That’s right, folks, nothing new over here!
When conquering OCD, we know that Exposure and Response Prevention therapy is tried and true. After all, it is the gold standard treatment for OCD. So that goes without saying, we don’t have anything new for you! But what we do have is a reminder of 4 strategies that can be implemented no matter where you are in your OCD journey or what OCD sub-type you are experiencing. These strategies will aid in empowering you in the fight against OCD.
The 4 strategies to conquer OCD are building awareness, externalizing OCD, welcoming the uncertainty, and teaming up to face OCD. Before we unpack these strategies, let’s take a moment to reflect on how much time and fear OCD has brought into your life. Yes, these strategies will be scary. Yes, implementing them will take time and effort. But isn’t OCD also taking your time? So let’s change it from time taken by OCD to time spent taking back from OCD.
Strategy #1: Building Awareness
Why is awareness so important, you ask? When we think about OCD, we often think about it as a Bully (among other things). The more we entertain the Bully, the stronger it can become. We want to become aware of the role OCD (the Bully) plays in your life so we know where it might be fed. Once aware, we can start to see opportunities to stand up to the Bully, maybe even notice that some compulsions are more habit-driven than fear-driven. Perfect opportunity to take back from OCD and have a win.
Awareness can also help with motivation. It is really empowering when we have more knowledge, especially about our own experiences. So let’s become aware of when and where the obsessions and compulsions are happening and how distressing they are.
How do I become more aware, you ask? Great question! At the start of your treatment, your therapist will help with education around how OCD presents. This education is a good start to catching those obsessions and compulsions. You will also be provided with a self-monitoring form. This self-monitoring form allows you to track your experience with OCD. Tracking the “time, place, obsession, compulsions and times spent, and distress level” at the moment helps you build that awareness. If you don’t yet have a therapist, don’t worry – you can still self-monitor by tracking the above categories on your phone or paper.
Strategy #2: Externalizing
First things first: you are not the OCD – OCD is the OCD! The quicker we can separate you from OCD, the better. The thoughts are creating distress for you because they are incongruent with who you are and your values and likes (p.s. this was reassurance, and I won’t be repeating it!). You are doing the compulsions to mitigate the fear. If you could choose, you would prefer not to have the thoughts and complete the compulsions, am I right? So that all being said, it’s OCD, not you, and we need to start acknowledging that.
How do we externalize OCD, you ask? We start with language. No more “I” and a lot more “OCD” when talking about the fears and behaviours.
Here’s an example: taking “What is wrong with me, I keep wishing poorly of my family” and turning it into, “Wow, OCD is really throwing in some scary thoughts about my family, but I can tolerate them.”
See what I did there? Not only did I externalize OCD (changing “I” to “OCD”), but I also added something else important regarding language. I added some empowering words – “I can tolerate them.” That’s right, you can! OCD is hard enough to beat; let’s not be our own enemy. Celebrate those wins (no matter the size) and your positive language to show you are bigger, better, and stronger than OCD. Be your own cheerleader. In fact, queue “Cheerleader” by OMI because that’s you – you are your cheerleader (*insert singing break here*).
Before I get totally off track (karaoke will do that to you), there’s one more important tip about externalizing OCD that needs to be shared; give OCD a name, and have fun doing so! Make the name funny, make it silly, make it a villain in a movie or even better, something you view as powerless. If we can weaken OCD by giving it a name with no fear attached to it or one that makes us laugh, we are moving in a good direction.
Strategy #3: Welcome the Uncertainty
You heard me; we are kicking certainty to the curb. The reason for this is OCD loves certainty; it will eat certainty for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And we want to stop feeding OCD!! So, to do this, we will take a step back and look at what we have been trying to seek certainty for. Have you been trying to be certain your hands are clean or seeking certainty around your sexuality, that you aren’t a bad person, that no harm will occur? The list of different ways we can seek certainty to accommodate OCD goes on and on. Once knowing what your list is, let’s start sprinkling some uncertainty in there.
Now, this can happen at different levels. If you are starting your journey, try saying “Maybe, maybe not,” “I guess I’ll never know,” throughout your day. You can say this when a worry is present for you, replacing a mental compulsion. Or, if you are completing exposures, you can sprinkle uncertainty throughout the exposures and after using your exposure statements.
Don’t forget we can always spoil a compulsion. What I mean by this is, if OCD was a little tricky and a compulsion was completed, we can go and re-exposure ourselves to the trigger again. You can also spoil the compulsion by WELCOMING THE UNCERTAINTY (i.e. maybe I did use hand sanitizer after, but it’s only 99% protective, maybe I will still get sick)!
Strategy #4: Teamwork
That’s right, you don’t have to face OCD on your own. OCD might feel powerful right now, but there is also power in numbers. It may feel scary to reach out to support at first, but you become stronger when you take the risk to share with someone. When I say “teamwork,” I do not mean someone to help with the compulsions and feed OCD. I mean someone to help sprinkle in uncertainty, someone to tell OCD to “bring it on because we can take you.”
The team at OCD North is always eager to be on your team to conquer OCD. Others will often ask family, friends, teachers, and other important people in their lives to also help. Some people may be more involved than others, and that is okay. Often, we encourage the people who have been accommodating OCD to join the team to combat OCD. We want to teach them all about helping externalize OCD, calling it a name, and celebrating the wins while removing the accommodations. Let’s add some more cheerleaders to your team!
There are definitely more strategies that can be shared when conquering OCD, but these four are some of my favourites! This new year, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel when it comes to beating OCD. You just need to be willing to continue putting in the work! When you build awareness of OCD, externalize the disorder from yourself, welcome uncertainty and build your team against OCD, you’re sure to be well on your way to recovery. What could be better than that?
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Our clinicians are OCD and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) specialists. We understand OCD as it manifests in the pediatric and adult populations, families, schools, and the workplace. We utilize ERP to break the cycle of OCD individually and systemically to help you achieve your goals. Read more about our services.