Don’t choose between self-help and treatment. Self-help strategies for OCD are most effective when practiced alongside professional treatment.

11 of the most effective self-help strategies for OCD

Here are 11 of the most effective self-help techniques that you can use to help manage OCD symptoms alongside professional treatment. We’ve divided these strategies into 4 different categories — ERP techniques, metacognitive training techniques, general cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) techniques, and mindfulness-based techniques.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) techniques

Exposure and response prevention, or ERP, is the type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that’s used for OCD. It’s known as the “gold standard” in OCD treatment because of how effective it is. Around 80% of people who go through ERP experience decreased OCD symptoms.

ERP is a type of exposure therapy that focuses on helping people with OCD intentionally expose themselves to triggers and obsessions, and then resist the urge to perform compulsions. This helps them break the never-ending cycle between obsessions and compulsions and helps obsessive thoughts become less powerful over time.

Here are 4 ERP strategies that you can use on your own, in addition to therapy.

Strategy #1: Create an exposure hierarchy

One of the most important steps to practicing ERP with a therapist is to create an exposure hierarchy or fear ladder. As an OCD self-help technique, you can do a modified version of this technique on your own. Think about all of the situations, both real and imagined, that cause you OCD-related fear, shame, or disgust. Rank these events from 1 — causing only a mild level of fear — to 10 — causing a level of fear that feels insurmountable.

For example, if you live with contamination OCD, 1 might be saying the word “dirty,” 5 might be looking at a picture of a dirty bathroom, and 10 might be touching a dirty sink with your bare hands.

This strategy can both help you gain a better understanding of your triggers, as well as set you up for the next strategy: exposures.

Strategy #2: Practice exposures and imaginal exposures

The core of ERP is exposure. Although these are most effective when done with the support of a licensed mental health therapist, you can practice them on your own, even if you’re in treatment. If you decide to do exposures yourself as a self-help strategy, be aware that they will temporarily raise your anxiety levels — if you don’t feel anxious, you’re not doing them right. If you feel so overwhelmed by anxiety that you feel like you can’t get through it, stop and get treatment.

Start with doing exposures that are lower down on the fear ladder you created. For example, you might say the word “dirty” over and over again until that fear feels tolerable. Then, you can move up the ladder. 

You can also do imaginal exposures where actually exposing yourself to something is unrealistic. For example, if you have false memory OCD, you might write a story where you remembered a situation inaccurately.

Strategy #3: Practice delaying rituals

Exposures are only effective when combined with the second part of ERP, response prevention. This means resisting the urge to perform compulsions, including seeking reassurance from others or performing mental rituals, to avoid the discomfort that exposures bring.

If it’s too difficult to avoid compulsions altogether, one self-help strategy you can try is to delay them. Try to put off doing the compulsion or ritual for 10 minutes. If that feels too hard, try delaying for 5 minutes. Even if you can’t resist compulsions altogether, delaying them gives you practice in not giving in to the urge automatically. After you’ve mastered 5 minutes, try to delay for 6 or 7 the next time — adding more time with each urge.

Metacognitive training for OCD 

Metacognitive training (MCT), is a lesser-known intervention for OCD. A group of researchers developed this strategy to fill the gap between people who live with OCD and those who receive the treatment they need. 

myMCT is an OCD self-help manual that focuses on helping people recognize the cognitive biases that OCD causes and learn new ways to cope with symptoms.

Strategy #4: Identify your meta-cognitive beliefs

One important strategy in MCT is to identify the meta-cognitive beliefs that OCD causes — the thoughts you have about your thoughts. The myMCT manual includes a list of these. As a self-help strategy, you can familiarize yourself with these and notice when you’re falling into these thinking traps. Some examples include:

  • Bad thoughts are abnormal (in reality, most people experience weird or intrusive thoughts)
  • Bad thoughts lead to bad deeds (thoughts are just thoughts — they can be meaningless)
  • Brooding helps to solve problems (thinking about a problem usually does nothing to actually solve it)
  • Feeling like I’m in danger means that I’m actually in danger (feelings are not facts, and can lie to us)

The myMCT manual and your therapist can help you learn as much as you can about these meta-cognitive beliefs and how they affect you.

Strategy #5: Defeat double standards

In this self-help strategy, imagine or think about a past mishap in your life. You write down what you said or thought about yourself when you made this mistake. Then, you write down what you would say to a friend if they made the same mistake. Reflect on the differences and the way you judge yourself more harshly with a double standard.

Without knowing it, you may use different standards to judge yourself than you do to judge others. For example, let’s say you and a close friend have both forgotten to blow a candle out — thankfully, nothing bad happened. If your friend felt guilty about this, you’d likely be compassionate with them. You might tell them that it was only a mistake and that they didn’t do it on purpose.

But if you made the same mistake, you may judge yourself more harshly. You might tell yourself, “I could have burned the whole house down. What was I thinking? I’m a terrible, careless person.” Using this strategy, reflect on the double standards you are judging yourself by, and strive toward talking to yourself like you would a friend.

Strategy #6: Try a magical thinking experiment

Another facet of OCD is magical thinking, or believing that you can change the outcome of events with just your thoughts. This is why many people with OCD perform mental rituals to counteract any negative outcomes that may have been caused by their thoughts. For example, you may fear that because you didn’t touch the doorframe 7 times, something terrible will happen to your family.

To counteract this, try this strategy taken from the myMCT handbook. Do a magical thinking experiment. For example, look at a pen and think to yourself, “This pen will fall off the table.” Watch to see if the pen falls off the table — likely, it won’t. Repeating this self-help strategy can help your brain understand that thoughts can’t cause or prevent events.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques

CBT is a broad category of psychotherapeutic interventions based on the interconnection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In general, when we talk about CBT for OCD, we’re referring specifically to ERP. More general CBT interventions haven’t been found to be helpful for OCD, and in some cases, they may even be harmful.

However, there are some general CBT techniques that you may find helpful, especially if you live with co-occurring conditions like depression.

Strategy #7: Educate yourself

Psychoeducation is a core component of CBT, as well as ERP and MCT. It’s about learning how OCD affects your brain and why you think and behave the way you do. The more you learn about OCD and how it operates, the more likely you’re able to catch OCD in action. When you’re informed about OCD, you’re less likely to define yourself by its symptoms.

Read and learn as much as you can about OCD, but make sure that the information is reliable. We include a list of trustworthy resources at the end of this article.

Strategy #8: Practice cognitive defusion

People with OCD struggle with cognitive fusion, or becoming overly attached to their thoughts. Everyone has intrusive thoughts sometimes, but people without OCD can brush them off. People with OCD get stuck on what the thought means about them. For example, they might ruminate, “Why did I have that thought about hurting my son? Does this mean I’m a terrible father? Am I a sociopath in disguise?”

But at the end of the day, a thought is just a thought. Cognitive defusion techniques, borrowed from a type of CBT called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), can help you observe thoughts without becoming too attached to them. 

One strategy is to say or sing it out loud in the voice of your favorite cartoon character.

This can create some distance from the thought itself and help you realize that it’s simply a meaningless thought.

Strategy #9: Practice acceptance

Another CBT-based self-help strategy taken from ACT is acceptance. Practicing acceptance around OCD doesn’t mean that you stop trying to recover or feel better. Acceptance is about giving up the fight against your thoughts. OCD is defined by fighting against thoughts — compulsions are a way to push obsessions away, but it only keeps you trapped in the OCD cycle.

Instead, try to simply accept the fact that you’re having an obsession. Instead of fighting against it, simply allow it to be present. You can combine this strategy with the mindful awareness strategy we describe next.

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Mindfulness-based therapy techniques can also be helpful for OCD, and these are easy to practice on your own.

Strategy #10: Practice mindful awareness

The definition of mindfulness is to stay aware of each present moment, without judgment, no matter what it entails. This is a difficult, but important, skill to practice when you live with OCD. When you have an OCD thought, try to simply be aware of it without judging, interpreting it, or getting attached to it. You can also practice simply being aware of other things around you rather than just focusing on the thought.

For example, let’s say you have the thought, “What if I’m a sociopath?” Instead of thinking, “Why would I have that thought? Does that mean I really am a sociopath? What if I secretly want to be a sociopath?,” try simply being aware of the thought. Think instead, “I’m having the thought that I may be a sociopath.” Expand your awareness to everything else around you, “I’m having this thought. It’s just a thought.I’m sitting on the sofa. My dog is next to me, and I can feel its warm breath. I smell dinner cooking.”

By practicing mindful awareness of your thoughts, you become more able to recognize them for what they are: just thoughts.

Strategy #11: Try progressive muscle relaxation

Relaxation techniques, like progressive muscle relaxation, can be helpful additions to treatment. They reduce your anxiety levels and can be a good strategy to manage overall stress. Practicing progressive muscle relaxation doesn’t directly reduce OCD symptoms, and can become a compulsion if you’re not careful. The only way to reduce OCD symptoms is to lean into, not avoid, anxiety.

To practice progressive muscle relaxation, start by tensing, then releasing, every group of muscles. For example, you could start with your feet — tense all of your muscles in your feet for 10 seconds, then release. Then move your way up your body.

6 self-care tips for OCD

Practicing self-care is also essential if you live with any mental health condition, including OCD. Contrary to popular belief, self-care isn’t about pampering yourself, it’s about making sure you’re taking steps to prioritize your physical and mental needs.

Here are some self-care tips to put into practice if you live with OCD.

Healthy eating habits and OCD

What you eat can affect your health on every level, including your mood, energy levels, focus, and more. Be sure to eat nourishing meals filled with vitamins and minerals. Notice how what you eat, and your hunger levels, affect your symptoms.

Exercise and OCD management

Exercise is one of the best things we can do for mental health. Research has shown that it’s an effective intervention for depression and anxiety. One meta-analysis found that an exercise routine can help reduce OCD symptoms, although we need more high-quality research to be sure.

Good sleep for OCD 

Restful sleep has a positive impact on every area of health. Sleep deprivation has been linked with low mood, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, and more. When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain is not in a good place to fight OCD symptoms. Practice good sleep hygiene habits and prioritize restful sleep each night.

Stress management for OCD

High stress levels can make OCD worse. If you live with OCD, it’s essential to learn effective and healthy strategies to manage stress. Some of the mindfulness and relaxation-based strategies above may help. In addition, avoid turning to unhealthy habits, like drug and alcohol use, to manage your stress; this only makes both stress and OCD worse in the long run.

The importance of a regular routine for OCD

Having a regular routine can help manage stress levels and provide consistency in your life. A routine can also help you stick to your treatment plan (like taking medication at the same time). However, be aware of sticking to routines too rigidly, which can easily become a compulsive behavior. Have a routine, but be flexible about it.

Journaling and OCD

Journaling is a helpful practice that can increase self-awareness and reduce stress. When journaling for OCD, try to remember the self-help strategies above rather than simply writing out your spiraling thoughts. For example, you could use journaling as an exposure activity by writing an imagined story in which your worst fears come true. Or you could use journaling as a way to monitor your symptoms every day.

Resources for self-help for OCD

One important self-help strategy for OCD is psychoeducation. It’s important to learn as much as you can about OCD and how it affects your brain. Here are some helpful resources to get started.

Self-help books for people living with OCD

  • Brain Lock by Jeffrey Schwartz
  • Break Free from OCD by Fiona Challacombe, Victoria Bream-Oldfield, and Paul Salkovskis
  • The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD by Jon Hershfield, MFT and Tom Corboy, MFT
  • The Self-Compassion Workbook for OCD by Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT
  • The Imp of the Mind by Lee Baer, PhD
  • Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Jonathan Grayson, PhD

Mental health and OCD mobile apps

  • by GGtude, rated as the most credible OCD app by the International OCD Foundation
  • NOCD, a mobile app that focuses on providing ERP
  • OCD Challenge, a free online program

Online OCD forums and support groups

  • International OCD Foundation’s online support groups
  •, an online forum run by OCD-UK
  • MyOCD Community on
  • r/OCD on

When to seek professional help for OCD

Even though self-help strategies and resources can be helpful for those who don’t have access to treatment, if possible, it’s essential to seek professional help if you live with OCD. OCD is a chronic and serious health condition that doesn’t typically go away on its own. And when left unaddressed, OCD symptoms can become debilitating and wreak havoc on your personal and professional life.

A mental health provider, like a therapist or psychiatrist, can help you decide whether therapy, medication, or both is the right option for you. They can provide you with a non-judgmental space to talk about your symptoms and learn new ways to cope. They can assign homework in between sessions so you can combine the benefits of self-help strategies with more effective treatment.

Key takeaway

Self-help strategies for OCD are an important addition to therapy, as they let you practice your skills between sessions. They can also help fill the gap between the people who need OCD treatment and those who get it. However, the only way to recover from OCD is to find a treatment provider who specializes in this condition. OCD is a highly treatable disorder, and with the right support, you can manage your symptoms and live a fulfilling and happy life.

Silence the obsessions and compulsions of OCD

You don’t need to live with the obsessions and compulsions of OCD, with treatment, you can take control. Find an OCD specialist on Klarity today and get started.


Behavior Therapy, Characteristics of individuals seeking treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder, Levy, Hannah et. al, Sept. 2013, 

BMC Psychiatry, Metacognitive Training for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Miegel, Franziska et. al, Jul. 2020,

Clinical Neuropsychology Unit at the UKE, Hamburg, myMCT OCD Manual (English),

International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, Effects of exercise on obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Bottoms, Lindsay et. al, Dec. 2022,

Journal of Affective Disorders, Symptom improvement and remission in untreated adults seeking treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder: A systemic review and meta-analysis, Melkonian, Maral et. al, Dec. 2022,

Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, Acceptance and commitment therapy in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: A systematic review, Philip, Joel et. al, Jan. 2021, 

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you have regarding your health.

If you’re having a mental health crisis or experiencing a psychiatric emergency, it’s crucial to seek immediate help from a mental healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. You can also call your local emergency services, visit your nearest emergency room, or contact a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, by calling or texting 988 or dialing the Lifeline’s previous phone number, 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) in the U.S.

How we reviewed this article: This article goes through rigorous fact-checking by a team of medical reviewers. Reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the author.

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