If you have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, you know that it is never convenient when you experience symptoms. The last few years may have felt like a whole other level of trials and tribulations; stress exacerbates OCD in a major way, and we are certainly living through a series of unprecedented stressors right now. Getting a handle on your Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder may have felt impossible for you lately. If you are like the majority of people who have OCD, you probably experience another mental health condition, such as anxiety, ADHD, depression, substance abuse, and more; all of these are comorbidities that can impact the severity of your OCD.
It can be especially troublesome when it feels like you have lost control of your life. The need for structure and routine takes over, leading to having anxious thoughts as life does not always go as planned. The more energy you put into trying to control your surroundings, the greater the letdown when that doesn’t work out. This structure can also easily turn into ritualization and rule-setting, which are symptoms of OCD. It is important to learn ways to identify early warning signs of OCD, to get a head start at handling your symptoms.
3 Core Signs of OCD
Understanding your OCD gives you a much better chance of managing your symptoms. This understanding can be aided by taking note of your mental and emotional state and keeping an eye out for three core signs of OCD. These may come all together, one by one, or cycle through. You may identify that one core sign is more prominent or persistent than others; this may be a consistent pattern or sporadic.
1) Ritualizing: these are repetitive mental or behavioral patterns that you repeat in response to your unwanted thoughts. Some examples of this are: locking/unlocking doors, constantly washing your hands, hoarding unwanted items, and associating your behavior with numbers. Mentally reviewing, mentally checking, and repeating certain “safe” or “good” words or numbers.
2) Being rule-driven: following rigid rules you have created for yourself can be an early sign of OCD. These rules might be invisible to others or seem “minor” when others are aware of them, but they can intrude upon your life and routine in a major way. Being unable to function outside of these rules is rooted in OCD.
3) Ruminating thoughts: having intrusive and repetitive thoughts is one of the most distinct signs of OCD. These thoughts can be surrounding rituals, your rules, cleanliness, urges, and compulsions. They may become more intrusive if you aren’t able to ritualize or adhere to your rules the way you would prefer to.
5 Steps To Getting A Handle on Your OCD
1) Expect the unexpected:
Obsessive thoughts can occur at any time, in any place! Prepare yourself not to be shocked when old or new ones appear in your mind. Most importantly, don’t allow these thoughts to throw you off track. By expecting the unexpected, we can better prepare for and tackle obsessive thoughts effectively! This doesn’t mean a constant state of vigilance; that would be exhausting! This expectation requires acceptance of your OCD and a plan in place to help yourself through triggering events.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that any time an intrusive thought or trigger arises, you’ll be so ready for it that you won’t even flinch. It just means having a plan in place for when it does. How will you refocus? What will you tell yourself? Will you make value-based decisions instead of fear-driven? Will you one-up your OCD? Will you lean into the discomfort?
Expecting the unexpected requires you to set aside time in some way to acknowledge and accept what your triggers are. You may want to set aside time in therapy to discuss these triggers and your responses. Not everything is predictable, but having an overview of what you have already learned about yourself gives you a definite advantage. When you have insight into when and where your obsessive thoughts tend to occur, you can create strategies to deal with them when they arise. These strategies can be implemented by refreshing them before entering a situation; if you know that crowds are a trigger for you, you can affirm how you feel and what your goal is before you enter the shopping mall, the market, or the fair.
For those times when you could never have seen a trigger coming, you can lean into the discomfort and make a value-based decision. It is important that your actions are based on your values and not fears your OCD is telling you. You can use affirmations like “I can handle hard things” or “I can live with this anxiety and still do the things I want to do.” You won’t always feel immediate relief. You won’t always recalibrate as quickly as you would like. But having a plan in place is a great safety net.
2) Accept risk:
Taking risks is a fundamental part of our lives. Therefore, it would be impossible to get rid of them. Don’t be afraid of trying new things, and remind yourself that not working towards recovery would be the biggest risk of all. It can feel scary to put yourself out there and feel vulnerable when you are trying to manage your OCD. But to not do so would be to punish yourself for something that isn’t your fault by making your life small.
Recognize and embrace that there is no such thing as no risk, even if you try to “play it safe.” With expecting the unexpected, a key component is accepting your reality. The reality is that there is always a risk that your OCD will be triggered. Take whatever time and follow whatever process you need to accept that risk. Inherently, by accepting risk, you are also striving for reward. When you accept the risk of going somewhere new, where you can’t predict what will happen, you risk triggering your OCD because you don’t have any rituals or rules in place for that scenario. The other side of the coin is that you also open yourself up to good things, positive new experiences and connections, and growth. When you accept risk, you prepare yourself to overcome obstacles while also signing up for the good potential outcomes of any given situation.
3) Be patient with yourself:
You may find yourself on your timeline as you manage your OCD and feel frustrated when daily tasks take longer, you experience delays in your goals, or you have to plan your life in a specific way. Remind yourself that everyone goes at their own pace and that you should not compare yourself to other’s progress. Take it one day at a time, and remember to focus on yourself and your progress.
Showing yourself patience is showing yourself kindness, love, and care. Be as patient with yourself as you would be with your closest friend. You are not on anyone’s schedule, but your own, and every person achieves different things at different speeds and times. Some days may take all your patience; you may be tempted to ritualize, ruminate, or follow your rules more than others, and it might take every spare ounce of thought and moment of time to keep yourself feeling regulated. You may feel, at the end of a day like that, that you “should have gotten more done.” This is where you show yourself patience and grace. Perhaps you would have had a more fulfilling day if you hadn’t been interrupted by your triggers. But you might also have spent more days cycling through OCD behaviors if you hadn’t managed them as they came up.
When you feel impatient in the face of your triggers or behaviors, ask yourself why: “Why do I feel so impatient?” If the answer is that you’re comparing yourself to someone else, talk to yourself kindly about how that is not a helpful state of mind to be in. If the answer is that you have something urgent to get to, ask yourself if giving yourself a hard time about your next appointment is going to ease your OCD symptoms any faster. If you are working through triggers and struggling to stay on track with your planned tactics, remind yourself that practice makes progress. Nothing that will last you forever will happen all at once; your management of OCD will be an ongoing process throughout your life, which means you have the rest of your days to figure out what works for you. As you change, so will your symptoms and tactics; finding a solution “right now” isn’t as beneficial as you might feel it would be.
4) Go towards the anxiety, not away from it:
The only way to effectively overcome your fears is to face them! It is human nature to avoid what makes us uncomfortable, and sometimes, we can do it. If we don’t like heights, certain animals, crowds, etc., we can try to actively avoid them, though confronting them head-on is a better plan. Unfortunately, we cannot run away from our thoughts. Sure, we can distract ourselves for a time and occupy our thoughts. Some of our methods of distraction can have positive repercussions, such as increased knowledge, learning, self-awareness, and more. Some, such as substance abuse, are more damaging. But in the end, there is no way to outrun the thoughts in our heads; they are with us morning and night, everywhere we go. This leaves us with only one option: facing them.
How will you overcome your triggers if you never confront them? You can’t. With the help of your support network, you can expose yourself to the cause(s) of your anxiety. We explore this kind of exposure therapy at our practice in Woodland Hills. This may occur in environments that are controlled or sometimes in environments that cannot be controlled. Revisit your anxiety as often as you need to. When you identify that something is an issue for you, embrace the truth of that statement. When we acknowledge, “This is a struggle,” what naturally follows is often, “Now what?” It is in our nature to contemplate steps to get ourselves out of uncomfortable situations. Therefore, avoiding those situations doesn’t provoke or promote taking any positive actions. It doesn’t give us the forum in which to explore; we can’t learn to meet our needs, soothe ourselves, regulate our emotions, and move forward without first starting in a place of truth and acceptance.
5) Remove all-or-nothing thinking:
As with any ongoing process of trying to change your thoughts, patterns, and habits, you will have ups and downs in managing your OCD. Unfortunately, setbacks are a part of life and part of your process with OCD. You might feel that any missteps you take are indicative of your ability to thrive, but that is not the case. Making mistakes when practicing new skills and changing patterns is normal. Making mistakes does not mean you are a complete failure; you can always try again! Setbacks should not throw you off your tracks but remind you how far you have come.
All-or-nothing thinking can pollute any endeavor we take on in our lives. The problem is that this black-and-white view of the world automatically relegates any setback into the “failure” category, which then grows exponentially. A mindset of “everything is wrong and nothing is going right” takes hold, which can make it especially challenging to avoid impulses to regain a sense of control through ritualizing, rule-following, and/or rumination. Learning to see events in shades of gray is far more beneficial in OCD management and in general. Speak to yourself kindly about setbacks; leave them in the past where they belong, learn what you can from them, and move forward. Remind yourself that they are individual events, not pieces of one giant catastrophe. Use them as cues to take a break, revisit your tactics for OCD management, reach out to your mental health care provider, or spend some time with your affirmations. Keep a list of things that have gone well if you find that you struggle to think of the positives when you get into a negative state of mind. Revisit it as often as you need to. Keep tabs on neutral events as well; remind yourself that a lot of our lives are spent in this space.
There will be issues that come up no matter where you are in your OCD treatment. Through conscientious work, ongoing support, and taking care of yourself, you can minimize the frequency of your symptoms, the impact of your symptoms, and the way you feel about your symptoms. Obsessive and compulsive behaviors are challenging, but there are plenty of ways to approach this challenge. If you feel you are losing control of your life, reach out for support. You may have a therapist, an online support group, a significant other, a friend, a family member, or all of these in your corner, ready and willing to assist you. The key is consistency and self-care.
Embracing You Therapy Got Your Back When You Are Challenging Your OCD
Millions of adults live with OCD, and it can still feel like you are alone in this. Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we want to team up with you against your OCD to take your power back and regain a sense of independence over your life and decisions. We know that OCD rules and compulsions can limit what you get to do and who you get to see. With the help of ERP, CBT, and self-compassion, OCD Treatment is about breaking the vicious cycle of OCD.Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.