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Letting Go of OCD Obsessions


Updated December 27, 2023

A common struggle OCD clients discuss is the difficulty of letting go of the obsessive thoughts. Often, the internal struggle with these thoughts is more difficult in the beginning of treatment, because clients are not doing their usual mental routines. Trying something new is always going to create more stress in the beginning. After these “new” approaches become more familiar, their effectiveness begins to show.

Below are some skills to help with letting go of OCD thoughts. Many of these skills are referenced in Stop Obsessing by Edna Foa, Ph.D. and Reid Wilson, Ph.D.

The First Necessary Step: Accept or Not Accept

  • Any time an OCD thought appears, we have a choice: Do I want to resist the thought? Or do I accept the thought?

  • If we resist and fight the thought, we increase our distress and obsess even more.

  • If we accept the thought, we decrease our distress in the moment and give ourselves the best chance of reducing OCD thoughts in the future.

  • It is easier to accept a thought if you remind yourself that OCD thoughts are involuntary. You cannot control if they appear, only how to respond to them.

After accepting the OCD thought, there are 3 skills to try

Skill 1: Postpone Obsessing

  • OCD thoughts are more distressing when we tell ourselves they need to be gone right now and never come back. If this approach worked, people would not have OCD thoughts.

  • A way of gaining control is to decide when you will obsess or worry.

  • You are choosing to postpone them, not ignore them.

  • This provides control by breaking the original pattern of being consumed with the OCD thought.

  • At first try postponing for 30 seconds to a minute. Gradually expand the window over time.

Skill 2: Change the Way You Obsess

  • Mentally step back and note to yourself that you are starting to obsess.

  • Check in with yourself and try to identify the emotions you are experiencing in this moment (Sad, Anxious, Anger, Shame)

  • Remind yourself in the past there have been thoughts you’ve been able to let go. It’s okay to have a momentary obsession right now.

  • If you know it is an OCD thought, then you know it is irrational. Do your best to not analyze the OCD thought.

  • Do your best to change your emotions in the moment by doing something: Writing down the thought, thinking the thought in a funny voice, visualizing the thought as a picture, etc..)


Skill 3: Use Supportive Statements

  • OCD thoughts are always exaggerated and unhelpful. Try shifting your mind to a more realistic, helpful thought.

  • The supportive statement has to be something you can emotionally buy into. Don’t choose to say something that you do not believe in.

  • Some examples include:

This OCD thought isn’t helpful right now

Now is not the time to think about it. I can think about it later.

I won’t argue with an irrational thought

I don’t have to be perfect to be okay

I have to take risks to feel better. I’m willing to take risks.

The OCD thought does not mean anything. I don’t have to pay attention to it.

It’s good practice to let go of this. I want to practice.

 

Additional Techniques for Letting Go of OCD Obsessions

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness involves staying present and fully engaging with the here and now. This practice can help individuals observe their OCD thoughts without judgment and without immediately reacting to them.

Meditation can be particularly effective in calming the mind and reducing the intensity of obsessive thoughts. Regular meditation can help create a state of mental stability and clarity.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a widely recognized and effective treatment for OCD. It involves changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. With CBT, individuals learn to challenge and neutralize obsessive thoughts rather than engaging with them.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

ERP is a type of CBT that involves gradually exposing oneself to the source of their anxiety (the obsession) without allowing themselves to carry out the compulsive act (the response). Over time, this can help reduce the power that the OCD thoughts hold.

Building a Support System

Having a strong support system is crucial. Friends, family, and support groups can provide encouragement and understanding. Sharing experiences with others who have OCD can be particularly beneficial, as it helps individuals realize that they are not alone in their struggles.

Self-Care and Lifestyle Changes

  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which are often linked with OCD.
  • Healthy Diet: A balanced diet can improve overall well-being and help manage OCD symptoms.
  • Adequate Sleep: Lack of sleep can exacerbate OCD symptoms, so ensuring a good night’s sleep is important.

Technology and Apps

Several apps are designed to help manage OCD. These apps might offer tools for relaxation, tracking symptoms, and providing educational resources.

The Role of Medication

In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage OCD symptoms. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed. It’s important to discuss the benefits and side effects of these medications with a healthcare provider.

A Continuous Journey

It’s important to remember that managing OCD is a continuous process. There will be good days and bad days. The key is consistency in practicing the skills and techniques mentioned.

Seeking Professional Help

Professional help from therapists who specialize in OCD is crucial. They can provide personalized treatment plans and strategies tailored to individual needs.

A Final Word

In conclusion, letting go of OCD obsessions requires a combination of strategies, support, self-care, and sometimes professional intervention. By understanding and applying these techniques, individuals with OCD can find relief and regain control over their thoughts and lives.

For more specialized guidance and support for OCD and related anxiety disorders, individuals are encouraged to seek professional help, such as through services like Good Therapy SF.