OCD Tools at a Glance
There is help and healing from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In the middle of the battle it doesn't seem like this is possible, but rest assured, a path through it is near! See my article titled OCD at a Glance for a further understanding of this disorder.
This article is not intended to replace therapy from a mental health professional. For profession help in your area search Psychology Today. For an online only platform visit these specialists at No-OCD. Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz's book Brain Lock also provides help, and he gives great insight to the biological/neurological roots of OCD.
OCD & THE ANXIETY LOOP
OCD is a form of anxiety. Our fear response is normal and healthy, but when it runs awry it is counterproductive to our well-being. The OCD brain is over-actively fearful about you being harmed, so as it attempts to "protect" you, it makes the fear so real that the idea of it plagues you.
Most of the OCD dynamics in the brain happen at the unconscious level, which eventually rise to our conscious brain. This is why the obsessions (unwanted thoughts); compulsions (unwanted rituals/behaviors); and urges (unwanted feelings-impulses) seem to arise out of nowhere.
The brain likes concrete evidence that everything will be okay. OCD is not concrete, however--it is intangible and illusive--which leads you feeling stuck. Because, no matter how much you battle it--the condition keeps getting worse.
DON'T BATTLE OCD!
So, how do you get unstuck? To start, battling is the wrong approach. Battling, a form of "fighting," causes our internal emergency (anxiety) systems to rise. OCD simply feeds on this (as it is a form of anxiety itself).
Considering this, relaxation and "being present" with the OCD symptoms is a great start. Relaxing, which is difficult to do during an OCD episode, decelerates our nervous system. There are many techniques for helping the body and brain relax. One of the most powerful is deep breathing. Being present means simply observing your internal state without running from it (avoiding) or resisting it (battling).
A TOOL FOR OBESSIONS
Visualization is an effective practice for many areas of mental health, especially with OCD. Visualization brings the illusive, disturbing and controlling thought from the unconscious mind (automatic pilot) to the conscious mind (manual pilot). It can be very distressing, however, for you to intentionally focus on your disturbing thoughts...
...So, a technique to mitigate this is substitution. For example, a person struggling with violent thoughts chooses an object that represents them. They can choose anything they feel comfortable with. For the sake of this article, we'll pretend that the individual chooses a black ball.
I then ask clients to choose something to represent: peace, wholeness, their values--anything that is good to them. For the sake of this article, we'll pretend they choose a yellow ball. Next the person chooses a place of peace. This could be a field, ocean, the woods, etc. I will next communicate this technique through a narration:
"Imagine yourself in a room with the black ball. Take some deep slow breaths as you simply observe it (don't try to avoid its presence, nor wrestle with it). Take more deep breaths. Now, transport yourself to your peaceful place. Take deep breaths while there. Relax as you feel the peace of this setting fill your soul. When you feel ready, bring yourself back to the room. Continue observing the black ball while taking deep breaths. Now, visualize the black ball slowly dissolving from the room. Next, picture the yellow ball slowly appearing into the room. Lastly, pick up the yellow ball, and while holding it, transport yourself back to your peaceful place. Spend time there, absorb the tranquility, and bring yourself back to the present moment when you feel ready."
A TOOL FOR URGES
The same visualization technique can be used for your unwanted and distressing urges. You chose an object that represents your urge, and one that signifies your desired emotional/willful state. Give yourself permission to freely be an observer of the urge--like you are watching it on TV. The unwanted urge loses its power once you see it from a neutral and non-threatening perspective.
A TOOL FOR COMPULSIONS
Paradoxical intervention is a technique to help the "obligation" of the behavior shift from "automatic pilot," to "manual pilot," then to non-existence. Again, OCD self-feeds itself mainly in the unconscious mind. When this dynamic is brought to your conscious mind/will, you can help the illusive and illogical ritual/behavior subside. Disclaimer: One would not use these techniques if their compulsion relates to self harm.
For the person who constantly feels obligated to wash their hands at random times, this means scheduling hand washing based on the person's timetable. This could look like scheduling hand washing at the 34th minute of each hour.
As stated in my article titled OCD at a Glance, compulsions come in various forms. Paradoxical interventions may or may not help the type you find yourself drawn toward. For any compulsion intervention, however, allowing yourself to relax and observe your compulsion opens up the best path for coping and healing.
Talk with your general practitioner or a psychiatrist about Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (a common class of anti-depressants). This class of anti-depressants help with more than depression, but many types of anxiety, including OCD.
YOU ARE WHO YOU REALLY ARE!
"It's not me, it's my OCD!" - Jeffery Schwarts
OCD is not you. You may struggle with OCD, but you are not OCD. You are who your true values and will are. OCD is trying to help you--but it does a lousy job at it. It's attempting--in an unproductive way--to keep you safe from the things that are not who you are. But, in the process, OCD makes it seem like the harm and fear has already overtaken you.
It's time to let the OCD know that you are taking over now--so you no longer need its help!