Let’s talk about ERP. The initials of ERP stand for Exposure & Response Prevention (preventing the response anxiety is telling you to take) or otherwise known as Exposure and Ritual Prevention.
ERP is the most highly recommended type of therapy used to treat OCD. It’s what’s called an evidenced-based intervention. Evidence from studies has proven ERP is very effective. Basically, you expose yourself to something that makes you uncomfortable and you do nothing to alleviate the discomfort.
First, you build a hierarchy of people, places, things or situations that trigger your anxiety or discomfort. You place them on the hierarchy (ladder) in terms of easiest to hardest to face. “If you were going to face this fear would this be easier to face than this?” Then you make a plan to gradually climb the hierarchy from easiest to hardest. You’ll know it’s time to move to another step when you’ve become bored or desensitized with the step you’re on.
I once knew a boy who was afraid of crickets. He couldn’t go outside because he was terrified that a cricket would land on him and bite him. He designed a hierarchy of gradually exposing himself to being near crickets. It started with being in a room with crickets living in a secure container. He ran into the room counted to 10 and ran out of the room as fast as he could. Gradually he increased the amount of time to 2 minutes. Eventually, he was quite comfortable being in a room with crickets in a secure container. He could even hold the closed container in his lap. The next phase was to open the lid of the container, and through similar incremental steps, he worked his way up to place his hand in the container.
The response he had to prevent during these exercises was to not reassure himself that crickets were harmless or couldn’t get out of the container. He had to accept the possibility of escape and being bitten. He talked like this to prevent himself from neutralizing his anxiety. This is Response Prevention. He tolerated the discomfort and in fact, I encouraged him to say he wanted the anxiety. He said, “I hope I’m anxious. I don’t care anymore. I want to be able to go outside and play with my friends. So go ahead. Make me anxious.”
At the top of his hierarchy was a plan to go outside where there were crickets freely living in a garden. But before he did that, he said he would need to take his shirt off and allow crickets to climb all over his body. Yikes! First, he did this with his shirt on and then eventually he took his shirt off. Crickets were crawling and hopping all over him. He was pretty tense at first, but suddenly he started to giggle, “It tickles.”
Every now and then I think I hear one of his crickets chirping in my office. I’m reminded of his courage and determination. He makes me smile. I know the bravest people in the world.
Do you bounce back-n-forth between feeling either wired or tired? Many people with OCD find it very difficult to have a “moderate” or “ordinary” energy level. It’s quite unsettling because it seems like there is rarely a happy medium; energy is either blocked or excessive.
When you’re feeling wired, you tend to burn off your excess energy with unfounded fears. You can literally feel your brain buzzing. If your energy is blocked you’re here, but not here. Some of you describe it as feeling empty, foggy or “out to lunch.”
Wired or tired; you’re ungrounded. It’s the perfect opportunity for OCD to chatter away because when you’re ungrounded, there’s an imbalance of power. OCD knows you’ve only got “one foot on the ground,” and that’s not a stable position.
When you’re ungrounded, you lose control of your focus and become hyper-fixated on nonessentials. OCD wreaks havoc on your sense of reality. You begin to imagine all kinds of things. Everything OCD says seems real. Which leads to compulsive behaviors and useless in-depth analysis.
However, when you’re grounded your energy feels balanced, and you think logically and look upon each day with clarity.
How can you get grounded?
Many people exercise to release excess energy. Exercising provides a grounding effect, especially if you exercise outdoors.
However, exercising isn’t an option for everyone due to physical limitations, time constraints or it’s just not enjoyable.
How can you get grounded if exercise isn’t an option?
The disconnection from the earth is an often overlooked contribution to the imbalance of power—too much anxiety or too much depression.
Connecting the Body to the Earth
Many of you know I highly recommend hugging trees or laying down on the grass or digging into a garden to get grounded. Think of it this way: Direct contact with anything from the ground provides you with “electrical” nutrition. You can find plenty of research about this in the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever. Numerous studies are showing that grounding can reduce inflammation, which has been tied to symptoms of OCD.
So…this leads me to rock out this summer!
My latest fascination with grounding techniques involves rocks! Can you believe it! Even rocks provide electrical nutrition!
Rock Out This Summer With These Activities!
Even hunting for rocks is nutritional! You will feel balanced and grounded simply looking for rocks–much like walking on the beach looking for shells. Read what one person wrote about his love for rocks:
They are pure magic!
I love when you pick up a boring grey stone and then it sparkles in the sunlight. I love the amazing patterns. I love the geometry of crystals.
I love that crystals can make a radio work. I love that rocks and stones are millions of years old in a world of 2-minute attention spans. I love all the colors.
I love that a stone will look different when it gets wet. I have even been known to lick a stone to see that, but I prefer dribbling some water from my H2O bottle on it.
I love that the Ancient Greeks were able to carve stone and make it look like sheer fabric.
I love the feel of a smooth river stone in your hand.
I love that they hold clues to other worlds. Images of dinosaurs and coral, plants and insects made millions of years before the invention of cameras and Flickr. And I love that some of them have traveled all the way from Mars and beyond, despite the fact that they can’t move on their own.
I love that some can be melted to make glass and that some can, counter-intuitively, float.
I love skipping stones on glass-like water.
I love that people build houses from them that last thousands of years.
I love that I can cross a creek without getting my feet wet by stepping from rock to rock and finding the “best” way across.
I love that I can turn a rock over with my kids and discover a bunch of hidden animals. Salamanders, millipedes, worms, beetles, ants.
I love that all children love to collect pretty rocks and line them up on the porch railing.
I’m pretty sure this person doesn’t have contamination fears! Might as well do an exposure exercise while you’re grounding!
I came upon a Rock Cairn one day in my travels, and it piqued my curiosity. I Googled rock stacking and soon discovered it’s used for directional purposes AND a brilliant grounding activity.
Initially, you might lack confidence. “I don’t think I can find a way to make them balance.” Build it anyway. It’s very rare that people feel confident about trying something new. Confidence is something that is developed AFTER trying something new.
This picture of a rock cairn was sent to me by a client who was on a hike. The top stone is a “beak” or a “duckie” and it’s pointing the direction of the path.
I first became fascinated when I learned of a Facebook Group called Grand Rapid Rocks. They paint stones and then leave them in public places for people to find. What a great idea! It’s a beautiful way to practice random acts of kindness. And, it’s also a fantastic grounding technique.
I’m not crafty at all but, I decided to try painting a stone. I found lots of ideas on Pinterest and selected a bee as my first attempt. (I saved the pin if you want to see the directions.)
Considering my bug phobia, I thought painting an insect was a kooky choice. I was ill-equipped with only one too-large paintbrush. So at first, I was self-critical of my crooked lines but then I reminded myself it doesn’t matter! Who cares!
Then I let my inner child out and had some fun.
I hope you ROCK OUT this summer!
Connect with the earth and get nourished!
The more grounded you are the more power you have to beat OCD.
p.s. If you have children, rock painting is an excellent grounding activity for the whole family. Just google Stone Activities for the Backyard.
Thanks to OCD, is your mind stuck like glue? Do you have a thought or two, or three or more that haunt you? Have you figured out how to break free from OCD?
It’s not fun to have a sticky mind. Many people with OCD will do whatever compulsion it takes to try and get unstuck. But the release from the stickiness is only temporary.
What’s the best way to handle unwanted intrusive thoughts?
To begin with, calling them unwanted and intrusive is the first mistake. Think about the message this gives the Fear Center in your brain. You’re telling your brain to be on alert because this thought means something bad is about to go down.
It’s better to call these difficult thought patterns “wanted” and “appreciated.” I know that sounds ludicrous but that’s how you beat OCD. It’s mental Kung Fu–a unique style of combat fought in the mind.
Want the thoughts and the Fear Center feels no threat. Appreciate the thoughts and you develop a growth mindset–an opportunity to use the thoughts to practice your skills.
Break Free From OCD by Using Mental Kung Fu
What is mental Kung Fu? It means accepting a thought with minimal resistance and yet getting maximum effect.
This is how to use mental Kung Fu:
Fetch it. Bring the thought in. Summon the thought. “I’m going to trigger the thought on purpose as often as I can.”
Pull it in. Take hold of the thought with a force like you are twisting its arm. “I’m going to exaggerate this thought to make it even worse.”
Detain it. Keep it from leaving. “Hey, where do you think you’re going? Oh no, you don’t. You stay right here.”
Here are the results of a poll taken from the last blog post:
As you can see, “I hope I think like this all day long” received the most votes. Good! That goes along with DETAINING the thought. “Good there’s my thought. I want it to last.” It’s not easy to say that about an OCD thought but it’s how to play mental Kung Fu.
The answer that received the second highest number of votes, “I have no idea and never will” is another example of DETAINING the thought. You are prepared to live your life with this thought for the rest of your life.
Thankfully, the answer with zero votes was, “Stay positive there’s an answer to this.” Trying to get to the bottom of an obsession is pointless. OCD cannot be satisfied for very long at all. Just when you think you’ve removed all doubt, another tantalizing question arises.
The fact that “there’s an answer to this” received ZERO votes shows the readers of this blog are well-informed of WHAT NOT TO DO. People with OCD know that trying to get to the bottom of a “what-if” question or trying to get clarity on a “what to do next” decision only leads down the rabbit hole.
Inside the rabbit hole is more confusion than can be imagined. A person with OCD has spent a lot of time in a rabbit hole so they know they don’t want to go down one. So the plan is to accept uncertainty and to NOT seek out answers or try to get relief from all the doubt.
But Wait!!!!!!! Zero votes, and yet seeking answers is the technique most frequently employed by people with OCD. The plan is to NOT SEEK ANSWERS but the feeling of discomfort interferes with that plan.
Mental Kung Fu is sticking with the plan and not letting feelings interfere. No matter how terrible it feels stick with the plan: Fetch it, pull it in and detain it.
It’s also not very effective to label a thought as “just OCD.” Upon first being diagnosed it’s part of the educational process to label thoughts as OCD or part of the doubting disease. But eventually (the sooner the better) it’s crucial to stop labeling thoughts as “just OCD.”
Relabeling your thoughts as “just OCD” won’t work for very long because it doesn’t FEEL like OCD. It feels real.
The response, “I am inadequate and so what” is a good way to shrug off OCD. What is there to be anxious about if you don’t care? Except, having harmful thoughts can be hard to shrug off. It can be done but for some people, if the thought is so abhorrent it’s hard to say “so what” and mean it!
The response “Yup, I might never think normal” is certainly showing a strong, radical force of acceptance. It’s the complete opposite of trying to wriggle your way out of a thought. But, for many people, radical acceptance is a hard line to walk without becoming self-loathing or despondent.
To PULL IT IN means to agree wholeheartedly with OCD by exaggerating. “My teeth are so large I’m going to trip over them one of these days.” That’s an outstanding way to shrug off OCD! If you have a creative imagination and a dry sense of humor, this approach will be right up your alley.
Break Free From OCD by Using Mental Kung Fu
FETCHING the thought is Mental Kung Fu at its finest. It is an impressive way to employ minimal resistance to get maximum effect. For example, if you obsess that your teeth are too large then go fetch a costume pair of very large teeth and wear them in public. Take that OCD!!!
FETCH, PULL IT IN and DETAIN OCD! This is known as Exposure & Response Prevention, widely known as the most effective way to break free form OCD. Confront your fears and do nothing to relieve the anxiety caused by the trigger.
Then it became a compulsion–how to let thoughts go. I made up a motto, “Don’t go there!” Meaning, don’t think about fixing thoughts. Sounds healthy right? It wasn’t. It became a compulsion. I had to say, “Don’t Go There.”
I constantly have doubt after one of my thoughts. First, the doubt comes in: “Maybe I’m not good enough.” Then I start thinking about how I thought years ago. Would I have had that doubt back then? Rewind. How did I handle it back then? Should I try that strategy now? Down the rabbit hole, I go.
Then I’ll come up with strategies of what I can do the next time a thought like that comes in my head. I go through times where I try to turn these “doubt thoughts” into positive thoughts. Then I go through days where my strategy is to agree with the doubt, but then I constantly turnaround and change the strategy as I believe that way wasn’t working.
I’ve been doing this for so long. When I got a “doubt thought” years ago I would challenge it or turn into a positive, but now I get a “doubt thought” and it’s like I freeze—like I hit a brick wall. Because, I’m not sure if I should challenge the thought, turn it into a positive thought, agree with the thought or do nothing about the thought.
I spend hours trying to figure out how to let thoughts go. I just wish I could think normal without trying to change my thoughts.
The doubt thoughts are not scary. It doesn’t scare me to think I’m inadequate. Like I’ll send a message to a friend, then doubt rushes over me: “Maybe I sent the wrong message.” That’s not what bothers me. I’m scared of what to do to boss it back–to let the thought go. I’m scared I won’t use the right strategy.
This happens after every kind of thought.
I’ve tried medication but nothing ever was like wow! And I can’t up the dosage enough anyway.
If the “let the thoughts go” didn’t hit me so hard with so much energy behind it, it would be ok but it’s so strong. I keep thinking if I turn it into a positive it’s wrong. No matter what I do it’s going to be wrong.
I’ve read so many articles on google I over think and over read. I’m just constantly trying to think a certain way to beat this OCD. I did read something that sounded similar, when OCD goes meta, obsessing about obsessing. Maybe that information will lead to a good strategy.
I Have OCD
This person with OCD, (we’ll call Sam) learned some time ago that’s he’s supposed to let go of unwanted, intrusive thoughts. But, he became tangled up in figuring out how to let go. Choosing the best strategy to “let go” is a decision that sends him into a tailspin. He spends hours researching and analyzing what to do.
Sometimes he builds a sense of certainty about a specific strategy. “It worked for others maybe it will work for me!” He receives temporary relief. But in no time at all, that strategy stops working. The doubt seeps in: “How do I let go of these thoughts the next time?” And the research and analyzing begin again. He’s trying to engineer the perfect plan.
I imagine a therapist would begin like this:
Therapist: Let the thoughts of inadequacy be there. Allow these thoughts.
Sam: Okay. So don’t try to fix the thoughts of inadequacy?
Therapist: We’re all inadequate so who cares?
Sam: So agree with the thoughts? Just say, “Yup, OCD, I’m inadequate like everybody else?”
Therapist: Go further than that. Tease OCD. “You know what, OCD? I’m more inadequate than other people. I haven’t climbed Mt. Everest and others have. How’s that for insufficiency, OCD? A 75-year-old completed the Ironman, and I haven’t. How’s that for inadequacy, OCD?”
Sam: Okay, so not only agree with OCD’s worry that I’m inadequate but one-up OCD by flooding?
Therapist: Sure. You could even punch it out like this, “How do you like that OCD! I haven’t even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Take that for big headline news, OCD!”
Sam: Okay, so I could even say things like this: “Talk about inadequacy, OCD I forgot to pay my friend for lunch yesterday. Make sure you write about it, OCD! Put it in the headlines for all to read, OCD! I’m going to shout out my inadequacy from the rooftop! It’s good to tell the world!” Could I punch it out like that?
Therapist: It sounds like sarcasm and a lot of sass. It seems like you’re in a boxing match and you’re winning by taking jabs at OCD. It’s like you’re saying, “Come and get me, OCD.”
Sam: Yeah. I like it. Okay. I’m going to agree with OCD by poking fun at it and flooding. That’s how I … can … let… the … thoughts … go.
Bam! He Just Hit a Wall. A GREAT BIG WALL.
Therapist: Is that your goal? To let go of thoughts?
Sam: Yes, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?
Sam: What??? Am I not trying to let go of thoughts? That doesn’t make sense. All I’ve ever learned is to figure out a way to let go, let go, let go.
Therapist: I’m saying it’s not your goal…to let go of thoughts. The opposite of letting go is to fetch, detain, embrace, engage, keep up, pull in. Do the opposite of letting go.
Sam: But, I’ve been trying to let go of thoughts all these years. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do!
Therapist: Not if it’s a compulsion.
Sam: If I have an unwanted, intrusive thought I’m supposed to let it be. If I think I’m inadequate, I’m supposed to let that thought be. Just let it go. And you just said I could let it go by agreeing with the thought, poking fun at OCD and going to the extreme by flooding. Now you’re saying not to do that because it’s compulsive. I’m confused.
Therapist: It’s not uncommon for OCD to turn what you’re “supposed” to do, into what you “better do.” Whatever you view as crucial, sacred or precious, OCD will hyper-focus on it and break it down into some nitty-gritty mission to control and keep safe.
Sam: (Heavy sigh.) Okay, tell me please what I’m supposed to do. How should I “boss it back?” I don’t care if I’m inadequate. I want to respond to the thought in the right way. What’s the right way to let go?
Bam! He Just Hit a Wall. A GREAT BIG WALL.
Therapist: I’m not sure the goal to “let go in the right way” is of much help to you. It seems to be leading you into compulsive behavior. Is it time for you to let go of letting go?
Sam: What does that mean?
Therapist: The opposite of letting go is to fetch, detain, embrace, engage, keep up, pull in.
Sam: What am I fetching? Opportunities to practice being inadequate?
Therapist: If inadequacy bothers you, fetch opportunities to be inadequate. But you’ve said incompetence doesn’t bother you. It seems like your core fear is not being able to let go of thoughts.
Sam: How do I let go of letting go?
Therapist: The more important question has to do with your motivation. Why do you want to learn a strategy for letting go? What is your reason? What do you hope to achieve by letting go of letting go?
Will He Hit a Wall or Breakthrough Here?
Sam: I just wish I could think normal without trying to change my thoughts.
Therapist: If your goal is to stop trying to change your thoughts you might want to think about having more of those thoughts. OCD is an opposites game. When you feel like you should think it less, think it more.
Sam: I don’t want to think more though! I want to think less!
Bam! He Just Hit a Wall. A GREAT BIG WALL.
Therapist: I suspect that has been your goal for many many years–to think less. How has that been working out?
Sam: It’s not! I can’t stop thinking. I want to stop thinking!
Therapist: What do you think would happen if you tried to think more? Fetch, detain and pull in more of these thoughts of not being able to let go. Upon hearing this how does it make you feel?
Therapist: Good. Then we’re on to something.
Sam: I’m not sure I understand what to do. It makes me anxious.
Therapist: Good. You want the anxiety. It’s not bad. It’s good. Do you know the thought you need to have more of not less of?
Take the poll and I’ll respond soon! ~Stay tuned!~
OCD thrives on answers. If you stop answering its questions you cut off its oxygen. But, OCD is a trickster and only needs to ask one single irresistible question and POW!!! Down the rabbit hole, you go.
I was watching a mother with her young daughter in the grocery store the other day. This toddler had so many questions! The mother answered every blessed one—no matter how ridiculous. Instead of feeling interrogated she seemed to love her daughter’s curiosity. When she answered the questions her tone of voice was very reassuring. Naturally, the toddler was having fun and enjoyed the attention. So the questions just kept coming.
If you know me—then you know it’s just like me to make an experiment out of the situation and follow this mother and daughter around the store. It’s incredible the Market Bistro even lets me anywhere near the store considering all the ERP I bring my clients to do there! I picture security watching the camera and when they see my car pull into the parking lot they groan, “Oh no. Now, what is she up to.”
Anyway, I followed this family around in the store because the toddler reminded me of someone I know. Someone who never stops asking questions. The questions are the most absurd, ridiculous and cockamamie you can imagine. This toddler was precisely like OCD, and I wanted to know how this remarkable Mom handled being bombarded with one question after another.
How long could this Mom hold up? When would she get tired and put a stop to it? The questions were relentless. How would the mother get out of this mess??? How could she stop the never-ending questions? Was it even possible?
I could see the mother was getting tired and honestly I don’t think I would have lasted so long. Eventually, Mom’s answers became shorter and vaguer. And then I heard Mom start answering every question with one of these responses: “Because I said so” or “I don’t know why it just is…”
The toddler tried a few more questions. But, Mom didn’t give in. I heard her say, “Maybe. We’ll have to find out later.” The toddler became quiet and looked right at me. I smiled in the most non-creepy way I could. She looked away (probably thinking this weirdo has been following us all over the place.)
In a matter of minutes, the toddler fell asleep in the shopping cart. Wow!! Mom stopped answering, and the toddler GAVE UP! And THIS (as Montell Jordan would sing), IS HOW WE DO IT! I put my hand up to high five the Mom, but for obvious reasons, she turned and went the other way.
Of course, the difference between OCD and a toddler is that the child evolves. Her crawl becomes a walk. But more importantly, she becomes intellectually disciplined. Over time the toddler uses experience and reasoning as a guide to belief and action.
OCD is incapable of developing these critical thinking skills.
I’m reminded of another song, by A Great Big World called, Say Something I’m Giving Up On You:
Say something; I’m giving up on you I’ll be the one if you want me to. Anywhere, I would’ve followed you Say something; I’m giving up on you. And I am feeling so small It was over my head I know nothing at all
OCD knows nothing at all…hence the nonstop questions. Everything is over its head. And if you don’t talk to it…it feels small and retreats to slumber.
And I will stumble and fall I’m still learning to love Just starting to crawl Say something; I’m giving up on you I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you
Finally, bossy pants OCD, admits it’s still crawling. It knows nothing at all. That’s right OCD!!! You can’t GET TO ME!!!
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you Say something; I’m giving up on you And I will swallow my pride You’re the one that I love And I’m saying goodbye
Good! Bon Voyage, OCD! Sayonara! Hasta la vista, baby!
Go right ahead and give up on me, OCD!
Oh listen, OCD is begging now:
You can answer every question OCD asks and it will never learn anything. Stop answering its questions and it will give up on you.
Don’t answer OCD when it asks, “WHY” or “WHAT IF…”
DON’T ANSWER with anything except this script:
I don’t know why…it just is.
Maybe, maybe not; time will tell.
Whatever. Who cares. So what.
If it’s not happening now, it’s not happening.
At this moment, right here, right now…it’s pretty okay.
If that happens it will be unpleasant and I’ll deal with it.
There’s no way to know for sure. Time will tell.
I know you’re afraid, OCD. That’s because you know nothing at all.
I’d rather take the risk than live like this.
Hasta la vista means, “See you later.” OCD will give up if you don’t try to reassure it. But, that doesn’t mean OCD won’t try again to engage you. Stick to the script. Even if it means sounding like a broken record.
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.
The Threat-Alarm System is your Fear Center (a.k.a. Limbic System) and it is Driven to Alarm You!
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.
Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) Is Not Enough
I’m a big believer in ERP. But why stop there? Did you know you can beat OCD with your bones! I know, I know you keep hearing ERP is the way to go. Confronting fears changes lives. You even hear it from me. It’ll probably be on my tombstone. “The only way out is in.” But over the years I’ve learned there’s more to beating OCD than just confronting fears and resisting compulsions.
ERP is a slow method of facing fears by taking tiny little baby steps. It takes time to climb a hierarchy and become desensitized. It’s true ERP helps you build skills and gain confidence. But, unless you’re committed and determined it can take too long. Recovery can be spotty–two steps forward and five steps backward.
It’s not good enough to confront fears just so you can white-knuckle your way through life. It’s a complicated therapeutic process because in addition to confronting fears, you have to develop a very specific mindset–Mental Kung fu.
You have to embrace doubt and hunt down anxiety. “I want this anxiety and I want it to be intense.” That’s easier said than done, Tammy.
You have to see everything as a challenge and an opportunity to grow. Developing a growth mindset takes time and diligence but also a willingness to fail. That’s a tough pill to swallow, Tammy.
The effects of ERP and Mental Kung-Fu are not immediate. Many people get frustrated and quit. It’s hard to do this kind of therapy when the fear seems real and believable. It’s just easier to avoid and give in to compulsions.
In the heat of the moment, it’s so hard to remember what to do. You know what the treatment principles are but when push comes to shove they don’t come to mind.
Are you feeling stuck? Do you keep forgetting to use your tools? Then you’re going to like this simple answer.
Your Bones Have the Answer
People who are anxious have tense muscles. They are constricted all of the time. If you can rely on your bones your muscles will relax. If your muscles relax then your frontal lobe goes back online. You gain clarity and insight to the point where your weird thoughts are just that…weird.
The Limbic System Needs to Be Offline
If your muscles are tight your limbic system is online. This is your default system. It’s the part of your brain that sounds alarms…especially false ones. It’s where you live day in and day out. You perceive danger when there is none.
Danger! Danger! Danger! That’s the message tight muscles give to your brain. This puts your limbic system in a frenzy. What kind of day does this give you? Fight, Flight or Freeze. You’re doing whatever you can to avoid pain and get certainty.
The Frontal Lobe Needs to Be Online
Your frontal lobe has to be functioning in order to beat OCD. Why? Because it’s the rational, logical part of your brain. If it’s functioning you will make good choices. You’ll choose to live your life and not feed OCD.
When your frontal lobe is offline your limbic system goes online. You’ll easily fall for OCD’s tricks. All the cool stuff you ever learned goes out the window. No frontal lobe…no choice. You will automatically feed OCD.
Your Bones Can Get Your Frontal Lobe Online
From now on put your trust in your bones. What bones? The video below offers a bit of humor but it’s also shared to remind you of all the bones you have in your body. Nevermind the joints. Look at the bones.
How To Beat OCD With Your Bones
You can beat OCD by being in a relaxed body. A relaxed body keeps your frontal lobe online. How do you get into a relaxed body? By letting your bones do all the work.
This is NOT relaxation therapy. Relaxation therapy is something you set aside time to do. It’s guided imagery and tightening and releasing muscles. Relaxation therapy doesn’t teach you to self-regulate anxiety.
This is NOT meditation. Meditation is something you set aside time to practice. It also requires frontal lobe functioning. Many people with OCD have a terrible time meditating. That’s because the limbic system is online which makes you too hypervigilant to meditate.
Using your bones will automatically put you in a “relaxed body.” The effect is immediate. Using your bones is done in real time. It’s not something you stop to do or set aside time to practice. Using your bones is done “on the go.” You do it the same time you are conversing or performing activities of daily living.
This isn’t relaxation therapy, mindfulness or meditation. It’s not any kind of therapy. Learning to rely on your bones is part of normal human development.
I think anxiety exists to help you self-regulate and choose a path that leads you to your higher self. But, seeing one’s anxiety as helpful is a hard sell. Release your muscles and rely on your bones. It can only help to add this to your toolbox.
“But, Tammy this is very unlike you to talk about relaxing. Whenever I tell you I’m anxious you always say, “Good. You need the practice. You’re always telling me to go find ways to be anxious.” True. But how many of you agree with me? How many of you want to practice being anxious and hunt down triggers?
I’m not opposed to anything if it sets you free and changes your life for the better! A person who knows everything learns nothing. I’m not going to stop learning how to beat OCD. I will spend my life offering you hope. Besides, using your bones isn’t about relaxing. It’s simply about letting your bones do all the work.
Look, you either see anxiety as a perpetrator or a friend. If you see anxiety as a friend then you use KAPOW. If you see anxiety as a perpetrator then I need to ask you something.
“How much longer do you want this perpetrator in your body?”
Have you had enough??? If you’ve suffered enough you’ll start using your bones. It’s simple. Every single time you use your bones the quality of your life improves. It’s impossible to experience stress when you use bones instead of muscles.
Every time you use your bones you’re restoring frontal lobe functioning. You immediately gain confidence and insight. If you see anxiety as a perpetrator then why wouldn’t you use your bones to eject it from your body? You can’t possibly be suffering enough to NOT try this!
How to Beat OCD With Your Bones
All you have to do is set your intentions to rely on your bones, not your muscles. It’s simple but hard. It’s hard because over the years you’ve put all of your weight and all of your stress on your muscles. It’s time to interrupt your default system. Let’s give your bones the job of carrying the burden, not your muscles.
How to Do It
Tell yourself, “My muscles aren’t needed. My bones do the work.” Find your “sit” bones. Place your hands, palm up on your bottom and rock side to side until you find your sit bones. (Once you’ve found them you won’t need to keep touching them. You’ve created an anchor in your memory.)
Whether you are standing or sitting imagine that your “sit” bones are holding you up. If you’re standing your knees might get wobbly. It’s ok just adjust a little. If you’re sitting you might feel a bit floppy–like a wet noodle. It’s okay just adjust a little.
Do this in real time. While you are listening or talking to someone put all your weight on your sit bones. Whatever activity you’re engaged in trust your bones not your muscles to help you complete the task.
But, Tammy doesn’t this require frontal lobe functioning?How will I remember to do this if my frontal lobe is offline? This takes no more than 5 seconds each time you do it. There’s not a lot of thought put into using your bones. In fact, there’s just enough space between a trigger and your response to remembering to use your bones. This does not require deep thinking or full body attention.
Trigger <<Space>> Response (no compulsion)
In the space shift your weight to your bones. Even if you forget after you’re triggered, you’ll probably notice how tight you feel. Do it then…shift responsibility to your bones.
It’s also possible to use your bones in the space before a trigger.
<<Space>> Trigger <<Space>> Response (no compulsion)
But, Tammy if I use my bones before or after a trigger, which interrupts the anxiety, am I not neutralizing the anxiety which you always tell us not to do? If you’re not confronting your fears and not embracing anxiety AND still avoiding and using compulsions AND white-knuckling your way through it’s because YOU’RE MAKING YOUR MUSCLES DO ALL THE WORK.
Soldiers with PTSD tried Exposure Therapy with terrible effect. When they learned to trust their bones and release the muscles from such a heavy burden…they got better!
I’m not telling you to use your bones to neutralize anxiety. This is just normal human development. It’s what the rest of the population without an anxiety disorder does! You can be on the same playing field as everybody else!
I’m still telling you to confront your fears. I’m still telling you not to feel sorry for yourself because you have unwanted intrusive thoughts. I’m still telling you to not argue with OCD. I still don’t think OCD or anxiety is a perpetrator…But, I think you do.
Even if you use your bones you’ll still have weird thoughts. You can’t control what you think. You can’t control what triggers you. But, you can put your attention and energy where you do have control…You can shift your weight to your bones. This is something you control! Take control all day long!
It takes no more than 5 seconds.
It’s done in real time, on the go.
Every time you do it your life improves. So do it all day!
The effect is immediate.
Dem bones, Dem bones…Are you going to use them and rise up?
Many people say they forget what to do when their anxiety is high or the OCD thoughts seem so real.
All you have to do is remember KAPOW! It’s an acronym you need to memorize. In the heat of the moment, use it!
K= Kooky. The quickest remedy for OCD is to respond to its strange thoughts with silliness. Get Kooky!
OCD: What if (that terrible thing happens?)
Kooky: Not only could that possibly happen, but this might too! Go over the top. Be outlandish. To make it even kookier, say it with an accent!
Getting Kooky is a way to tease OCD. “Oh yeah, OCD? You think that bothers me? Hah! Watch this!!!”
Be paradoxical. Lean in when OCD says lean out. If you’re having trouble getting unstuck from a thought or worry, look for a way to get Kooky.
You know what helps in a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious way? Get somebody else to be Kooky with you.
OCD: Oh no,this means [some bad thing] is going to happen.
Agree: Maybe. Time will tell.
Don’t waste your time disagreeing with OCD. If you have OCD or are helping someone with OCD, it’s better to not argue with OCD. Nod your head and pretend to agree. “I hear you OCD. You might be right. Time will tell.”
Accepting uncertainty is vital. OCD will always have an opportunity to lead you astray if you don’t play along and say, “Maybe” to OCD.
Trying to ignore OCD does not work! OCD is like a telemarketer that won’t stop calling until you pick up! It’s just that when you pick up say, KAPOW!
OCD: You’re too tired. You don’t have what it takes today.
Punch: I am tired. Let’s see what 10 jumping jacks can do.
Check your body language. Get into a competitive stance. Sit up. Stand up. Use your anxiety as energy to move onward…not downward.
I’m not suggesting that you punch OCD in the face. I haven’t found that hating OCD is very helpful. I’m suggesting that you see your exhaustion as a challenge. Besides, even friends spar in a boxing ring.
Every person with OCD needs Kapow!
OCD: This day is dreadful and best approached with avoidance.
Onward: There’s an action I need to take and I’m taking it.
Think of your anxiety as a Global Positioning System (GPS). Most everyone uses a GPS to reach an unfamiliar destination. You enter the address and the GPS tells you when to turn. If you don’t take the recommended turns your GPS will recalculate.
When your internal GPS recalculates it sends you a signal that feels like anxiety. It’s simply telling you that you’re not taking the path you’re supposed to take. The anxiety is used to get your attention and help you move onward.
Your GPS will keep recalculating until you take the path you’re supposed to take.
If you have anxiety consider which of the following messages it’s trying to give you:
Are you avoiding or neglecting something? Your GPS is sending you a signal to attend to a need or confront a fear. Until you take the necessary action you’re GPS is going to keep recalculating.
Do you feel vulnerable? Your body knows when you don’t have enough energy to deal with everything on your plate. The anxiety is reminding you to stay in the here and now, take one priority at a time and replenish your fuel throughout the day.
Are you tackling something that is above your “pay grade?” Are you trying to do something you don’t know how to do? It’s time to get coached and sharpen your skills. Reach out! Your GPS is telling you to stop and get directions!
If you’re hiding something then you’ll feel guilty which is just adding to your stress. I’m not talking about the guilt you feel from your OCD thoughts. That’s just straightforward inappropriate guilt because nobody can help what they think. I’m talking about guilt caused by a non-OCD thought or event. Are you keeping secrets from your accountability partner? Your GPS will keep recalculating until you tell the truth.
Your attitude needs a front-end alignment. Perhaps you’re having a pity party. “Why is this happening to me? This isn’t fair.” Self-pity sits in the middle of your soul and eats everything nearby, except itself. Your GPS is telling you that whatever you are experiencing it’s a challenge and an opportunity to grow. Remember, it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you react to what happens that counts. Make this your motto: Change, learn and grow!
Does your lifestyle need a change? If you’re eating sugar, nightshade plants, or drinking too much caffeine, your GPS will signal toxicity and try to flush it out of your system with anxiety pushing through your veins. Ever experience an increase in urinary frequency when anxious? Now you know why. Your GPS is trying to rid you of toxins.
You’re not hanging up on the conversation fast enough. OCD is like a robocall telemarketer. If you don’t answer, it keeps calling. Answer the phone, say something KOOKY with an accent and HANG UP! No more discussion! When you start conversing with OCD you’re headed for a wrong turn and your GPS is yelling at you to find the nearest U-turn!
Think of anxiety as your friend. Your negative evaluation of anxiety is getting in your way. Anxiety is trying to steer you in the right direction.
W= WW__D? What would (the most reasonable person you know) do? Copy them! It’s hard to know for sure whether a thought or worry is OCD. Ask yourself what your BFF would do.
OCD: I don’t think you should do that.
WWTD: OCD, you have zero life experience. Everything scares you. I don’t have to do or avoid anything that ________ (the most reasonable person you know) doesn’t.
If you have OCD, say KAPOW!
Want some help facing uncertainty? Add this book to your toolbox!
If you’re making this mistake, it’s easy enough to correct. At first glance, it seems like a healthy choice. But, for someone with OCD who is already susceptible to high levels of anxiety, it’s probably NOT a wholesome choice. It’s likely that you think you’re doing something beneficial, when in fact you’re not.
After ten years of helping 100’s and 100’s of people with OCD, I’ve made a fascinating discovery. People with OCD eat excessive amounts of nightshade plants.
Nightshade plants include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers.
Nightshade plants produce their own toxins and proteins to fight against various insects. A potent poison is found in these plants and can occur in any part of the plant, including leaves, fruit, and tubers. This is a natural defense to help prevent being eaten by insects.
These plants produce pesticides that can repel or intoxicate insects, and even interfere with their digestion. So when you eat a nightshade plant, you’re ingesting the pesticide used to ward off insects.
People say, “Well, I’ll just triple wash my vegetables or buy only organic.” That won’t make a difference. This is not a man-made pesticide.
Do you feel more anxious than usual?
Nightshade plants are on the “do not give to your dog” list or it could be fatal. The World Health Organization sets a limit of how much of this toxin can be allowed. Above that limit, they cannot be sold in stores, as they are considered too toxic for human consumption.
Nightshade plants are neurotransmitter inhibitors. This causes a communication breakdown within the brain. An OCD brain already has communication problems! The depths of the brain has trouble communicating with the front of the brain (the reasonable, logical part of the brain.)
If you’re feeling foggy-brained or experiencing a buzz of anxiety, consider deleting nightshade plants from your diet. It’s probably not necessary to be an extremist about staying away from these plants. To the best of your ability try to eliminate them from your diet.
If you’re not sure you’re sensitive to these plants, you could have a “nightshade party” week. Eat them in excess and see what the effect is. But, watch out because it can take 6-12 weeks for the effect to get out of your system!
How do you know if you have OCD? Many people call upon me for my help because of their online research. They Googled their symptoms and discovered they sound a lot like someone with OCD. They’ve never been officially diagnosed, and when they find out there’s a name for what is going on in their mind, they are relieved and curious about treatment.
People Who Are Misdiagnosed
Then there are the people who have been misdiagnosed. They Googled their symptoms and thought they sounded like someone with OCD. Indeed, they do have OCD but are told they don’t. The doctor claims it’s not OCD because you “don’t excessively wash your hands.” ~or~ “That’s not OCD, because, everybody does that.” ~or~ “Everybody has a little OCD.” ~or~ “You’re not organized and tidy enough to have OCD.”
I apologize on behalf of all these practitioners. Just when I think the word is getting out and doctors and therapists are becoming more aware, I meet someone who has been suffering a long time because they’ve been in psychoanalysis forever. We have to keep educating, especially through OCD Awareness Week and showing films like Unstuck.
People Who Aren’t Certain It’s OCD
Then there are people who have been diagnosed with OCD by other practitioners, but this fact is not shared with me. The only reason they are seeking a meeting with me is for reassurance. “Maybe I didn’t tell the practitioner everything they needed to know to make the right diagnosis.”
They’ve been properly diagnosed with OCD. But, they need to keep hearing it. Similar to those who keep getting tested for HIV. The lab report is negative but they get tested repeatedly. I don’t usually see these people again because they aren’t seeking treatment. Just reassurance.
Authors of books on OCD often get contacted for this same reason. Even my own clients will ask me, “Are you sure this isn’t something else? How do you know it’s OCD.” This is reassurance-seeking and so all I can do is shrug and say, “Maybe you don’t have OCD.”
What I really want to say to them is this:
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck…then …it probably is a duck!!!!!!!
It’s better not to try and get certainty. Worrying whether you have OCD is just another obsession. The way to handle any obsession is to respond with, “Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.” Then move on. Live your life.
A life of certainty is a life not lived.
For those who cannot access the necessary services to get an official diagnosis, don’t spend all your time Googling trying to get to the bottom of it. You might end up in a rabbit hole.
How do you know if you have OCD?
If it’s important to you, then you probably won’t be able to know. OCD makes you doubt whatever is precious and sacred to you. But here are a couple of good ways to understand more about your symptoms:
Complete the most widely used screening tool for OCD, the YBOCSand bring the results to your practitioner who hasn’t yet realized you have OCD. Ask your practitioner or insurance company for a referral to a CBT therapist who uses Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) as part of the treatment plan.
For those with no help or support, I also recommend a Facebook Group called “Friends with OCD.” Fortunately, there are people with OCD in this group that will lead you in the right direction. Don’t use this group for reassurance. Use it for education and support.