Work and OCD

How Does Work Relate to OCD?

OCD often impacts a person’s ability to work and the anxieties they experience in the workplace. Many OCD sufferers are highly intelligent and highly functional. This is often referred to as High Functioning OCD. Just because someone is a doctor, lawyer, writer, business owner, teacher or cashier, does not mean they aren’t battling a mental disorder. Unfortunately, the idea that someone who is outwardly successful is always healthy keeps people from seeking help. They suffer in silence and keep their OCD a secret. This can lead to issues with work performance or allow certain intrusive thoughts to go untreated and worsen.

OCD issues in the workplace often look like:

  • It takes you longer to do your work because you’re obsessing over an intrusive thought.
  • You have difficulty concentrating.
  • You avoid certain people or tasks because they trigger negative thoughts.
  • You constantly worry about how coworkers perceive you and your behavior.
  • You avoid conference rooms and bathrooms because of contamination fears.

Sufferers can also face discrimination from bosses and coworkers if they speak out about their struggle with mental health.

OCD discrimination in the workplace often looks like:

  • Your boss won’t consider you for a promotion because they fear your OCD will keep you from performing.
  • Coworkers make fun of, or get angry about, your need to take breaks from certain tasks or interactions. They think you are “less fit” for the job than they are.
  • Higher ups will not allow mental health days.
  • People use words like “crazy”, “insane” or “weak” when discussing mental health.

What Can I Do About it?

If you experience intrusive thoughts during work, mindfulness practices can help. Learn to let the thought exist without assigning any meaning to it. Try to be mindful and allow the moment to pass on its own. This will take some time to get used to. The key is to slowly work mindfulness practices into your daily schedule and let their effects build up over time.

Only 1 in 4 people disclose their anxiety disorder to their employer. 38% say they’re worried their boss will think it’s an excuse to get out of work, while 34% say they think it will negatively influence promotion opportunities.

Treatment is also an effective way to manage intrusive thoughts in the workplace. Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is the recommended treatment for OCD sufferers. ERP is when you voluntarily expose yourself to a fear over and over and over again until your brain stops obsessing over it. By repeatedly engaging in something you’re afraid of, you force your brain to recognize how irrational it is.

Many people utilize ERP practices outside of therapy to help them get through the workday. One example would be:

  • An intrusive thought arises while you’re working on a task. You recognize it and the anxiety it is creating.
  • You combat the intrusive thought with a mindfulness practice. You accept that the thought is there even though it’s unwanted. You allow it to come in and out of the forefront of your thinking.
  • When you have a moment, you take a 5-minute break during which you turn up the volume of the thought and force yourself to accept its presence. If the thought is about the germs on a conference table, you may expose yourself to the fear by laying your hand on the table for 2 minutes.
  • Over time, you will get better and better at experiencing these thoughts at work and overcoming them.

There are other treatment options as well. Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, teaches people to identify, understand and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors. Patients are taught problem-solving skills during therapy lessons and then instructed to practice them on their own time in order to build positive habits.

If you’re taking medication for your OCD, be mindful that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) could impact your work in the short term. SSRIs can make you sluggish, drowsy and nauseous. Once your body adjusts to the medication, these side effects should subside.   

And finally, you might be wondering if you should you tell a coworker or boss. The truth is, it depends on the nature of the job and the nature of your relationship with those people. If you feel comfortable speaking to someone at work, you should do so. Opening up can provide a sense of relief and helps your coworkers better understand what you’re going through. If your work environment is less understanding, opening up can create more problems than it solves. This is truly a case-by-case decision that you and your therapist should decide on together.  

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