Many people who struggle with symptoms of OCD describe having ‘urges’ to do behaviours to alleviate their feelings of anxiety. These can feel overwhelming at times and are known as ‘compulsions’ or ‘rituals’.
Many clients who I see, can have multiple compulsions that they do- some mental and some physical. Whatever it is that the clients do, the ‘function’ or the ‘purpose’ is the same ; to feel less anxious, more comfortable and in some cases a feeling that things ‘are just right’.
I understand this not just on a ‘theoretical’ level as I can safely say that I have ‘wore the t-shirt’. I know what it’s like to have overwhelming urges to do ‘bizarre’ behaviours in a vain attempt to ‘feel better’ and feel more at ease that bad things weren’t going to happen!
Where the problem lies is that doing these compulsive behaviours only offers ‘short-term’ relief!
You get relief for a while, but very soon when you begin to feel uncomfortable; you feel ‘compelled’ to do these behaviours again! It’s easy to see how life easily become one big compulsion!
So what’s the way out? How can we manage the intrusive thoughts and the feelings of anxiety WITHOUT doing these non-sensical behaviours?
Well firstly, it’s about recognising that doing the rituals is only keeping the problem there in the ‘long run’. There is a saying- “The problem isn’t the problem; the solution is the problem!” In a nutshell, it’s what you ‘do’ (the compulsions) in response to the problem (intrusive thoughts & feelings of anxiety), that is keeping the problem there in the long run!!
So, it’s a process and it takes time and generally it helps to get support from a professional who specialises in OCD. However, it’s about learning to treat these urges to do compulsions as ‘false alarms’. Yes they feel intense, yes they feel uncomfortable but they are not ‘signs’ that something bad is going to happen! The brains error-detection circuit is just firing too rapidly and we can help it function better by:
1. Recognizing that that the urge to do the compulsion is a ‘false alarm’.
It’s not a ‘real need’. I don’t need to give it my energy and attention!
2. Redirecting your attention on to ‘another behaviour’.
The worse thing to do is to be idle, endlessly hoping for the difficult thought or feeling to go away! As we change our behaviour, the anxiety eases!
3. Over time, we begin to see that the anxiety will decrease,
The bad thing we worry about ‘doesn’t happen’ and we our improving how our brain functions.
So even if you are in a position, where you feel that you can’t begin to reduce your compulsions, at least know that there is a way out, there is always hope!
Paul Mc Carroll
OCD & Anxiety Specialist