Tag Archives: Acceptance & Commitment Therapy

Every Day With OCD is April Fool’s Day

On April Fool’s Day, you will be pranked by only those who:

  1. catch you off guard
  2. sound convincing even if the prank is outlandish
  3. are privy to what riles you
Caught Off Guard

This morning I was barely awake and had no idea it was April Fool’s Day. I was caught by surprise when I was told “we need an exterminator. There were bugs coming out of the drain. It was so bad. We’re infested.” It was early in the morning and I fell for it and freaked out. 

Sounded Convincing

Yup, I believed it because we’ve had sugar ants crawling on the counter every morning. And even though it’s been getting better I fell for it. Bugs coming out of the drain? Sure. Why not. It happens. My family was hysterical about it so I thought, “It must be real.” I freaked out.

Privy to What Concerns You

My family knows I have a bug phobia so they know how to get my attention. If they had put poop or vomit in the middle of the living room I would have laughed. But bugs? Being free of infestation is precious and sacred to me, so my family knew exactly how to fool me. 

OCD is a prankster. Not just any prankster but a superior one. As an OCD therapist, I hear about OCD’s pranks day in and day out. 

Imagine for a moment all the pranks an OCD therapist hears about in one week: The next day other clients share a different set of OCD pranks: On another day of the week, the therapist hears about other OCD pranks: Still, in the same week more OCD hoaxes are shared by clients:

While these concerns represent what an OCD therapist is told in one week, there are even more ways OCD pranks people.

But honestly, while all the pranks sound different, at the end of the day, at the end of the week, they’re all the same. You can have five different flavors of ice cream, but they’re all made with the same basic ingredients. With eyes closed, you probably wouldn’t even be able to identify the flavor.

One obsession is no different than another. You’re feeding your OCD if you think otherwise. 

The details of the obsession complete a fantastic story. There is no better storyteller than OCD. The way to hijack your mind is not by facts. The way OCD captures your attention is by twisting the facts or telling outright lies.

How interested would you be if you were listening to a story over and over again about the number of times a car’s turning signal was used? “I went down route 9 and put my turning signal on. Then I drove for about 300 feet and put on my right turning signal. In about 300 feet I used my turning signal again.” Blah, blah, blah. You’d tune out in one minute if this factual story was told to you. 

However, you would maintain an interest in the story if it became more fantastical. Such as, “When I made a left turn, I realized my turning signal might not be working. Up ahead a truck seems to be blaring its horn at me. Something is clearly going to happen and it’s not going to be pretty.” Not one word of this story is factual and yet, you are captivated. You’ve been baited with lies.

OCD has a way of enticing you into paying attention. It avoids facts as much as possible. It prickles your nerve endings with lies, and like watching a horror film, you forget where you are and what is real. If OCD used facts to tell its stories, you’d be bored in no time and lose interest. So OCD knows it’s essential to make the story as real as possible.

OCD uses five essential elements to tell a tantalizing story:

Element One: Characters

OCD instills people in your story who are precious to you. According to OCD, you must protect these people. Sometimes OCD  claims you are a victim in the story and need protection. Other times you’re made out to be the villain. OCD pranks you into thinking you or others are at risk. OCD builds the story by creating villains and victims. Characters either seem vulnerable or possess supernatural powers. 

Element Two: Setting

Where is the “action” taking place? This is the place where the plot thickens. It could be in your home, at work, school or at the playground. It could be everywhere or it could be what takes place in your mind. Sometimes OCD contains the story to certain settings, but other times OCD is portable and goes wherever you go.

Element Three: The Plot

What is the plot? Where does the story begin? What is the trigger? Once triggered, what does OCD tell you happens next? And, how does this story end according to OCD? Will you be cast away, abandoned, imprisoned, annihilated, or left uncomfortable for the rest of your life? Or, is there no ending and that’s the problem. We don’t know how this story ends? Clarity cannot be found. Certainty isn’t obtainable?

Element Four: The Conflict

In any story, characters are either trying to solve the conflict or create a conflict. We usually witness conflict resolution at the end of a movie or a good book. When the movie ends without resolution we shake our heads in frustration.  We are socialized to believe every conflict can be resolved. Early in our childhood, we are taught conflict resolution by parents and educators. We’ve been trained to solve the conflict.

In OCD’s story, the conflict is the obsession. The resolution is the attempt to get resolution when there is none. 

Element Five: Resolution

The resolution solves the conflict. Every movie we watch or book we read resolution is expected. If there is no resolution we get frustrated. In OCD’s story, there is never a resolution but you’ve been tricked into thinking there is a way to get it.

By believing there is a resolution you are tricked into a life of compulsions or avoidance. In OCD’s stories, the resolution is nothing more than a hoax. Don’t fall for it. Your OCD story needs no resolution.

OCD is the greatest storyteller in the world. It uses five elements to create a realistic story that in reality is nothing more than a prank.

Every day with OCD is April Fool’s Day. How to cope?

  • Stop being surprised that OCD is going to try to prank you. Keep up your guard. Expect OCD to tell you stories. OCD never got the memo that April Fool’s Day occurs only on the first day of April. OCD is committed to prank you every day.
  • If you expect to be pranked you are less likely to be fooled.
  • Accept the fact that you have the greatest storyteller ever known to mankind, inside your brain. Its stories can bring highly intelligent people to their knees. It knows what is precious and sacred to you, and uses this information to captivate you and tug at your heartstrings.
  • OCD is masterful at using vulnerable characters, the perfect setting, a horrifying plot, and a neverending conflict to lead you to a life of compulsions.

OCD treatment

Don’t bother focusing on the OCD story. It’s a hoax. You know what isn’t a hoax? Your anxiety. That’s real. Besides treating every day like April Fool’s Day you also need to accept that you have anxiety. You just do. No story needed to explain it.

Commit to living your life with anxiety. Focus on your values. Live a priority-driven life. You can do anything with anxiety. You can do very little avoiding triggers or by engaging in compulsions.

I’m Falling in the big unknown

“I’m just trying to hold on. I’m falling in the dark below. I feel I’m falling in the big unknown.

I will rise. I will rise. I will rise again.”          

 ~Songwriters Ben Travers/ Helen Adu

I heard this song sung by Sade and immediately thought of OCD. I know it’s how it feels to have OCD. When you think you’ve figured out how to beat OCD, you find yourself falling back into the big unknown. It feels permanent. Every single time the threat feels like the real deal. But lo and behold, you rise again. Life feels like a Yo-Yo: downward—upward—downward—upward.

By changing just a few words of this lyric the remedy to living well with OCD is revealed:

“I’m just trying to let go. I’m jumping into the dark below. I feel I’m welcoming the big unknown.”

Living well with OCD means letting go and surrendering to not knowing. So rather than falling into the unknown, it’s better to jump right in. Any of these words will do: Leap, bound, hop, skip, jump, seize, grab on to…

Having a bug phobia, when I see a suitcase in the closet I immediately fear there are bugs in the suitcase from a recent trip. In the past, I would have thrown it into the garbage. But I’ve progressed and even though I’m anxious, and have thoughts of infestation, I grab the suitcase, embrace it, and say “come and get me. Whatever happens, happens.” I jump into the unknown.

A bee trap is successful because the bees fly into the plastic bottle for the honey, but then won’t fly back out because there is black tape wrapped around the outside of the bottle near the exit. Bees don’t like the dark. If only they’d agree to be uncomfortable and fly through the darkness they’d be free. But they won’t do it.

What do you wish you knew for sure? What is it that you’re trying to get to the bottom of? It’s at the center of your obsession. You won’t stop until you gain certainty. But certainty is unachievable. It’s like flying into a bee trap to find answers. You’ll do anything to get rid of the doubt. But now that you’ve been tricked and you’re in the trap how will you get out? You’re going to have to go into the big unknown. Will you do it? Or will you stay in the trap trying, and trying, and trying to answer the unanswerable?

The fact that you have OCD means there is going to be something you will never know for sure. You can gain clarity, but at some point, a question will surface that has the potential to pull you into the trap. 

How to Stay Out of the Trap?

I don’t know for sure. 

That statement might not be what you wanted to hear but it is the truth. There are many books about OCD and specialists who can tell you what to do to live well with OCD.

But all of those ideas can end up being a trap. 

When you apply a therapy principle and get relief, you’re going to expect that principle to save you every time. And when it doesn’t, it causes you to spin. You begin to compare and contrast, “What did I do then that I’m not doing now?” You analyze why the thoughts are back. You are utterly surprised the thought patterns are there. And suddenly you’re in the trap.

When you get a thought that disturbs you say, “good, there’s my thought. I want this.” Better yet, spend a lot of time trying to get disturbed on purpose. Create as much doubt as you can and tolerate it. Look for things, places, or people that trigger your thoughts and make you uncomfortable. 

Be willing to be uncomfortable and JUMP into the unknown! Jump! JUMP! JUMP!

But Ask Yourself This Question:

WHY ARE YOU JUMPING?

Why are you agreeing to jump into the unknown?

The reason you are jumping into the unknown cannot be, “So that I get relief.” This lacks commitment and your efforts will be half-hearted and superficial. The reason you are jumping must be, “because I’d rather live in doubt than try to figure stuff out.”

Do not try to control how you feel or think. You can’t heal what you won’t feel. Say, “I notice I’m feeling anxious. Good. I need the practice.” 

There are no guarantees that you’re doing the right thing by surrendering to the unknown. There is no such thing as knowing anything for certain. No decision guarantees a specific outcome. No action guarantees a particular result.

You have to be willing to find out what happens and deal with whatever happens. “I’d rather live with uncertainty than waste time trying to answer the unanswerable.”

Who do you want to be and how do you want to spend your time?

If you’re not answering this question when you wake up and throughout the day, you’re drifting aimlessly with no sense of purpose or self. You must commit to spending your time being the person you want to be, no matter what you are thinking or how you are feeling. Don’t drift. Jump. And don’t plug your nose when you do it!

A Special Gift For You

I use a lot of catch phrases with my clients so they can stay focused on the mission. If you would like access to some of these phrases, just click BELOW and you’ll be able to print out these free posters.

If you like these posters then you might also like my book, Gratitude, the Great OCD Sanitizer.

inspirational posters

How to Deal With OCD in 5 Seconds or Less

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

Beating OCD

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!Beating OCD
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:

  1. RECOGNIZE you were triggered by sensory input.
  2. 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:

  1. You’ll notice the OCD tale,
  2. Attribute your anxiety to sensory input (not your thoughts or the OCD tale.)
  3. 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”
  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. Try to see what’s in your peripheral vision without moving your eyes from side to side. Or;
  4. 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;
  5. 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.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy