How to Stop OCD Obsessions
So let’s continue working on your obsessions. This section contain seven topics, each representing a different skill. They are: postponing, changing the ways you obsess, letting go of worries, using worry time, using a short repeating recording, using an extended recording of your feared consequences, and directly facing the situations you fear.
You know the first step already, before you do ANYTHING else. That is… you accept the obsession. When you have your obsession, the first thing you typically do is resist it and fight it. That reaction will usually intensify your obsession. So since that doesn’t work very well, try something new: accept that you just started worrying. Don’t work on anything else until you commit yourself to this idea. Because every other self-help technique is applied after you say, (and believe), “It’s OK that this just popped up in my mind.”
Let me say that again. Don’t work on anything else until you commit yourself to this idea. Because every other self-help technique is applied after you say, (and believe), “It’s OK that this just popped up in my mind.”
Now, you have two options once you notice that you just started obsessing and you accepted that it’s OK. One is postponing the obsessions, the other is changing how you actually obsess.
Letting Go of Worries and Obsessions
What to Do During Obsessions
Structured Practices for Obsessions
Practice 1: Postpone Your Worries
Let’s start with how to work with the technique of postponing. If you respond to your obsessions by attempting to get rid of them instantly, to have them gone now and forever, you will probably fail at the task. It’s just too big a change to make. Instead, take a smaller, more manageable step. Let yourself have the obsessions. Make a commitment to pay attention to your worries. Simply take control of when you worry. The essence of this technique is to stall the obsessions. You decide not to ignore your worries. However, you are simply going to postpone attending to them for a bit.
Postpone Your Worries
- Mentally agree to pay attention to your worries
- Choose a specific time in the future when you will return to them
- As that time arrives, either start obsessing or consider postponing the worries to another specific time. Whenever possible, choose to postpone
This is like making a mental agreement with your fear. There’s a part of you that really believes that you need to pay attention to these worried thoughts. You are not about to say “no” to them. Your fear is there because it thinks it’s taking care of you. So you’re going to say, “OK, I’ll pay attention to you, just not now.” You’re going to keep the idea that you’ll actually worry. You’re going to change the idea that you have to instantly respond every time it beckons you.
So here are the specific steps to take. First, mentally agree to pay attention to the obsessions. But, second, choose a specific time in the future when you’ll return to them. That time in the future is chosen based on your ability. For some of you, and for some obsessions, you can postpone for 1 1/2 hours or more. For others of you, waiting 30 seconds will be a significant challenge.
It really doesn’t matter how long you pick to start with. It’s relative to your capacity. As soon as you postpone even for 10 seconds, you’re taking voluntary control over an involuntary process. So start wherever you can, and support yourself in the effort. Use a stopwatch if you need to.
Here is the third step. When that agreed upon time arrives, then either start obsessing, or consider postponing for an additional time. Whenever possible, keep postponing.
OK, got it?
Now, why use postponing? What are the benefits? The most important is that you let time pass between your impulse and your action. You don’t instantly begin that vicous cycle that stems from fighting it. The more time that passes, the more potential for control. You put a wedge between the impulse and acting on the impulse, so that you might get enough perspective to say, “Naah, I don’t really need to worry about that.” At 8:15AM the worry may feel strong, but when you come back to it at 10AM, it just doesn’t feel as compelling. The more time that passes between the initial obsession and your attention to it, the greater chance your anxiety will diminish. As it lowers, your need to obsess decreases, and you gain more mental control.
So consider starting your program with postponing. And let yourself move one step at a time. Don’t say, “Oh, well, if I postpone, and then I worry, that’s bad, I’ve done this wrong.” Give yourself a chance to learn from postponing before you move on to other skills.
Practice 2: Change the Ways You Obsess
So now, let’s go to self-help option #2, which is changing the ways that you obsess. I’ll teach you three ways: Writing, singing, and changing images.
All adults experience irrational worries from time to time. I want you to downgrade that obsession. Consider it as a momentary, anxiety-provoking event. It’s just a little glitch. Do not support your obsession by analyzing it. Do not support your obsession by trying to figure out what it means, or worrying about whether or not you’re going to stop it. The goal here is not to be worry-free. It’s not the actual obsession that is such a problem here, it’s your reaction to the obsession. So hold a perspective that the content isn’t important, and it’s not bad that you are obsessing. Free up your attention so that you can begin to modify the ways you obsess.
First thing to do is mentally step back and acknowledge that you’ve started obsessing.
Next: remind yourself that it’s OK to have a momentary obsession.
Number 3: don’t start worrying about what the obsession means. Remind yourself that the obsessive content is not important. Do not get caught up in analyzing.
Number 4: engage in specific actions that will help you change your emotion about the obsessions (I’ll teach you three ways now). The goal is not to be worry-free. The goal is to change your reaction to the obsessions.
You will have done a number of things before you get to this step. You’ve mentally stepped back. You’ve said, “it’s OK.” You’ve said you’re not going to analyze why you’re worrying. And now you’re going to do something to alter your emotions about it.
What might you do to change your emotion about an obsession? Here are three examples.
Write your worries.
The first is to write it down. Carry a pencil and a small pad with you throughout the day. When you begin obsessing, write down your exact thoughts or a few phrases that describe your images or impulses. If you continue obsessing, keep writing. This doesn’t mean a summary of what you said in your mind. This means a verbatim transcript of exactly what you’re thinking. Act as though you are the stenographer in the courtroom. Every single utterance goes on paper!
As soon as you finish writing down the worry, if you think it again, you write it down again, even if it’s verbatim what you just wrote down. Don’t write down the theme, write down every single repetition of every single thing you think.
Now what’s the benefit here? When you obsess, you tend to repeat the same content again and again, right? When you write out the obsessions, you recognize how repetitive and senseless they are. This perspective weakens the obsessions. After a while you will probably experience the task of writing verbatim all the obsessive content as a chore. This way it becomes more work to obsess than to let it go. It’s a lot harder to write over and over again, “Oh, my God, I’m afraid I’m going to kill my son.” It’s easy to say it in your head 400 times. But writing it 400 times …it loses it’s power, it just doesn’t work. It begins to make the obsessions an arduous task.
And that’s how the writing will begin to help you. After a while you say, “OK, I’m obsessing. Now I’m either going to start writing it, or I’m just going to let it go. I can either go through all this effort, or I can just let it go.”
Sing your worries.
Another way to begin changing your emotional response to your obsession is to sing your worried thoughts. You are to literally sing in your mind the words you would usually say, like, “I think I’ve touched some germs. They’re going to make me sick. I might spread it around. And everybody’ll die.”
That sounds pretty silly, doesn’t it? Here you are, suffering from terribly distressing symptoms, and I ask you to hum a few bars. But that’s the idea. The process of singing your obsessions makes it difficult to simultaneously stay distressed. Yes, it’s stupid. Yes, it sounds childish.
Do it anyway!!
And here’s how to do it. Pick up a short phrase that summarizes your obsession. Ignore its meaning for a while. Continue to repeat the words, but do so within a simple melody. Keep up this tune for a few minutes.
I don’t expect that you will start singing this little tune and instantly feel happy. In fact, it will probably be hard to feel anything but anxiety when you start singing. But stick with it. And while you’re singing, work to become detached from the content of your song. Remember, that’s our goal…
Whenever you feel less emotionally involved with these thoughts, let go of the tune and the words. Turn your attention elsewhere.
Change the image.
The techniques of writing the words down or singing them can be used when the worry is in the form of words. But what if the obsession is an image? In that case, you need to modify that picture in some way, or to replace it with another image. For example, if you imagine your boss yelling at you, replace it with a picture of you and your boss having a pleasant conversation. If you imagine yourself dying of cancer, see yourself at 101 years old, smiling, rocking on your porch, surrounded by your family. If you have just imagined yourself slapping your child, picture yourself slowly, lovingly stroking the child’s hair.
Or close your eyes and imagine your worry having some physical form. Place it on a cloud right in front of you. See the cloud begin to float away. Imagine that the farther away the cloud floats, the smaller the obsession becomes and the more relaxed and comfortable you feel.
Make sure that as you see these new images, you also begin to shift from distressing feelings to pleasant ones. Choose images that will make you feel comfortable, relaxed, humored or pleasant, so that they can replace your anxiety and worry.
Another useful approach is to replay the obsessional image but change the frightening parts of the image in some cartoon-like fashion. For example, if you are intimidated by your boss’s criticism, see her about two feet tall and yourself next to her as your normal size. When she attempts to yell at you, see bubbles coming out of her mouth instead of words. In this same way, if you have frightening, repetitive images of stabbing someone with a knife or scissors, you can replay those images immediately after they occur. If a knife was used in your image, change the knife into Styrofoam and make it three feet long. If it was a pair of scissors, turn it into Silly Putty and see it drooping in your hand.
* * *
Once you’ve made that shift away from your intense anxiety, by singing the obsession, writing it down, altering the imagery, or any other changes that you create for yourself that would shift your emotion, then turn your attention to other activities in your life. Don’t create a void after the shift, because the mind is going to go to whatever next thought has the strongest emotion. So, if you’ve got a bunch of nice, easy little thoughts and images, and then you have this thought that’s terrifying, your mind’s going to go right back to what is fearful. So turn your attention to some new activities.
It may take you a while before this technique gives you benefits. Some obsessions feel so strong that you won’t be able to let go of them right away. Nonetheless, continue to practice this approach as a way to get some perspective on your irrational worries.
Practice 3: Let Go of Worries & Physical Tensions
Let’s review briefly. When you first notice yourself obsessing, begin by accepting it. Then choose either to postpone the obsession or modify the way you are obsessing.
After you have done either of those two, then your next task is to let go of those worries and return to your daily activities. If you’re like most people, you will become physically tense and anxious when you try to stop these thoughts, so you also need to let go of those tensions.
There’s two steps to take at this point. The first is to decide to stop the intrusive thoughts or images and reinforce your decision with positive statements to yourself. Mentally support yourself by saying such things as, “That thought isn’t helpful to me right now; now is not the time to think about this; this is irrational, I’m going to let it go; I’m not about to argue with this thought.” Literally sub-vocalize this kind of statement, and help yourself believe your own words. Don’t just mentally recite lines you don’t hold to be true.
Before you practice any of these options, be sure that you are really committed to getting rid of the particular worries you are addressing. Make this decision during a time when you are not in the throes of your obsessions–when you are feeling relatively calm and can gain perspective. Make sure this is a firm decision. Then choose an automatic response that reflects your position. For instance, you might decide that the next time you notice that you’re worrying, you will write down, verbatim, every thought that comes into your mind until you start repeating your statements. Then you will tell yourself, “I know these worries are irrational. I’m ready to move on now.”
So the first step in letting go of your obsessions is to make this clear and committed statement of intent. The second is to practice some brief relaxation technique. There are a few simple straightforward breathing skills that can be used at this time to help with letting go of your tensions. In the Don’t Panic Self-Help Audiobook, I have created a separate recording to help you practice those skills. When you are ready to learn them, listen two or three times to the recording entitled “Practicing Your Breathing Skills.” Your ability to relax your body on cue in a brief period of time may require some repetition of these skills. So once you learn the breathing skills–like the Calming Breath or Calming Counts– practice them 10 – 15 times a day for several weeks. They take less than a minute and a half to practice. So use them during times of transition, such as right after you get off the phone or while waiting in the car at a stoplight. Then they will be ready for you during tense times.
Again, let me advise you to use breathing skills to help you when you are letting go of your obsessions and trying to relax your body and quiet your mind. They are a very helpful part of your program. So if you are using the Kit, start listening to the breathing skills tape in the next day or two, and learn to apply those techniques.
Practice 4: Create Worry Time
So far we’ve described ways you can respond specifically when you are worrying. Now let’s look at other techniques that will help you with your worries, but are practiced when you’re not worrying.
The first is what I call Daily Worry Time. This is another mental ploy that is paradoxical in nature, similar to the technique of accepting your worry. Instead of resisting your obsessions, you will choose periods during the day that you purposely devote to obsessing. See how peculiar that sounds, to instruct you to actually worry more! That’s how you can recognize a paradoxical technique; it sounds wrong!
Creating a “Worry Time”
- Set aside two daily Worry Times of 10 minutes each.
- Spend this entire time thinking only about your worries regarding one issue. (OPTIONS: speak into a tape recorder or talk to a “coach”)
- Do not think about any positive alternatives, only the negative ones. And do not convince yourself that your worries are irrational.
- Attempt to become as anxious as possible while worrying.
- Continue to the end of each worry period, even if you run out of ideas and have to repeat the same worries over again.
- At the end of ten minutes, let go of those worries with some Calming Breaths, then return to other activities.
Set aside, twice a day, about ten minutes that you have designated solely to worry about your problem. Perhaps take the first Worry Time in the morning before you go to work. Sit down in a private place and pay attention to your worries. (I’ll describe how to do that in a minute.) Then, at the end of the day, perhaps right after you get off work, sit down again and designate this as your second Worry Time.
When you sit down for this special time, totally devoted to your worries, follow these guidelines. Spend the entire time thinking only of your worries about this topic. Think of nothing positive. Do not try to convince yourself that these worries are unnecessary, do not try to see the positive side or argue in any way whatsoever. Only introduce negative thoughts, and let those continue to come up. More and more of them! As many as you have about the topic! Every angle and aspect of your worries and fears! Just let them come up in your mind, and continue to look for more of them. And try to become as uncomfortable as possible as you review these thoughts.
If, after a while, you run out of worries, recycle the worries you have already stated. Go back to the first ones and repeat them. Your goal is to spend the entire ten minutes focused on your worries, even if you have to repeat them. It is not going to work if you say, “Well, five or six minutes have gone by, and I can’t really think of anything else to worry about, so I think I’ll stop here today.”
No! Don’t do that, because there is method to the madness here. I want you to experience, eventually, the kind of frustration that comes with not being able to generate any more new thoughts. People who worry feel as if they worry all day long, but that is not actually what happens. Their worries come in little spurts — they argue themselves out of the worries, they reassure themselves that things will be okay, or they tell themselves to shut up, or they get distracted — and then the worries become quiet. But a little later the worries come back, and this battle begins again.
In Worry Time you don’t fight or struggle with your thoughts. You clear away your slate, set aside other thoughts, and give total and full attention to your worries. The result is that your worries diminish.
Why does it work? Because it helps you begin to shift your emotions when you think of the problem. During your first few Worry Times, you will probably become upset with your thoughts. After all, you are dwelling on your worst fears, and you are going over them repeatedly (like you usually do in the back of your mind at other times). But what happens when you review the same material in detail twice a day for days? After several days, most people complain about how hard it is to fill the ten minutes. They run out of things to say. Instead of feeling anxious, they get bored. Now wouldn’t that be a pleasant change!
That is one of our primary goals. Instead of thinking about a worry and instantly feeling anxious, you begin to have other emotional responses. Your body’s emergency system stops kicking in reflexively. If your worry is about airline travel, after a few days you might even catch yourself feeling good about getting to your destination more comfortably (and three days sooner than you would if you took the train).
To make those changes in your emotions you need to follow the guidelines of Worry Time carefully. For instance, don’t spend any time during this ten minutes trying to convince yourself that your worries are irrational. Do just the opposite: go ahead and let yourself get worked up. Conjure up all the negative, uncomfortable and distressful feelings that coincide with these thoughts.
At the end of ten minutes, you can let go of your worries and begin to relax. Take a couple of Calming Breaths, shake off those tensions and go about your day.
Don’t use Worry Time just once or twice. Ideally, you should place it in your schedule for at least ten days in a row. (This means if you are concerned about an upcoming event, make sure you start to worry early enough!) Expect that after several days Worry Time won’t be able to stir up such strong emotions inside you. Don’t stop then! Keep up the practice, because that’s the kind of change we’re looking for. Part of this design is for you to practice even when, try as you might, you can’t get emotionally aroused.
There are three ways you can repeat your worries during this time. The first way is to do it by yourself, silently, by mentally repeating all your worries. The second way, which some people prefer, is to say your worries out loud, instead of silently, even if you end up talking to yourself. That seems a little silly to people, but of course you’ll be in a private place with the door closed, so no one will be listening to you. I recommend that my clients speak their worries into a tape recorder. Recording may help you feel as though you were talking directly to someone instead of talking to the walls. If you try it this way, you don’t need to listen to the tape when you’re done. Just flip it over and record on the other side the next time.
The third way is to use a “worry coach.” This is someone who is willing to listen to your worries and support you in a specific way. Here, the worrier’s goal is to keep talking with as little assistance as possible.
The coach’s job is to offer a question or a statement only if the worrier can’t think of anything else to say. So coaches should let a few moments pass to see if the worrier comes up with another worry. If not, there are a few specific comments or questions that he or she can offer. The first one is to ask you to “say more about being worried.” The second is to ask, “What else about this topic worries you?” And third, “What other topics worry you when you think about this problem?” You can see these kinds of comments or questions aren’t that different from one another. They simply bring your attention back to the topic at hand, that is, “Keep worrying.” The goal is to discuss your worries thoroughly and passionately.
If you run out of things to say, then the coach should say, “Tell me again about those worries you’ve already mentioned.” When you begin to talk about the positive side of things, then the coach should interrupt and remind you to only speak about your worries. (Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine to reassure yourself, just not during this exercise!)
Worry Time – What the Coach Says
Coach: In this practice, the worrier’s goal is to keep talking without any assistance. Your job is to offer a question or statement only if the worrier has run out of things to say.
Say the following as often as needed:
- “Say more about being worried.”
- “How else does [this issue] worry you?”
- “What else are you worried about?”
- (If the person begins talking about the positive side) “Only talk about your worries, please.”
- (If the person runs out of worries) “Tell me again about those worries you’ve mentioned.”
These statements and questions should be the only ones that the coach uses. Don’t let your coach get off the track by playing the “me-too” game: “Yeah, I’ve had that problem before, too. I can really understand how troubling that must be for you.” The coach should keep comments to a minimum; whenever possible he or she should just listen and nod and let you know when your time is up.
Let’s assume that you typically resist your worries or try to argue yourself out of them. How well is that working for you? If you’re like most people, it’s not working very well. It is an understandable approach, but resistance in itself may promote your worries. In Worry Time you actually support the worries. You give them space, you don’t fight them. And when you truly let them have all that space, noisy worries change. They may still be there; but if you are not fighting them, their intensity diminishes.
This is one of those techniques that you can never fully trust until you apply it. It sounds too simple to work. Let me tell you that it can work when you apply it to the “noise” of your worries. Will Worry Time work for you? I challenge you to experiment with it just once. Choose any problem in your life these days in which you have repetitious, unproductive thoughts. Give yourself a full ten minutes of Worry Time, and see if you can even last the whole time without running out of things to say.
I bet you won’t make it, even if it’s a problem you typically dwell on throughout the day! Because I’ll also bet that when you worry, you simultaneously struggle against the worry by trying to think more positively or by trying to stop the thoughts. When you stop struggling, and you voluntarily choose to worry, then thoughts that tended to last all day can’t even sustain themselves for ten minutes.
Worry Time and postponing can work together as a great team of skills during your day. If you have a designated Worry Time set up already, then when you begin to dwell on your worries at the office, you’ll know what to say. “At 5:15 I’m already scheduled to worry about this. I’m going to postpone this worry until 5:15. That’s the perfect time to pay attention to these thoughts.”
After you have been using Worry Time for a few days, then you may also have trouble filling that ten minutes with worries about that issue. So when your worries spring up unannounced at other times of the day, you might even end up saying, “Hey, I need this worry to fill my time at 5:15. I’m saving this thought!” By investing time twice a day to worry formally, you end up reducing the amount of time you worry during the rest of the day. And those worries begin to get so “old” that they just don’t have the punch to them anymore. It will be much easier then to say, “No, I don’t really want to think about that anymore. I’d rather [read my book, talk with friends, enjoy my day, get my work done].”
Practice 5: Create a Short, Repeating Recording of Your Brief Obsessions
If your obsessive thoughts take the form of a word, a group of words, a sentence, or block of sentences that is repeated again and again, you might benefit from repeatedly listening to a short recording of that message. You can use a digital recorder or your smartphone. Learn how to set the playback on repeat, so that it will plays the same message continuously.
To practice this technique, write down the sentence or narrative exactly as it comes spontaneously into your mind. Then record it on your device. Listen to the repeating message for forty-five minutes or longer each day. While listening, try to become as anxious and distressed as possible. Just as with Daily Worry Time, becoming distressed is one of the most important components of this technique. Use the recording daily until the content of the message no longer distresses you. Even if your discomfort decreases within a few days, continue the practice for at least a week.
This practice works on the principle called habituation. This simply means that when you confront your fears and your discomfort simultaneously and continually, you will become less anxious. That’s why I ask you to persist in your practice every day for such a long period, and, while you’re listening, to become as distressed as possible.
Practice 6: Create a Recording of Your Extended Obsessions
So, Worry Time is the first structured practice and the short repeating recording is the second structured practice for worries. Here’s the third.
If your worries come in the form as an extended story, with details of all the catastrophic outcomes, you can also practice using a recording of your detailed obsessions. This time, however, the recording will be longer, describing all of your fears.
Here’s how to do it. Write out a detailed story of the feared event in the following way: Imagine you’re in the middle of a spontaneous obsession. Just put yourself in that place. Write a moment-by-moment description of the exact words and pictures that come into your mind. And right it in the present tense. “I’m now standing in front of my house and I can see that the door is open.” Like that. Give as many details as possible about the setting, your actions, the response of others, and especially what you’re feeling. Because that’s what we’re going to go toward, your emotional response to the story.
Now, read your story several times, rehearse it, and then record your story on an digital recorder or smartphone with as much drama as you can. Put the emotion in your words because you’ve got to listen to it repeatedly, and each time you listen you are going to try to become as distressed as possible. So you want the drama of the event to come through in your voice.
Each day listen repeatedly to this recording for forty-five minutes. As you listen to the recording, imagine that the story is actually happening, and let yourself experience the distress inside you that the story evokes. The more you are in touch with your feelings while you listen, the more benefits you will gain from your practice.
Continue daily practice, focusing on one specific worry or obsession, until you no longer feel highly distressed. If you follow these directions in your practice, you should notice that your distress is gradually lowering within five to seven days.
Then make new recordings about other worries or obsessions that bother you, and follow the same process again. As with the brief recordings, your progress will be slower if you allow your mind to wander while you listen.
If you are not noticing improvement, make sure you are doing all you can to respond to the recorded story as intensely as you would to an actual obsession.
Let me give you a sample from our book Stop Obsessing! of what such a script might sound like. Here’s a woman who is a washer and feels contaminated by her mother.
“I’m sitting here in the chair, the door opens and my mother comes in. She enters the room. She sees me and she says, ‘I’m glad to see you. It’s been a long time.’ She comes to me and she touches me. She wants to hug me. My mother is astonished that I let her hug me and she says, ‘I can’t believe that I’m allowed to hug my daughter again!’ Now I feel the contamination spreading all over me. I can feel her hands on my back and I begin to feel that it’s never going to go away…can never be washed off. I would like my mother to leave and I want to take a shower, a bath, so I can get clean again. I can’t say anything. I can’t move. I’m overwhelmed by the feeling of being contaminated. My mother is standing beside me and she’s holding my hand, and I can feel how she becomes even more contaminating. I would like her to take her hand off of me. She’s asking me, ‘Are you afraid of me?’ I would like to explain to her just how afraid I am of her, but I don’t say anything. I just let her hold my hand and then it goes on, so at the end I feel trapped. She’ll never go away, she’ll go on contaminating me forever, more and more contamination. I’ll never feel free again. I have the urge to leave the room and forget everything about my mother, but her touch is everywhere on my body.’”
That’s the kind of drama that you should put in your voice. And that’s the kind of moment-by-moment detail needed.
Now we’ve covered two ways to handle obsessions in the moment: postponing and changing the ways you obsess. And we’ve reviewed three structured practices: Daily Worry Time, a short repeated recording and a recording of your extended obsession.
Practice 7: Directly Face the Situations You Avoid
The three structured practices we’ve just discussed are based on a single principle: to overcome a fear, you must approach the fear.
The fourth practice carries this same principle to actual situations you typically avoid because of your obsessions. Facing those situations directly for an extended period of time will be the only way for you to overcome all of your fears. If you avoid situations in order to feel safer, then you will need to practice this option.
Find every opportunity you can to face situations that cause you discomfort. What activities do you avoid in order to keep yourself or others safe? When do you hesitate to act, for fear that you will make a mistake? What events or places do you steer away from so that you won’t begin to have distressing thoughts? These are the times when you need to be alert, for these times give you the opportunity to practice facing your fears. If you are a washer, go ahead and touch those doorknobs or wear those clothes after they have been “contaminated.” If you are a checker, lock the doors of your home without having someone else check them. If you are a repeater, be willing to do things the “wrong” way. Orderers can let someone else straighten up the house, and hoarders can let someone else rearrange their “collections” or throw things out.
Often when you are in distressing situations your initial response will be to hesitate; you feel uncertain about whether you can handle the task. In such moments remind yourself of your long-term goals. You are not only seeking to get rid of your obsessions; there are tasks you want to accomplish, pleasures you want to enjoy, relationships you want to pursue. Focus on these positive goals. Your obsessions stand in the way of a meaningful, fulfilling future. Don’t just fight against your symptoms, fight for your life goals. Facing situations you have been avoiding is a step toward a new future.
Remember that when you first face distressing situations you will probably feel anxious. In fact, to expect that you will feel anxious is probably a good plan. You won’t be surprised by your distress. Use the skills I discussed to reduce your tension. Take a Calming Breath or practice the Calming Counts, that you learned on the breathing tape, and remind yourself that anxiety decreases over time. Remember, you don’t have to be alone in your struggle. Call a friend or a relative and tell him or her what you are trying to accomplish. Seek that person’s understanding and support.
Once you have practiced facing one of your feared situations, don’t just wait quietly for your worries to start again. Get busy! Focus your attention away from your obsessions by being active. Take a long walk, exercise, go to the movies, get involved with projects at work, or talk to a friend on the phone.
When you want to change your obsessional patterns, the single most important thing to remember is: Don’t fight your obsession. If you are having difficulty making headway with these techniques, ask yourself, “Am I still struggling to get rid of my obsessions?” If you are, stop! You already know struggling doesn’t work; that’s what you’ve been doing prior to picking up our book and listening to these tapes. The success of the skills we’ve described here depends on your willingness to give up the struggle. When you stop the struggle you will be able to notice a significant difference. You actually can have control over your symptoms.
Some of you will notice immediate positive results from applying these skills. Others will progress steadily for several weeks, reducing their worries by half… then spend another two or three months working to gradually worry less and less. So don’t get discouraged. If you are moderately or highly successful during the first weeks but find you’re still obsessing somewhat, continue practicing for several more weeks. You should notice improvement over time, even if it’s not apparent every week. Don’t give up. You must have faith.
If you practice daily for a few weeks and do not experience at least moderate relief, seek help from a mental-health professional who is familiar with OCD treatment. This specialist can assist you in solving problems you might be having with applying the self-help program and may be able to adapt these techniques so that they work better for you.
More on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:
Self Test for OCD
This questionnaire will help you identify the types of problems that most trouble you.
What’s Difference Between OCD Obsessions & Compulsions?
The obsessive person is driven by persistent negative thoughts that are involuntary, uncontrollable, and consuming. Self-doubt, ambivalence, indecision, and impulses fill him or her.
How to Recover from OCD
What’s it going to take to get better?
There are four challenges that lie in front of you as you begin to face your obsessions and compulsions.
How to Stop OCD Compulsions
Let’s talk about compulsions, or rituals. We’ve already explained how rituals tend to persist because they provide temporary relief from your obsessions. But the solution can be as bad as the problem. Rituals can begin to take more and more of your time, and eventually dominate your life.