How to Practice Mindfulness for OCD
Mindfulness is the practice of coming back to the present moment. It is used by a variety of people, and has had significant impacts on mental health. One area that mindfulness can aid in is providing those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) with a grounding sensory experience and a mental state that is focused on what can be done now. It can also help these individuals to release some of the anxiety in the mind to curb fear, intrusive thoughts, religious compulsions, perfectionism, and anxiety in the physical body.
Fear consists of thoughts that are often untrue that frighten the person having them. Fear can be about events in the past or in the future – neither of which are happening now. People who have OCD exhibit repetitive habits and rituals based on the fear they have inside. These behaviors can arise in the home, at work, or in other locations. In those moments, it can be hard to know the best way to approach them.
On the other hand, the goal of mindfulness is to train the mind to focus on the here and now. In practicing this, one is able to divert thoughts from moving to worry or anxiety. Mindfulness can be used any time of the day – during work, home, or before bed. A grounding activity during this time can be to describe what is happening around you using all of your senses. It can provide a distraction from fear.
Comparing reality to the thoughts of fear that you are having can serve as a reality check. When you are observing what is going on and you see that it is not in alignment with the fears you have had, you then can separate yourself from the fear that you are having so that you can address it better.
I sometimes have worry about something that could actually happen. There’s almost always one thing that I can do to make sure that it doesn’t. Stepping into rumination about the issue is what causes excessive fear. I gently replace the fearful thoughts I’m having with thoughts that are filled with hope and possibility. No one can predict the future, but it can be very useful to know that a good outcome can sometimes be as likely to happen as a bad one.
Remember that fear can help you to defend yourself, but it can also cause you to worry disproportionately. Examine your fears and use observation to note what you are feeling and thinking about a situation. Take whatever action is necessary, and then do your best to let it go. I observe the fear that I have to see if it is stemming from a true concern or fear from a traumatic event or expectations of others. When it is from trauma or a painful event, I make note of it so that I can process it at a deeper level at another time. Fear is a normal human emotion, but it does not have to dictate your life.
Mindfulness can help to relax the mental state. People with OCD often have thoughts that pop in their head that they cannot control. If the mind cannot relax, using the process of observing can help. This practice allows a person to notice what is happening in the mind without being attached to it. With this, a person with OCD can be aware that intrusive thoughts are occurring without feeling compelled to act on them repeatedly.
Deep breathing is another part of mindfulness that could aid a person experiencing intrusive thoughts. Taking breaths slowly is another focus that distract the mind. Too, the voice of the thoughts could become less severe and more manageable. If the person with OCD is unable to completely rid themselves of the thoughts, they can at least change how they interact with them. Telling yourself that the thoughts you’re having aren’t true could help relieve the pressure to act compulsively.
The thinking mind is something that we all have to deal with. Those without OCD are more likely to be able to control the thoughts. Moving through this process without judging yourself is important. It is already hard enough to deal with the intrusions. Having thoughts that you cannot control is a very scary situation. Putting yourself down about not being able to stop them successfully will only make the problem worse. Use kindness toward yourself during this time as you learn ways to change your mental state. Patience is the best way to get through virtually any life event, but especially ones that are related to circumstances outside of our control.
One fixation that some people with OCD have is religion. Through rituals and repeated actions, some feel as though they can please the god that they believe in. Rituals can be seen as a way to avoid a tempting or negative situation also. Memorizing verses from religious texts is another form of compulsion that can occur. Mindfulness is not tied to any religious practice, so it can be an outlet for someone who feels that they have to adhere to religious standards.
The fear of death and afterlife is another common component to religious behaviors. A person with OCD might repeatedly berate themselves mentally for one mistake that was made because the person believes that their god will be upset with them otherwise. Further, they could believe that they will be punished for it in the afterlife. These thoughts can be crushing, since the believer of the thoughts might feel as though they are being watched constantly while their higher power is waiting for a mistake.
Mindfulness focuses on the present, and it is the only moment that we ever have. When a person with OCD comes to this realization, they can make it a point to shift thoughts to worries that afterlife experiences bring. They can instead remember where they are now and engage in activities that will help. The afterlife will come when it does, and the person does not have to spend their time here obsessing about it. No one has been there and been back to tell the tale, so there is no use in stressing about it.
Because mindfulness is about non-judgment, it could help with the healing of judgmental thoughts or behaviors. Thoughts of acceptance, peace and love are what people with OCD need. Mindfulness can increase the frequency of them. This is not to say that people with OCD can’t be religious. However, finding practices that are more spiritual in nature (instead of being strongly related to fundamentalism or dogma) can help the person not put so much pressure on themselves.
Thoughts of perfectionism tell the person that they are not good enough. These thoughts are about not measuring up to standards. The standards that perfectionists want to meet are almost impossible anyway. They can breed procrastination due to fear of completing the task unsuccessfully. Work can be left unfinished because the weight of it is so immense. They can also lead to the performance of rituals and behaviors in order to attain the perfection that is so desired.
Mindfulness adds a realistic lens. It allows a person to view a situation as it is instead of what they believe it is due to perceptions of fear and anxiety. Additionally, non-judgment seems to be the opposite of perfectionism. Having thoughts of acceptance and love can counteract the voice of perfectionism in one’s mind.
My perfectionism stems from family members wanting me to achieve ideals that they thought were best or perfect. Now, I am able to define for myself what perfection means. In my opinion, perfection is about being honest and authentic. This can look messy sometimes. I no longer think that perfection is about meeting others’ standards. When I meditate, I remind myself that I am in control of what I want to do with my life. This is both empowering and freeing. Remember:
- Knowing that you are enough just the way they are can ease the stress of trying to keep up with ideals.
- You should be striving to do your best at all times, even when your best looks like a B or C grade to others.
- No one can give more than their best, so holding ourselves to standards that few or none can achieve only makes us feel more defeated.
- Honesty and authenticity is most important.
- Growth should be your main goal.
It can be helpful to write thoughts of perfectionism down on one side of a sheet of paper and write healthy, mindful responses to those thoughts on the other side. The differences between the two will show how the perfectionism does not tell the truth. You can print or write down quotes about mindfulness too. These can be posted in the office, room, or around the house as reminders that perfection is not the goal. Rather, the goal is to continue growing as a person each day.
Anxiety in the body
It is common for people with OCD to fidget, twitch, or engage in other types of movement. Fidgeting can include shaking the foot, tapping the fingers, or picking at an object. This typically happens as a means of releasing pent-up anxiety and tension in the mind or body. Stress from outside events can also cause physical symptoms, and figuring out the best way to alleviate it can be difficult.
Mindfulness and deep breathing relaxes muscles in the body. These processes can help calm a person down so that they are able to focus on other things than the anxiety they are feeling. Counting the breath works well. So does holding the breath after each inhale and exhale. The hold does not have to last more than a second or two, but rapid breathing is associated with fear and stress. Slower breathing reminds the body to relax.
Mindful stretching could prove useful for these moments. In addition, muscles can relax with a practice of meditation with mantras related to letting go. When meditating, use a mindfulness bell. Instead of it being used as a reminder to check in with the mind, it can be a reminder to check in with the body. I hold tension in my jaw. When the mindfulness bell rings, I make sure that I am not clenching it subconsciously. After releasing it, I feel much better.
Also, tension is released when the brain understands that it is safe. Tension stays when the body feels it has to fight against something in the outside world. When a person realizes that they are in a safe environment, they are less likely to feel like they have to be ready for conflict or fighting. The fear that was mentioned before does not always display itself mentally, and mindfulness can help quell this. Affirmations about safety can feel grounding. They can be written, spoken, or listened to, and the brain can hold onto these thoughts for a later time.
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