Category Archives: How To Free Your Mind

12 Ways to Make Your Brain a Lean Mean Fighting Machine

brainworkoutIn order to defy OCD the brain needs to be a lean mean fighting machine. There’s a lot of white matter that needs to be obliterated. The OCD brain has more than the average amount of white matter. White matter interferes with concentration and prevents the making of new memories. That’s one of the reasons the brain gets stuck. In order to get rid of white matter, you’ve got to take your brain to the neurogym.

It’s not easy to go to the neurogym every day but the pay off is undeniable.  Here’s how to obliterate white matter:

  1. Be determined to go to the neurogym every day. Remember, you don’t have to feel determined to be determined. Don’t let your feelings get in the way of going.
  2. Visualize what will happen if you go everyday. Make a collage of what you’re fighting for. Write out your cost/benefit analysis. What will you gain if you go to the neurogym and what will you lose if you don’t go.
  3. Make time for it in your busy day. You need about 20 minutes per day. (This doesn’t replace Exposure & Response Prevention. You need both!) Schedule when you are going to go to the neurogym. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. When people say they don’t have time for all of this it’s not true. If you’ve got time for compulsions, you’ve got time for this! And remember, there is always someone busier than you finding the time.
  4. Stick to the plan. When you do what you say you’re going to do your quality of life improves. When you don’t meet your commitments you will think less of yourself. OCD is a big force to go up against so you need all the self worth you can muster. A simple way to stay positive about yourself is to do what you said you were going to do.
  5. When you are at the neurogym choose from any of the following 10 minute exercises:
    1. Juggle with bean bags, scarves, or any size ball. Start with one and work your way up to 3. It doesn’t matter how good you are at it. It’s the practice of it that helps. Watch YouTube videos for how-to instructions.
    2. Memorize a poem or song. Get a memory game app on your smart phone. Play memory games with your kids. Practice memorizing something.
    3. Take your trigger words and think of a neutral word that rhymes. Then think of a word that is associated with the rhyming word. Like this: germ: term: paper.
    4. Listen to a podcast or documentary and learn something new. Listen to Ted Talks.
    5. Learn to play an instrument. If you already know how to play an instrument, learn a new song. If you don’t have an instrument get the app Smule or Garbage Band.
    6. Meditate. Meditate. Meditate.
    7. Color. Get a coloring book or use an app like Colorfy.
    8. Read a Lateral Thinking puzzle book or use a Sudoku book or app.

This is day 22 of a 30 day challenge. Which of the above will you commit to doing every day to obliterate white matter and make your brain a lean mean fighting machine?

12 Ways to Calm Down When Anxiety is High

Bella's Advice
Bella’s Advice

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with anxiety? Now that’s a silly question! Of course you have! If you’ve been reading my blog then you know my response is: “Good! You want that anxiety!” (It’s hard to be anxious when you want to be anxious.)

But, let’s be honest, white knuckling through a terrifying moment can be easier said than done. Sometimes the anxiety takes over and wins. What can be done when that happens? When the anxiety is so overwhelmingly unbearable and you can’t take the next right step. You’re paralyzed.

What can be done? Follow these steps in sequential order:

  1. Always be proactive by eating well with lots of protein and low carbs. Stay off sugar, caffeine and possibly even gluten. Drink lots of water, go to yoga and exercise 10-30 minutes a day. This regime of FITNESS gives you a fighting chance against anxiety. Balancing the interaction between oxygen and glucose is critical!
  2. Remember what you’re fighting for. Don’t go down the rabbit hole. Don’t use any compulsion to try and get relief. Stop yourself and ask, “Will it be worth it? Once I unravel, it’s going to be hard to get my act together. Do I really want this?” There’s a good wolf and a bad wolf. Which one wins? The one you feed.
  3. Remember to thank the anxiety. Sounds weird, I know. But gratitude can wash away a lot of problems. Make a list of 5 reasons you are grateful for anxiety. Do something nice for someone else.
  4. Manage your energy from negative to positive by asking, “What does this make possible?” Nothing has meaning except the meaning you give it!
  5. Consider an exposure exercise. Try to get as close to the fear as you can. Facing a fear can be scary at first but after you do it, it’s so empowering and it feels like a load has been lifted.
  6. Visualize an image of what you’d look like if you weren’t resisting. I like to picture being in the pool pushing down on a beach ball. I’m pushing hard, trying to keep it under the water. It takes a lot of energy. It’s not fun. And then, finally I let go of the ball and it floats to the surface. It’s still near me but I don’t care. My arms are free and I’m not wasting my energy. It feels good.
  7. Take deep breaths and exhale by whistling. Pace yourself and slowly breathe in and out. On the inhale reach for the air in your belly, past your lungs. On the exhale try to whistle your ABC’s otherwise known as twinkle, twinkle little star….If you can’t whistle it’s okay. Just deeply exhale.
  8. Picture in your mind and in this order: an old house, a river with trees along the bank, a blue circle and a red triangle. Close your eyes and literally picture these items. This exercise wakes up other parts of your mind.
  9. Put your thoughts where they belong. If there’s no action to take on something you’re worrying about then it doesn’t belong in today’s door. Put it in tomorrow’s door. If you’re rewinding and replaying something from the past it goes in yesterday’s door. Stay in today’s door. Better yet, stay in the moment. Repeat this mantra, “In this moment, right here, right now I am safe and I am pretty okay.”
  10. Position your body in a relaxed manner. Hold your hands palm up in your lap. Let all the nervous energy leave your body. Don’t rock your body back-n-forth or rub your hands or feet together, or rub your legs or head. That’s just igniting your alarm system (the amygdala.)
  11. Go outside for earth time. Sit or lie on the grass. Walk. The earth gives off a vibration that is indisputably invigorating.. Everything we need can be found in nature.
  12. Listen to relaxing music or find a calming YouTube meditation. Not to get rid of anxiety but to just let it be.

This is day 21 of a 30 day challenge. To defy OCD your brain needs to be a lean mean fighting machine. Softening into the anxiety is your challenge. Do you have a step 13 to share?




Is This OCD or ME? How to Find Out in Less Than 10 Minutes

How can I tell if my bad thoughts are caused by OCD? This pounding unstoppable thought that something bad could happen—is that OCD or intuition? Could the bad thoughts be a reflection of who I am and OMG what I really want? These are questions I get asked a lot. 

I listen to my clients and hear the sound of confusion. Even with a diagnosis of OCD people don’t believe their bad thoughts are just a bizarre side effect of a strange neurological condition. There is 160_F_103659112_UGJStekEhKfNymvHV8oJsWCTdfwpMsmgno sound worse than confusion. I’ll take nails on a chalkboard any day over the sound of confusion. I want to scream THIS IS SO OUTRAGEOUS! THIS IS RIDICULOUS! It’s so abundantly clear to me that it’s OCD. Hello!!! Captain Obvious! But someone with OCD has never met Captain Obvious.

But there are ways to put the thoughts to the test and find out if they’re just neurons misfiring, creating false alarms and causing you to be hyper-aware. Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) is the most effective way to do this. I won’t describe that therapy here—another post another time. Instead I want to share two ways to challenge your thoughts and name it OCD.

#1 Let’s Poll the Population

Let’s ask 50-100 people what they think and whatever the majority of them say—that’s how we determine if you’re having a reasonable thought or worry. If it’s not reasonable, we’re going with “It’s OCD.”

I’ve posted questions on Facebook to find out what the majority would worry about. 

These are just some examples of what I’ve asked my Facebook friends: Would you still love a significant other if his or her stomach wasn’t flat.(Yes) Since toilet paper doesn’t come with instructions, what is the average # of wipes after a bowel movement.(3) Recently I asked when is it appropriate to ask a question at work regarding an assignment. (I’ll share these answers in another post—it’s lengthy!) Do you wash your hands after touching a doorknob?(No) Do you knock three times on the ceiling to keep a loved one from harm?(No) Are you hyper vigilant about touching your dog?(No)

Once I’ve collected answers the results are shared with clients who are obsessing about these topics. The majority rules and proves reasonable behavior/worries. If the behavior or worry proves to be unreasonable we call it OCD and boss it back.

Sometimes we can’t poll the population and we just imagine what 100 people would say. In a gymnasium of 100 people how many of them would be worried about being gay? Not the majority!

#2 Is Your Brain Super Focused?
Another way to tell if it’s OCD is to ask how long you’ve been focused on one particular thought or worry. How long have you been trying to get certainty? The brain normally has a very short 160_F_20199276_5xlNinnPcFCmYZGypiv3a8TDKgu8zeEu-2attention span. The average brain can only focus intensely for about 5-10 minutes, and then it drifts.

So if you’re wondering if this thought or worry you’re having is OCD, ask yourself if the amount of time you’re focusing on it has increased or decreased. The brain does not naturally expand its capacity to focus! If you’re stuck on a thought and increasingly spending more and more time on it—you’re brain is not functioning normally and this is the very nature of OCD.

Even if you poll the population and discover you’re not behaving like the majority or if you discover your brain is spending an abnormal amount of time focusing on one specific thought—you’re probably still going to question, “Is this OCD or the real me?”

If you have OCD you have the doubting disease and there is no way to get certainty about why you’re having the thoughts you’re having. Your brain will try to keep pulling you into the abyss—a bottomless pit. You’ve got to be strong and say, “The majority of 100 people aren’t worrying about this so I’m not going to either. No matter how much doubt I have, I’m going to act like the majority. It could be risky but if other people aren’t thinking about this past 5 or 10 minutes, then neither am I.”

Leave a comment about your own success with these two tests. Have you tried either one?

Stuck in an OCD Loop? Here’s the #1 Way to Get Out of It

Being stuck in an OCD loop is torture. The thoughts just keep firing and it’s hard to believe they’re ever going to stop. They’re coming so fast it’s hard to be mindful enough to boss it back. There are many ways to deal with an OCD loop but this one seems most effective. It’s called apathy. Apathy is a lack of feeling, interest or concern.

160_F_64832482_JUTQeiwhijNvZTbVBSZijuM7Kfun1AXBI used to have this amazing lamp. It made me happy just to look
at it. But then one day a stranger showed up at my office. He came through the back door. Luckily I didn’t have a client at the time. He threatened me, “Give me $10 or I’m going to break that lamp into tiny pieces.” I thought maybe he was homeless. I gave him $10 and he left. He came back the next day. “Give me $20 or I’m going to break that lamp.” He didn’t seem like a violent person. I thought he was just desperate. I gave him $20. He came back the next day and demanded $50. I gave it to him. But, at this point I’m feeling really apprehensive. Is this ever going to stop? I realized I should have never given in to him the first time. The next day I saw him coming through my back door. I stopped him. I said, “hang on.” I grabbed the lamp and brought it out to the parking lot. I threw it on the pavement and most of it shattered. I told him to go ahead and break the rest of it. I went back into my office and I never saw him again.

You’ve probably guessed this didn’t really happen. It’s a good example of apathy right? It’s also a good example of how OCD operates. If you give in, OCD just wants more and more. But if 160_F_51985811_i7DZ59JpYuQaF8vGbYB41ipJJy1spl9Oyou shrug it knocks the wind right out of OCD. Of course the real moral of the story is “don’t give in the first time.” 

The #1 way to get out of an OCD loop is to get as close as you can to losing what OCD is telling you to desperately hold on to. What are you willing to let go of?

I knew someone who was afraid of losing his sanity. He kept Googling symptoms of psychosis. Then one day he finally decided enough was enough. He said, “I’d just as soon be crazy than live like this.” He went to a grocery store and purposely underpaid the cashier. When the cashier pointed out he owed more money, he said, “Oh, I’m sorry I’m not of sound mind. I’m crazy. I’m clearly too psychotic to be handling money right now.” And that ended his “what if I’m crazy” loop.  Of course he didn’t really lose his sanity. He played a mind game and tricked OCD into thinking his sanity wasn’t precious and sacred anymore. He shrugged and tricked OCD!

Whatever your fear is, think of a way to trick OCD into believing you don’t care. The rule is do no harm. If you’re afraid of getting AIDS you don’t actually expose yourself to blood that is known to be contaminated. But, you could touch a germy doorknob without washing your hands afterwards and say, “I’d rather take the same risk everybody else is taking than live like this.”

If OCD has you worried you might be gay, you’re not going to start a same sex relationship just to trick your OCD into thinking you don’t care. But you could say, “If I end up in a gay relationship I’ll probably be very unhappy. But, so be it. If anything like that happens I’ll just have to deal with it at the time it happens.” With this statement you’re tricking OCD. It no longer has any leverage. You’re not happy about this thing happening but if it does, you’ll deal with it. 

If you have unwanted, intrusive thoughts of harm, you don’t actually harm someone to trick OCD into thinking you don’t care. But, you could resist looking for signs of evil in every one of your thoughts and feelings. Instead say, “No one else analyzes their thoughts like this so I’m not going to. If I do the unthinkable it’ll be horrible. And there will be consequences for me. But I’m not paying any consequences until I’ve actually done the act! You’ve taken enough from me OCD. If I’m going to get better, I have to accept my anxiety and I’m going to tolerate this terrible feeling for as long as it takes.” 

The #1 way to get out of a loop is to find a way to shrug at OCD.160_F_65440434_ggnw7zgL8Rz1LBU1lYN1YVNMT5XdPUQw-2  Say, “If that happens it will be horrible but I will deal with it if it actually happens.” This is easier said than done. Because, you really think there is an actual risk. But, performing all your compulsions isn’t easy either. No matter what you do to deal with OCD, it’s going to be very hard. But you’re not afraid of doing something hard! People with OCD are the strongest people I’ve ever met.

Remember, you get good at whatever you practice.  Practice not giving in the first time. But, if you get tricked, practice tricking OCD back with: 160_F_88940492_amQ6XuT4sli6hmIAtS6rbyDwt8ENc9V3-2

You’ve got to find a way to let go–or you’ll be dragged. 



5 Mistakes People Make When Having Bad OCD Thoughts

dreamPeople with OCD aren’t the only ones thinking the worst thoughts at the most inappropriate times. Everybody gets weird scary bad thoughts. One time while petting my dog Bella, I thought, “She’s so muscular; she’d make a good stew.” I was shocked! But, I wasn’t appalled. I said, “Okay, that was weird.” Everybody gets weird thoughts but not everybody experiences shame or guilt from those thoughts. Here are five mistakes people with OCD make when they have weird scary bad thoughts:

Mistake #1 Keep It a Secret

freddykIf Freddy Krueger was living in your basement would you keep it a secret? No! You would get someone to help you outwit Freddy Krueger! Would you feel ashamed that Freddy Krueger picked your house to hide out in? No! That wouldn’t even cross your mind. You’ve got this bad dude living in your mind and it’s not your fault! The only time you shouldn’t tell someone (e.g., therapist, parent, best friend, and family member) is if you’re just trying to get reassurance that you’re a good person.

Mistake #2 Getting Reassurance ok

If you have OCD then you know you’re not supposed to seek reassurance. If you have a bad thought, you can’t ask someone to reassure you and say, “It’s just OCD. You are not your thoughts. You’d never do that.” That’s ok if you’re newly diagnosed but if you’ve been dealing with OCD for a while, you need something more than relabeling OCD. Too much relabeling ends up turning into reassurance. And reassurance feeds OCD. It’s like alcohol to an alcoholic—there’s never enough. junkie

But, you can get help to outwit OCD. In fact it’s great to get people to help you to boss it back: “Hey, I’m having a really bad thought about _______. I don’t want you to reassure me but can you remind me of something I have in my toolbox to help me boss it back?”

Mistake #3 Trying to Rationalize Why You’re Thinking What You’re Thinking

If you try to explain, excuse or justify your thoughts you’re spending way too much time on the thought. When I had the thought about chopping Bella up for stew, I didn’t try to figure out why I had that thought or what it meant. I shrugged and said, “Weird” and kept petting her belly. Get to the shrug as fast as possible. Say: “Whatever, So What, Who Cares.” As soon as you analyze the thought or associated feelings you’re inviting OCD to take you deeper into this obsession. OCD robs you of enough. Don’t go down the rabbit hole with OCD. It’s not worth it. If you’ve been down the rabbit hole you know it’s a very long horrible journey.

If you can’t shrug at the thought get help from someone who knows what’s in your “Boss it Back” toolbox. If you don’t have a “Boss it Back” toolbox be sure to read next week’s blog.

Mistake#4 Not Shrugging at the Thoughts

A shrug shows that you are committed to “let go or be dragged.” Shrugging is not avoiding. It’s not suppressing or hiding either. Shrugging is giving your brain a clear message that you don’t care about the thought or worry. Your brain’s alarm system (the amygdala) is misfiring and when you shrug, it stops firing. shrug

It’s not easy to shrug if you’re already caught up in evaluating the thought or feelings. Shrugging is your first line of defense. If it isn’t the anxiety worsens and you’re going to start trying to avoid your triggers.

Mistake#5 Avoiding Triggers

If you don’t face whatever it is that is triggering the bad thoughts then the thoughts will become intense and frequent, and the anxiety will take over. You’ve got to get as close as you can to your triggers. That’s why exposure and response prevention is very effective in treating OCD. The more you face your triggers the more desensitized you become.

Never put your life on hold because of bad thoughts. Keep doing everything you want to do or need to do, even if the thoughts follow you. Better yet, go on the offensive and invite OCD to bother you when you know you are going to be around a trigger.

If you find yourself stressed out about bad thoughts, identify which mistake you’re making and take corrective action. Get someone to help you remember what’s in your Boss it Back Toolbox. toolboxIf you don’t know what’s in your toolbox make sure you read next week’s blog.

If you want to comment or add to this list of mistakes please feel free to do so.


Imagine Saying No and Loving Every Minute of It

temper tantrum

If you have OCD then you know how hard it is to say “no” to OCD. When told “no” OCD is just like a two year old; it throws a temper tantrum and screams until it gets its way.  Of course, if you give in to OCD you can expect a temper tantrum when you try to say “no” again. OCD is a strong force to be reckoned with. That’s why it’s good to practice saying “no” to people. If you can’t say “no” to people, how will you say “no” to OCD?


People who have a hard time saying “no” to OCD often have a hard time saying “no” to people. Sometimes a person with OCD will forfeit their own mental health in order to support a person in need. They say “yes” to oodles of invitations and projects even when everything is occurring at the same time. Even though they aren’t keeping up with their own responsibilities, they run everybody else’s errands. Instead of going to bed and getting much needed sleep they stay up late listening to a distant friend talk about their troubles. People who can’t say “no” are good people. They are very loving and make the world a better place for everybody else–except themselves.

say no

The more difficulty you have in saying no the more stressed and depleted you’ll feel. Saying “no” to people will make saying “no” to OCD easier. Saying “no” doesn’t have to be hard. Once you master the art of saying “no” you’ll love how much more energy you have to do the things you love to do. You’ll love how much more resourceful you are at bossing OCD back. Read these four tips.

happyfaceThere’s no point in trying to figure out why you have such a hard time saying “no.” In the battle against OCD it’s not good to spend time analyzing. You won’t ever know for certain what definitely makes it hard for you to say “no.” Maybe you like chaos because it gets you “buzzy” and makes you feel alive. It’s possible you can’t say no because you fear rejection, loneliness or don’t want to miss out. Maybe you can’t say “no” because you like the distraction. It’s possible you can’t say “no” because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Whatever the reason, it’s fear-based. Knowing it’s fear-based you know what you have to do. Action: Feel the fear and say NO anyway. Put your mental health first.

happyfaceBe a big-picture thinker. Weigh the consequences of saying “yes.” You’ll get stressed and depleted. In the battle against OCD you need all of the focus and energy you can muster. Is it worth losing ground against OCD to support another person who could easily get help elsewhere? Maybe you are only enabling someone and keeping them from growing up. It doesn’t have to be you to save the day. Identify your priorities and guard them with your life. It’s better to be there consistently for one or two people than half-there for 10 people. Action: Get your priorities straight and be mindful of them.

happyfaceOffer alternatives. I have to turn people away all the time from my therapy practice because of my schedule. I apologize and say, “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful but try calling these people to see if they are available.” Keep it simple. Don’t go into long explanations. You’re defeating the purpose of saying “no” when you spend forever explaining yourself. Action: In one sentence say “no” and offer a suggestion.

happyfaceDon’t be so accessible. Get into the habit of delaying the “yes.” Say, “I doubt that I can do it but let me get back to you tomorrow.” By then the person will probably already have another plan in place. Put a greeting on your voice mail that says you only listen to voice mail at 4pm [once a day.] Use an auto responder to reply to text messages or emails that states you are busy and will try to respond within 24 hours. Action: Delay. Don’t respond immediately.

As you get better at saying “no” to people you get better at saying “no” to OCD. It’s nice to be supportive of others but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your own mental health. It can be unsettling to be so quiet and still, but running around like a chicken without a head isn’t healthy either. Life is always going to be about finding balance. Say “no” and love every minute of it because it’s leading you to freedom.

If you know someone who has trouble saying “no” and you think this post would be helpful, please feel free to share by using any of the share buttons. e.g., Facebook or email.

Where to Go to Free Your Mind

It’s not necessary to suffer from OCD. There are places you can go to free your mind! It’s possible to find a place where you can focus on what truly matters. Places I’m going to share a couple of places that surprised me during this busy shopping season.


A few days ago I visited the Apple store at Crossgates Mall. A young woman, Sarah, was assigned to me and we had a brief conversation about how she used her MacBook in Paris and why the Apple store had been moved to such a small tiny little room in the mall. Truthfully, my mind was not focused on Sarah or the MacBook. I was telling myself to keep my hands in my pockets because people were sneezing everywhere and the tiny little store smelled like germs.  (This is what I get for hanging around so many people with OCD!)

Sarah went on to the next customer while I cautiously lingered a bit longer. I was eavesdropping on what other people were asking and learning. But, believe me, I was on the lookout for people who seemed sickly. Then a young man named Benny approached me. He said, “I’m so excited to show you something!” “Me?” I asked. “Yes, look at what you can do with this MacBook!”

I was there for another hour and I never even heard another cough or sneeze again. My mind was set free by talking with Benny. And, it’s not because of what he was teaching me about the MacBook. Benny is the happiest person I’ve ever met.  No circumstance or worry got in his way. Even when his supervisor came over and said, “Benny’s new so I’m just observing him,” Benny did not stop smiling. And I just kept smiling back. Talking to him made me want to be happy, not worried. I’d rather be happy and sick than healthy but worried all the time.

Hopefully you can visit Benny, but maybe he’s not accessible from where you live. No problem! There are happy people all around the world. I tested this out. I went to Barnes & Noble and asked to speak to the happiest person working. I was introduced to a young gal not cheerful like Benny, but very warm and tranquil. Happy people are in many places and I hope when you find one, you decide to smile back and free your mind!

You’re off to great places…so get on your way. Oh the places you’ll go.

Use These 10 Superpowers to Cripple OCD

If you’re like most people you probably have a “Life is Good” T-Shirt. The brand features a character named Jake and he seems like he’s always having fun. I never realized what the “Life is Good” saying really means! Bert and John Jacobs are the developers of this brand and recently came out with a book. It’s called, “Life is Good: The Book.” In this book they talk about their hardships and even tragedies. So it’s not as if life has always been good to them. Bert asks, “How could anyone wear one of our shirts after 9/11 happened?” But, it was shortly after 9/11 that their company experienced a huge growth spurt. It’s because “Life is Good” is really about optimism. In their book they talk about 10 superpowers that we all possess to help us be optimistic, no matter what adversity we face.

Here are the superpowers you already possess that can cripple OCD:

  1. Openness (to learning a different way of handling OCD.)
  2. Courage (to be anxious without fixing it).
  3. Simplicity (shed the complicated compulsions.)
  4. Humor (OCD crumbles with laughter.)
  5. Gratitude for the many things in life that are good and working well.
  6. Compassion towards others and oneself. (Don’t be a self-hater!)
  7. Fun-seeking. (It gets you out of “threat and protect” mode.)
  8. Creativity (allows you to outsmart OCD.)
  9. Authenticity is being who you really want to be. Do what you love and love what you do! (That’s the Life is Good tagline.)
  10. Love (is so powerful and it’s impossible to be in threat and protect mode when you are truly appreciating someone.)

I encourage you to get the “Life is Good” book because it shows you how to be optimistic in the face of adversity.  But, even if you don’t get the book you can still access your 10 SUPERPOWERS to help you BOSS it BACK!

I send out weekly tips to help you Boss OCD Back! The above is based on the tip sent this past week. If you’d like to receive weekly tips send me your email and I’ll help you be a lean mean fighting machine against OCD!