I love a good top ten list, I mean who doesn’t hey? It’s so much fun, particularly when we’re talking about such a joyful topic such as OCD. But enough with the irony, sometimes a list of tips is just what you need in order to keep the important things close to mind, so with no further ado, here we go.
- Watch out for reassurance – You may have heard people talking about this a lot and theres a good reason for this as it’s fundamental to getting over OCD. As someone who struggles with obsessions, you are most likely a jedi master at getting reassurance. Even if you explain to your nearest and dearest that they shouldn’t give you reassurance, you may catch yourself playing jedi mind tricks to ensure they still do, as the urge for reassurance can be incredibly strong. Put simply, this is because it is a compulsion. Try to remember that reassurance can take many different forms from the obvious reassurance from friends and family, to the potentially never ending reassurance from Google to the painful mental ruminations that other people are simply not aware of.
- Be willing to face uncertainty – You want to start thinking of yourself as some kind of comical superhero who has to face uncertainty. For example you could be Captain Uncertainty or Uncertain Girl, who’s job it is to get out into the world and to bring curiosity to the feeling of uncertainty. The problem that all people with OCD face is dealing with that uncertainty, we unwittingly try to avoid it at all costs which ends up with us stuck int he cycle of OCD. Learning to revel in the uncertainty of life will give you a new sense of freedom which you may have felt was out of reach.
- Have some fun – So often when people are struggling with OCD, humour and fun go out the window. Given the harsh reality of some of the obsessions, that can be know surprise, but finding a way to get back in touch with humour and fun can be hugely beneficial for OCD. A 2016 research paper entitled ‘The Laughter Prescription’ found that “Laughter is a normal and natural physiologic response to certain stimuli with widely acknowledged psychological benefits. However, current research is beginning to show that laughter may also have serious positive physiological effects for those who engage in it on a regular basis”. With this in mind, seeking out people, activities and situations that help us to have fun and laugh, could be incredibly helpful for OCD. For me watching stand up comedy or listening to amusing podcasts is a great way to relax.
- Open up – Whatever you do, don’t keep all of this to yourself. This doesn’t mean that you go round telling everyone about it, but see if you can find someone to share the burden with, a close family member or friend that you trust. Likewise, if you can work with someone who knows about OCD, then that can often make all the difference in the long run.
- Be prepared for the unexpected – OCD is like a soaring eagle. It may be high up above the clouds where you can’t even see it, but at any moment, given the right set of conditions, it can strike and if we are not ready to fight it off, we may be in trouble. As you have probably experienced, old obsessions can appear again out of the blue, new obsessions can materialise out of nothing, almost like you have your very own magician at your disposal creating an endless procession of white bunny rabbits and to be honest he’s not really at our disposal, he’s more of a loose cannon who’s just throwing endless rabbits at you to see which ones stick. We need to be ready to use our tool kit to put those rabbits back in the hat as soon a possible.
- Acceptance is an annoying word, but it’s key. It can be patronising to be told to just ‘accept your anxiety’, like you haven’t already been trying that all your life. But it is fundamental to getting over OCD. Before i really understood acceptance and how to apply it, my obsessions dominated me. Acceptance can be practised through gently facing your obsessions and learning how to overcome the intense emotions that they bring up, which needs in nicely to the next tip.
- Allow yourself to feel all your emotions. For me, this is perhaps the most important thing when it comes to overcoming OCD. For whatever reason, somewhere along the way, people with OCD have learnt to push away or numb their emotions. Sadly this leads to all sorts of problems. When we don’t allow ourself to feel our emotions we end pushing them down and they can get stuck. As mentioned earlier, OCD is characterised by an obsessive pushing away of uncertainty, a feeling that is dominated by fear. The more we can become curious about our emotions, the better.
- Gratitude is king – The opposite emotional state to OCD is gratitude. When struggling with OCD we are effectively in a state of anger and disappointment. We think to ourselves, if only things were like this, or if only i didn’t have this particular obsession, then I could get over this. We tend to ignore all of the things that are going right in a given moment and narrow our focus down to the one thing that isn’t right (or perhaps more accurately, that we perceive as not being right). Gratitude opens us up to the moment, helps us to see all the things that are going right and over time, brings about a more helpful and positive mindset.
- Realise you have control over rumination – It certainly doesn’t always feel like it, but we don’t have to get lost in those distressing circular thoughts that only lead to one thing and that is, more distressing circular thoughts. The sooner we nip it in the bud, the better and the great thing about this is we truly can learn how to do it ¡. The approach that I employ with rumination is to first start spotting when you’re engaging in it. This can be easier said than done as so much rumination is done unconsciously. As you start to recognise it more, you can start practising allowing yourself to feel the emotions underneath the urge to ruminate. This might feel alien at first, but as you practice it becomes more automatic.
- Self-compassion is not for sissies. I like many people had a negative view of self-compassion. I presumed it was about self-indulgence or simply just being weak and naturally shied away from anything to do with it. This was a big mistake as so much of OCD is driven by perfectionism and a wanton lack of self-compassion. Working on this along side exposure work and acceptance commitment therapy is the way that you can help to keep OCD in check in the long term.
So there you have it. This is obviously not an exhaustive list, there are many other things that I could potentially include here, but in my experience, these ten tips are incredibly helpful for overcoming OCD.