Coping Strategies for OCD

By Sarah Freeman, NJCTS Youth Advocate

At school, my OCD manifests itself in many ways. I often find it challenging to switch between tasks and stay focused on the coursework. I like to put all my time and energy into specific subjects, making it hard to focus on subjects I could be more passionate about. To counteract this, creating specific to-do lists is very helpful—the more specific, the better. I like to create daily lists of everything I need to get done, and then I go more in-depth with exactly how I need to do it and what needs to be done at a specific time. This helps me clarify what I need to do in all aspects of school, not just what I would like to focus on. Checking the boxes also satisfies my OCD; it is an incentive to keep working even when I don’t necessarily want to. 

Another area I struggle with at school is test taking in STEM subjects. I have to put in extra work to focus on the numbers on the page as my mind continually drifts elsewhere. Our assessments are timed at my high school, which can be difficult for me. I often feel rushed, the intrusive thoughts continue rolling in, and I struggle even harder. To make test-taking easier for me with my OCD, I receive accommodations from my school. My teachers provide me with 50% extra time to complete my tests, which does help with my worries surrounding time. Despite this, I often find myself far from halfway through the test at the half-time mark. When this happens, I refocus my energy on what I can do. Before beginning any test, I look through it and complete the hard questions first. This way, I can quickly answer more straightforward questions even when running out of time. I also fully annotate each problem, as it helps my brain to focus more clearly on the numbers. This may mean writing out specific math procedures or highlighting coefficients when balancing Chemistry problems. This strategy helps my brain to stay task oriented. 

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with school, and I feel that getting the grades I want is impossible. When this happens, I refocus my energy on what I know I can do. I often do this by stretching or doing breathing exercises, which help me to center myself. After doing this, I make another to-do list and try to avoid procrastination. Doing things as soon as possible helps me focus my energy, as I have less piling up and less work that needs attention. 

If you are struggling with OCD, I recommend talking to a school advisor or parent. These individuals can aid you in implementing coping strategies that work for you. This could mean making lists or annotating tests, but it could also mean something different. Everyone has different strategies for coping, and that is okay! If I could give any advice to others struggling with OCD, I would say not to let it take over your life. I advise other high school students to focus on the positives in their life and not let the negatives debilitate them. Keep working hard and try your best in school, even if it seems difficult. 

Wednesday Webinar: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 101
Presented by Robert Zambrano, Psy.D. 


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