How do I overcome this OCD? (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

You obsessive over the smallest of things, causing friends and loved ones to question your behaviors.

The house is too dirty, to cluttered, to dusty, etc.

 

Everything must be perfect for me to be safe.

What if I left the stove on, and the neighborhood burns?

What stops me from taking the carving knife and stabbing my spouse?

What if I ran over a pedestrian and didn't notice?

What if I got insecticide on my hands, and my family gets poisoned?

What if I got poked by a needle infected with HIV?

 

The questions, statements and thoughts can show up as insecurity or fear.  Left untreated, OCD can dramatically straightjacket your life by encumbering you with relentless, irrational, horrific, 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. It’s part of the reptilian mind that only knows three responses: Flight, Fight or Freeze.

Here's how it works. 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 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 treat it like Danger

You end up treating the thought as if it were a mortal threat, a mad dog that has to be killed or captured. 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. We’re creating machines with our thoughts and what gets focused on, ends up getting created. It’s powerful as humans, but when used improperly (with OCD for example), it can be nightmare that seems to never end. 

This pattern has to change if you're going to overcome OCD.

Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder fall into one of the following categories:

  • Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colors, or arrangements.

  • Clean Freaks are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions.

  • Checkers repeatedly check things (oven turned off, door locked, etc.) that they associate with harm or danger.

  • Doubters and sinners are afraid that if everything isn’t perfect or done just right something terrible will happen, or they will be punished.

  • Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they don’t need or use.

Signs and symptoms of OCD

Just because you have obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive behaviors does NOT mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. With OCD, these thoughts and behaviors cause tremendous distress, take up a lot of time, and interfere with your daily life and relationships. For example, you may check the stove 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw.

Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other.
 

Obsessive thoughts result around fear and include:

  • Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt or contaminating others

  • Fear of losing control and harming yourself or others

  • Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images

  • Excessive focus on religious or moral ideas

  • Fear of losing or not having things you might need

  • Order and symmetry: the idea that everything must line up “just right”

  • Superstitions; excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky

Compulsive behaviors result around preventative action and include:

  • Ordering or arranging things “just so”

  • Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks, appliances, and switches

  • Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe

  • Counting, tapping, repeating certain words, or doing other senseless things to reduce anxiety

  • Excessively washing or cleaning

  • Praying constantly or other religious rituals

  • Accumulating “junk” such as old newspapers or empty food 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.

How can I solve this?

 

OCD is an Anxiety Disorder, not a Catastrophe Disorder. To overcome OCD, you need to work with the anxiety of the 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) that need to be released and level-up your mental strengths.

Also remember, you are NOT your thoughts. You have 60,000 of them per day, most of them completely unconscious as the brain scans for danger and assesses it’s surroundings.

OCD is all 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.

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, and 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, harder to do but OCD is a treatable problem, requiring dedication, hard work and support.

So I suggest you start with two steps, and you can do them in whichever order you prefer.

 

Tip 1: Invest in self care 

 

Mindfullness

 

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.

Exercise regularly

Exercise can help control OCD symptoms by strengthening your nervous system, refocus your mind and become more mentally strong. For maximum benefit, try to get 30 minutes or more of aerobic activity on most days. Ten minutes several times a day can be as effective as one longer period especially if you pay mindful attention to the movement process. 

 

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 relaxation techniques

Stress can trigger symptoms or make them worse. Mindful meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques can help lower your overall stress and tension levels and help you manage your urges. For best results, practice a relaxation technique regularly. 

Stay connected to family and friends

 

Obsessions and compulsions can consume your life to the point of social isolation. In turn, social isolation will aggravate your OCD symptoms. It’s important to invest in relating to family and friends. Talking face-to-face about your worries and urges can make them feel less real and less threatening. 

 

Get enough sleep

Not only can anxiety and worry cause insomnia, but a lack of sleep can also exacerbate anxious thoughts and feelings. When you’re well rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance, a key factor in coping with anxiety disorders such as OCD.

Recognize the role past trauma and abuse may play in your OCD

 

In some people, OCD symptoms such as compulsive washing or hoarding are ways of coping with trauma. If you have post-traumatic OCD, cognitive approaches may not be effective until underlying traumatic issues are resolved. 

 

Tip 2: Learn how to resist OCD rituals

 

Don’t avoid your fears

It might seem smart to avoid the situations that trigger your obsessive thoughts, but the more you avoid them, the scarier they feel. Instead, expose yourself to your OCD triggers, then try to resist or delay the urge to complete your relief-seeking compulsive ritual. If resistance gets to be too hard, try to reduce the amount of time you spend on your ritual. Each time you expose yourself to your trigger, your anxiety should lessen and you’ll start to realize that you have more control (and less to fear) than you think.

Refocus your attention

When you’re experiencing OCD thoughts and urges, try shifting your attention to something else.

    • You could exercise, jog, walk, listen to music, read, surf the web, play a video game or call a friend. The important thing is to do something you enjoy for at least 15 minutes, in order to delay your response to the obsessive thought or compulsion.

    • At the end of the delaying period, reassess the urge. In many cases, the urge will no longer be quite as intense. Try delaying for a longer period. The longer you can delay the urge, the more it will likely change.

 

Anticipate OCD urges

 

By anticipating your compulsive urges before they arise, you can help to ease them. For example, if your compulsive behavior involves checking that doors are locked, windows closed, or appliances turned off, try to lock the door or turn off the appliance with extra attention the first time.

    • Create a solid mental picture and then make a mental note. Tell yourself, “The window is now closed,” or “I can see that the oven is turned off.”

    • When the urge to check arises later, you will find it easier to re-label it as “just an obsessive thought.”

 

Tip 3: Challenge obsessive thoughts

 

Write down your obsessive thoughts or worries

 

Keep a pad and pencil on you, or type on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. When you begin to obsess, write down all your thoughts or compulsions.

    • Keep writing as the OCD urges continue, aiming to record exactly what you're thinking, even if you’re repeating the same phrases or the same urges over and over.

    • Writing it all down will help you see just how repetitive your obsessions are.

    • Writing down the same phrase or urge hundreds of times will help it lose its power.

    • Writing thoughts down is much harder work than simply thinking them, so your obsessive thoughts are likely to disappear sooner.

 

Consult a qualified therapist

Even if you have your own plan to overcome OCD on your own rather than with a professional therapist, I suggest you consult one before you start your recovery program. This should be helpful to confirm your diagnosis, to give you a chance to ask questions, and to identify a suitable professional should you want to work with one later.

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 affective 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 The Keys to Recovery

  1. Your recovery work 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 recovery work 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 indefinitely. But this is probably not so. As you get involved in your ordinary activities without going out of your way to bring the thoughts to an end, they will bother you less and less.

  3. Your recovery work 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 only real meaning behind obsessive thoughts is that you're nervous and experiencing the discomforts of fear.

 

As always, call or email me if you, a friend or loved one is struggling and I will be happy to provide guidance.

 

Following the steps above, along with the support of a qualified therapist, you can live a quality life.

To your good mental health,

 

Noel McDermott