How to Navigate Online OCD Forums in a Healthy Way


If used correctly, online OCD forums—such as Reddit or PsychForums—can be a great place to find support and information. If not use correctly, however, they can actually be detrimental to your recovery.

What are online OCD forums?

Online OCD forums are a place for those suffering from OCD to seek and offer support. It’s also a place to share information and resources, such as helpful YouTube videos, books, or blogs. Most online forums—OCD or otherwise—share a similar structure. A forum user can create a ‘post’ to which other members of the forum are able to respond. Generally, forums are anonymous, and people go by online aliases, or screennames.

How can online OCD forums be used in an unhealthy way?

The primary way in which OCD forums can be used in an unhealthy manner is to use them to seek reassurance. OCD sufferers are on a constant search for reassurance, and an anonymous, online forum is a great place to find that. As those of you who are one your way to recovery already know, reassurance can make your OCD quite worse–it teaches avoidance, ultimately increases anxiety, and results in codependence. If you’ve spent any amount of time on one of these forums, you know that they are rife with these sorts of posts. With some practice, it becomes easy to not engage with these posts, and, with a bit more practice, you will be able to avoid posting them yourself. But something I’ve learned on my road to recovery is that reassurance-seeking behavior finds a way. On OCD forums, users can be quite cunning. For example, they may make a post not explicitly asking for reassurance but still related to their obsession, in hopes that another user provides reassurance somewhere along the way. At one point in time, I have been a perpetrator of this kind of post, although at the time I would not have admitted it, even to myself. Another way users sometimes seek reassurance is to find posts by others with a similar obsession and hope to find some reassurance that they were already given; an OCD forum user might be perusing the forum under the guise of looking for educational resources or memes, but with the search for reassurance as their primary motivator.

Part of using OCD forums in a healthy way–and part of recovery, in general–is being honest with yourself. If you keep your wits about you, you should be able to use OCD forums in a healthy way and to make them a healthier place for others on their road to recovery.

How can online OCD forums be used in a healthy way?

There are very many ways that OCD forums can be used in a healthy manner. First off, they can be a fantastic place to find educational resources on OCD. Oftentimes, forums may have a ‘stickied’ post that contains a list of such resources, but you can also ask other users for recommendations. It is also a fantastic place to find solidarity. Other OCD sufferers can share their stories, their pain with you, and even their memes with you, and this can help you feel like you are not so alone. It’s also a place where you can see the entire gamut of OCD obsessions. Seeing how absurd and unlikely some of these fears seem from the outside, can help bring some of your own obsessions into perspective. Lastly, it’s a place where you can help others along their path to recovery, which is something that I believe all OCD sufferers can benefit from.

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20 Ways to Support a Loved One with OCD Without Giving Them Reassurance


There’s nothing wrong with offering a loved one a bit of reassurance, right? Well, in the case of those with OCD, reassurance can actually make their OCD worse.

OCD sufferers seek reassurance because they have a difficult time dealing with uncertainty. Reassurance from a friend or loved one can help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with this uncertainty, but only temporarily. In the long run, reassurance validates their obsession and teaches them to use avoidance as a coping mechanism. Then, you might ask, what are some healthy ways I can offer an OCD sufferer support? Well, here are twenty of them!

  1. Give them a hug (if they are comfortable with this, of course)
  2. Give them a ride to their therapy appointment
  3. Give them a break sometimes—but also keep them accountable
  4. Make them a nice home-cooked meal
  5. Gently point out when they are seeking reassurance
  6. Join them in their favorite hobby
  7. Educate yourself on OCD so you can have a better understanding of what they’re going through
  8. Tell them how much you care about them
  9. Write them a kind (but not reassuring) note
  10. Go for a walk with them
  11. Ask them how their treatment is going
  12. Celebrate small achievements with them
  13. Lend them an ear
  14. Get them a book by their favorite author
  15. Tell them that you support them
  16. Share your own struggles with them
  17. Help them with chores/errands
  18. Be patient with them
  19. Watch a movie with them
  20. Most importantly, simply be a friend to them

OCD and Meditation

These days, talk of meditation is everywhere. It has been widely touted by blogs, TV, and radio as a cure-all. It has been said to remedy problems such as anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, and even OCD—but does it really work? Unfortunately, if you expect to sit down a couple times a week in the lotus position and cure your OCD, you are in for some disappointment. However, if you are willing to put in the work, you might find that meditation—along with a CBT program—really does work to temper your OCD symptoms.

Within the last decade, there has been an increase in research on the effectiveness of meditation for the treatment of OCD—in one study, participants rated mindful breathing exercises as ‘very helpful’; another study showed that mindfulness intervention had a ‘significant and large effect’ on OCD symptoms. Although, to date, most studies on the effects of meditation on OCD are qualitative and small-scale, the link between mindful meditation and decreased OCD symptoms is beginning to become clear, and my own experiences seem to agree with these studies. If I am consistent in my meditation practices, I have fewer obsessions, and, when I do have them, I am more likely to not engage in compulsive behavior. 

But why does meditation work in treating OCD? Although no one knows for certain, we can make some pretty good guesses. When meditating, one tries to let his/her thoughts come and go without engaging them. Obviously, for someone with OCD, this can be very difficult. However, just like anything else, with practice, it becomes easier. For someone with OCD, meditation can be an exercise to strengthen our ability to not engage with our obsessive thoughts. Another theory is that meditation can make help us more ‘mindful,’ or aware of our thoughts. Thus, when we begin to obsess, we recognize this and can prevent ourselves from engaging in our compulsion. We can think about it two-fold– first, it teaches us to not engage with our obsessive thoughts, but, if we do, it teaches us to be aware of such and not engage in our compulsions.

How can you get started with mindfulness mediation? It’s very simple. I recommend beginning with something called breathing meditation. In this form of meditation, one sits (or lies) in a comfortable position and simply concentrates on his/her breath coming in and then leaving the nose. When a thought enters your mind, it can be tempting to engage with the thought, but just let it pass and continue to come back to your breath. When you first start, it might be difficult to do this for even a minute, but over time you will be able to lengthen the time you spend meditating. I recommend meditating every day, and try to allow the mindfulness that you develop to follow you into the rest of your day.

Hanstede, M., Gidron, Y., & Nyklícek, I. (2008). The effects of a mindfulness intervention on obsessive-compulsive symptoms in a non-clinical student population. Journal of Nervous Mental Disorders,196 (10):776-9.

Hertenstein, E., Rose, N., Voderholzer, U,. Heidenreich, T., Nissen, C., Thiel, N., Herbst, N., Katrin Külz, A. (2012). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in obsessive-compulsive disorder – A qualitative study on patients’ experiences. BMC Psychiatry, 12:185.

Seeking Support in a World of Reassurance

In our modern world, support almost always comes in the form of reassurance. Reassurance, which, to those without OCD, is innocuous and oftentimes quite comforting. To those of us suffering from OCD, reassurance is like a drug—it provides temporary relief, but we are soon coming back for more. Ultimately, however, it results in avoidance, the inability to deal with uncertainty, and codependency. Since we know reassurance is so bad for us, but that is also the default method of support, we need to tread lightly when seeking support from loved ones. But how can we do this?

It is very important to inform those in your support system of your diagnosis. (If you are not comfortable enough sharing your diagnosis with someone in your support system, then you might consider whether or not they are someone from whom you should be seeking support in the first place.) Inform them, but also explain to them the basics of OCD, namely that it is a disease of obsessions and compulsions and that reassurance, although it adds temporary relief, ultimately leads to exacerbated symptoms. You might have to remind friends and families of the lattermost part frequently.

Part of the onus is also on the sufferer. If you seek reassurance, you will find a way to receive it. When interacting with those in your support system, ensure that you are not trying to pull reassurance out of them, because they see you in pain, and they will eventually give it to you.

You might be asking, then what does healthy support look like? Healthy support can take many forms. For me, a tight hug from my significant other can help. A ride to your first therapy appointment is another way. Some kind, encouraging, but not reassuring, words. A nice homecooked meal. There are an endless number of ways that are not reassurance for those who love you to show you their support. Set some ground rules, and positive, healthy support will begin to flow in.

I have also written a list of 20 ways to provide healthy support to a loved one with OCD. You can consider printing it out and giving it to those in your support system.

My Journey to OCD Diagnosis

For as long as I can recall, I have felt different. For example, as a child, I recall not wanting to kill even the smallest of bugs, not being able to fall asleep until I said my nightly prayer, and spending far too much time pondering my sexuality. I also remember a general sense of anxiety that only increased with age. As a child I was overly conscientious and quite anxious, but I would say that I didn’t develop full-blown OCD symptoms young adulthood.

The first instance I can really point to and say ‘that was OCD’ occurred when my parents were undergoing a divorce. I lived in a house way back in the woods with no real neighbors. I recall both of my parents being out one night, and I was home alone. I had heard, or imagined I had heard, a bang, which could have easily been one of our many cats. I crept around the house and ensured that every door and window was locked and then proceeded to scan all of the closets under all of the beds. I spent the rest of the night locked in my room scared for my life. After this occurrence, I would repeat this ritual every night before I went to bed—whether my parents were home or not—until we moved out of that house.

After this occurrence there were behaviors that could be called OCD or OCD-like but the next time OCD really reared its ugly head was in college, and this time it came with a vengeance. I was a first-generation college student, so I felt an extreme amount of pressure to succeed in college. This was not motivation—no. This was something else entirely. I would spend 12, 13, 14 hours a day studying; I would not sleep; I would not shower; I would check 20 times a day to ensure I did not miss any assignments; I volunteered; I partied; I tutored; I worked; I self-medicated; I ate terribly; I gained weight. I was miserable. But it did result in a near-perfect GPA and a resume to die for—almost literally.

During summers, when I was not doggedly studying, my OCD would grab onto something else—my ever-increasing waistline. I was not fat by any stretch of the imagination, but I was far from the slender person I had been. So began the obsessive dieting and exercising. I dieted far beyond the point of healthfulness, directly into an eating disorder. I became tiny, frail. I hardly ate and tried to exercise like I was a professional athlete. 

Somehow, during this brutal cycle of studying and dieting and exercising, I met beautiful girl who would come to change my life.

The beginning of our relationship was rife with problems. My OCD grabbed ahold of an innocuous meeting between my girlfriend and an ex-boyfriend, and I began to obsess about a potential infidelity. My insecurities and obsessions were tearing the relationship apart—and I knew this. So, with support from my girlfriend, I got help. The first therapist I saw was for trauma (I had experienced some abuse in my life and infidelity on the part of my parents so we thought this would be a good place to start). And it did help with those things, but the obsessions were still there. Thankfully, however, my obsessions did shift away from concerns about infidelity and our relationship was salvaged. 

Soon enough I had graduated and entered the working world. As you might have guessed, my obsessions based around achievement and performance did not subside. I worked long hours and weekends, and put extraordinary pressure on myself to perform. During this time, I also began fiercely studying for the medical school entrance exam. Incidentally, during this time I also I developed a fear that I had somehow contracted HIV and given it to my girlfriend. This fear was totally unfounded. I had never had sexual relations with anyone else during our relationship, and before our relationship I had a relatively mild sex-life. When I told my trauma therapist about these fears, he told me it sounded like OCD. After a few agonizing weeks, I got an STD test that put my concerns to rest. 

Eventually, I found myself in a very good place. I had a good job, a good, basically healthy relationship, and a great dog. I had also recently been accepted to medical school (all of those sleepless nights were not for naught). Things were great, and there was no longer anything ‘real’ to worry about. This is when I started obsessing over very existential things like free-will and death. I also started worrying about things that I had no history of doing; for example, I’d worry whether or not I had it in me to cheat on my girlfriend or to hurt her. These thoughts were so disturbing that I vowed to finally get to the bottom of this thing. That’s when I found myself on the IOCDF.org website, where I read an article about those with existential obsessions; it was like I was looking in the mirror. 

I found a therapist on the IOCDF website that specialized in OCD and made an appointment. Upon my first meeting I was diagnosed with OCD. Some people cry when they get their diagnosis. I laughed; I was joyful. I was fighting an unnamed beast for years. Now, that it had a name, I could start my battle in earnest. 

I have come a long way since that initial meeting. Although I still have OCD, I’m mentally healthy for the first time in my adult life. I have a stable, loving relationship, I travel, I rock climb, I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I write, and I’m happy. And now I’m on a journey to help others seek relief from their own OCD.

‘Is This an OCD Thought?’ Flowchart

This post is a bit facetious, but those with OCD, especially those who are early in the recovery process, might actually benefit from treating every scary thought as an OCD thought. When I first started on my road to recovery, this was advice that my therapist had given me, and it helped me tremendously. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of obsessing about obsessions–“Is this really an OCD thought? How can I know? But what if it isn’t?” When you start in with this pattern of thinking, you can fall back on this very simple flow chart. I hope it helps!

10 Unexpected Ways that OCD and my Road to Recovery Has Positively Impacted my Life*

It has…

  1. Gotten me interested in spirituality/philosophy
  2. Taught me humility
  3. Made me more comfortable with asking others for help 
  4. Gave me insight into my thought processes 
  5. Made me a more empathetic person
  6. Helped me come to terms with some of my greatest fears 
  7. Helped me appreciate good mental health 
  8. Led me to meet amazing people
  9. Helped me focus on what really matters in life 
  10. Led me to create this blog!

*Note: Most of the positive effects of OCD came during recovery. With OCD it is important to not develop a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. At the end of the day, OCD is a mental illness that we should have no attachment to, but it sometimes helps me to see the silver lining.

What is ERP?

ERP, or Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy often used in the treatment of OCD. In exposure and response prevention therapy, you expose yourself to a thought or situation that excites your OCD; however, unlike in the typical pattern of OCD, you prevent yourself from responding with a compulsive behavior. Although, in theory, this sounds simple, it is oftentimes very difficult. For this reason, it is advised to start with triggers that induce low levels of anxiety.

The theory behind ERP is that, if you expose yourself to situations or thoughts that cause anxiety, and you do nothing to reduce that anxiety, you will eventually habituate and the anxiety associated with that trigger will subside. Furthermore, by not engaging with your obsession, you begin teach your brain that your trigger does not pose the same level of threat that you perceived it to.

Here is an example of ERP in action. Imagine an OCD sufferer whose obsessions focus around lock checking, and typically when they go to leave the house they will lock the door and turn right around to check to make sure that they did. A good exposure for someone with this obsession would be to lock their door and then wait five minutes before checking it. Over time, they can start to wait for longer and longer intervals until they can leave the house without checking at all. Sometimes, even five minutes might be too distressing. In this case, they could start with a minute or even less. If even this causes too much anxiety, they could start by visualizing themselves locking the door and leaving without checking it.

There are times when obsessions/ compulsions might occur entirely in your head. In this case, you can record yourself describing your fear, and then you can play it back to yourself repeatedly without offering yourself reassurance or trying to comfort yourself against the fear (oftentimes, mental compulsions take the form of trying to reassure yourself). If a tape recorder is not handy, you can also repeatedly write your obsessive thought, following the same principle. With ruminations, almost every moment is an opportunity for ERP. If you notice yourself obsessing about a scary thought, don’t engage with it, i.e. don’t offer yourself any reassurance, and sit with the anxiety that the thought produces.

Although ERP has a high success rate in treating OCD, it does not come without its challenges. Oftentimes when you first start ERP, your basal level of anxiety will increase greatly. Furthermore, the act of exposing yourself to triggers can be very painful. If possible, I recommend starting ERP under the guidance of a clinician. OCD therapists in your area can be found on the International OCD Foundation’s Website, IOCDF.org.

OCD and Workaholism

 A study was published in 2016 that analyzed the relationship between workaholism and psychiatric disorders, and one of the disorders they examined was OCD. In the workaholics studied, 25.6% met the criteria for OCD, while only 8.7% of their non-workaholic counterparts met the criteria. This did not come as a surprise to me. For some time, the chief way my OCD manifested itself was through compulsive working.

 In college, I was an extremely high achiever. For most of my four years I kept a 4.0 grade average, while working in a research laboratory, tutoring, volunteering, working for the campus newspaper, lifting weights, doing martial arts—you get the picture. This dogged work ethic followed me after graduation into the working world, where I’d bend to any demands of my boss; this included staying late, coming in on weekends, etc. In school and in work, any mistake resulted in enormous amounts of guilt and self-hatred. To avoid this despair, I would simply not—or at least try my hardest to not—make mistakes. This would look like me checking 15 to 20 times a day whether or not I had any assignments due, it would look like me studying until exhaustion, it would result in me taking unprescribed study medication, it would result in me neglecting my hygiene, my mental health, my loved ones. Every moment I was awake would be consumed by obsessions about school and the prospect of failure. To alleviate this anxiety, I would compulsively study for as long as humanly possible. 

The dangerous thing about workaholism is that it’s celebrated in ways that other compulsive behaviors are not. If you check a dozen times if your door is locked before leaving your house, you are usually not called conscientious but insane; this is not true for reworking a work presentation for the umpteenth time. Because of this, this cycle of OCD continued for years and took an enormous toll on my mental and physical health. Another danger of workaholism is that it does have its upsides—the relentless studying that I put in eventually landed me spots in elite medical schools. For some time I was experiencing what some people in the OCD community describe as Stockholm syndrome. In the traditional sense, Stockholm syndrome is a phenomenon where hostages start to develop an intimate connection with their captors. I was experiencing something similar with my OCD. I didn’t like my life, per se, but I liked the results, I liked that I was the top of my class, I liked that my parents and family members were proud of me—in some ways, I liked my OCD.

Eventually, after many years, I began to realize that my behavior was not healthy. It took getting into a relationship with a wonderful woman whom was greatly affected by my behavior. She pointed out to me, with much tact, that my workaholism was causing a lot of trouble in our relationship, and this was one of the driving forces in me seeking help.

 For those of you suffering from OCD and workaholism, know you are not alone. Although to the outside world it might not appear so, it is as painful as any other obsession and requires the same levels of clinical intervention. If you want to seek help for your OCD, a good place to start is the International OCD Foundation website (IOCDF.org), which will have a listing of OCD clinicians near you. 

Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Sinha, R., Hetland, J. & Pallesen, S. (2016). The relationships between workaholism and symptoms of psychiatric disorders: A large-scale cross-sectional study. PLoS ONE, 11(5): e0152978. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0152978.

Choosing Exposures Intentionally

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) is a form of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) used to treat OCD. In ERP, you expose yourself to thoughts or situations that trigger your obsessions and deliberately prevent yourself from engaging in your compulsions. ERP is usually done, at least initially, under the guidance of a clinician, for—depending on the severity of your OCD—these exposures can cause significant stress. Although I have undergone extensive ERP-based therapy, I no longer see a clinician. Part of the reason for this is that OCD treatment, once you have the necessary tools, can be largely self-directed. An unexpected difficulty that I have run into, however, with my self-directed therapy was deciding what constitutes a ‘good’ exposure.

A good exposure, simply put, is one that creates a sufficient, but not excessive, amount of anxiety (the ones that cause extreme levels are anxiety are usually ones you want to work up to). For example, I, for quite some time, had HIV-infection obsessions. My associated compulsion was to go online, read about the symptoms of HIV, read about HIV statistics, go on forums for those with HIV, etc. What I was hoping to get out of these activities was relief; I hoped that I would find something on these sites to reassure me that I unequivocally did not have this virus. Of course, nothing on the internet could tell me that, but I would go on forums and see if these people with HIV had engaged in riskier sexual behavior than myself. Oftentimes, I did find this, but with sufficient digging I would eventually find a story in which the HIV sufferer contracted the disease from a single, low-risk sexual interaction. When I would find this, I would spiral down into a dark whirlwind of anxiety and dread. After all, if it happened to them, it surely could happen to me. One might think that, if these forums, these statistics are causing you so much anxiety, OCDude, you surely should not frequent them. And, in a sense, I agree. How I was engaging with this information was not healthy and was greatly increasing my OCD symptoms. However, as I began my self-directed therapy, I found myself going back to these same resources.

Initially, this seemed very counterintuitive to me (this is a theme with OCD; every treatment seems counterintuitive). If these things were causing me so much stress, so much mental anguish, so much anxiety why would I continue going back to them? Well, that’s just it. It caused anxiety. With ERP, so much depends on your intentions. When I was initially engaging in my compulsions, my intention, my goal, was to reduce my anxiety by figuring out my odds of having HIV, which, of course, never worked and caused me even more anxiety. As I went back to these resources, I set my intentions. I was not going there to relieve myself of anxiety but to produce anxiety and to sit with it without engaging in my compulsions. I would read the horrid stories on these online forums and instead of attempting to convince myself why it was impossible for me to have HIV, I would agree with the thoughts. Yes, it’s possible that I have HIV, I would tell myself. Eventually, as with any ERP that is performed well, these exposures got boring to me, and eventually my obsessions subsided.

 From the above example, I hope you can see that the difference between treating your condition or exacerbating it rides a fine line. When choosing and then engaging with an exposure, it is important to set your intentions and be honest with yourself about why you chose this particular exposure. Was your choice short-sighted, compulsive, or was it a healthy, well-intentioned choice? Only you can decide.