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  • How to manage OCD during the holidays

    Christmas presents are on display symbolizing excitment and anxiety

    For many people, the holidays come with a mix of excitement and dread. The holiday season often involves traveling, large get-togethers, and financial stressors, all of which can lead to significant anxiety. A sharp increase in anxiety can be especially difficult for those already suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In a recent article in The Mighty, mental health advocate Morgan Rondinalli wrote an article sharing her strategies for dealing with OCD during the holidays.

    How do you anticipate symptoms and do exposures ahead of time?

    Rondinalli noted that traveling is the biggest trigger for her OCD symptoms. She shared that about two weeks before she needs to travel she will begin planning and engaging in exposure and response prevention exercises. Since traveling can lead to obsessions related to forgetting something important and compulsive checking and re-checking, she noted that she writes a script for an imaginal exposure exercise involving leaving something behind. Imaginal exposure exercises help her to tolerate and reduce anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts without engaging in compulsions. She also admitted that even though making lists help others without OCD to remember what to pack when traveling, writing lists can easily become compulsive for her. Therefore, it is best for her mental health to forego them. Planning and engaging in exposures ahead of time, helps Rondinalli face her anxiety and continue exposures when her OCD symptoms reach their peak.

    How do you communicate your needs to your loved ones?

    Rondinalli wrote that even at her most anxious, she usually appears “cool as a cucumber.” This makes it crucial for her to voice her needs if she is to get support from her friends and family. Rondinalli wrote that she does not want reassurance that she has nothing to fear about her obsessions. In fact, reassuring someone in that manner can feed into compulsive reassurance seeking from someone with OCD. Instead, she wrote that she finds it helpful when her family assures her that she is strong enough to handle her anxiety.

    Can you take breaks from exposures during the holidays?

    Doing exposure and response prevention exercises can be tough and tiring work. Although it is important to be diligent with exposures, it can also be important to take breaks from time to time. Rondinalli noted the importance of taking breaks to sit in her room or zone out on her phone from time to time. She also pointed out the importance of communicating with her family if she needs a break from the holiday as well. Taking needed breaks, she noted, keeps her ready for the next challenge.

    It is important for people with OCD to consistently work on their mental health, which often requires the help of mental health professional. If you are interested in learning more about OCD treatment contact us to schedule a free phone consultation.


    Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He provides online therapy (telehealth) by way of the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and all over California.