We’ve entered the first pandemic holiday season without restrictions. What does this mean for your OCD symptoms?
Joining us this holiday season is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the flu, and COVID. Despite these illnesses, we can gather with friends, family, and coworkers without restrictions for the first time during the Pandemic. As an ERP and OCD therapist based in Barrie, Ontario, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing heightened OCD symptoms among our new and current clients this holiday season. Here’s what you need to know about OCD and how to manage your symptoms this holiday season.
Holiday invitations are coming in, and your weekends are getting busy with social events. It appears you’re the only person thinking of all the illnesses out there right now. While you’re busy obsessing (worried, scared, what-if thoughts), the people around you are joyful. They can’t stop talking about how excited they are – what they’ll wear, and what they’re bringing. Do they not have a care in the world? Suddenly, a jolt of envy runs through you, and you want to be like them.
It’s normal to experience intrusive thoughts; it’s common to have intrusive thoughts (obsessions) during the holidays. When envy accompanies the intrusive thoughts, watch out for the shame spiral. You know OCD is winning when:
- You think, “I shouldn’t have these thoughts.”
- You wonder, “Will I ever enjoy the holidays again?”
- You blame yourself: “I’m having intrusive thoughts, so I’m a weirdo/crazy/bad person.”
- You keep the intrusive thoughts to yourself. Shame loves secrecy.
Recognizing how you’re speaking to yourself is the first way you can get through the holidays with OCD. Now, try to respond to yourself as if you’re talking to your best friend, who happens to have OCD. Be kind to yourself is tip number two:
- “Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts; I’m brave to acknowledge it’s OCD.”
- “These thoughts don’t define me. I define me.”
Next, let’s look at how OCD may attack this holiday season.
OCD intrusive thoughts during the holidays can look like:
- What if I’m going to get sick?
- I’m going to get my family sick.
- What if my ERP skills don’t work?
- What if I hug my niece and have a pedophilia intrusive thought?
- What if I hold the carving knife and have a thought of stabbing my child?
Our third tip is monitoring the intrusive thoughts leading up to your holiday functions. Bonus points if you can do so while practicing tip number four. This is an important step in developing an appropriate response to the OCD – tip number four:
Face the fear and do it anyway. Confronting what we’re afraid of is the only way to overcome OCD and prove to yourself there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. Try these strategies:
- Using exposure statements that demonstrate we can tolerate the scary thought, situation, or image. For example: “I can trust the uncertainty that I might get sick, and that’s ok.” For other fears, “I might hurt someone, but I can tolerate the uncertainty.”
- If exposure statements are hard to say, try a coping statement instead: “If I get sick, I know I can handle it. I’ve done it before.” For other fears, “The thoughts are not mine; they belong to OCD.”
- Take the event(s) in chunks: 15 minutes at a time or whatever your need, and take a break. Escape to a quiet space to remind yourself of your skills.
- Exposure: As a good general rule, what you avoid is what you fear, and should be confronted. Hold the knife while a family member is close; hug your nieces and nephews while using an exposure statement.
As you move through our four tips for managing OCD over the holidays, remember:
- OCD attacks what you love the most.
- You are not to blame for the intrusive thoughts.
- Practice self-compassion: This holiday season is a first for everyone, and it will be difficult for many of us. Be kind to yourself and practice grace.
What tips do you have for the OCD North community to help us get through the holidays?
Read About Our OCD Treatment Options.
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.