6 Techniques to Stop Obsessive Thoughts

6 Techniques to Stop Obsessive Thoughts Image When my parents divorced, I was eight years old, which ultimately changed my way of thinking at the time. It felt like a shift in my brain, as soon after, I began performing these unknowingly repetitive tapping patterns on my arms. It wasn't until my ten-year-old sister saw me in the act and questioned what I was doing that I realized something wasn't right.

Twenty years later, I began attending counseling sessions with a therapist specializing in OCD, who helped me make sense of my childhood patterns that continued well into adulthood. These behaviors consisted of repeatedly checking my stove knobs, door locks, and alarm clock. I also avoided stepping on sidewalk cracks, ruminating on past and present conversations, and everything in my house had to be symmetrical. These rituals were incredibly debilitating and lasted for several hours each day. However, thankfully, they no longer exist.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common and chronic disorder where individuals struggle with intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts (obsessions) and, therefore, perform ritualistic behaviors (compulsions) to decrease unwanted thoughts. For example, individuals may line up everything by size in their refrigerator to avoid disturbing images.

Individuals with OCD tend to be perfectionists, pay strong attention to detail, and require extreme orderliness, interfering with daily activities at home, school, or work. They are often aware of their behaviors and feel shame and embarrassment.

Symptoms may include excessive hand washing, repetitive thought patterns, checking and unchecking, avoiding particular objects, and intrusive violent or sexual thoughts.

Although there is no proven cause of OCD, studies have correlated it to stressful life events, family history, other mental health disorders, and chemical changes affecting brain functioning.

Types of Treatment

OCD can be tricky but remedied, so here are some techniques to help decrease and eliminate its symptoms.

1. Journal your thoughts

Journaling can be a great way to reduce intrusive thoughts, especially if you're experiencing them in the middle of the night. It doesn't have to be lengthy either, just enough to get it out of your head. For instance, jot it down if you can't stop replaying the seemingly embarrassing statement you made at work. Reading the thought rather than thinking can also help make light of the situation.

2. Challenge your mind

Do your thoughts cause constant worry or extreme anxiety? For example, you become afraid that something terrible will happen if you don't wash your hands repeatedly, such as a loved one involved in a car accident or colleagues laughing at you?

One technique used to challenge thoughts without judgment is called realistic thinking. So, if you decide to take a chance and wash your hands only five times instead of the usual six, ask yourself if anything terrible happened?

For example:

  • Did anyone get hurt?
  • Did people laugh at me in the crowd?
  • Did my colleagues ridicule me at work?
3. Allow yourself time to think

Several years ago, I experienced severe panic attacks around people in closed spaces and had horrific images of throwing chairs and screaming. My therapist taught me that my fears and compulsions only increased whenever I attempted to avoid intrusive thoughts. Therefore, the anxiety decreased when I allowed myself to make my rendition of the story, such as being taken away and hospitalized.

OCD tends to enjoy controlling your thoughts, and the more you avoid it, the more intrusive they become, thus increasing your anxiety and compulsions. Therefore, if you start to notice your OCD beginning to take control, follow through with a storyline, and create your ending.

4. Try some relaxation methods

When anxious, do you experience physical symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches? The mind-body connection is a valid concept, so using some relaxation techniques can reduce the unwelcomed symptoms of anxiety.

  • Deep breathing is a great way to slow your heart rate down and decrease anxiety. The nice part is that you can practice it anywhere, whether at home, school, work, or an appointment, even if it's just a few deep inhales and exhales.
  • Deep muscle relaxation helps release the tension in our muscles that we tend to carry when anxious. Therefore, allow yourself to tighten one muscle at a time from head to toe for a few seconds and then release.
  • Physical Activity has a powerful way of releasing the tension in our minds and bodies, whether walking, biking, or gardening, to name a few. And if you are not a fan of exercise, try something fun like dancing in your house or a WII sport. Or take a short and relaxing walk for at least 5-10 minutes. However, I suggest talking with your doctor first if you haven't exercised before.
5. Find a support group

OCD often causes us to isolate ourselves due to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and how debilitating it can be, thus preventing us from going anywhere. However, that will only increase one's anxiety. So, try to find a support group of peers that suits your needs.

Nowadays, support groups are more versatile than ever before. You can attend online or in-person peer-led groups, therapist-run groups, or online forums.

6. Seek therapy

Living with OCD can be extremely challenging. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with seeking help from a therapist, as it can provide you with the necessary tools to work on unwanted thoughts and behaviors. Essentially, you will work on methods together and practice individually outside of therapy. Finding a therapist who specializes in OCD would be ideal. However, if not, make sure they have experience working with this particular diagnosis.

Here are some methods that your therapist may use specifically for OCD:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that works on accepting your thoughts without judgment or trying to control them.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment used to decrease an individual's distorted thinking, feeling, and behavioral patterns.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)is a form of CBT that entails confronting the feared object or situation to prevent compulsive behaviors. The therapist will slowly expose you to your particular fears, which will initially increase your anxiety, but through continued exposure, it will diminish.
There is Hope

OCD can be frightening, and you may feel like you're losing control, but it is very treatable through practice, exposure, and support. You can take that power back when you begin to learn that a thought is only a thought and nothing else.

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