Sometimes treatment for OCD can feel like you are taking a life detour where fear of the unknown may feel overwhelming. Indeed, moving from avoidant and compulsive behaviors (private and public) to living a values-centered life can feel unfamiliar. You may be cautious and sometimes doubtful about your progress.
The Following steps will help you navigate the unsure terrain as you trust the process:
- Maintain a curious mindset. During treatment for OCD (any theme), you’ll learn skills that will allow you to create new neural pathways. It takes time to change behavioral and mental habits.Your mind will want you to focus on the outcome each and every day. Notice and acknowledge that and then choose to maintain a curious mindset. Try to examine each new day, even each new hour, with what the Zen Buddhists call “the beginner’s mindset.” During your daily practices, BE CURIOUS! See what you can learn about yourself, your mind, and life. When your OCD mind insists that you must focus on the outcome, acknowledge the thought by saying something like this: “Thanks, Mind. We’ll just have to see what we both can learn from this activity.”
- Increase your willingness to learn. Notice what happens when you are willing to respond differently to your OCD mind. Will you be willing to take small steps towards changing at least part of an unhelpful habit? When your mind says, “This is too hard!”, remember that you’ve been practicing willingness in other areas of your life. Notice the difference between being willing to doing something because you care vs. doing something because you are feeling anxious or guilty. See what you can learn when you are open and willing to see things in a new way. Try to hold your beliefs about your OCD more lightly. See if you can create a sense of flexibility around the thoughts that your mind is trying to hold onto so tightly.
- Be patient and kind with yourself. You might find it difficult to be kind with yourself when OCD is blasting out negative and unwanted thoughts. Self-kindness may not even be on your radar. OCD is distracting you and magnifying everything for you. When you notice feeling distraught, OCD most likely has you stuck in the OCD trap. Acknowledge that, and remember that you are not alone in your suffering. Remember your loved ones and the love you have for them. They care for you too! Step by step you can build strength and resilience. Stay hopeful. Experiment with self-compassion by responding to your negative or compulsive thoughts with words that a kind mentor would offer such as “You got this!” “I love you just as you are.” “You are stronger than you know.” “You’re doing the best you can.” Notice how your thoughts can change as you speak these kind words to yourself.
- Connect to the here and now. Every day,take time to anchor onto one of your senses. For example, notice what you see around you. Acknowledge what you notice, and if your mind distracts you with other thoughts, acknowledge that also. No big deal. What matters is that you notice when your mind starts distracting you. This simple practice will enhance your awareness. Whenever difficult experiences show up, you can notice and acknowledge what’s happening and then gently anchor on the present moment—the activity you were doing and value in that moment.
- Be actively engaged in what matters most to you. When you live your values, you are choosing to move your feet, hands, and mouth to do and say what matters. Your values are not guided by the OCD mind or what others say you should be doing or saying in your life. Acting on your values will allow you to be open to new things, willing to experience discomfort, and stay focused on the present moment.
Each day take the opportunity to find out for yourself that although the internal experiences (e.g., thoughts and feelings) seem frightening, they are harmless. The OCD mind is magnifying everything and thus, overwhelming you. Remember to focus on the process and your “why.”
Which one of these steps will you try today?
Life is waiting!
Collaborator: Kathleen Ririe