Here’s the problem with all the cool stuff you know about beating OCD. You can’t always remember the cool stuff. At least, not in the heat of the moment. When your anxiety is at a 6 or 7 (out of 7), you’re not going to remember much of anything that helps. You need something that doesn’t require a lot of thought. Something that takes less than 5 seconds.
It’s not your fault that you forget to use your tools! The reason you need a strategy that doesn’t take a lot of thought or mindfulness is that your Four Lobes (in your brain) are offline. When the Four Lobes are offline, the reptilian part of your brain takes over. Fight-Flight-Freeze. Danger-Danger-Danger. Fight-Flight-Freeze.
Your Four Lobes are there to help you. When the Four Lobes are online your brain is a lean, mean, fighting machine. The ability to be rational and logical is essential in beating OCD. But if your Four Lobes are offline, it’s impossible to think or feel like a reasonable person. Good news! You can get your Four Lobes online in less than 5 seconds.
The Four Lobes are Driven to Help You Adapt to Anything
The Four Lobes remind you: If it’s not happening NOW…it’s NOT happening. Live in the moment and cross each bridge if you get there.
When the Four Lobes get deactivated, the ability to reason is lost. You need something that gets your Four Lobes back online. Something that doesn’t take a lot of thought and works in 5 seconds or less. Otherwise, you’ll spend days in your Threat-Alarm System.
Guess what triggers the Threat-Alarm System?
If you answered, “a worry” or “an unwanted, intrusive thought,” you’re WRONG!
OCD certainly spins a tangled web, but the tale itself isn’t what initially triggered the threat-alarm. At some level you know thoughts aren’t true, and feelings aren’t facts. But, something influences you, and suddenly you forget all of this. What influenced you? If you answered, “my thoughts,” you’re WRONG.
Everybody gets weird, intrusive thoughts. Some people shrug them off. Some people don’t. Why? If it’s not the thought that triggers the fear. What else could it be?
Plenty of people can touch doorknobs and eat food that fell on the floor. Almost 60% of people don’t even wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Why do some people care and others don’t?
The more you care about your unwanted, intrusive thoughts the more your Four Lobes will fail to function. The size, activity level and the number of neural connections will only increase in the fear center of your brain.
What makes people live in their Fear Center and others in their Four Lobes? We could certainly propose that anxious people were born with an overactive Fear Center. It would explain why you’re more likely to feel threatened and subsequently lash out, avoid or freeze-up.
Maybe you weren’t born this way, and it has more to do with experiences early in life. Don’t worry. We’re not going to excavate or dig up those early life experiences. That certainly wouldn’t take 5 seconds!
It’s probably a combination of nature and nurture that causes you to live in your Fear Center. But, what triggers your alarm system? Do your thoughts trigger your Fear Center or could it be something else?
Guess What Triggers Your Threat-Alarm System?
Your thoughts don’t trigger the alarm system. The trigger comes from sensory input. Something you saw, smelled, tasted, touched, or heard triggered your threat-alarm system. Anything you perceive requires sensory input.
Something you saw, smelled, tasted, touched, or heard is associated with a memory of an early learning experience. You probably don’t even remember what that experience was. It could have happened in real life or on TV.
You think you’re afraid of something bad happening but oh….what tangled webs OCD weaves. The way it spins tales should earn it an Academy Award. OCD can make a story so believable that you think there’s fire where there’s only smoke.
The story is irrelevant. The sensory input is relevant. Stay away from the tale OCD is spinning. Do this instead:
- RECOGNIZE you were triggered by sensory input.
- Go into RELAXED BODY.
This will not take more than 5 seconds. Try it now. Set your stove or stopwatch to 10 seconds. Say, “Sensory input triggered me. Relax body.” Right now that might have taken you about 6 or 7 seconds to say, and you probably didn’t <YET> get into “relaxed body.” It’s okay with a little bit of practice look what you will learn to do in 5 seconds or less:
- You’ll notice the OCD tale,
- Attribute your anxiety to sensory input (not your thoughts or the OCD tale.)
- And get into the relaxed body
All in 5 seconds or less.
What Does “Relaxed Body” Mean?
Right now scan your neck and shoulders. Are they tight, tense, or stiff? Maybe you even have pain that travels down into your arm. Can you feel the knots and hard spots around your shoulders?
Your neck and shoulders have 12 bones. Your neck and shoulders are tight and tense when you’re not letting those 12 bones govern. You’re asking your muscles to do the work, and they can’t do it!
Your neck connects your body to your head. Imagine the responsibility! Your muscles can’t handle this job. They’re telling you this! Deuteronomy 31:27 “For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are.” Your muscles are rebelling! They don’t want the job! Let your bones do all the work.
OCD will spin tales until your neck and shoulder relax. As long as your muscles are tight, the Limbic system will stay online. Tight muscles signal danger. How can the Limbic system go offline when there is perceived danger. And the threat is first perceived by sensory input-not thought.
We don’t have to figure out the specific sensory input. Just know it as a fact. Stay away from the OCD tale. Stick to the sensory input. Now ease into “relaxed body.”
This is not the same as relaxation therapy. We don’t have time for that or meditation. We only have less than 5 seconds. And we need to be able to do it on the go…we can’t go into a dimly lit room and take a break. This is done in real time.
How to Get Into “Relaxed Body”
- Let your bones do the work. When you turn over all responsibility to your bones, it will feel like you’re floating. Do this all day long! It’s not “set it and forget it.” Keep doing it whenever it occurs to you. It only takes 5 seconds! Or;
- Visualize that you are warming your hands over a fire or holding a warm beverage. Don’t close your eyes to do this. On the go just picture it in your mind. Or;
- Try to see what’s in your peripheral vision without moving your eyes from side to side. Or;
- Touch thumb to the index finger and say “sa”; thumb to the middle finger and say “ta”; thumb to ring finger and say “naa”; and thumb to pinky finger and say, “maa.” Or;
- Take deep breaths from the belly, not the chest. Inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to the count of 1. Your breath is portable; it goes wherever you go and this exercise can be done in real time.
Beating OCD Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
These techniques counteract the stress response which will immediately put your Four Lobes online. Choose what works for you as long as it’s something you can do on the go. You don’t need something you have to do behind a closed door. Do it on the move. And it needs to be something you can do in 5 seconds that doesn’t take a lot of thought.
Not Buying That Something So Simple Can Work?
Despite my efforts to explain that anxiety is a helpful messenger telling you to change course, and reminding you to keep your Code of Honor, there are still many who see anxiety as an evil perpetrator. I can spend a whole day with clients and not once do they mention their Code of Honor. Instead, they want to talk about the tale OCD is spinning–which is so irrelevant!
So those of you who continue to see OCD as a perpetrator, “how long do you want this perpetrator in your brain and body?” When you spend your time listening to the tales being spun, how does that work out? Why keep doing something that doesn’t work? Every time you break your Code of Honor you will experience anxiety or depression.
Try this instead: Attribute your anxiety to sensory input not story. Whenever you are anxious or notice tension in your neck, shoulders (or stomach) get into “relaxed body” and see what happens to your perpetrator. Focus on your Code of Honor. It’s much more meaningful than the OCD tale.