What is Mindset & Why is it Important?
In my experience, one of the most underutilized areas in learning to manage OCD & anxiety is the mindset. There are so many areas here that you can work on that can greatly benefit the way in which you perceive and experience anxiety. Some of this we have already covered, for example acceptance, which is in itself a mindset.
Mindset is how you choose to view the world. It´s easy to go through life only seeing things from a certain angle (I certainly did for many years), but this can be very limiting. When we realise that actually we are not a prisoner of a ´set in stone´ way of viewing the world and that we can actually zoom out and see things from a different angle, this can be very liberating.
This is the first in a serie of blogs that look at mindset and I´ll be discussing some of the most helpful mindsets that we can cultivate to start managing OCD and anxiety in a better way. Some of them may challenge existing beliefs, but that´s ok, you don´t have to take them at face value. Have a read through, reflect and decide if adopting some of these mindsets could benefit you or not. In this blog we explore self compassion.
When we think about learning to get over OCD, self-compassion often isn´t the first thing that comes to mind. But in my opinion that´s a mistake. You see so often once you get stuck in the anxiety trap it can be very easy to beat yourself up about how you got there. But when we do this, it just compounds the problem and makes it worse. What i´ve found from working with people with OCD & anxiety is that they often give themselves a really hard time for it. You might even ask yourself questions like why can´t I deal with this? Or what does this mean about me as a person? But thinking like this can takes it´s toll and may make it harder for us to get out of the trap.
So an alternative to this negative self-talk is to try and develop self-compassion. When we have this kind of mindset we are so much more able to take on difficult challenges, knowing that if we make mistakes it´s ok and that we can learn from them. When you are learning to overcome anxiety and OCD, thinking like this is obviously very beneficial.
What Self-Compassion Isn´t
Some people (myself included in the past), equate self-compassion with indulgence and this can put them off trying to work on it. So with that in mind, lets discuss what self-compassion isn´t. It´s not about going to the pub and drinking eight pints of beer and a bucket of cheesy chips (if that´s your thing). It´s also not about always putting yourself first, over your family and friends. All it means is learning to take care of yourself so that you can be there for the people and things that are most important to you in life. If you don´t take care of yourself first, then it´s going to be more difficult for you to be present and helpful for the people in your life. When you look at it from that perspective, taking the time to build self-compassion can seem more reasonable.
So how can we develop self-compassion?
There are several ways you can do this. First off as mentioned above, one great way is to start congratulating yourself for making mistakes. This sounds ridiculous in a way and I am not saying that you are purposely going to try and make mistakes. But when you do make a mistake, remind yourself that it´s fine and that mistakes are helpful for learning. Perhaps take the time to reflect on what went wrong and then come up with some action points for how to do better next time. Having a journal can help with this process.
Another way to build self-compassion is to open up to other people about your experiences (I wrote a blog all about this, so it might be worth reading that here). This doesn´t mean you start telling everyone about your troubles, you probably don´t want to be telling your boss about your battles with OCD , but opening up to trusted people in your life can be an incredibly helpful and empowering thing to do. But how does it build self compassion? Well opening up to people is actually an act of self-care. You are effectively saying that ´I am important, my experiences and emotions are important and I should be able to share them with people´. When you have OCD it can be easy to forget this, so opening up and speaking to people about it can be empowering and can build self-compassion.
If the people you speak to don´t understand about OCD or anxiety, or even belittle your experiences try not to worry about that. You have done your bit and opened up, if they can´t understand that (and there could be many reasons for why they don´t), then perhaps you need to educate them a little about your experiences. If they still don´t get it, then you may just have to accept that, but at least you will have played your part. A big part of this is also being wise with who you open up to, some people will just not be able to understand.
The good news is though, that with modern technology, even if there is nobody in your immediate family or circle of friends that you can talk to, you can go online and join and OCD forum or support group. OCD charities like the International OCD Foundation & OCD-UK have forums that you can join and participate in and I have a Facebook OCD & Anxiety Support group. Communities like these can be really beneficial and can give you an opportunity to air your worries and concerns. Be careful not to share too many private details though.
Commiting to Values
Another way that I like to build self-compassion is through my commitment to values. For me, doing something that I value is an act of compassion. For instance, when I go for a run, I absolutely love the entire experience, love how the experience of running makes me feel, I take in the scenery as I go, I might listen to some music or a podcast and I love the tired, but satisfied feeling in my body once i´m finished. All of this makes me feel good about myself and so for me, regularly going for a run is a way for me to keep on building self-compassion. So have a think about your values, are there any that you particuarly enjoy doing that make you feel good about yourself. If so, then see if there is a way to ensure that you are regularly doing that activity.
The final, but by no means the least important way to build self-compassion is through meditation. The great news with this is that you can find so many excellent guided self-compassion videos on YouTube. Normally they ask you to silently repeat positive affirmations to yourself. For some, this can seem quite strange at first, but overtime you do get used to it. If you feel a strong repulsion towards this kind of thing, then fair enough, but I do recommend giving it a try. Doing this three or four times a week, can really start to have a positive impact on how you feel about yourself.
Remember that like with many things, self-compassion is a skill and you can build it. From my own personal battles with OCD, building self-compassion has been incredibly helpful. The ways in which i´ve listed here to build self compassion are not exhaustive and there are may other ways to do it. If you´d like to know more about this topic please feel free to get in touch. I offer coaching for OCD and anxiety and the first session is free. Please look out for the next blog in the mindset series.
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