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We’ve all been there… We have a choice to make, are we going to continue doing what we know is making us sick. The actions that we habitually take that keep us stuck in the anxiety trap and unable to move forward in a positive way? Or are we going to do something different, something challenging, but ultimately very rewarding.
With OCD it’s about playing the long term game. If we choose the former we are going to continue to struggle with OCD in the future, but if we choose the latter, we are opening ourselves up to the possibility of change.
The Choice Point
One of the main elements of ACT, the choice point, highlights this decision making process. Russ Harris the author of ‘The Happiness Trap’ states that The Choice Point’s main aim is to illustrate and connect users to the two main options we have as human beings in any given situation.
We can move toward what matters to us, or we can move away from what matters. And we can do both sets of actions in countless different ways. When we take the time to plot out the situation that we’re experiencing, the inner stuff that hooks us, and how we respond to it, we can more easily identify what moves we can make that would move us toward what matters, and connect with the deep significance there.
I can’t state enough the importance of learning how to do this. Learning to move towards what matters, despite the difficult feelings and thoughts that you might be experiencing is at the heart of learning to overcome OCD. It’s a huge step in the right direction.
There are though generally two problems for people with OCD when they try to apply this to their lives. Number one is that you may feel like when you arrive at the choice point, that you don’t actually have a choice, that you have to perform the compulsion.
This is an illusion that the OCD creates in order to keep us trapped. The good news is that you always have agency, even when it feels like you don’t. Even if you choose to perform the compulsion, bare in mind that you are deciding to do that.
By taking small steps and practicing not doing whatever it is the OCD is telling you to do, you can begin to demonstrate to yourself that actually you are the one in charge and not the OCD.
The second problem that many people struggle with is having made the decision to move towards their values, actually sticking with it and following through.
Take A Long Term View
When we take a long term view like this we are keeping ourselves in the game and open to the possibility of real change, but that doesn’t always mean it’s going to be easy. Sometimes it might be, having made the decision to focus on values and not perform the compulsion, you may find it easy to stick to it, but the counter is also true.
There may well be times when having made that decision to do the positive thing, you are left with an intense feeling of discomfort. Like an itch, the perceived need to perform a compulsion can dominate the mind and left unchecked can lead to us feeling like the only way we can deal with the feeling is to simply perform the compulsion.
As we know though, this is taking the short term fix and sacrificing our long term happiness. So how can we bring more acceptance to this discomfort, how can we avoid the white knuckle ride of not performing the compulsion.
Well there is no one size solution that fits everyone, but what we have are a range of skills and practices that can help us bring more acceptance to these difficult emotions. One is to sit down somewhere quiet and to on purpose pay attention to the sensations of the discomfort.
Try To Notice The Anxiety In The Body
Try to notice where exactly in the body you can feel it the most and then try to breathe towards those areas, not with the aim to get rid of the feeling, but to explore and understand it more.
This action of moving towards the discomfort can help to transform it. If you want to explore this more you can find a guided meditation for it from one of the earlier episodes. Something else you can try is to get the body moving. So often when we are struggling with these feelings we are stagnant.
By moving the body and focusing in on the body mindfully as we do so, we can get ourselves out of our heads and into our bodies, a much healthier place to be. Five minutes of exercise also shakes the body up and can help us to process stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol as well as promoting feel good chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin.
You can also try applying various different defusion techniques to the thoughts and feelings. Keep trying to remain present and focused on your values. The good thing with these emotions is that they never stand still. If we can put enough energy and focus into things that we value, we can learn to disengage from them. The intensity of the emotions will go down if we can allow ourselves more time and space.
Self Compassion Is Key
Remember that a big part of getting over OCD is building more self-compassion. As soppy as it may sound, being kind, gentle and non judgmental with ourselves throughout this process of letting go of obsessive thoughts is essential. You are going to make mistakes, sometimes you might give up.
The objective is to not get too annoyed with ourselves and to recognise that this is a normal part of the process. If it was easy you wouldn’t be listening to this podcast. Each time you fall back, dust yourself off and try again and remind yourself that you are doing your best under difficult circumstances.
I find that taking this self-self-compasisonate approach to overcoming OCD is much more helpful in the long term and when applied with consistency, can really help us to turn a corner with the OCD.