Although ERP is obviously a big part of the puzzle when it comes to OCD and anxiety, it’s not everything. Learning to face our fears and move towards the discomfort is the thing that teaches us that we can overcome the anxiety.
But in my experience, ERP alone can be a lot like existing on a very limited diet. Yes you are going to get by, but you won’t be getting everything you need to be truly healthy.
Or perhaps you can use a car analogy, I like car analogies, they’re good. You can give your car a good clean and fill it up with petrol, but if you haven´t given the mechanics enough time and attention, then it’s likely that the car is going to have problems. Sometimes we have to look under the bonnet (and if your American and you don’t know what on earth that means), im reffering to ‘the hood’.
Get the right kind of help
Now it’s important to mention here that if you have experienced severe trauma in your life in one form or another, then it’s important for you to work with a qualified counsellor or therapist in order to process it.
The inner healing that I am talking about today, is more about the everyday stuff, the emotional baggage that we all carry around with us from an early age which we need to learn to let go of.
ACT and Inner Healing
So how can we bring some inner healing so as to further integrate and accept our tendencies towards obsessing and compulsing? Well lets start with ACT, which is comprised of different approaches that can kickstart inner emotional healing and help you to make more progress.
One of these is meditation. One of the pillars of ACT is self as context. This refers to getting in touch with the observing self, the ability all of us have to observe our thoughts and emotions without getting too caught up in them.
The observing self
You can think of the observing self as the part of you that is separate from the thinking part of you. It is unchanging and always calm. Take the cliché example of a stormy ocean, deep down under the surface, the water of the ocean remains calm, it doesn’t matter what happens on the surface. In much the same way, we can always tune into that part of us that remains calm, that just observes. The more we can do that, the better off we are going to be.
So how do we get more in touch with this observing self? Meditation of course. In an article entitled ‘Healing The Source Of Inner Pain’ on Chokra.com, it is claimed that “Meditation is one of the best ways to loosen the grip of sticky emotions and connect to our true self”. So how does meditation help us to do this?
It seems that it has something to do with quitening the mind in order to allow it to direct it’s own healing. The article continues that meditation “allows the mind to detach from its usual preoccupations and experience the spaciousness and calm within. In the silence of awareness, the mind lets go of old patterns of thinking and feeling and learns to heal itself”.
A wake up call
And this doesn´t just appear to be wishful thinking. Western Science has been waking up to the benefits of meditation for years now and an ever growing body of research demonstrates the benefits of meditation for our emotional and even physical health.
In an article for psychology today entitled ‘How Meditation Improves Emotional and Physical Health` Thomas Rutledge Ph.D claims that Areas of the brain critical to the fight-or-flight response—such as the amygdala, for example—appear to decrease in size with regular meditation practice.
These amygdala region reductions may explain why meditators show reduced reactivity to emotional stimuli and reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms.
When it comes to meditation, I really can´t recommend it enough. There are arguments over which type is best and how much you should do, but to be honest, this is quite trivial. The important thing is just to get going with something, even if that’s only a few mindful breaths here and there throughout the day.
As you get started with meditation it’s likely that you will start to notice some benefit and that will hopefully encourage you to find out more. If you can begin a simple practice of ten to 20 minutes a day, then you will obviously start to see more progress. I really recommend apps such as Headspace or Insight Timer to get going with this.
The Wim Hof Method
If however you are like me and you find it difficult to sit quietly for 20 minutes and just watch the breath, then there are other options and one of this is the Wim Hof Method. Often when people think of Wim Hof, they think of Ice baths and extreme challenge.
But there is a lot more to the method than that. One of the pillars of the method is breathwork and Wim’s particular breathing method is quite powerful.
If you want to check out how to do this method from the master himself, then you can head over to his website www.wimhofmethod.com or search for him on youtube. To say the least Wim is a bit of a character, but he is also incredibly charismatic and is work is currently being backed up by science.
Much like meditation, his breathing method seems to help in relation to emotional control and even with bringing emotions to the surface. If you are looking more a more physically active form of meditation, then this may be for you.
Acceptance of discomfort
Not only this, but the cold water exposure element of the method offers another way to integrate our emotions and move towards discomfort. As Wim says “The cold is my only master, the cold is my only teacher”. By taking a cold shower each morning or occasionally climbing into an ice bath (with someone there to support us), we can learn so much about ourselves.
What we are resisting and avoiding and how to integrate and accept. It’s not an exact science, it takes experiential learning, but it has a hige amount of potential for transformation. Certainly for myself, this method has been incredibly powerful.
Values lead the way to inner healing
Another way to focus on inner healing is living your life by your values. This may not seem so obvious at first, but when we explore it a little, we begin to see why. Our lives provide us with endless opportunities to heal. Each time that we do something difficult or we overcome a challenge we are learning about ourselves and learning to let go of emotional baggage.
As we slowly move towards a greater and greater level of self-actualization, by living our life by our values we are systematically letting go of often long held negative beliefs and replacing them with evidence to the contrary.
Choosing to live your life by your values is not always easy, particulary if you are struggling with OCD and anxiety, but doing so is a sure fire way to boost your own healing process. Two of my big values are health and the outdoors.
So for me, heading out for a run in the forest is one of the best things I can do for myself. Not only will I feel better from doing exercise and spending time in nature, but perhaps more importantly I will have overcome the biggest obstacle that we all face and that is avoidance.
Learn to focus on the things you are resisting
Why is it that all the things that we know are good for us are so damn hard to do? Every time I sit down to write a blog, structure a podcast or head out for a run I feel this sense of resistance, this nagging voice that says wouldn’t it just be easier to watch tv or eat a frozen pizza. Some days the resistance is so strong that you feel like you can’t overcome it and these are the days where we procrastinate and generally feel bad about ourselves.
But when we are able to look that resistance and avoidance in the face and do the things that matter to us anway, that’s when true inner healing starts to take place. So often we are looking for the answers in all the wrong places.
We look for the perfect method, the perfect diet or the right mindset, these things can help, but true healing comes from the inside. Anything you do that helps you to face your inner resistance, be it ERP, meditation, the Wim Hof Method, exercise, journaling, values, will help you with your own inner healing and clarity.