Your house appears too dirty, too cluttered, and too dusty. You obsess over the smallest of things, causing friends and loved ones to question your behaviors. Everything must be perfect for you to feel safe. Overwhelming thoughts like these can show up as insecurity or fear. Left untreated, OCD can dramatically limit your life by encumbering you with irrational, intrusive thoughts and images (obsessions) and very time consuming, repetitive or elaborate, maladaptive behaviors (compulsions).
What You Need to Know
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can be a difficult, confusing experience. To overcome OCD, you need a clear understanding of how OCD works as the ultimate doubting disease, confusing millions of people with repetitive thoughts and rituals. Overcoming OCD will require you to work differently with uncertainty, doubts and fear.
The OCD trick is this: you experience doubt, but respond as if it’s danger. You experience an unwanted thought which suggests the possibility of a catastrophic problem. These are thoughts about catastrophes. Naturally, you want to set them aside, and assure yourself that all is well.
And you may try. You try very hard, very repetitively, to persuade yourself that all is well. You’ll notice the thoughts are exaggerated, even silly, but you still try and rid your mind of them. Even though you’ve never experienced these problems in the past, you want somehow to be certain that they will never happen in the future, which is instilling the present with the fear of projections into the future.
You end up treating the thought as if it were a mortal threat. You fight the thoughts and in the end, you continue to lose. Why? Because “what we resist, persists” and “energy flows where your mind goes.”
The symptoms of OCD
Having obsessive thoughts or even compulsive behavior doesn’t immediately mean you have a disorder. When you or a loved one has OCD, behaviors and thoughts can cause serious distress, be a massive time waster and interfere with living a normal daily life in relationships. Some have been known to stay up for hours worrying if the front door is locked or wash their hands raw with a brush.
Obsessive thoughts result around fear and include:
- A nagging fear that you’re going to lose control of yourself and cause harm.
- Very superstitious. If something is unlucky or lucky.
- A heavy need for order, things must be symmetrical and in line with each other.
- Violent or explicit images and thoughts that are sexual in nature.
- Excessively religious and over important of moral ideas.
- A fear of loss or being without basic necessities.
- A fear that germs are going to contaminate you or others.
Compulsive behaviors result around preventative action and include:
- Always ordering and arranging items to be just the way you need them to be.
- Over cautious with family and friends to make certain everyone is safe.
- Tapping or counting favorite words to help reduce a feeling of anxiety or worry.
- Excessively cleaning the house or washing clothing.
- A need to check and re-check things such as appliances, lights are off or if doors are locked
- Praying constantly or other religious rituals
- Accumulating things that others would normally throw away like old magazines or containers.
Why do I have these thoughts?
There is not much conclusive research why some people get OCD and others don’t, however, it does seem clear that some form of biological or genetic predisposition is involved.
The presence of upsetting or abhorrent thoughts is not what distinguishes OCD sufferers from others. Studies indicate that the obsessive thoughts of OCD are actually common in the general population of people without OCD or any anxiety disorder. What sets people apart is the hallmark trait of OCD, getting into a struggle with the thoughts. The struggle is what makes them more persistent and chronic. To overcome OCD, you need to let go of this struggle.
OCD is an anxiety disorder, not a catastrophe disorder. To overcome OCD, you need to work with the anxiety thoughts, not the threats they make. Without judgement, ask yourself, “Why am I thinking this thought?” Or “What is this here to teach me?” Asking these questions while quietly calming yourself with deep breathing can often expose the limiting belief(s). Also remember, you are NOT your thoughts. You have approximately 60,000 of them per day, most of them completely unconscious as the brain scans for danger and assesses its surroundings.
OCD is about anxiety and anxiety is all about FEAR. These thoughts are all symptoms of anxiety, the same way that the physical symptoms of a panic attack – heart racing, labored breathing, sweating, rubber legs – are all symptoms of anxiety as well.
How can I solve this?
The path to recovery involves making changes in your daily behavior which enable you to accept, rather than resist, the obsessive thoughts. The more you can accept the thoughts, the less you fight them, the better you will do. You don’t have to accept the catastrophic predictions of the thoughts – just the fact that you have these thoughts. This is easy to say and may be harder to do, but OCD is a treatable problem, requiring dedication, concentrated work and support.
I suggest you start with these steps, and you can do them in whichever order you prefer.
Tip 1: Self care is an Investment
Read my article and videos on the practice of mindfulness and how much it can calm your thoughts, allowing you to enjoy the present moment. (Include link)
Get regular exercise
Exercise strengthens your nervous system, refocuses your over-active mind and become more mentally strong. To get the most benefit, make it your goal to exercise for 30 minutes to an hour and make it aerobic so as to elevate your heart beat.
Get into nature
Nature has a rhythm to it that is both peaceful and violent at the same time. From it’s violence and destruction comes new birth, growth and connectedness that can often soothe the mind’s patterns that keep you stuck.
Practice techniques of relaxation
Stress is a trigger for all kinds of symptoms and almost always makes things worse. Practices such as yoga, meditation, breathing and other techniques and do wonders in lowering stress and harmful tension to manage any urges. Regular practice is key.
Remain connected to your friends and family
Social isolation is never good as it will aggravate symptoms of OCD by constantly obsessing which will consume your time. It’s imperative to invest quality time with people you trust and will hold you accountable to healthy living. Talking with others reminds you that you’re not alone and others are also dealing with this (and similar) problems.
Good sleep quality
When you’ve rested enough, it’s easier to maintain balance in emotions, which is a huge factor in anxiety disorders and properly coping. Lack of proper sleep causes insomnia and worry and will eventually increase anxious feelings and thoughts and feelings.
The trauma of the past can affect OCD
Compulsive behavior such as hoarding or washing are all ways of cleaning away the shame attached to trauma. Until such issues are resolved, often treatment is ineffective.
Tip 2: OCD rituals can be resisted
Face the fear inside
Controlled exposure to fear triggers is a great way to eliminate them. Don’t resist the fear as it will only persist, rather give yourself small doses of whatever is creating the habitual behaviors and being replacing them with positive affirmations and rituals.
Keep your attention focused
When the dreaded OCD urges begin to show themselves, immediate distraction can be very helpful.
- When you hear the end of the distraction, give a solid reassessment of the urge and see if it hasn’t dissipated. The longer the delay of the urge, the more likelihood of a positive an lasting change.
Anticipate when the urges of OCD will come
Expect that these urges are going to come and you’ll no longer be a victim of the bombardment. If your urge involves constantly checking door locks, being present and mindful of properly locking it the first time is a way of removing the energy of that urge.
- Mental visioning is key. Tell yourself, “I have properly locked the door.” and see yourself walking away safe
- If that urge comes up later, you will easily be able to dismiss it and properly label is just a passing thought.
- When the urge to check arises later, you will find it easier to re-label it as “just an obsessive thought.”
Tip 3: Challenge those thoughts that are obsessive
See the article on The Joys of Journaling
When the obsessions begin to take over, write them down as a way of letting the steam out of their need for fulfillment.
- Keep your hand (or keyboad) moving and record the exact thoughts you’re thinking, even if they seem or feel exactly what you’re thinking, even if they seem or feel repetitive.
- When you write down the same words, even if it’s many times, the power will be lost over the thought and eventually dissipate.
Consult a qualified therapist
Even if you have your own plan to overcome OCD on your own, I suggest you consult a professional before you start your recovery program. This is most helpful and recommended to confirm your diagnosis and give you a chance to ask questions. It’s best to consult a therapist who is trained in the cognitive-behavioral methods of “exposure and response prevention”. These methods help you to experience the anxious thoughts in a healthy and effective way without resorting to rituals, and give them time to subside naturally. Again, without resistance, these thoughts and patterns dissipate more easily.
Three Guidelines as Keys to Well-Being
1. Your therapy should include the practice of regular, scheduled exposure to the obsessive thoughts. This can take the form of written scripts that you read, audio recordings that you listen to, and other forms of routinely working with material that can trigger your obsessive thoughts.
2. Your therapy should emphasize postponing the rituals and resistance. The obsessive thoughts always include the idea that you had better do something about the thoughts, or they’ll continue to bother you, but this is likely not true. As you get involved in your ordinary activities with the right care, the thoughts to an end, they will bother you less and less.
3. Your therapy should emphasize taking an accepting stance toward the thoughts. You don’t have to accept the apparent meaning of the thoughts, just the fact that you have them. The meaning behind obsessive thoughts will be revealed and are likely due to nervousness and the discomforts of fear.
As always, call or email me if you, a friend or loved one is struggling and can provide guidance. Following the steps above along with the support of a qualified therapist, will offer you a solution to living a quality life.
To your good mental health,