“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.
To cope with bossy-pants OCD, you might have gotten the idea it’s necessary to perform compulsions to feel “just right” or prevent bad things from happening. Performing compulsions or mental acts might be what you’ve been doing for years. In your mind, it’s what you’re supposed to do or what you’ve got to do. At least, that’s what Bossy-Pants tells you.
Hallelujah, there are times you defy OCD! Somehow you pull it together, and you say, “NO!!! I’m not going to do that ridiculous compulsion.” In this precious moment, you have gained clarity and recognize that OCD is nothing more than a BFL (big fat liar). You resist the compulsion.
The anxiety rises. You ride it out. You use self-talk like, “Maybe it’s true OCD. Maybe it’s not. Time will tell.” Strangely your prediction doesn’t come true. It’s not the end of the world. Nothing bad happens. You tolerate the anxiety better than predicted. The discomfort dissipates. All by itself. No compulsion was needed.
To your surprise, you don’t feel particularly anxious. But, alas you don’t feel amazing either. You don’t even take the time to pump your fist in the air and say, “Take that bossy-pants OCD!!! KAPOW!”
When you win the battle and outlast OCD are you reminded of your strength and courage? Do you feel blessed to have what it takes to be tricky enough to outwit OCD?
Bossy-Pants OCD Hates Gratitude
Developing the skill to break free of OCD involves much more than Exposure & Response Prevention. Without self-appreciation and gratitude, you will only end up white-knuckling your way through most of it.
Whenever you resist a compulsion be sure to savor the victory. If you have OCD then celebrating victories might not occur to you. Patting yourself on the back doesn’t come naturally to you.
Not honoring your achievements is a problem that needs your attention!
Don’t wait for OCD or anybody else to say, “Good job.” You must take time out to be thankful for all that you are doing to break free from OCD. Each success that you experience is a reason to be thankful.
Your ability to #bossitback means that you are developing a hard-earned skill. Give thanks for the ability to say no to OCD. Even if it’s only once in a while or some of the time–give thanks. Don’t ever, EVER minimize your ability to defy OCD.
Stay in the winning mode and keep your skills sharp by giving thanks. The more time you spend recognizing your victories, the higher the likelihood of beating OCD the next time, and the next time, and the next time.
If someone wants to give you a high five don’t deny; fortify!!!
Accept compliments. Put your hand on your heart and say, “thank you that means a lot to me.” Welcome the support you get from loved ones who are honoring your quest to break free from OCD. Their emotional support and encouragement will help you face the next fear. Recognize the gift your family and friends give to you when they applaud your efforts. Don’t deny or pooh-pooh their praise.
Truly appreciate when others point out your victories. Don’t take for granted people’s acknowledgment of your successes. Give much thought to their praise. Let the sun shine inside your mind and heart. Be happy to hear their kind words.
When someone tells you how happy they are that you resisted a compulsion, allow yourself to feel inspired and you will endure again.
When you say, “thanks that means a lot to me” it readies your mind to repeat the success. Embrace the positive feeling of being appreciated. Accept recognition from others. They too are being positively impacted by your hard work.
Even when others forget to recognize all your hard work know that the impact of resisting a compulsion is still just as significant. Other people don’t live in your mind. They don’t know what you’re up against. So if they fail to acknowledge your victories, don’t use it as an excuse to downplay your achievements. Minimizing your success will only cripple you.
It’s quite simple. There are negative consequences if you don’t celebrate your victories.
It is an astounding blessing to be able to accept challenges and bulldoze your way through OCD. Whenever you feel your hope and determination waning, take a moment to recount all of your successes. Don’t drift away from recognizing even the tiniest step forward. If you make light of your victories, you’re leaving the door wide open for OCD to close you out of future triumphs.
Be grateful for each time you overcome OCD’s senseless demands. Be proud and give thanks when you resist a compulsion. Let the gratitude wash over you. Savor the moment of your victory. Basking in your achievements will rewire your brain!
Be thankful for each opportunity to learn and grow. Find the silver lining.
When you #bossitback how do you celebrate your victory? Eating a special treat? Listening to your favorite song?
How do you savor the moment of a triumph and anchor it in your mind? Do you do a happy dance? Clap your hands? High five somebody?
How often do you express gratitude for all your hard work? Not often? How’s that working out for you?
Do you say ‘thanks’ to others when they compliment you?
Can you feel the gratitude of others even if they don’t thank you? If they don’t acknowledge your hard work does that mean they don’t notice it? Maybe in the past, you’ve shown discomfort when they spoke about your accomplishments.
Are you treated differently by others when you pooh-pooh their praise? Do they become less verbal about your triumphs?
What moves you forward: Putting yourself down or picking yourself 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!
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:
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
There’s More to Being Compulsion-Free Than Just Stopping
Have you ever been in the middle of a compulsion and someone said: “Just knock it off!” And you replied, “If it was that easy don’t you think I would just stop?” The best advice on how to resist compulsions doesn’t include to, “just knock it off.”
Very, very few people with OCD can go cold turkey and “just knock it off.” So many times people have said to me, “I’m just going to stop all of it. Right now. No more compulsions.” They mean it with all their heart. And then they walk to their car performing compulsions.
Going Cold Turkey Has Little to Do With Staying Compulsion-Free
If you want to know what it feels like to just knock it off and go cold turkey, it’s like dumping all kinds of poison in a sess pool and sitting in it. Taking your hands and putting the slop all over your face and body. Breathing it in and doing nothing to save yourself.
If you sat there long enough, believe it or not, you’d become desensitized. But, just like any kind of sobriety, the urge will return. You’ll still want to perform a compulsion.
There’s more to being compulsion-free than just stopping.
The Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions
Put an end to your compulsions by applying these seven principles:
It’s “whatever” therapy! Talk to your OCD in a nonargumentative manner. “Yup, maybe that will happen. Time will tell.” Don’t reassure OCD. Instead, shrug and say “This could be unpleasant. I’ll just have to find out.” It’s all about the “whatever.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ If you can trick your brain into thinking you’re smiling with a pen sideways in your mouth, you can trick your brain into thinking “whatever” with a shrug!
Build a hierarchy. Resist the easiest compulsion first and keep resisting until it no longer bothers you to resist. Then, like climbing a ladder, resist the next hardest compulsion and the next hardest and so forth.
Set your intentions to provoke OCD. Confront a trigger you’ve been avoiding. While confronting the trigger refuse to do a compulsion. Talk to OCD as described in #1. Once this trigger no longer bothers you, move onto the next more difficult trigger.
Apply These Principles to End Compulsions
Easiest first, then hard. If you give in and perform a compulsion, go back and confront the same trigger again and again until there is no compulsive behavior. If you’re stuck, maybe there’s an easier trigger that you skipped or need to go back to.
Don’t stop ’til you reach the top. Build momentum. Keep moving up the ladder of challenges. When it gets easier, ask yourself, “How can I make this harder?” Remember, climb the ladder while always refusing to do a compulsion.
Shift into challenge mode. Wishing you did not have OCD or have certain thoughts is of no use to you. Wishing causes more suffering. It’s important to see your anxiety and thoughts as a challenge–an opportunity to practice your skills. This is no time to play the role of a victim. You don’t have to like anxiety but you do have to want it.
Accept responsibility. If you give into a compulsive behavior, admit what you are doing. No excuses. Own it. Name it. Keep away from the “story” of why your OCD tells you to do the compulsion. “I’m choosing to feed my OCD right now. I know this will make OCD stronger. I’m avoiding discomfort and that’s the only reason why I’m choosing to do this compulsion.” Get this message to your brain every single time you do a compulsion!
Applying these principles will keep you compulsion-free. It’s a slow and difficult place to start, but once you pick up some momentum it gets easier and therefore, goes faster. Rather than shocking your brain, you are rewiring it. This takes time!
It takes time because you are training your brain how to experience anxiety.
I don’t tell my clients to “knock it off!” And, I hope those who love someone with OCD don’t say it either! There’s more to beating OCD than just “knocking it off.”
Resist Compulsions by Making Little Changes Over Time
People with OCD benefit from the very effective systematic method of resisting compulsions. Set reachable goals and make little changes over a period of time. With each success, you will grow more confident and more tolerant of anxiety.
It may take time and patience, (click for video) but it’s how you win the battle. At the suggestion of resisting compulsions, do you take a big gulp and say, “I’m getting anxious just thinking about it.” My response to more anxiety? “Great! You need the practice!”
It’s time to learn how to experience anxiety without a compulsion.
You can get started today! The first step, of course, is to identify each compulsion. You’ve got to know what you’re resisting, in order to resist!
Today’s Best Advice On How to Resist Compulsions:
For a long-term effect, commit to a systematic plan to stop compulsions. Include all of the above seven principles in your plan. Going cold turkey has little to do with staying compulsion-free.
Check back for the next post which will explain the difference between an observable compulsion and a mental compulsion. It’s important to know the difference because mental compulsions can be very sneaky!
The next several posts on resisting compulsions will include:
What Is a Compulsion?
The True Purpose of a Compulsion
If a Compulsion Makes Me Feel Better, Why Would I Stop?
I Already Tried Resisting and It Didn’t Help
Can You Promise If I Resist It Will Help?
I’ve Got Way Too Much Anxiety to Resist Compulsions
It’s Too Risky to Stop My Compulsions, Someone Else Could Be Hurt
Is it Okay If I Use Distraction to Resist Compulsions?
Resisting Compulsions Just Doesn’t Feel Right
My Compulsions Are Out of Habit Not Fear
If I Stop One Compulsion Another One Will Just Pop Up
How Do I Find the Strength and Willpower to Resist Compulsions When I Don’t Have the Energy?
If you have questions about how to resist compulsions be sure to add them to the comment section on this post. In addition to the topics mentioned above, I’ll be sure to address your questions and give you…
Has OCD Made You Forget Who You Are?The thing about OCD is that it comes and goes. It rolls in from the sea and eventually goes back out. When the storm arrives though, it’s brutal. You forget who you are. And it feels permanent.
It’s such a desperate feeling and can easily make you forget about everything else that matters. You become disconnected from the core of who you are. Your sense of self is ruptured. The only thing you feel attached to is your worst fear.
In an OCD storm, you can’t stop thinking about something very troubling. The thought can’t be controlled, and yet, with all your might you try with compulsions or by avoiding. This only turns the storm into several hurricanes.
You lose sight of the “big picture.” You’ve lost your compass and can’t see your way out. There’s more to this storm than what meets the eye. But the eye of the storm has swallowed you up.
Without the “big picture” view, you forget that it gets better. Your mind can’t seem to hold on to anything other than fear. Everything else in your mind is space junk. It feels like you’ve regressed to the mind of a child.
Your inner voice becomes catastrophic and self-critical. You know the compulsions are useless, but you can’t seem to resist. You know that avoiding isn’t going to change anything, but you do it anyway.
You’re so frustrated with yourself. The choices you keep making over and over don’t reflect your wisdom and life experience. It feels like your brain’s been hijacked by a younger version of you.
You hold your head in your hand…exhausted. Overwhelmed. And you whisper, “I just don’t know who I am anymore.”
You feel disconnected. Hyper-alert. Terrified. Ready to run. Ready to freeze. Angry with no will to fight. Hopeless. Helpless. Shameful. Compulsive.
You Can find Yourself By Letting Go of Old Ways of Coping
All of these feelings and behaviors helped you survive something in the past. We must honor the fact that they served you well once upon a time. A time when you were younger and less experienced.
For example, when you were a child being afraid and freezing-up probably kept someone you know or even someone on TV out of harm’s way. This might not even be a memory you can recall. But, now you’re more experienced and know to assert yourself and take action.
Maybe you experienced a traumatic event in your younger years and felt guilty about it. It was a useful feeling then because it kept you out of a deep depression. But, now you’re older and wiser and guilt is no longer age-appropriate. But, because you used it so much when you were younger, you’re still using it now.
We honor these feelings that helped your younger self-survive difficult times. But they’re holding you back now. These emotions aren’t congruent with who you are today. You’re an adult with life experience. Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn. Everything you face opens up a possibility for you to find your higher self.
You Can Find Yourself By Letting the Older Part of You Take Charge
Since then you’ve grown older and wiser. You’ve gained a lot of life experience. It’s no longer age-appropriate to handle anxiety the way you did as a child. In your heart of hearts, you know this and that’s why you don’t feel like yourself.
Can you bring the older, wiser part of you forward to deal with the anxiety and weird thoughts?
We can’t let a child drive the boat through this storm. There’s an older, more experienced version of you who knows a lot more about riding the waves and maneuvering all the twists and turns. Let’s get the right “wo/man” behind the wheel. After all, which part of you is better equipped for the job?
Can you bring that older part of you forward–that part that has dealt with real-life problems before? You know, the part of you that holds it together while everyone else is drowning. (I know you have a memory like this because people with OCD actually handle real-life problems better than most people. It’s the problems of the imagination that are utterly challenging.)
You Can Find Yourself By Setting Limits With Your Younger Self
Remember a time or situation when you were in charge, taking care of business like a pro. What did that feel like? What are the positive thoughts that go with that part of you? What does that feel like in your body? How are you standing? Where are your arms? Is your head up during these times you are most proud?
How can this part of you take the wheel away from the child? What would you say to the child? “I know that you’re afraid, but you can’t drive this boat. You’re still in diapers and have no life skills.”
How would you set limits? “I know you want what you want when you want it, but you get what you get and you don’t get upset. Get out of the driver’s seat.”
What happens to the child when you take the wheel? Naturally, the child stays on the boat. No part of you can be disowned or thrown overboard. Remember, this is a child who doesn’t even know how to doggie paddle yet.
Kindly, but firmly take the child under your wing. “I know how to move us forward. Sit back there. Watch and learn. And if you get too noisy, I’m going to tickle you until you pee in your diaper.” No, wait. That’s firm, but not very kind. 😉
How about, “I know you’re afraid so you’ll probably get noisy. I’ll hear you, but I can’t reassure you. I’ll be busy. I know you’ll get upset that I won’t let you steer the boat. You’ve had your way for awhile so I completely understand that you won’t like this and will probably have a temper tantrum.”
Two Ways to Visualize Your Older Self Taking Charge.
Look at your hands. In one of your hands is the terrified, inexperienced child. Imagine how this child feels. Small, terrified, vulnerable, lost. In your other hand is your older, wiser stronger self. Feel how much bigger and stronger this hand is? Bring the older wiser hand over the younger hand. Hold that child. Let the child feel surrounded by your strength and wisdom. Tell the child you’ve got this. “I’ve got this. I’m driving now.”
Name all the other parts to you besides OCD. Using props (such as ducks), put these parts in the order you want them to be. Who’s in charge most of the time to least of the time? Here in this picture, we see there is a loving part taking the lead. Then we see a wise part and an all-around good guy, who likes to help others, sharing the leadership role. Not far behind is a curious part who likes to learn and grow. In the back is OCD. Lots of people would keep OCD away from the rest of the Team. But, he’s too young to be on his own. That’ll only scare him more if you try to get rid of him. The Team keeps him close by and kindly but firmly says, “I know you’re afraid, but, I’ve got this.”
Keep Your Eye on the Big Picture, Not the Storm
The “big picture” older version of you says life is bigger than this storm. Big picture thinking allows you to be hazy and uncertain around the edges. It’s a growth mindset. “I’m willing to find out what this storm makes possible for me.”
Whatever is causing the storm, whatever the storm is about–doesn’t matter. If you were truly at sea and you suddenly found yourself in the middle of a storm, would you be trying to figure out what it means? What caused it? Why it’s happening? Did you do something wrong? Did you overlook something?
No! You’d be focused on doing your best to weather the storm–how to withstand it. You’d be focused on outlasting the storm. And, the child would not be allowed to steer the boat. Do you want a scared child steering in a storm or an experienced, wise “sailor” who has ridden huge waves before?
An OCD storm comes down to one thing: The storm will be an experience you can draw from in the future.
No matter how bad it feels, an OCD storm comes down to one thing. It’s about the opportunity and challenge of weathering the anxiety and resisting the young child’s urge to avoid or do a compulsion.
An OCD storm is a strangely wrapped gift. It doesn’t look or feel like a gift but give permission to learn from the storm and you’ll soon discover something amazing about yourself. The next storm will be easier because you’ve gained experience from the last one.
If you liked this post, you might also like a cheat sheet for quick reference. It’s only one page–quick read! Click on the image below to get your printable cheat sheet:
OCD infiltrates. It worms its way into the brain and hijacks it. You begin to forget who you are. This makes OCD sound like a monster.
There is not a shred of evidence that OCD is a monster out to get you. It feels that way, but there really isn’t some kind of wicked creature persecuting you. When you say, “I hate OCD.” You’re hating on yourself.
There is no scientific study that shows there is an organism eating your brain.
There is however, plenty of evidence that cells are still growing and neuroplasticity can happen… with skills & drills.
Translation: You can teach an OCD brain new tricks.
There is also a lot of evidence that self-loathing is detrimental and never brings about positive change. When you hate OCD you only hate yourself.
It feels like OCD is out to get you because the brain is misfiring messages and the central nervous system is responding with body parts. It’s a physiological experience complicated by thoughts.
The key to managing OCD is to stop thinking of OCD as a monster. Think of OCD with empathy. Compassion. And, you’re on your way to freedom.
A young boy was anxious just before his first concert. He was worried he might fall on the stage. What could be said to him that would help the most? What should he do? I took a poll to see what people thought.
Last night I made a healthy soup for dinner. It was made of avocado, swiss chard, spinach, kale, cilantro, sweet potato and onions with vegetable broth. It was very tasty and when I make it again, I’ll probably add white organic beans.
I was so sleepy after I ate it that I went to bed early. Very unlike me! I didn’t even make it through the weekly Voice results! I thought I was just tired from Tai Chi.
Today, I read the recipe (I don’t usually read recipes–I just throw stuff together) and discovered the soup is intended to be a sleep aid! It’s very high in chlorophyll. The recipe actually says this: “The fat in the soup aids the absorption of the minerals from the greens and aids in sleep.”
Wow! Good thing I didn’t eat that at lunch!!! If any of you have trouble falling asleep, or need to calm your nervous system, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll send you the recipe. It seemed very soothing, but who knows, maybe it was a combination of factors.
While I was waiting for new brakes (ugh) to be put on my car today, I thought about the soup’s effect on me, and found the above quote by Dr. Perlmutter.
I always ask my clients if they eat a lot of carbs and 7 out of 10 people confess, “I crave carbs and sugar and eat a lot of both.” Yup! Jackpot!
Sugar Doesn’t Make You Healthy
It’s no coincidence my clients have a lot of anxiety. These foods are addicting and hype up the nervous system. They cause inflammation, overstimulate neurons in the brain and destabilize blood sugar, all of which creates mood changes.
One key to managing anxiety is to eat foods that provide grounding energy and relax the nervous system. What does it mean to feel grounded? Have you hugged a tree lately? Isn’t it amazing!!! Certain foods can help you feel that way too!
No matter how healthy you eat, you’ll still be anxious. But, why not give yourself a fighting chance? Why eat something that increases the anxiety? Well, if you need to learn to accept anxiety, then let me tell you, eat a lot of carbs and sugar and practice gladly accepting how you feel. Eating carbs and sugar certainly create a great exposure exercise.
But, if you want to put your mental health first and make your two brains the best lean, mean, fighting machines they can be, then put these brain healthy ingredients into your diet! (Two brains? Yes! Don’t forget about your stomach! More on that later…)
Brain Health from the Kitchen
Matcha Green Tea is really great for focus because it’s high in theanine, which produces alpha brain waves and also offsets the caffeine in the tea. Focus is important because you’ve got to be able to focus on your values. Otherwise OCD will take you on a purpose-less driven life.
B vitamins are important for the production of serotonin. Get tested to see what your levels are and be sure to read this article about what to do.
Coconut water is an excellent source of B Vitamins. Mackerel too, but certain kinds must be avoided due to the high levels of mercury. Red meat is a good source of B12 as well as eggs, milk and cheese. But, many people don’t eat meat and dairy is known to cause inflammation.
You might have to acquire a taste for this but Miso provides healthy bacteria which boosts GABA, a much needed neurotransmitter that especially hangs out in the gut. Besides the first paragraph of this article, which claims unwanted intrusive thoughts can be ended by GABA, (not true!) this is a post that explains GABA.
The Guts of Anxiety
The gut has its own independent nervous system and it’s obvious that the gut plays a critical role in anxiety and other mood states. After all, 95% of of the body’s serotonin is manufactured in the 2nd brain–the gut!
So taking probiotics and eating fermented foods (healthy bacteria) is a must for brain health promotion! One of my favorites is Kimchiand of course adding Bragg’s Apple Cider vinegar to your water.
Having OCD is exhausting. You’ve got to be on top of your game all the time. It’s taxing to work so hard and you burn through your fuel before day’s end. So replenishing is critical and this can be done with food and exercise. For ideas about this go back to my blog, HERE.
I’ve only touched the surface about promoting brain health in the kitchen. I encourage you to do your own research and share anything you find helpful in the comments. And as always, look at benefits and side effects.
Basically eat foods that are grounding and stay away from foods that are stimulating. (Sugar and spice aren’t grounding!)
I had hoped to finish this post last night but I had more of that soup for dinner and once again I fell asleep early. So I don’t think it was Tai Chi. Definitely the soup. I don’t think I’m going to make that again! I ain’t got no time for sleep!!!
The harder I tried to stop thinking about it…………..the faster I thought about it.
The harder I tried not to feel it….the stronger I felt it.
If you’ve been properly treated for OCD then you know the answer will never be to stop. You can’t stop thoughts. You can’t stop anxiety. And you shouldn’t try! What then should you be doing?
Want the thoughts. Want the anxiety. The only way out is in, not out.
If someone is telling you to just “knock it off” send them this blog. If you’re telling yourself to knock if off…keep reading!
Let’s assume your OCD is a little you. A three or four year-old version of you. If this is true, and I think it is…telling such a young worrying child to “KNOCK it OFF” is not really teaching any kind of life lesson.
A young boy is about to take the stage for the first time in his life and sing with the chorus. His brain is asking, “What’s wrong? How come my legs feel funny?” The brain MUST search for and provide an explanation. “Why are my legs wobbly???” The brain must explain. It’s human nature. If there’s an explanation there’s got to be a solution.
Searching for an explanation can occur below the threshold of consciousness. You don’t even know you’re doing it. The attempt to explain physiological sensations can be too subtle for the conscious mind.
Only one or two seconds have passed. Ah-Ha!!! The brain has found a reason for the wobbly legs!!!! “Mommy, what if I fall in front of everyone? I feel like I’m going to fall!”
What do you think most Mommies say? I hope you take the poll before reading any further! We’ll have lots of fun if you do!
The problem isn’t the wobbly legs. Agreed? The wobbly legs are a symptom of the problem. If we only talk about the wobbly legs, then we address the symptom but not the cause.
“You’re not going to fall. Your legs are very strong.” In this response the focus is on the legs. But, what’s causing the wobbly legs?
“Here, drink some water and think about the pizza we’re eating after this.” The focus is on trying to stop worrying about the wobbly legs. Distract. Reassure. “You’ll be just fine.” Don’t think about the pink elephant. Don’t feel the couch against your back.
“The chances of you falling are very low. It’s possible but not probable. So far no one else on that stage has fallen. So you’re not likely to fall either. And I bet they’ve got wobbly legs too.”
Again, the focus is on the wobbly legs not being likely to cause a fall. Why won’t this work? Because that little brain of his quickly calculated that he could be the one and only kid that falls.
In this precious moment, this boy has an opportunity to learn a life lesson. This is the kind of lesson that will carry him through many rough times in his life.
The answer to his question, “Mommy, what if I fall” has the power to rewrite the script playing in his mind.
The way you answer your question also has the power to rewrite your inner thinking patterns. Even though your thought patterns are automatic due to practice and repetition you can retrain your brain.
Let’s talk about the little boy’s wobbly legs for a minute. We all agree that the problem isn’t his wobbly legs. Right? It’s his anxiety.
Anxiety is felt physically. In nerve endings. In muscles-tense or weak. Aches. Pains. Twitches. In breath-fast or slow. In the skin-clammy or itchy. The racing heart. Upset stomach. Tremors. Saliva.
There’s nerve endings everywhere so anxiety can be felt anywhere!
The brain doesn’t like unexplained things. It will notice the physical sensation, create a story to explain the physical sensation, and it will build control mechanisms into the story.
When the brain explains the physical sensation, it won’t automatically consider that it’s just ANXIETY!!! And it certainly won’t conclude that the anxiety is okay. (That part has to be learned.)
Instead the brain will focus on finding a way to stop the discomfort. It will focus on the story, not the anxiety.
How can it be stopped. Hmmmmm, lets think of a story that has control mechanisms. How might this look for the little boy afraid to take the stage?
“If I skip three times and jump up once, I won’t fall.” Does that sound like OCD? The focus is on controlling the situation. The brain created a story that explains the physical sensation and now he has something he can do about it.
He probably won’t fall. So what will the brain conclude? “You didn’t fall because of that skip and jump thing you did. Good job buddy! See! Anytime your legs are wobbly, skip and jump and you won’t fall.” Liar, liar pants on fire!!!
The compulsion has been reinforced in the inner thinking-below the threshold of consciousness. And now the subconscious will run the show. This will easily grow into a habit and soon he won’t even remember why he does what he does.
This little boy has anxiety. Your OCD is young, like him. A three or four year-old part of your mind. It’s only a part of your mind. There are so many other beautiful parts to your mind. But, this part has the potential to run the entire show.
What is the life lesson this little boy has an opportunity to learn? What will make his brain a lean, mean fighting machine? Choose as many answers as you think will be most helpful:
The actionable steps for YOU to take are:
Stay focused on the anxiety-not the story that is trying to control the anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t need to be fixed. Notice it, name it and move on. Steer away from the story and go towards the anxiety.
Want the anxiety. Want the thoughts generating the anxiety. “Good, there you are. I need the practice.”
Seek the anxiety. “Let’s see if I can make myself anxious right now and learn to experience it as something making me stronger.”
The anxiety comes from a very young part of you that truly doesn’t know very much about life at all. But, you have all these other beautiful parts of your brain that are very rationale and fun-loving.
Let those parts talk to the little you, who really shouldn’t be leading the way.
“I know you’re afraid and uncomfortable, but I know how to move forward. You can trust me.”
One other actionable step you can take:
To work on rewriting your inner thinking patterns, let’s rewire the messages that are exposed to the mind, but are too subtle for the conscious mind to know about.