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.
Q: “How do we recharge so we have the energy to resist compulsions? I find my compulsions spike for a variety of reasons in the days with shorter daylight, less healthy eating (i.e. holiday parties and sweets) and the stress of shopping for a perfect gift every year.”
We are all resisting something and especially around this time of year, it’s even more challenging. Normal everyday routines get interrupted. Way too much sugar is consumed. The blue sky is rarely seen.
How to Get Fortified During the Holidays
You could easily Google and learn what to do. Honestly, I bet you don’t even have to perform an Internet search to know how to get refortified. You know this stuff!
Don’t overschedule. Put your mental health first.
Get pumped up or calmed down by listening to your favorite music.
Laugh and laugh again. “Big Bang Theory” does it for me! How about you? What makes you laugh?
Call your guilt what it is (inappropriate.)
Count your blessings. Practice gratitude.
Exercise at least 7 minutes a day. Get your heart pumping!
Follow your treatment plan no matter what! Don’t seek reassurance. Tease your OCD through exposure exercises. “Oh yeah, OCD! You think that bothers me? Ha! Watch this.”
Eat a hearty breakfast. Refuel throughout the day on blueberries, nuts, seeds and even some organic honey. Substitute mango for cookies.
Say no. Learn to be assertive. Say what you mean but don’t say it mean. Now is not the time to “yes” everybody! You don’t have enough fuel!
Find a balance between “me” time and sociable activities.
Use aromatherapy, take Vitamin D and use a lightbox.
Get grounded. Hug trees and play outside!
Go off the grid and have a tech-free day. Find something to do that doesn’t involve a screen.
Plan a getaway for mid-winter or take a day trip.
Say no to perfection and yes to learning. Watch thisKobe Bryant video on Growth Mindset vs. Success Mindset. He’s got it all figured out for you!
Be willing and open to whatever happens next.
I doubt the list above is news to you. You can thread the needle through 1-16 and know you’ll be connecting one positive to another. Positive in equals positive out.
You know this stuff. It’s very tough for people to apply what they know. (This has been proven in studies.) It’s why repetition is a big part of ERP. You need practice. Practice makes…progress.
So, you know me…I like to think outside of the box. Let me try to add something else to your toolbox.
How to Get Fortified During the Holidays
Don’t ever forget that there are plenty of people in the same situation as you. Like others, you always get out of this mess. I think the Bible says it best:
“If one member suffers, all suffer together…and if one member is honored, we all rejoice together.”
~1 Corinthians 12:26
You Are Part of A Community
It’s important to remember you are never alone. If you suffer we all suffer. The way I see it, no one is healed until everybody is healed. Even if you were cured of OCD, there’d still be others suffering.
“As long as someone is suffering so shall I.”
There is pain all around us. I’m not trying to minimize your pain. I just think it’s pointless to strive to be free of pain. Even if I’m doing okay, I’m still going to feel pain if someone else is in pain. And you know what? I’m okay with that pain.
We are all facing challenges and being tested in some way. We’re in this together. Believe in something bigger than you. Individually we are a cog in a big wheel. Together…there ain’t no mountain high enough.
Join something bigger than you, and you will get fortified.
**I belong to the Global Citizencommunity. This way I keep a bird’s eye view so that I don’t get too small in my thinking. (For example, I didn’t know you could buy a goat in a vending machine!)
The Power of the Heart
…and if one member is honored, we all rejoice together.
When a client breaks free from OCD, it’s the best day of my life. (I’ve had a lot of best days!) It happened this week!
Almost one year ago OCD hijacked her brain. She fought so hard to reclaim her life. It was clear from the moment I met her that she’d had enough of OCD.
How did she fight? She stopped avoiding. She surrendered. “Maybe that will happen OCD, and if it does, so be it.” Surrendering is not giving up. It’s letting go. “I’d rather have that happen than live like this.” It’s knowing what you’re fighting for. “I care more deeply about this than that.”
When a client breaks free, it’s like I’m meeting him or her for the first time. We’ve been working together but, it’s really been OCD in the room.
This week OCD wasn’t in the room. The day finally came. She looked peaceful. I could tell something had changed. She smiled and said, “I feel like myself again.” I couldn’t wait to do my happy dance!
I tried to resist compulsions before, and it didn’t work. I felt worse! Why should I try again?
Resisting compulsive behavior and mental acts is a long process. The process has a beginning, middle and no end. At any time during the process you can:
expect to have setbacks
anticipate having POLS (Persistent, On-fire, Lasting, Sinking- feelings)
doubt resisting is worth the pain and agony
continue to have unwanted, intrusive thoughts even though you’re resisting compulsions
Contemplate this truth: Resisting compulsions is going to be the worst and best thing you’ve ever done.
In the beginning, more times than not you will think, “Resisting compulsions isn’t working.” If you think it’s not working, does that make it real? Does it mean you’re not getting better if you don’t feel better?
Does it mean you’re getting better only if you feel better? Such as when you’re performing a mental act or compulsion. Upon completion, you probably have some relief. It’s only temporary, but let’s admit it, briefly, you feel better. Does that mean you’re getting better because you’re feeling better?
Not at all. To get better, you’re not going to feel better at first. Is that okay with you? Will you commit to resisting compulsions even though you’re going to have POLS? Besides, when you’re performing compulsions, you still have POLS.
Do this now: Put your hand on your heart and vow to do whatever it takes to get healthy.
“That’s easier said than done.”
Of course! You’ve performed your rituals and mental acts to the point of automation. In other words, you’ve habituated to your compulsions. You’ve gotten used to them. Breaking a habit is hard! Does that mean you shouldn’t break it?
There is an excellent technique for this kind of automatic compulsive behavior. I call it “recontaminating the scene of the crime.” The crime is the compulsion. So whatever the compulsion “fixed,” your job is to unfix it. Recontaminate the scene by reintroducing the anxiety. For example, if you:
counted car door handles before you pulled out of a parking space, pull back into the spot and this time back out without looking at the car door handles.
sanitized after touching a doorknob, go back and touch the doorknob and resist washing.
rewound and replayed a conversation you had earlier to see if you said something bad, go ahead and say something bad.
scanned the environment to see if you dropped identifying information about yourself, drop part of your social security number in the parking lot and walk away.
checked the faucet too many times, turn the faucet back on and let it drip. Walk away. Don’t check.
The most critical part of recontaminating the scene is what you say to OCD while you’re doing it. Your words must be tough. Like this, “Oh yeah OCD? You think something bad is going to happen now that I recontaminated? OK OCD. Whatever happens, happens. Time will tell.”
Resisting compulsions is going to be the worst thing you’ve ever done. It’s also going to be the best thing you’ve ever done.
The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire
#1 Did you resist compulsions for the right reason?
The reason to resist compulsions is not to get rid of unwanted thoughts or anxiety. That can be the prize but never the goal. Put your nose to the grindstone—focus heavily on the work not the bonus.
The right reason to resist compulsions is to learn how to be incredibly strong, perceptive and empathic. It’s the exercise of learning that is life-changing. Resist compulsions because you like working hard to learn how to be grateful and optimistic in dark times. Value the challenge, not the reward.
#2 Did you think Control was all you needed?
“I can control my thoughts” is the same thing as saying “I can control my compulsions.” The name of the game is not CONTROL. Trying to control is what got you into this mess. It’s about surrender. Read on.
Don’t expect to control: Frantic Effort to Avoid Reality
#3 Did you put in an honest day’s work?
You need a strong work ethic. What is a strong work ethic? Stop asking others to help feed OCD with reassurance or safety behaviors. Be more cooperative with your team. Just because you don’t like what they’re telling you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear them out.
If you don’t put in the time, then the work won’t get done. Get a lot of therapy done each day. Be productive. This is no time to avoid—or be idle. You’re in the fight of your life. Climb your exposure hierarchy with a vengeance. Get to it!
Even after you’ve climbed your hierarchy go back and climb it again. Find some other fears to face. It’s how you keep your brain sharp and your OCD dull. This is a life-style, not a one shot fix.
People who have a strong work ethic are led by values—not fear. They are distinguished from others by their dedication, integrity, and self-discipline. Put your nose to the grindstone and focus heavily on your therapy. Let nothing get in your way of an honest day’s work.
Are you: Finding Excuses And Reasons?
The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire
#4 Was there a pity party goin’ on?
If you think it’s unfair that you have OCD then your ability to power up and find strength will be quite limited. The sooner you accept you have this neurological condition and do something about it—the sooner you will do something about it!
Asking, “why is this happening to me” is not going to get you anywhere but deeper into the hole. When you’re resisting compulsions, you have to talk tough. “Oh yeah, OCD? You think if I don’t do this compulsion something bad will happen? Well, time will tell. Whatever happens, I’ll deal with it. I’d rather take the risk than live like this.”
You’re in the fight of your life. Stop wishing you weren’t. It is what it is. If you think like a victim, you will feel like a victim and then act like a victim. Wipe “I wish” from your vocabulary. Stop saying “I can’t.” Yes, you can.
Watch out for: Failure ExpectedAnd Received
#5 Did you enter the combat zone unwillingly or hesitantly?
Did you enter your OCD recovery program with boots on the ground? If you knew your loved one in the military didn’t go into combat yelling “BOOYAH” and instead was pleading, “No please…” you’d question his or her readiness. Can you afford to have OCD question your readiness?
The moment your eyes open—your feet hit the floor, you are in COMBAT. YOU NEED TO HIT THE FLOOR RUNNING. Resist compulsions and stick to the plan. Feelings don’t matter in combat. Second guessing your mission won’t save your life.
To help you remember BOOTS on the GROUND put a pair of old unused boots near your bed. Look at them when you wake up and remember you’re entering a combat zone. Until you master the skill of resisting compulsions, you’re in the fight of your life.
Drills develop skills. You’ll get good at whatever you practice. You can’t build skills on the run. Stay and fight.
Don’t: Forget Everything [you’ve learned] And Run!
#6 You didn’t surrender during the combat.
Resisting compulsions is not the traditional combat zone. Your combat is different. For you to outwit and outplay OCD, you need to proudly fly a white flag that reveals you’re surrendering.
Whatever OCD says might happen if you resist a compulsion, nod your head and agree. “Yes, maybe that is so. Time will tell. Whatever happens, happens. I will deal with it. It will be horrible, but I will handle it.”
After all, this ain’t your first rodeo. You’ve been through plenty of real-life situations. And you probably dealt with them better than most.
You’re really good in an actual crisis. It’s the things in your imagination that creep you out. But when push comes to shove, you’re the one who holds your head above water while others are drowning.
YOU ‘RE SO FREAKIN’ STRONG! BOOYAH!
Do: Face Everything And Rise!
The Top 8 Reasons Why Resisting Compulsive Behavior Can Backfire
#7 Did you stay in the moment?
OCD is the most significant force you will ever be up against. It knows what you fear. It will work very hard to keep you from ever having to feel that fear. OCD is not your enemy. It’s trying to protect you from feeling afraid.
Just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean something is wrong. But, OCD doesn’t know this! Just because you’re startled or anxious—it doesn’t mean stop.
If it’s not happening, now…it’s not happening. Stay in the moment. Live one moment to the next. OCD has no clue what this means. Do you?
“In this moment, right here, right now I’m pretty okay.”
Did you: Forget Everything’s [Actually] All Right?
Contemplate this truth until you understand it clearly: OCD doesn’t get the meaning of anxiety or weird thoughts. It can’t differentiate reality from imagination. You can’t count on OCD to lead the way.
#8 Did you give up too soon?
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will When the road you’re trodding seems all uphill When care is pressing you down a bit Rest if you must, but don’t you quit Oh, no, don’t you quit Whoa, no
Success is failure turned inside out The silver tint on the clouds of doubt But you never can tell how close you are It may be near when it seems so far, ooh Gotta stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit And when things go wrong, oh, you must not quit Oh, no, don’t you quit
You got to stick to the fight When you’re hardest hit And when things go wrong No, oh, no, don’t you quit
Don’t give up the fight Don’t give up You better not give up the fight Don’t give up Oh, no, no ~Caron Wheeler “Don’t Quit”
No Matter What, Stick To It
It takes a lot of patience, intention, and mindfulness. Arm yourself with inspirational stories of people who persevered and carried on even in the face of difficulty or adversity.
Think of all the famous stories we know about people who had stick-to-it-ness. Your story is no different.
Even after failing to land a role and being called too ugly, most Academy Award nominations, Meryl Streep never gave up on acting.
Steven Spielberg was rejected by the USA film school three times.
After his first performance, Elvis Presley was told, “You ought to go back to driving a truck.”
Dr. Seuss was turned down by over 25 different publishers.
At age 30, Steve Jobs was fired from the company he founded.
Ludwig Van Beethoven’s music teacher said he was hopeless.
Oprah Winfrey was told she “wasn’t fit for television.”
The Day You Quit Is The Day You Were Going to Win!
Thomas Edison’s teacher told him he couldn’t learn anything.
Colonel Sanders became a world-known figure by marketing his “fingerlickin’ good” Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). His recipe was rejected over 1,000 times before it was given a chance.
Before winning six NBA championships and receiving five Most Valuable Player awards, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
The Beatles were rejected by a recording studio that said, “They have no future in show business.”
And Albert Einstein’s parents and teachers said he would never amount to much.
The secret ingredient all of the above people had is stick-to-it-ness. This ingredient is available to you too.
Contemplate this truth: A setback is a setup for a breakthrough.
Yes, Face Everything And Rejoice!
Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:
If you’re struggling with resisting compulsions, review the above 8 principles and see which ones need improvement. Don’t quit. Keep at it. Resisting compulsions is a marathon comprised of a series of sprints.
You are the blue sky. It may seem cloudy and the thunder may roll, but the blue sky always, always comes back.
This post concludes the series, “The Best Advice on How to Resist Compulsions.” Let me know which one(s) helped you the most. If I overlooked a topic that you have questions about please ltell me in the comment section! Other topics covered in this series:
Compulsions feed the troubled wolf…the OCD. So of course in order to beat OCD, compulsions must stop.
Inevitably the client says “I’ll try but that’s easier said than done.”
I respond, “It’s supposed to be hard! Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”
The relief from a compulsion is only temporary!
Yes, compulsions can provide relief. But, for how long? It’s similar to the relief an addict gets from drugs. It’s a vicious cycle. You just end up needing more. It might initially feel good but on the other hand, it makes you feel powerless and stuck in a hamster wheel.
The relief you get from a compulsion is temporary but the effect is long-lasting. What is the effect? Think about it. You started compulsions to:
get rid of doubt and now you’re more doubtful than ever
feel in control and now you feel out of control most of the time
avoid discomfort and now you’re more uncomfortable than before
improve the way you feel and now you feel worse
feel “just right” and now you always feel “just wrong”
What If Resisting Compulsions Makes Me Feel Worse?
As an OCD therapist, I can’t give reassurance. I have to shrug and say, “Maybe things will get worse.”
However, for educational purposes, I say this one time to every new client: “If you provoke your OCD with exposures and resist the urge to do a compulsion, your chances of getting strong and healthy is very high.”
Besides, ask yourself if compulsions are sustainable. Is this truly something you want to do for the rest of your life? Once you start it’s hard to stop.
You get good at what you practice. Are you sure you want to keep practicing compulsions? All compulsions help you do is avoid. Are you sure you want to get good at avoiding?
The Risks Outweigh the Benefits
In what way do you benefit from doing compulsions? If your answers are the ones below, hopefully, you know this is nothing more than trickery.
Are these the reasons you think you benefit from compulsions?
My compulsions are protective and keep bad things from happening. You’d be rich and famous if that were true.
This compulsion keeps me from feeling gross. No, actually it keeps you from feeling anxious. Gross is just another word for anxious.
The only way I can feel “just right” is by doing this compulsion. How many people stop and think, “I can’t leave my house until I feel just right?” To be concerned with feeling “just right” is exactly what drives you to feel “just wrong.” People who don’t think about feeling “just right” typically feel..just right!
Until the compulsion is completed I won’t be able to sleep. This just means you’ll have to do compulsions every night for the rest of your life in order to sleep. Is that really what you want?
You’ll discover the only benefit to a compulsion is temporary relief from anxiety. That’s it. There is no other benefit. And is that really a benefit–to avoid anxiety for brief moments of the day? Wouldn’t it make better sense to learn how to experience the anxiety?
Every Compulsion Feeds OCD
The only reason you’re performing compulsions is that you don’t <<yet>> know how to experience anxiety. Any other reason is just a story that your very creative brain has made-up.
A question I get asked often:
I’m prescribed drugs to help me feel better, so why can’t I use a compulsion to feel better?
I’m not a chemical warfare expert but there’s a huge difference between the purpose of taking a medication and performing a compulsive behavior. Prescribed medications like Prozac or Luvox help you to experience your anxiety. Compulsions help you avoid anxiety.
If you are having trouble being with your anxiety talk to the person prescribing your medication. Resisting compulsions might initially make you feel panicky, but if it continues and you’re not having much success saying no to OCD, a medication adjustment might help.
Another question often asked:
It seems like I get rid of one compulsion only to develop a new one. How can I make sure I don’t start a new compulsion?
The answer to this question is twofold. 1.) Evaluate the way you are talking to OCD when you’re resisting compulsions. 2.) Consider the possibility that you haven’t come to terms with your lack of control over what actually happens in life.
Evaluate the Way You Talk to OCD
If new compulsions are popping up, perhaps you haven’t really confronted your core fear. You’ve resisted a compulsion which is the “B” of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). You’ve changed a behavior. But without the “C” of CBT, you haven’t grabbed the bull by the horns.
When you’re resisting compulsions it’s important to talk tough to OCD. No rationalizing or answering any of OCD’s questions. OCD is trying to convince you that a compulsion will prevent something bad from happening. “If you do this compulsion there will be no harm” or “If you do this you won’t end up abandoned.”
Your response must sound like this, “Yup. You might be right OCD. That might happen. Time will tell.” Just nod your head in agreement and resist the compulsion. You might not feel in agreement with what you’re saying. You’re telling OCD you don’t care but you probably really do.
It’s okay. Keep talking tough. Answer none of OCD’s questions. Shrug at OCD and say, “whatever.” Sound like a broken record and just keep repeating your “I don’t care” act. Fake it ’til you become it. This is a mental Kung Fu game you must play with OCD.
Do You Practice Radical Acceptance?
The answer seems to always come back to whether or not you are willing to see what happens next. Be curious to see what happens in this very moment. The only other choice is to try and control what happens. We know where that gets you. It’s better to accept whatever happens happens.
If in this moment you are experiencing anxiety, be curious about it but not analytical. Curiosity is the opposite of fear.
Now is the time to challenge the dysfunctional belief that you have control over what happens in life. This is not true. Practice radical acceptance, “Whatever happens happens. It is what it is.”
If nobody else has to do these compulsive behaviors neither do you.
Stopping compulsions isn’t just about halting the repetitive behavior. Another compulsion will just pop up. OCD morphs into all kinds of things until you finally start to accept the anxiety. First of all, your obsession is just noise. What really needs your attention is your anxiety.
Most importantly, every time you are in the process of performing a compulsion acknowledge the repetitive behavior is just your way of avoiding anxiety. The only time the details of your thoughts and beliefs is of any interest is when you’re trying to figure out how to provoke your anxiety.
Provoke your thoughts. Don’t argue with them. Shrug and say, “time will tell” or “maybe, maybe not.” Step toward the threat and embrace the anxiety. Build an ERP hierarchy and move forward.
Notice the anxiety and be with it. You don’t have to like the anxiety. But be grateful for the opportunity to practice your skills
Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:
Finishing a compulsion might feel good. But, it’s temporary. The anxiety returns. In no time at all, another compulsion is needed. Practice radical acceptance. Whatever happens happens. Otherwise more compulsions are likely to pop-up like a whack-a-mole.
When Resisting Compulsions Backfires: Find Out Why
If you have questions about how to resist compulsions be sure to add them to the comment section of this post. I’ll be sure to address your questions and give you…The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions
Is it okay to use distraction in order to resist a compulsion? If you don’t know the answer to this question, keep reading. If you think you know the answer to this question…keep reading.
The argument for distracting is twofold.
1.) First, distraction can be used to delay the compulsion. When the urge to perform a compulsion or mental act arises you shift your attention away.
If you delay the compulsion long enough, it’s believed that you might forget all about the urge to do the compulsion. But, if you give in and perform the compulsion, at least you put it off and found a way to do it by distracting.
2.) The second purpose for using distraction is to avoid anxiety.
The evaluation of anxiety, in this example, is that it’s crippling and therefore should be avoided. Stay busy and try not to have any downtime. If while trying to push through a fear you become overwhelmed and panicky, use a distraction to get relief.
So…Is it OK to Use Distraction to Resist a Compulsion?
Authors of “Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts,” Martin Seif and Sally Winston state, “As with all anxiety disorders, avoidance of anxiety is both what maintains and strengthens it.” They advise therapists, “Overcoming the disorder means counterintuitively moving clients toward experiences that increase their distress.”
On the other hand, Fletcher Wortmann, an OCD-Thriver and author of Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder explains: “There is no shame in occasional escapism.”
At this point, it’s important to note there is plenty of research that proves distraction lessens the limbic system (the fight, flight, freeze) response probably more than any other form of emotional regulation.
That’s why many talk therapists encourage clients to distract from their anxiety by hyper-focusing on the minutia of the environment (using the five senses.) Another technique often taught is to hold an ice cube until the anxiety goes away.
Yet, studies show that focusing attention away from an unpleasant feeling/thought reduces the intensity of the suffering. Likewise, the innovative people at treatmyocd.com have created an app called nOCD, a free mobilized personal treatment app. One of its features is an “SOS” button to assist with distraction.
I downloaded the app and found it to be an excellent resource for people with OCD, especially for those self-directing their Exposure & Response Prevention(ERP) therapy. It’s hard enough to try ERP with a therapist but think about the people who have no access to an OCD therapist.
However, I was concerned about the “SOS” button. Afterall, OCD therapists are discouraged from teaching distraction.
Consider these possible disadvantages of intentional distraction:
You’re only learning how to avoid or delay the anxiety. New pathways won’t be created. Confidence levels will decrease.
Eventually, you’ll find yourself face to face with whatever drove you to distraction in the first place. At some point, you’ll run out of the ability to distract. What will you do when there’s no way to distract? You’re only good at what you practice.
Focusing away from the anxiety means less attention on the opportunity to grow and more attention on living just above the surface.
Distracting may slow down the healing process and for some people, they can’t afford to waste any more time. OCD has already taken too much.
So…Is it OK to Use Distraction to Resist a Compulsion?
I emailed the people behind the app, who by the way have all personally lived with OCD and know exactly what it feels like to live with it each and every day. Their opinion matters a lot to me.
I want to supportthe app but I explained I was concerned about the “SOS” feature which is used for distraction. This was the response they gave for me to include in this blog post:
I understand your approach and agree that distraction isn’t the answer, but it obviously depends on the person.
The SOS feature has really helped people in times of intense suffering and continues to help people get through severe OCD episodes.
I really like what you said about teaching the brain that anxiety at all levels is not only tolerable but wanted. In my personal experiences, really encouraging the anxiety and wanting to feel the intense anxiety can actually make the episodes less intense.
The app saves/tracks data. Makes it so easy to share evidence-based info with your therapist or others who want to learn more.
It’s also important to highlight that each of our team members has personalexperience with the current treatment system: it’s very difficult to find a qualified OCD specialist, it’s extremely expensive, insurance doesn’t usually help much for mental health issues, etc.
I think we’re all on the same page.
There are people who haven’t <<yet>> learned to just go ahead and experience the anxiety. Thankfully, nOCD can help people get through intense anxiety with it’s SOS feature. There’s nothing wrong with getting a reprieve from something you don’t know how to manage.
When you push the SOS button it asks if you’re struggling with an anxiety-producing thought or a strong urge to do a compulsion. The app helps you to face your fear or resist a compulsion. But, if the anxiety gets too overwhelming, hit the SOS button and the app will try to help distract you.
nOCD does far more than help with distraction by the way. The app not only teaches you how to use ERP but also takes you through each step. A video lesson is included and step-by-step guidance is given. nOCD collects and saves all your effort and provides a visual of your progress. This app is a great in-between session tool for people in therapy. For people who don’t have a therapist this app can take you through the same steps a therapist would.
So…Is it OK to Use a Distraction to Resist a Compulsion?
Avoiding anxiety isn’t a drill that develops a skill.
In order to beat OCD, you’ll need to develop the skill of allowing weird thoughts and uncomfortable feelings. You don’t beat OCD by distracting.
But, not all distraction is bad.
Life itself is a distraction. There are people to see, things to do and places to go. Living your life to the fullest may very well distract you from your thoughts and anxiety. Here’s a Mom who explains this concept very well:Proactive vs. Reactive Distractions
I’ve created a Puzzle Book that is in Beta testing. I designed it to be a mild exposure exercise so that people with the doubting disease can confront their dislike for uncertainty. Some of the people testing it for me have already commented that time flies when they work on the puzzles.
The puzzlers expected an exposure exercise with a bit of anxiety. Although this puzzle book is by far the least anxiety-provoking of the 10, I didn’t anticipate it would be such a pleasant distraction!
The point is there was no intention to be distracted. Sometimes an exposure exercise ends up being easier than thought. It makes it easier to go on to the next exposure. Always build momentum.
Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:
Deliberately hitting the “distraction” button when you feel overwhelmed needs to be seen as a stepping stone, not a crutch. If you intentionally distract to avoid and continue this strategy…well, read the disadvantages above again.
If you hit the “distraction” button, learn from it. Maybe you tried something too hard. Find an exposure exercise that challenges you–but doesn’t cause panic.
Be self-reflective about your motive for distracting. If you choose to distract, be mindful of what you’re doing.
If life distracts you…if there are moments you forget you even have OCD…that sounds wonderful to me.
Please feel free to add your thoughts about distraction in the comments. As always, I’ll keep your name anonymous.
Are you addicted to compulsions?
If you have questions about how to resist compulsions add them to the comment section on this post. I’ll be sure to address your questions and give you…The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions