Obsessive compulsive disorder is like having a bully in your brain who never allows you to be happy or relaxed or in-the-moment. When you realize you aren’t obsessed about the thing, your brain reminds you of it and sucks you back into your head. This is why distraction and avoidance can only work for so long and is not the real remedy to combatting this disorder. Instead, exposure and controlling your mindset are the two real factors to managing your OCD.
Exposure response therapy is the best way to combat the disorder, and this can be done through intensive treatment where you habituate to the overstimulation of your fear, allowing you to feel less anxiety overtime and decreased obsession.
Exposing yourself is the proper thing to do, not avoidance. Trying to distract yourself from thinking about the obsession will make it pop into your brain more often. Thus, avoidance only brings short term relief and no long term cure. To succeed, you have to tackle it head on.
CONTROLLED MINDSET: DON’T GIVE INTO FEAR OF DOUBT
Fear is what feeds OCD. Thoughts are simply thoughts but when we get anxious over them and seek reassurance, this is what creates the obsession. To fight OCD, you should counteract fear with a mindset of acceptance and apathy.
Instead of dwelling in the obsessive thought, you accept the intrusive thought when it comes and do not react to it (apathy). You do not put judgement into it. It is simply a fleeting thought that means nothing. The more you do this after each thought, the less the thoughts will come.
With less anxiety comes less obsession. This is because fear signals the amygdala in our brain to react, which causes us to feel symptoms of anxiety. The thought itself isn’t the problem, it’s the fear attached to it. If you have harm thoughts, see what happens if instead of responding with guilt or fear, you shrug it off and think, “It’s just a thought. It’s not me.” Or don’t respond to it at all. And don’t let yourself feel bad for not responding.
If instead you respond with “This is always going to be on my mind and I’m never going to be happy”, then you are giving into fear and uncertainty, signaling your brain into fight or flight mode, and in turn, increasing the obsession. We can’t control all of our biology but we can control our reactions, which in turn can help our biology stay in the right direction.
Basically, no judgement on a thought = no anxiety = no biological signal to our fight or flight = less obsession.
CONTROLLED MINDSET: SAY “BRING IT ON”
As mentioned in the section above, try to accept the intrusive thoughts with apathy; however, if you still have fear, challenge your brain with sarcasm or ridiculous exaggeration to boost your confidence and gain control over the anxiety. In this “bring it on” mentality, you see your intrusive thoughts as a competitor instead of an inferior.
It’s kind of like being sarcastic with yourself. If your brain implants another idea for you to fear on, say in a sarcastic tone, “Come on brain, give me more thoughts, I want to have them all the time”.
You can turn your OCD into a competitor and outsmart it’s cheap tricks. Reassure yourself that you know yourself more than your brain’s mind games. In response to unwanted thoughts, you can say, “I know myself, I would never do that. Nice try brain.” Or if your brain is pushing you with so many what if’s, roll your eyes and respond with, “Obviously that’s all just talk and no game”, like something you’d say about a less talented competitor who is hyping themselves up. If your brain is telling you that something bad may happen if you don’t perform a ritual, overpower your competitor’s threats by saying,”Ok brain, show me what you got, make it happen then.”
Here is an excerpt from a lovely article written by Reid Wilson who explains the “bring it on brain” method to one of his patients:
Therapist: ‘Our goal is to shift your relationship with OCD. The disorder lives in you only if you respond in a particular way. It needs you to say: ‘I’ve got to get rid of my anxiety.’ Let’s flip that. What’s the opposite of ‘I’ve got to get rid of my anxiety?’
Patient: ‘I want my anxiety.’
Therapist: ‘Great. What’s the opposite of ‘I’ve got to get rid of uncertainty?’
Patient: ‘I’m never going to be certain. I don’t want to be certain about anything.’
To interrupt his sleep routine, Bob might ask OCD to keep him awake all night: ‘Please, what I live for is for you to make me stay awake all night.’
Sure, it’s crazy talk, but it’s for good reason. When Bob says, ‘Oh god, I hope I don’t stay awake all night, I’m going to be miserable,’ that fires off his amygdala—his fight-or-flight response. And he feels more anxious.
But when he sends a ridiculous message, like, ‘Come on, more please,’ then he’s taking the game to OCD. He’s assuming the power position.
Bob: ‘Yeah, I need to talk to myself in a bring-it-on type of mentality.’
Reid: ‘You notice that OCD is disturbing you, so you say something to OCD, like, ‘Give me more, please.’ Or something that will motivate you, like, ‘I want this.’
Bob: ‘Right. I need to get my fighting spirit going. I need to motivate myself to say, ‘I’m going to attack it.’ I need to make it a competitive sport.’
Remember that no matter how much you think about it, it will not affect your actions. Self-will determines your actions, not intrusive thoughts.”
Giving into worry or doubt allows the obsession to have power over you. Accepting the thoughts and challenging your brain to “bring it on” gives you the power.
Note: Medication can help as well for many people with OCD. However, it should never be relied on alone, since the most effective (and long term) tool to combat the disorder comes from conscience mental rewiring. Statistically mindset behavior management (through therapy) with medication is the most effective solution for people, not medication alone. Cognitive behavior change is the fundamental solution to OCD, while medication is a coinciding solution.