OCD is a tricky beast, even on the best of days. If we don´t have the right skills and techniques for how to deal with it in the moment, before we know what´s happening we get lost in the rabbit hole. In this article we take a look at some of the best ways of dealing with obsessions so that they don´t get out of hand.
What is the OCD Rabbit Hole?
Well if you suffer from OCD, then it´s place that you will know only to well. Having OCD you become a little like Alice from ´Alice in Wonderland´ who follows the little white rabbit down the rabbit hole and then inadvertently finds herself trapped in a world she never even planned on visiting, but that she can´t escape. The analogy continues as she finds herself having to overcome challenges and obstacles to find her way back home.
OCD can be much the same. Once we are down the rabbit hole it can be very hard to get back out, we feel like we have to perform compulsions to keep ourselves safe and free from anxiety, but even when we do it can be hard to shake that feeling of being lost.
How do we stay out of it?
If you are anything like me in the years when I was really struggling, you may feel like it is almost impossible to stay out of the rabbit hole. The obsessions and thoughts sometimes have so much sway over us, that we feel like we have no option but to think about them more. OCD is sneaky and often uses this approach:
“If I can just resolve this one obsession or thought, then i´ll be able to get on with the rest of my day”
But the issue is that solving that one concern is never enough. In fact the very act of trying to solve it is the thing that keeps the OCD going. Counter intuitively to not get lost down the rabbit hole of OCD we have to give up the fight as soon as we can.
This is where, if we are not careful, it can get a little tricky. If a thought comes up and we get that urgent sense to do something about it, it can be incredibly hard to resist the temptation. Like the urge to itch a scratch, OCD brings up such strong feelings that we can feel like a slave to the compulsions.
We may not always know it, but we are in charge
In this moment, when it feels like we have to perform the compulsion we still have a choice to make. It may not always feel like it, but we are always the ones who choose whether to carry on with a thought or action or whether to do something else.
This choice is the game changer and it gives us back our control. Whether we choose to carry on scratching the itch, or whether we choose to do something more positive is completely down to us. The OCD does not get to choose, it simply doesn´t have that option. It may try and trick you into believing that it does hold the power, but it´s an illusion and nothing could be further from the truth.
The Turning Point
Once we believe in our ability to choose, even when we choose to take the easy road and perform the compulsion, at least we recognize that this is our choice. The more we then focus on taking the positive choice the easier things are going to be for us.
But how do you choose the positive? This is the next big question and it basically comes down to defusing from obsessive thoughts. This isn´t easy at first, but like with anything, the more you practice, the easier it will get.
Defuse the Rabbit Hole
Defusing the rabbit hole involves acknowledging the thoughts and refocusing our attention. For example, say that you are in the middle of a big project for work. The pressure is on and your boss is expecting good things from you. It´s all going well, but from nowhere an obsessive thought pops up into your head.
In the past perhaps you might have got lost in that thought, got distracted from your work and not performed as well as you could. This kind of situation is when OCD can start to have real life consequences.
Your boss my be displeased, your colleagues may wonder what´s going on with you. Instead of doing that though, if you simply acknowledge the thought as obsessive in nature and refocus your attention on what you value in that moment, your job, then you will save yourself a whole world of pain.
Labelling the thought and redirecting your attention is in essence an act of acceptance. You are actively choosing to not engage with the thought and are instead focusing on something else more positive. Personally I like to tell myself something along the following lines: “I notice i´m having the thought that ………… “ (complete as necessary).
You don´t have to say it exactly like this, the idea is to say something neutral that labels the thought. This is an important step, as by labelling we are acknowledging the thought is there, but without giving it too much importance.
Next we gently, but firmly put our attention back onto the things at hand. If that also happens to be a value, then even better. It may be the case that a minute later you are distracted by a thought again. That´s ok, just keep repeating the process each time a thought catches you out. This will help you to build the muscle of redirecting your attention.
Essentially this is a mindfulness skill. In meditation, each time we notice that we have been distracted by the thoughts, we bring the attention back to the breath. The more we meditate, the better control we will have of directing our consciousness. With that in mind, you can think of defusion as a form of meditation.
Your goal is to be in the present and to keep bringing your focus back to the now each time you realise that you have been distracted. With this skill in your back pocked avoiding the OCD rabbit hole will become second nature and will stop being something that is holding you back. Please feel free to send me a message about this if you have any questions.