When I was a child, I was diagnosed with OCD. At first it was the unsettling feeling of seeing an object misplaced, or a mark that wasn’t quite rubbed out on the whiteboard. Not long after, it escalated into something much more sinister. I began to experience compulsions to place everything in a straight line in my room. And if I didn’t, I thought my mother would die. At the time, my mothers work friend had suddenly died from an unknown heart condition, and this triggered a negative thought in my mind – my mother could go any minute. When I began the counselling, we were told that the OCD was a coping mechanism I had created to prevent the thoughts. I had almost convinced myself that by making sure everything in my room was straight, my mother would be fine. After a few months of counselling, and with the help of CBT, I was able to fight the compulsions and begin to move on with my life. Every now and then, especially when I am stressed, I have this urge to clean and make sure everything is straight and perfect. The only difference is now, I don’t have the negative thoughts. It’s not a compulsion. The intention of this post isn’t to only shine a light on OCD, but share some activities that I have personally used (and from research) to help manage. As usual, I want to add a disclaimer that I am in no way qualified in mental health, and all tips are personal or researched. They should not be used as a substitution to professional help!

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), is a mental health condition, consisting of recurring thoughts and repetitive behavior that you cannot control. If you have OCD, you’ll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.

A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.

For example, someone with an obsessive fear of being burgled may feel they need to check all the windows and doors are locked several times before they can leave their house.

Causes of OCD

It’s not always clear what causes OCD, but there are many different factors that may play a part. This includes:

Family history – you’re more likely to develop OCD if a family member has it, possibly because of your genes.

Differences in the brain – some people with OCD have areas of unusually high activity in their brain or low levels of a chemical called serotonin.

Life events – OCD may be more common in people who have been bullied, abused or neglected, and it sometimes starts after an important life event, such as childbirth or a bereavement.

Personality – neat, meticulous, methodical people with high personal standards may be more likely to develop OCD, also people who are generally quite anxious or have a very strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others

Types of OCD

There are four common types of OCD, these are:

Contamination & Washing – fear of contamination typically involves excessive concern regarding the threat of illness or disease, the feeling of being physically unclean, or even feelings of being mentally polluted.

Doubt About Accidental Harm & Checking- individuals whose primary obsessions fall within this category typically experience intrusive images, impulses, and fears related to the possibility of unintentionally harming themselves or someone else by means of carelessness or negligence. For example, some of the more common harming fears include the fear of hitting a pedestrian while driving.

Just Right OCD: Symmetry, Arranging, & Counting- perfectionism is a typical symptom of OCD patients who tend to be primarily preoccupied with order, symmetry, and exactness. These individuals tend to engage in compulsive behaviors that include repetitive arranging, organizing, or lining up of objects until certain conditions are met.

Unacceptable Taboo Thoughts & Mental Rituals- the “taboo,” or “unacceptable thoughts,” symptom dimension characterizes individuals with unwanted obsessions that are often of a religious, violent, or sexual nature. This group has often been referred to as “pure obsessional” due to their lack of overt rituals.

How it works

Challenge cognitive distortions

  • How do I know if this thought is accurate?
  • What evidence do I have to support this thought or belief?
  • How can I test my assumptions/beliefs to find out if they’re accurate?
  • Is this thought helpful?
  • Are there other ways that I can think about this situation or myself?
  • Is it really in my control?
  • Am I making assumptions?
  • What would I say to a friend in this situation?
  • Am I assuming the worst?
  • Am I making this personal when it isn’t?

Alternative thoughts

Everyone has hundreds of ‘automatic thoughts’ every day: these are thoughts that just ‘pop’ into your mind. The way CBT works is that what we think affects the way we feel, and so if we want to change how you feel we need to look at what you’re thinking. A good way of catching and examining your negative automatic thoughts is to use a thought record. Below is a list of promts to get you started. The aim is to fill in the table on the next page when you feel a sudden change in how you are feeling.

Situation:
Describe what is happening.
Who is/was there?
Where are you?
When did it happen?
What are you doing?

Emotion or feeling:
How do you feel in this moment?
What do you feel in your body?
Try to think of one word that describes the emotion.
How strong is this feeling on a scale from 0 to 100?

Negative automatic thought:
What is going through your mind as you started to feel this way?
What memories or images are in your mind?
Evidence that supports the thought:
What facts or evidence support the truthfulness of this thought?
Evidence that does not support the thought:
If a good friend had this thought, what would I tell them?
What experiences (even if they seem insignificant) indicate that this thought is not completely true, all of the time?

Alternative thought:
Write a new thought which synthesises all of the information in columns four and five. The aim is to counter the bias in the original negative automatic thought and to think more realistically.Knowing what you know now about evidence for the thought and evidence against the thought, what would be a more accurate way of responding to that triggering event?

Emotion or feeling:
With this new thought in mind, how do you feel about the situation now?
How strong is that feeling on a scale of 0 to 100?

Crosswords

Not only are crosswords a great way to pass the time, they can also improve memory and brain function in both children and adults. Numerous research and studies have proven it has a positive effect on an individual mind, social capabilities, and other general abilities. If solved regularly, crossword can boost your general knowledge, improve your vocabulary, stimulate your brain, improve your memory, and so much more. Real life is filled with hurdles and difficulties and the ability to handle them effectively can be difficult. Crosswords not only help you analyze your problem-solving abilities but also boost them for the betterment of your future. Just like life, a crossword puzzle is one confusing maze that you need to figure out. As you solve the puzzles step by step, you will slowly and steadily gain a better control over your life and its problems.

Colouring

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… I love colouring! One of the most important parts of spiritual self-care, is having some alone time. One of the most therapeutic ways to do this, is through colouring! There are many benefits to colouring, including:

Reduced anxiety and stress – colouring has the ability to relax the mind. It induces the same state as meditating by reducing restless thoughts.

Improved Sleep – replacing technology with colouring before bed helps relax your mind before sleep.

Improved focussed – colouring requires focus, but not enough to make you stressed. It allows you to push everything else aside and live in the moment, generating focus.

Avoidance hierarchy

This is one of the most popular CBT activities. Not only is it helpful for OCD, but other mental health conditions too! Here is an avoidance hierarchy sheet below! There is a link below the picture to download if you wish!

DOWNLOAD AVOIDANCE HIERARCHY PDF WORKSHEET HERE:


OCD is quite a complex mental health condition, and there are numerous activities that can help. Because of this, I feel I can’t put it all down in one post, so I will be sharing part two with you next week! I hope you enjoyed this post, and again please don’t use this as a substitute to professional help. I hope you are all okay and staying safe during these uncertain times!

-Amy

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