Does Keeping Yourself Busy Help With OCD?

I have been thinking a lot about this question lately and I realized that there’s one thing that I got completely wrong – I used to think that keeping myself busy was the only way to fight OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and I guess I have kind of “overdone” it.

Please do not get me wrong, I still think that staying busy is one of the best ways to cope with OCD but it will only work if you do it in combination with other techniques and if you do not overdo it like I did.

So, what do I actually mean by saying that I have kind of overdone the whole thing?

Let me tell you my story. How it began – and how it ended.

As I mentioned in many of my previous posts, I was diagnosed with OCD in my late teens. While I do not actually remember the exact day when my OCD started (’cause I guess it has always been there in the background) I will never forget the day when I felt it was going out of control. I was a senior in high school and my class was having a particularly long holiday as we were supposed to be preparing for our final exams.

I guess having a long holiday is probably a positive thing for most people. Well, for me it was not. I was very anxious about getting into college so I had pretty much finished my preparation for the finals by the time our break from school started. Which meant that I had a month off – a whole month to think about all the crazy stuff that was going on in my head! Now, that was a terrifying thing for me. I was worried about my future and I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. And in addition, I also had OCD. A perfect recipe for disaster.

As I could no longer deal with the things that were going on in my head, I decided to seek professional help. I have already published a few posts about how I got diagnosed with OCD and what kinds of thoughts I was having so I really do not want to go into more details in this article.

Related reading:

Being Scared Of Having Too Much Free Time

Now, one thing I definitely need to mention about is a conversation that i had with my therapist who told me that keeping myself busy could help a lot. And who also made a few suggestions. Like – I could find a part-time job. Or go out a bit more often.

Well, I gotta tell you that I listened to her advice! But I guess I kind of misunderstood what she meant. Because for me, finding a part-time job meant working 40-50 hours a week and going out a bit more often meant going out every single night.

At the beginning of my OCD journey, I did not feel that there was a problem. Staying busy actually helped me forget about all the scary things going on in my head and it was just a great way to escape from my OCD monster.

So, after a few months of long working hours and parties, I started feeling that things were going in the right direction. The only thing that I was concerned about was a new fear that I had developed – the fear of having too much free time. Because I remembered what it felt like when I had to stay at home and did not have anything to do. And this fear was the beginning of a new chapter.

Fear Of Losing My Job / My Friends

My “busy new life” was just perfect – except for one thing. I started obsessing over losing my job or my growing circle of friends.

And that’s when my attempts to keep myself busy became an obsession. Doing some extra work or going out with friends was no longer about distraction – it was a compulsion just like lock checking or other repetitive actions people with OCD tend to do.

I felt that I couldn’t say “no” to any invitationbecause what if people will be upset with me? What if they will never want to see me again? I was just unable to say “no” to any request at work because you know..what if they fire me? And taking a day off work or spending a weekend without going to any social events were just things that I didn’t even dare to imagine.

Related reading

When Things Go Out Of Control

After a while I arrived to a point where I felt that I was just losing it. By saying after a while I mean a few years – ’cause that’s how long it took me to take up enough activities and to commit myself to do so many things that it was just impossible to handle.

So, after years of living a busy life, I started to feel that it just couldn’t go on any longer. And at the same time, this realization was also a great shock to me – for the first time in many years, I felt that I did not need to stay busy for keeping my OCD under control. And that was an amazing feeling!

The Aftermath

Now, I think you can guess that the story is not over yet. I cannot just simply undo the last decade and run away from the people I love and from my responsibilities. But I have been improving – I am trying to say “no” a little bit more often. Of course, not like literary but in my own, overcomplicated way.

I have become a little bit less proactive – but I think compared to most of the people I know, I am still pretty much a workaholic. Well, there are things that will never change.

And I focus more on my family and on my real friends – I know this will sound pretty ugly but you know how it is, there are people who come and go – and there are those people who’ll stay in your life. Back in the past, I used to attend every single social event that I was invited to. Nowadays, I spend more time with my “inner circle” and I try to make a little bit more time for myself. And over the years, I have learnt that the people who are really important in your life will not stop talking to you just because you did not go out with them last Thursday!

Why Exactly Now?

You may ask how come I decided to write about this topic. Well, you might have noticed that this is the first post I published after a 2 weeks break. There’s been a lot of thing going on in my life the last 2 weeks so I really needed to talk about this topic!


1. Keeping Yourself Busy Helps With OCD

At the end of the day, my personal experience is that keeping yourself busy is a great way to keep your OCD under control.

2….But Don’t Overdo It!

But just like with anything else – you shouldn’t overdo it. And I know it is hard to find a balance, so if you feel unsure about it, the best thing you can do is discussing with your therapist. So, do not be like me!

3. Stress Can Make OCD Worse

If you have a lot of things to do, it’s more likely that you’ll be stressed. And stress does not help OCD at all.

4. You Can Not Run Away From Yourself

Staying busy cannot be your only way to cope with OCD as there are moments in our lives when it’s simply not possible. Like, just think about the recent restrictions due to the pandemic – if this happened years ago, I think I would have lost my mind.

Further Reading


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