How Keeping Busy Helps with OCD: Health Activities for Coping with Obsessive Behavior

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Healthy Activities for Overcoming OCD

Many patients trying to get over the disorder find that keeping busy helps with OCD. However, it is important to ensure that the right kinds of activities are chosen. Stress can make OCD considerably worse and keeping busy with stressful tasks and never allowing yourself a break is unlikely to help if you are struggling to overcome obsessive behavior.

Overcoming OCD requires the slow disassociation of a situation from a compulsive action. It’s difficult not to think about the compulsion when you are idle, however. Equally, patients whose obsessive behavior previously occupied much of their time may find themselves unsure what to do with the time left free as they deal with the problem.

Engaging in enjoyable, meaningful, health activities – such as socialising or exercising, for example – can help to fill the time and distract a patient from the obsessive thoughts that would otherwise bother them. Finding the right kind of activity is important as many activities can do more harm than good; below are some suggestions for beneficial activities in which to engage:

Social Activities

OCD is often associated with other disorders such as social anxiety and many patients find socialising difficult. However, engaging in social activities can be a real help when attempting to overcome obsessive compulsive behavior. Not only does being around other people help to distract a patient from thoughts that might otherwise plague them, but being sociable helps to build a support network and keep the patient grounded in reality, important features for coping with any mental illness.

Patients who suffer from social anxiety with their OCD may benefit from social skills training to help them feel more relaxed in social situations. This can be an important step in dealing with the disorder.

Physical Activities and Exercise

Exercise is good for people regardless of whether they suffer from OCD. Many patients may have found little time for exercise previously because of the time taken to deal with their compulsions, but engaging in physical activity is not only the perfect distraction it can also create a positive mood. This is thanks both to short term changes in body chemistry (e.g. release of adrenaline and endorphins) and long term improvements in fitness and even sleep patterns.

While it is true in most branches of medicine that fit and healthy patients recover better than those who are not, the mental association of feeling healthy with fighting obsessive responses can help to reassert a patient’s efforts to do so.

Hobbies, Arts and Crafts

Immersing oneself in something creative or comforting as a hobby can be a great way of eating up time. Some patients feel they need a goal to work towards and starting a personal project – building a model, perhaps, or writing a book – can provide them with this.

Many hobbies can be done from the comfort of the home – journal writing, for example – but many of the most effective are those that get a patient out and about. If a patient takes up drawing or painting every effort should be made to visit interesting and stimulating locations in which to create the artwork; alternatively, evening classes can also serve as useful social engagements.

Patients should be careful before taking on additional work as increasing stress is unlikely to be beneficial in the long run. However, some work can be physically or mentally stimulating without being stressful. Conservation work or charity work can be particularly rewarding, while engaging in voluntary work in general helps to give your free time meaning in ways that other activities may not.

There are many activities that patients can engage in to help them recover from OCD. Keeping busy helps with OCD by distracting patients from obsessive thoughts that would otherwise become irresistible, and it fills spare time that is available when obsessive behavior lessens. Activities should be low on stress but high on physical and mental engagement. Healthy, enjoyable activities are often those which work best.


Hyman, B & Pedrick, C (2005) “The OCD Workbook: your guide to breaking free from obsessive-compulsive disorder” New Harbinger Publications, Oakland US

Derisley J, Heyman I & Robinson S (2008) “Breaking Free from OCD: A CBT Guide for Young People and Their Families” Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London