Overcoming OCD Obsessions: Taking Control of Your Worries

Written by Reid Wilson, PhD

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Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be challenging, especially when recurring thoughts, fears, or obsessions take control of your daily life. It’s essential to remember that you are not alone in this struggle, and there are effective strategies to help you manage and overcome your worries related to OCD obsessions. Today, we explore a few novel tactics that might help you regain control of your thoughts and lead a more fulfilling life.

1. Treat Your Obsessions as Irrelevant Noise

The disorder generates threatening themes that are directly relevant to you. It wants you to treat them as signals that you must address. But those topics are a distraction; OCD just wants to control your attention. Shift those topics over to mental noise that you have a right to ignore. Yes, when they pop up you are going to feel uncertain about whether they are signals or noise. After all, this is a disorder of uncertainty. But stick to your commitment, and tolerate that generic sense of distressing uncertainty. That’s how you start to get stronger.

2. Postpone Your Worries

Some days your obsessions feel so much like signals that you cannot drop them. One tactic is to commit yourself to revisit those worries at a set time in the future. Since you are guaranteeing yourself to return to the topic, during that ensuing time treat all your obsessions as noise. That’s a great way to practice your skills and to start retraining your brain to treat those thoughts is nothing.

3. Write Your Worries

Become mindful about your worries, and write down your exact thoughts while you’re having them. Carry a pencil and notebook with you so they’re handy when your worries appear. Each time you experience a worry, even if it duplicates the worry from a few moments ago, write it down. Don’t organize your thoughts on paper. Don’t write down a bulleted list of your worries. Act like a stenographer in the courtroom and write down every single word. 

Why do this? You are changing your mode of communication to the written word, which forces you to put out extra effort in order to keep obsessing. If you make a hard and fast rule to stick to this assignment, then after a few days, when you get to the point of, “write it down or let it go,” you’re going to be more likely to release that worry.

4. Set Boundaries for Compulsions

Compulsions are the actions you take in response to OCD obsessions. While they may offer temporary relief, they only reinforce the cycle of anxiety. Gradually reduce and set boundaries for your compulsions, challenging yourself to delay or avoid them altogether. Over time you’ll find that the intensity of your obsessions diminishes.

5. Create Worry Time

Another tactic that is paradoxical in nature, is to purposely devote time to worry. It sounds wrong, but it’s a way to shift your emotions while you’re worrying. Initially, you’ll likely make yourself upset with these thoughts. However, over time you’ll begin to discover that it’s more and more difficult to fill your designated worry time. For detailed guidelines on how to structure your Worry Time, visit my OCD Obsessions section.

6. Build a Support Network

Recovery from OCD can be easier with a support network. Talk to friends, family, or seek professional help from therapists specializing in OCD treatment. Engaging in support groups with individuals facing similar challenges can also be beneficial, as it provides a sense of belonging and shared understanding.

7. Celebrate Small Victories

Be patient with yourself throughout this journey. Overcoming OCD obsessions is a gradual process, and every small victory deserves celebration. Acknowledge and reward yourself for the progress you make, no matter how minor it may seem. Positive reinforcement can encourage you to stay committed to your recovery.

Overcoming worries related to OCD obsessions is a challenging but achievable endeavor. Remember that recovery is unique to each individual, so be kind to yourself and give yourself the time and space to grow. 

For more resources on worry and OCD obsessions, visit our How to Stop OCD Obsessions page.

Also, check out my newest online self-help course, OCD & the 6-Moment Game: Strategies & Tactics.

About the Author

Dr. Reid Wilson

REID WILSON, Ph.D. has spent his entire 30-year career in the field of self-help for
anxiety disorders and OCD. He is Director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center and is an international expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, with books translated into nine languages. In 2014 he was honored with the highest award given by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and he was presented the 2019 Service Award by the International OCD Foundation. 

To learn more about Dr. Wilson, click here.

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