Sometimes OCD sufferers can develop ways on their own to overcome it, and that's great if they can, but it's usually most effective to seek professional help, either through medications (usually managed by a psychiatrist) or psychotherapy, or a combination of both.
Meds can be very effective but by themselves usually aren't enough to totally control the obsessions and compulsions. And besides, I believe it's always better to develop our own tools rather than relying on meds alone. It's like the old Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish, he'll eat today. Teach him to fish, he'll eat every day."
So let's talk first about obsessions. Remember, obsessions are repetitive thoughts that are distressing, frightening or shame-producing. Compulsions are the actions taken to relieve or prevent the distress. Obsessive worry is a whirlpool that sucks us down the longer we stay in it. Some common obsessions are worries of hurting someone, having hurt someone, or ruminating guilt over something we did in the distance past.
Here's an example. A parent has ruminating thoughts about harming their child. They then make the assumption that because they have the thought it means they're going to harm their child. Needless to say, this is horribly disturbing and frightening. So I ask them: "Is it A), you intend to harm your child? Or is it B), you're disturbed by thoughts about harming your child?" Of course, they always answer: "It's B. I'd never harm my child. ABSOLUTELY NOT!" This at least helps reassure them that it's only a thought, not an intent. Learning to adapt an attitude of accepting the obsessions without judging ourselves when they occur versus fighting them. "It's OK to have these thoughts. They're just thoughts and, while disturbing, don't mean anything and will pass."
Now we have to get out of the whirlpool. Here are a few other suggestions:
1) Distraction--Get busy doing something else, especially involving physical and mental activity. Exercise,dancing, chores, etc.
2) Progressive muscle relaxation, tightening and releasing all the muscles in our body. Alone or combined with deep abdominal breathing.
3) Talk with someone about something other than the worry. Redecorating plans or last night's ball game.
Even though we often or usually know the thought is ridiculous, telling ourselves so is usually not enough to get out of it. Here are a few other ideas:
4) Postpone obsessing--Delay it for a short time, say, a minute, and then postpone it again, gradually increasing the postponing time. Use distraction during the postponing time and the thought may go away on its own. Postponing shows us that we do have some control and aren't powerless over our thoughts. (This technique also works for a lot of negative behaviors such as problem drinking).
5) Ready for this one? Set aside obsessing time. That's right! It may sound crazy but it helps. Rather than fighting or trying to escape the obsessing, schedule a time, say five minutes, to just obsess, several times a day. This dilutes the power and intensity of the thought, like repeating a word over and over until it loses its meaning. You'll find your mind wandering on its own as that's the nature of our minds. Bring the thought back until the time is up. You'll be surprised to learn that the thought isn't as powerful and entrapping as you thought it was.
These are just a few of many ideas and strategies that have been found to be helpful. They're some of the strategies that therapists use treating clients with OCD. Next time I'll talk more about managing and overcoming compulsions. See you then.
Next Time: BREAKING FREE FROM OCD (Part Three)