Recovery from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - Free Self-Help

By Diana Holbourn

Article Summary

Welcome

This article explains what can happen in the brain to cause OCD, and suggests various ways it can be stopped. It goes on to make recommendations for reducing stress and anxiety in general.

Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the self-help article.


Things People Have Said That Can be Related to OCD

Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to destroy.
--Henri de Lubac

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.
--Mark Twain

The issue is not that you get symptoms; it's what you do with the symptoms that you get.
--Fred Penzel

The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.
--Alfred Adler

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.
--H. Norman Schwartzkopf

Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.
--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (from The Yellow Face)

The Main Contents

Background Information About This Article

The Self-Help Information in the Article

  1. Realising That OCD Thoughts Are Faulty Brain Signals that Don't Need to Scare Us
  2. Thinking of the OCD as a Bully
  3. Gradually Going Longer and Longer Before Hand Washing
  4. Helping Myself Imagine Touching Things Without Getting Anxious
  5. Other Ways of Reducing Anxiety Levels
  6. Joining a Support Group
  7. Making Other Parts of Life Less Stressful

Part One
Realising That OCD Thoughts Are Faulty Brain Signals that Don't Need to Scare Us

Thinking

Maureen thinks:

I'm going to do a bit of research on OCD! ...

I've just read an interesting article. It says there's a new treatment for OCD. It says a man called Dr Jeffrey Schwartz discovered in the 1990s that the mind can control the brain chemistry. He discovered that doing certain things can calm down the activity in certain parts of the brain with people with OCD, so it stops sending them signals that make them feel they need to do things over and over again.

The article says his techniques have been found to be successful by other people as well.

It says there are a few steps involved in making obsessive thoughts and urges to do compulsions seem less harmful:

Relabelling Thoughts

It says it's very important that the first thing we do on our way to recovering from OCD is to recognise obsessive thoughts and compulsive urges as part of the OCD. It says we shouldn't just do this in a superficial way, but should try to gain a deep understanding that every time we have an obsessive thought or an urge to do something in response to it, what's bothering us is the OCD, rather than a valid feeling that's letting us know something important.

It says that to help ourselves get a deep understanding of this, we ought to try to become very aware of what thoughts are going through our head, and when a thought comes into our head that we know is really an OCD thought, or a feeling comes on us that we know is really being caused by the OCD, we should make a specific effort to label it as an OCD thought or feeling, just a symptom of a medical disorder.

It says people usually recognise OCD thoughts for what they are on a superficial level as they go by. But what we should do is to try as best we can to single each one out and think very deliberately to ourselves something like, "This thought is an obsessive thought caused by OCD", or, "This urge is a compulsive urge caused by OCD".

So it'll be as if we're thinking of our thoughts and feelings as if they're independent of us in a way, rather than letting them rule us. So, for instance, we could think, "I don't think or feel that my hands are dirty; I'm having an OCD obsession that's telling me my hands are dirty". Or, "I don't feel that I need to wash my hands; the OCD's giving me a compulsive urge to wash them."

It says the technique would be the same for other types of OCD as well.

It says that when we relabel thoughts and feelings as just OCD thoughts and feelings, we'll begin to understand that they're just false alarms, rather than things that are telling us important things.

It says that a lot of scientific research has found that OCD symptoms are caused by biological imbalances in the brain. So when we start to make a special effort to relabel them as OCD symptoms every time we notice one, we'll realise they don't really mean what they're telling us; they're just the brain sending us inaccurate messages.

It says that relabelling the thoughts like that won't make them go away. But it'll mean we won't mind having them so much and can resist them more easily, because we recognise that they're just faulty brain signals, rather than important things we need to act on, even if they feel like them.

It says that when we resist OCD thoughts and feelings, we can actually change our brain chemistry so we begin to stop having them.

We Can Control Our Responses to OCD Thoughts and Urges, Not the Thoughts and Urges Themselves

But it says it can take weeks or months before they really start to go away. So we have to persevere in our efforts to get rid of them for all that time.

It says that if we hope we can make the OCD urges go away in seconds or minutes, we'll only be disappointed and stressed, because they will take a bit of time to go away.

But it says that though we can't directly control the urges themselves, since they're biological, we can control our responses to them, no matter how unpleasant they are. And when we do, the brain chemistry will change after a while so we stop having to.

Recognising that No Matter How Strong OCD Feelings Are, They're Just Caused by OCD, a Medical Malfunction

The article says we should keep reminding ourselves, "It's not me; it's my OCD". That'll keep reminding us that OCD urges aren't things it's important for us to take notice of; they're just faulty brain signals.

It says once we understand why thoughts that tell us our hands are dirty and we need to wash them and whatever other thoughts we have are so strong, even though they don't really mean what they say, it'll be easier for us to resist them.

What Happens in the Brain to Give Us OCD Symptoms

It says that in the middle of the brain, there's a structure called the caudate nucleus. Scientists worldwide have studied it and believe that in people with OCD, it might be malfunctioning. It says its job is to take in messages from the thinking parts of the brain to filter them out of consciousness once they're finished with, so it helps us move smoothly from one task to another. We might usually move on hundreds of times a day without consciously thinking about it. But if it stops working properly, we won't be able to move on from one thing to the other just like that.

It says that when it doesn't work properly, the front part of the brain where we do our thinking works harder to try to move things along, but it can't, because the old thoughts it's just had are getting stuck in the caudate nucleus so they won't go away. So the front part of the brain's using up loads of energy, but not getting anywhere.

So it's as if it's stuck in gear. The article says the front of the brain has an error detection circuit, so it knows something's wrong, and that might be why people with OCD get a "Something's wrong" feeling that won't go away.

We Can Change Our Brain Chemistry Ourselves

But it says that we can make the feeling go away if we make an effort to shift our brain out of the gear it's stuck in ourselves. We can change our brain chemistry. And we can do that by recognising what's really going on and not responding to the OCD thoughts and feelings. The brain might take a while to get the message that things are different now and change, but it should get it if we practice the techniques.

It says we can't make the urges to wash or whatever go away just like that, since they're faulty brain signals, and trying will just make us stressed, and stress makes OCD worse. But if we don't respond to them, we'll gradually give our brain the message that it doesn't have to give us them any more. It says we can shift it into a different gear ourselves, by not acting on the urges it's giving us but moving on to doing another thing each time. Making a deliberate effort to think and do something new will bypass the bit that would do it automatically for us that's stuck so we're getting the same old message all the time. Moving on to doing something else regardless of what it's telling us will help it get unstuck.

It says that knowing that no matter how intense our OCD urges are, they're only faulty brain signals, and the brain needs to be shown how to change its chemistry so it doesn't give us them, will help us to resist the temptation to give in to the urges and do what the OCD's making us want to do, like washing or checking or whatever. It says that if we keep giving in to the signals to stop the feeling that something's wrong and to try to make it right, the brain will think it has to behave like that and keep sending the signals. But if we don't act on the signals, but instead we help our brain to move on to the next thing by doing something else instead, it'll learn to move on itself again after a while.

Ignoring the Faulty Brain Signals and Moving On to Other Things

It says that we have to concentrate on beating the OCD by doing by deliberate effort what our caudate nucleus usually does for us automatically. It usually lets us know when it's probably time to switch to another task. For instance, normally if someone's hands are really dirty and they wash them, their instincts will tell them that it's time to finish and move on to something else. Really, it'll be the caudate nucleus giving them a feeling that they've finished and that they should move on. But it doesn't do that with people with OCD. So we have to make the effort to move on ourselves, always reminding ourselves that it's not really that we feel that something's still wrong, but that we're getting an error message in the brain because of our caudate nucleus malfunction that's telling us something's wrong. "It's not me, it's my OCD.".

Planning What to Do Instead of Giving In to the OCD

Painting

The article says we should take control and sidestep the OCD thoughts, by doing something else instead of whatever the OCD's telling us to carry on doing. It says hobbies are a good way of getting around the OCD thoughts, since it might cause us a bit of anxiety not giving in to them, but if we're doing something we enjoy instead, it shouldn't be as bad.

It suggests several things we might like to do to take our minds off our OCD urges, such as going for a walk or doing some other kind of exercise, listening to music, reading, playing on the computer, doing a craft like knitting, or whatever we like.

The Sequence of What We Have to Do

So it says the first thing we should do when we get an OCD thought or urge is to relabel it as an OCD one. So instead of thinking that we just have to wash our hands, for example, we think something more like, "This is a symptom of my medical condition OCD".

Then, we should refocus our attention on whatever activity we've decided to do instead of giving in to the OCD.

It says we can make refocusing on the other activity easier if we remind ourselves that we're not ignoring something that's telling us something important, but just a symptom of a medical problem, OCD, and that we're teaching our brain to get its signals unstuck so we stop having these problems.

It says we're training ourselves to refocus our attention on other things instead of giving in to the OCD, and it might take a while before it becomes automatic, and during that time we might experience feelings of anxiety or discomfort. But they shouldn't bother us so much if we say to ourselves things like, "This is just the OCD; it's a problem with my brain chemistry, but I'm changing it".

So even though the OCD feelings are still there, we focus our minds on another activity instead, rather than giving in to the feelings. So we'll learn that we can control our OCD. It doesn't have to control us any more.

Waiting for a Set Length of Time Before Giving In to OCD Urges

It says that refocusing our attention on other things and ignoring the OCD won't necessarily be easy. We'll still have the feelings, so we might have to tolerate some anxiety while we're re-training our brain to go onto the next thing smoothly, and we might have to discipline ourselves not to give in to the OCD.

But it says we can make things easier for ourselves if we start off by telling ourselves we can give in to the OCD urge in fifteen minutes if we like. Then we'll at least know we can give in to it if we feel we have to and we don't have to ignore it altogether.

But it's best not to even think about giving into it during that time. During those fifteen minutes, the urge might well fade away.

But it says that at first, fifteen minutes might seem too long. So if it does, we can decide on a shorter length of time to wait for for a while, and we can also do that on days when the urge to give in to it is particularly intense, maybe deciding on about five minutes to wait for that day, and gradually lengthening the time from day to day.

It says we should always have some time delay before we give in to the OCD, rather than giving in to it straightaway. But we should remember that we don't have to do nothing during that time. It's a time when we'll first be reminding ourselves that our obsessive thoughts or urges to do things aren't things we need to take notice of; they're just OCD thoughts or urges, a product of a medical condition. And then when we've done that, we should always start doing another thing, something we like doing or that we'll be glad to do because it needs doing.

When the Time's Up

It says that when the time we've decided to wait for is up, we should ask ourselves whether the urge is just as bad as it was at first, or whether it's faded a bit. If it's faded even just a bit, it might give us the courage to wait a bit longer to see what happens.

After a while, we should learn that OCD urges do regularly fade over the time we wait, and that the more minutes we wait for, the more they'll fade.

It says that the more often we practice waiting, the more quickly the urge will fade. So though disciplining ourselves to focus on another activity in spite of the anxious feelings will have taken quite a bit of effort in the beginning, it'll take less and less.

So it says that before long, we might decide to increase the time we regularly wait to twenty minutes, or thirty minutes or more.

The eventual goal is that we don't give in to the OCD urges at all. So we just move on and ignore them altogether. Waiting a set length of time before allowing ourselves to give in to them will just make it easier at first, and help us prove to ourselves that we don't have to give in to the urges, because we'll know we are able to discipline ourselves not to, and they will fade more and more the longer we wait.

Even if an OCD urge changes hardly at all during our waiting time, if we wait before acting on it and do something pleasant in the meantime, we'll still be learning that it doesn't have to control us; we can control our response to it. We'll learn that we don't have to give in.

If the OCD Urge is So Strong we Do Give In to It Before Our Waiting Time's Finished

Disappointed

It says that sometimes, our OCD urges will be so strong that we will give into them and act on them before the time's up. But we shouldn't think badly of ourselves for doing that. Given how strong these things can be, it'll be no wonder if we give in to them sometimes.

It says that if we manage to successfully resist the urges for the amount of time we've chosen most of the time, our thoughts and feelings will gradually change. But even on days when we tried to do that but gave in despite our efforts to dismiss the urge as just a faulty brain signal and switch to doing another activity instead, doing the OCD compulsion can still be an opportunity for us to help ourselves, because we can make a special effort while we're doing the compulsion to remind ourselves that we're doing it not because we feel we have to, but because of a faulty brain signal. For instance, we could think something like, "I'm not washing my hands because they're dirty, but because of my OCD. The OCD won this round, but next time I'll wait longer."

It says it's much better to say things like that to ourselves while we're giving in to the OCD than to give in to it and not acknowledge why we're doing the OCD compulsion, since telling ourselves we're doing it because we've given in to a faulty brain signal can still help to alter the way we think about OCD a bit.

Making a Special Effort to Remember When We've Done Something Like Washed Our Hands or Locked a Door

It says for people with checking obsessions, or any compulsion we have because we do something but then can't remember if we've done it or not so we keep feeling we need to do it again just in case, if we make a definite mental note of the fact that we've done it the first time, it can help us remember we have. It can help if we have a clear mental image of doing the thing the first time, and we should do it in a slow, deliberate way, making an effort to give ourselves firm mental notes that we've done it.

For instance, someone with an urge to check that doors are locked could firmly think things like, "The door is now locked. I can see that the door is locked."

Then, when the urge to check the door (or wash our hands or whatever it is) comes on us, we'll know we've really done it, so we can realise it's just the OCD making us want to do it again, so we can say to ourselves something like, "That's an obsessive thought; it's just the OCD". Even if it's a strong urge that's giving us some anxiety, we'll still be able to think, "It's not me; it's just my brain".

So then, we'll ignore the urge and go on to doing something else, with that image in our minds of having locked the door or done whatever task it was that the OCD's making us think we might not have done. Knowing we've done it can make us feel happier going on to doing another activity.

Another way we can get the fact that we've checked something or done whatever it is firmly in our minds is to look out for anything unusual that's happening at the same time as we're locking the door or whatever our compulsion is. So for instance, if we heard a bird singing while we were checking something, we could label it our "birdsong check", so it'll stand out in our minds and help us to remember we've done it.

Or we could buy a paper, for instance, and read a bit of news while we're doing something the first time, and then label it based on that. So, for example, if we read that weather forecasters were predicting a heatwave next summer, we could label what we were doing our "heatwave" door locking or hand wash or whatever we're doing.

Writing in a Journal

The article says it's a good idea for us to have a journal where we record our successful attempts at beating the OCD - all the times we've successfully resisted an OCD urge by relabelling our urges as just faulty brain signals and then focusing on another activity so they stop bothering us so much. Our journal doesn't have to be anything fancy, just something where we can write things down.

It says there are two reasons it'll be a good idea to keep one:

One is that we can write in it whatever activities we've found most successful at taking our minds off our OCD urges so we're happier waiting for them to fade. When we know which ones are best at doing that, we'll know what to do more of. It might help us especially if we can't remember what works best in the middle of trying to resist an OCD urge so we could do with a written reminder.

The other thing is that if we list all our successes, we can look back at them and be encouraged about what we've done. It'll remind us we're making progress, so we'll get more confident.

We should only write about our successes in it, not our failures. We just need to write about things that will encourage us and give us confidence and help us, and make us pleased with ourselves.

It says we can even give ourselves a little reward when we've done well, even if it's just congratulating ourselves for having worked hard on it and done well.

Becoming Much Less Concerned by OCD Urges

It says that after we've started thinking of our urges to do compulsions as just faulty brain signals rather than anything we really need to take notice of, and we've got into the habit of focusing our minds on doing something else instead of giving in to the OCD, we'll start to be much less bothered by our OCD urges. It'll be as if we're not getting absorbed in them and letting them control us any more, but we'll be able to see them for what they really are, as if we're a person outside looking in.

For a while, behaving like an outsider looking in won't be easy because of the strength of the urges. But they should fade with time, so it'll get easier. When we change our behaviour, our feelings will change after a while, since we'll come to think of what's happening as just a false alarm set off by a false message the brain's given us, so we won't think of the feelings as having any importance.

Obsessive Thoughts

It says that though we'll probably stop thinking of our OCD compulsions as important and worth paying attention to after a while by just telling ourselves they're faulty messages coming from the brain and then doing some other activity, with obsessive thoughts, we might have to do a couple of extra things.

Yes, I get horrible thoughts sometimes that give me the urge to harm people. I'd hate to do anything like that really.

It says that with thoughts like that, the first thing we need to do is to be aware that we're going to get them so we can be prepared for what to do when they come.

Accepting Nasty Obsessive Thoughts as Just Faulty Brain Signals

It says the other thing we should do is to accept the thoughts as just unpleasant things caused by faulty brain chemistry, and not get upset with ourselves for having them.

It says we'll know we can have horrible thoughts hundreds of times a day. So whatever their content, we should stop reacting to them as if they're new thoughts that we didn't expect and that we're shocked by. And we should refuse to criticize ourselves for having them. If we expect to have the thought, we can relabel it as a symptom of the medical problem of OCD as soon as it happens, so it won't upset us as much as it did before. We can make a point of saying something to ourselves like, "Oh, that's just my silly OCD again; I don't have to pay attention to that thought; it doesn't mean anything; it's just a faulty brain signal."

Though we can't make the thought go away, we don't have to take it seriously and give it attention. We can simply go on to the next task we have to do.

This is where acceptance comes in. We should just try to accept the thought as annoying background interference and move on, not dwelling on it. In the same way that if someone had their car engine on outside and they had music blaring out, it would be best if we could try and get on with things regardless rather than getting worked up and thinking we wouldn't be able to do another thing till they went away, it's best to just turn our attention to something else and try to ignore the obsessive thought. It might be difficult at first, but it might get easier if we keep at it.

Thinking of our obsessive thoughts as just faulty brain signals can mean that thoughts that really distressed us before don't any more, because we'll no longer worry about what kind of person we must be to have them and that kind of thing. We'll always be ready to say to ourselves, "It's not me; it's my OCD. It's not me; it's just my brain."

The article advises that we don't upset ourselves by trying to make the thought go away, because it won't straightaway. The brain has to be re-trained not to have it, which is what we're doing.

It says the most important thing is that we don't dwell on the horrible thoughts, and we don't fantasise about the consequences of acting on them. We won't act on them because we don't really want to. So we should dismiss any harsh judgments we made about ourselves before, such as about what kind of person we must be if we could have thoughts like that.

Dealing With Obsessive Thoughts as we Would a Martial Arts Opponent

Even though the thought might hang around in our minds, it's best if we just ignore it and get on with thinking and doing something else. It's as if the thought's a martial arts opponent. If we stand right in front of it and take its full power, trying to push it away, we won't be able to; but we can defeat it if we dodge and side-step it.

It says the benefits of learning to use this technique go beyond curing ourselves of OCD; it'll help us take charge of our lives and rule our minds better.


Part Two
Thinking of the OCD as a Bully


It is bad luck to be superstitious.
--Andrew W. Mathis

It's nice to have a friend who's a psychology student. She said she recently went to an interesting lecture on OCD.
The lecturer said it can help if we think of the OCD as a bully trying to control us, who we have to stand up to.
I suppose that's one way of looking at it. I do think it feels like that sometimes.
My friend said the lecturer's a therapist, who said he gets his OCD therapy clients to think of it like that.

OK, I'll experiment with thinking of the OCD like that. It could be fun. Here goes:

Heated monologue

I don't have to let this OCD control me any longer! Yes! It's as if it's a bit like a scare-mongering, tyrannical schoolteacher, forcing me to do much more homework than I need to do, and threatening me with dire and exaggerated consequences if I fail the exams it's setting for me! It's telling me I need to wash my hands a lot, but I could stand up to it! It's making me do things I don't want to do! But I don't have to let it if I'm strong. I'm sure I've stood up to people before and haven't let them push me around. I'm going to think of all the times I can remember when I've stood up to people, so I feel more sure I can do it well, and so I'll know I can stand up to this OCD!

Sometimes, it does feel like a friend though, because I feel such relief from the anxiety when I've washed my hands. But I know it's deceiving me really, because my skin's getting damaged now because I wash them so often. And it's ruining my life, stopping me doing things I'd like to do. So I'm going to talk back to the OCD thoughts from now on!

Yes, I know I can stand up for myself when I want to. Whenever the OCD makes me have an urge to wash my hands unnecessarily from now on, I'm going to say "No!" Firmly! It's a false friend.

Maybe it'll go away quite quickly after I refuse to take notice of it anymore.


Part Three
Gradually Going Longer and Longer Before Hand Washing

Hopefully I won't, but if I have problems waiting for a long time before giving in to OCD urges, I'll start off by waiting much shorter times, and build up the time gradually.

I don't think it'll be too difficult to get over my OCD now I know what's really causing it. I'll try doing what the article says, and hopefully that'll be the only self-help technique I need.

But if I still find it difficult to overcome the OCD, I'll go much more slowly.

If I need to go a lot more slowly, when I get an unnecessary urge to wash my hands, I could start by waiting for two minutes before washing them.

I know that even waiting that long will make me anxious at first, but during the wait, I'll remind myself that the OCD's being caused by faulty brain chemistry, and do something to take my mind off the urges so my brain starts to get trained to do that automatically again.

Relaxation Exercises

Yoga exercises

One of the activities I could try doing for some of the waiting time is relaxation techniques. I've heard that it can calm a person down if they breathe in a slow, steady rhythm, for instance breathing in through their nose to the slow count of four with their mouth shut, so they don't breathe too fast, and then breathing out slowly through partially closed lips to the count of four. It's important to keep the breathing slow and even, rather than breathing a lot in in one go at the beginning of the count and then holding our breath for the rest of it. It's not that important to breathe deeply, just to slow the breathing.

I'll try that.

If I try to focus all my attention on my breathing, it'll help to take my mind off any anxiety I feel at not washing my hands, and I've heard that breathing in a steady way calms the body's anxiety responses anyway, so that will hopefully calm me down as well.

Maybe if it helps me to slow my breathing down, I could count to slightly higher numbers than four. And perhaps sometimes, instead of counting, I could help focus my mind on my breathing by saying to myself as I breathe in, "I'm breathing in a nice, Warm, Slow breath", thinking it in a rhythm so I say it to myself to the count of six. And then when I breathe out, I could say to myself, "I'm breathing out a nice, cool, slow breath that'll make me relax", thinking it in a rhythm that will mean I say it to myself to the count of eight. I could count on my fingers. That would be another thing that occupies my mind so I don't feel so anxious.

If I run out of breath before I've finished saying the phrase to myself, I could try breathing more slowly. Or if I find it a bit of an effort to breathe for that length of time, I could count up to less or say a shorter phrase.

Calming down

Another thing I could try sometimes during the waiting time is some muscle relaxation exercises, like clenching my fists for a second or two and then very slowly loosening them, and focusing my attention on how nice the contrast is and how much more relaxed they're becoming.

And then I could do something similar with other muscle groups. I could bend my arms up for a second or two and then very slowly relax those, focusing my attention on how much nicer they feel when I'm loosening them. In fact, I could do each arm in turn.

And then I could hunch my shoulders up towards my head for a second or two and then slowly let them go, thinking about how nice the contrast is between the tension and how relatively relaxed they're beginning to feel.

I could do the same with other muscles, tensing and then relaxing them. That will hopefully ease my tension a bit, as well as distracting me from thoughts of anxiety.

Or I could distract myself by putting music on that I know I'll enjoy, or picking up a magazine and scanning the contents.

I'll decide what to do before doing something where I know I'm going to want to wash my hands afterwards when it's not really necessary, so I don't have any problems choosing what to do while I'm feeling anxious because I'm having to wait before washing them when the OCD's making me want to.

Waiting for a Little While Before Hand Washing

If I start off by waiting between the time I get the urge to wash my hands and the time when I wash them for a short time like two minutes, and after a few times of that I notice that I don't feel too bad, I can lengthen the amount of time, maybe slowly. It may be that after a while, I just don't feel like washing my hands after the waiting time's finished.

Anxious

If I feel very anxious at first, I can always decide that one minute's wait would be better to start off with rather than two, and then I could build it up gradually from there.

Reducing the Time Each Hand Wash Takes

When I wash my hands, I know I don't really need to wash them for five minutes each time. I'm going to try to discipline myself to cut down the time to thirty seconds each time. That might really make me anxious at first, but I'm going to try to take my mind off the anxiety after I've washed them by reminding myself that it's just a faulty brain message that's making me want to carry on, and then maybe concentrating on being thankful and trying to make myself feel triumphant that I'm not letting the OCD control me anymore.

I'm sure I'll feel as if my hands are still dirty at first, but they shouldn't be. I mean, I'm sure thirty seconds is quite a long time really.

I know this will make me anxious, so maybe I'll allow myself two minutes the first day, and then one minute the second, and then cut down to the thirty seconds the third day.


If I had a serious heart condition or another physical ailment that could be aggravated if I exposed myself to something that might cause anxiety, I think it would be best to check with my doctor before doing anything like this. But I'm quite fit.

Waiting for Longer and Longer Before Hand Washing

I could try sometimes going somewhere where I know I won't be near a sink for a while, and then touching something that makes the OCD make me feel as if I'm contaminated afterwards. Then, I won't be able to wash my hands for a while, so I won't be so tempted to give into the OCD, and that might help me stand up to it better. It's worth a try.

The idea makes me anxious though, so I could perhaps build up to it gradually. I could spend longer and longer away from a sink after doing things that make me feel contaminated before being able to wash my hands, and I could gradually touch things I dislike touching more and more, building up to doing things that worry me more in simple stages, doing things that frighten me the least first, and working up to doing more frightening things later. Maybe the worst things won't make me so anxious once I've got familiar again with doing less frightening things and they've stopped scaring me because I've got used to doing them again and I've been able to reassure myself that nothing really bad's happening.

Starting by Doing Things Around the House

Hoovering

I'll spend several days trying to get used to doing normal household things that usually make me feel contaminated like picking up the post in the morning without washing my hands, at first waiting two minutes between the time I get the urge to wash them and the time I do. And then after a few days, I'll start to increase the time, first to three minutes, and perhaps the day after that to four, and the day after that to five, and the day after that to six, and so on, until I get less anxious about it and decide I don't need to wash them at all.

I must remember to try slow breathing exercises while I'm waiting, at least sometimes, since I've heard they can calm anxiety responses down, so I'll see if they do with mine.

Reading a book

And I'll think of lots of things I could do that will distract me every morning before anything happens that will make me want to wash my hands, like choosing a good book to read, so I know that when I do my waiting, I've got things to take my mind off the anxiety.

Maybe I won't be able to absorb myself in a book if I'm feeling anxious, but I could try other things, like trying to decipher the words upside-down, or reading them backwards and trying to work out if they make any sense. That'll take my mind off anxiety.

When I've finished the wait each time and washed my hands, I could reward myself for making the effort to wait even though it made me anxious with a couple of biscuits or something. Or I could get something that smells nice, and allow myself to relax for a few moments taking in its scent.

Maybe after a while, I'll stop wanting to wash my hands after doing things I don't really need to wash them after. Or maybe after I've got the time up to fifteen minutes, I'll try not washing my hands at all.

As I grow less and less anxious about not washing my hands while I'm building up the time, I'll have to try less and less hard to distract myself while I'm waiting till the time's up, in case doing the things I use as a distraction become an obsession instead.

Doing Things Outside

Mowing the lawn

When I'm used to doing normal household things indoors again, I could go outside and touch things I'd usually worry about more than I worry about touching things indoors. I could touch my doorstep first. I know that would make me anxious, since I hate the thought of touching places outside where people's feet have been, and so it would make me feel contaminated, and I'd feel as if I had to rush in and wash my hands as soon as possible in case I contaminated someone else or another part of me.

But I could start by doing that, and then perhaps walking up and down my driveway doing slow breathing techniques or doing something else before coming back in and washing my hands.

Even the thought of touching it worries me, but I think worrying about it might be worse than actually doing it, and I expect I'll feel pleased with myself for achieving a breakthrough when I've done it.

Then the next day, I could try touching it and maybe walking several paces up and down the road before coming in again.

The day afterwards, I could touch it and then walk around the block before washing my hands, or go in and look around the house for things to tidy up later, or something like that. I'll decide what to do before I touch the doorstep, so I don't have to decide afterwards when I'm feeling anxious.

Blushing

When I touch it, if anyone sees me doing it, they'll probably just think I've dropped something. I could look beforehand to check no one's watching, so I don't feel so self-conscious. But if they are, I don't suppose they'll puzzle over it for that long.

If I build up to doing things normally again in slow steps like that, and make sure that each new step isn't too big, so I'm less likely to feel it's too frightening to do and so I get discouraged, I should get better in time.

If I find I have to go slowly like this, it sounds as if it might take a while, and it would be nice if it could be done more quickly, but if I start as soon as possible, it'll mean I make progress from today onwards, and if in a month's time, I look back to how I am now, I might be really impressed with how far I've come.

I'll touch the doorstep and just walk up and down the drive a few times before moving on to walking up and down the road after I've touched it, to make sure I can do it without feeling too anxious.

Hiding behind a fence

When I've touched the doorstep and then delayed before washing my hands several times until I'm used to it and touching it doesn't worry me anymore, I could move on to doing something that worries me more, like touching the neighbour's fence; I think that will make me even more worried about being contaminated than touching the doorstep, because I've got a fear that some dirty animal will have brushed against it. I'm sure the fear's totally out of proportion to the reality though. I know in my heart that the fence probably isn't really that contaminated, but I can't seem to help feeling contaminated.

After I've done that a few times, waiting for the same length of time each time for the first few times and then building up to waiting longer and longer before going in and washing my hands, until I don't feel I have to wash them at all, I could move on to things that bother me more and more, eventually working up to doing things like picking up the phone in a public phone box, and dropping a small coin or something and then picking it up off the ground down town.

Planning Out Things In a Diary

Thinking

I could plan everything I intend to do, setting out all my aims in a diary. I'll put the main aims in there first, and then work out the gradual steps I need to do to build up to achieving each aim.

So my main aims, or goals, can be things like:

I could have one page per aim so I have lots of room to write the gradual steps I need to take to achieve each one underneath, and I'll put lots of space in between each little step, so if I decide when it comes to doing the step that's the next one I planned that it might make me too anxious because it's too big, I can invent other ones to go before it, after the last one I did, that are bigger than the one I've just done, but not so daunting as the one I planned next, so I can build up to it.

So, for example, two of my steps towards the first goal of being able to touch my doorstep without feeling the need to wash my hands afterwards could be:

But if I start to feel a bit daunted by the idea of waiting for five minutes, I could put another step in between them saying I'll wait three minutes.

I could do this on the computer, actually; then I'll know I'm not going to run out of space.

I'll have a think about all the other goals I'd like to be able to achieve, and then have pages for them too, or put them in order in my computer document, building up to the ones that seem hardest.

I could plan to try to achieve the main aims one by one, putting them in order in my diary or computer document, starting with the one that will make me feel least anxious, and ending with the one I think will make me feel worst. It might not make me feel so bad when I've got used to doing the others.

If I plan to do about ten aims, then maybe when I've finished them all, I'll have had so much practice at doing things without washing my hands afterwards that the idea just won't bother me anymore.

I'm not sure I'll be able to think of ten, but it won't matter if I have a few less, or a few more.

When I've written down the aims, I could work out the steps I think it will take to achieve each one; for example, first walking up and down the drive after I've touched my doorstep before going in and washing my hands, then walking up and down the road before doing it, and working up in gradual steps towards being able to touch the doorstep and not wash my hands afterwards at all. I'll plan what each of the steps can be.

When I get the time up to fifteen minutes, I'll try not washing my hands at all, making sure at first that I do something to take my mind off it.

Doing Each Step Several Times

I could do one step several times in one day, so I end up being happy with it quickly, and so I know I'm fairly happy before I move on to the next one.

So, for the first step I do outside, I could go and touch my doorstep, and then walk up and down just near my house for a minute or so before washing my hands, and I could do that several times before moving on to walking up the road and back afterwards.

Blushing

Maybe I could look at the ground while I'm walking back and forth, so people might think I'm looking at any weeds poking through the concrete that might need pulling out, or critically examining the cracks between the paving stones to see if they make them uneven so they're a hazard, or looking for something small that I dropped, or something like that, so they won't think I'm just being weird.

Every time I do each step towards an aim, I could calculate on a scale of nought to ten how anxious I felt each time when I was at my worst, with ten being the worst my anxiety could be, and nought being no anxiety at all. Each time, I could write the number I've chosen in my diary or computer document underneath the step I've just done, and so at the end of the day, when I've done the same step several times, I'll have a line of numbers underneath it, and if they show that my anxiety's going down during the day as I do the step more and more times, I'll be encouraged to carry on with the process.

When I've managed to wait for about fifteen minutes before washing my hands after doing something I know I shouldn't really feel the need to wash my hands after doing, I could try not washing my hands at all. I'll plan beforehand to do things after I've touched something I'm worried about touching that I know will occupy my mind, in the hope that I'll get so absorbed in them that I'll stop thinking about washing my hands.

But after a few times of doing that, I'll have to stop doing that gradually, so I'll know I can touch things and just do ordinary everyday things afterwards with no problems.

Encouraging Ourselves

Relief

When I can touch my doorstep without worrying about it much, that will be one goal out of the way, so I can be really pleased with myself, and I'll know I'm making progress. For the more ambitious goals where I have to go further away from home, I won't be able to wash my hands very soon afterwards. So not washing them even though I can when I'm near home will be good practise.

When I've achieved one step towards a goal, at the end of a day or two, I could put a tick or asterisk by it in my diary or document, so every so often, I could look at all the steps I've marked off, and be encouraged by how far I've come since I started, and also remember where I'm up to.

And if I have any encouraging thoughts, or think of any ways I could make things easier to do next time I do a step, I'll put those in as well.

After I've noted down, on a scale of nought to ten, how anxious I felt when I did a step the last time, if I discover I'm feeling less and less anxious throughout the day, till in the end I can do the step without feeling that anxious at all, that will encourage me to move on. And it may be that over time, as I tackle the bigger goals, even though I'm doing things that I thought in the beginning would make me more anxious than the little ones, they're making me less anxious than I thought they would, because I'm getting used to doing things I used to be anxious about without anything terrible happening. If I can see I'm becoming less anxious, that'll be encouraging.

I might have to do some steps over more than one day, because they still make me feel anxious and so I feel they're the most I can cope with until I've practised a bit more. When I don't feel anxious anymore, I'll go on to the next one. But I'll give myself plenty of time to get over this OCD if I feel I need it, so I won't worry if I have to repeat steps till I'm ready to move on, or have to go back a step or two for a while if I start to feel more anxious.

But if I don't feel too bad, I'll try to muster up the courage to move on, because the more quickly I do, the sooner I'll get used to doing these things and be over this OCD. In fact, it may be that I get over it quite quickly once I start.

When I feel I'm over this, I'm going to have a big celebration! Maybe I'll speak to some of my old friends from work and suggest we go out somewhere nice for the day, if they're available, or for a meal.

Setting a Time to Practise

A clock

But before then, I'll set a time every day to do my steps, so I don't keep putting them off and never get around to them. Maybe I'll try and do the first short steps three times between 10:00 and 11:00 o'clock in the morning, and then three times in the afternoon as well, maybe between 2:00 and 3:00 o'clock, if I still feel I need the practice. So that would mean that all in all, for the first step towards the first goal outside, I just go and touch the doorstep six times in one day and then walk around outside for a minute each time.

Maybe I won't feel all that anxious, and so I'll decide I could do things faster than that, and walk around my driveway the first time afterwards, and then the second time walk up and down the road, and then the third time walk around the block or something after touching my doorstep, all in one day. I'll see. I'll slow down or speed up my rate of progress each day, depending on how anxious I feel that day.

Doing the Bigger Goals

Walking a dog

When I get to the bigger goals, it won't be so easy to do them in gradual steps, or several times a day, because the places I'll need to go to will be so far away. I can think of a couple of steps I can do though before I get to each main goal. Maybe I could buy some cleansing wipes from the supermarket and use them at first as a substitute for washing my hands in the usual way.

So perhaps with the first step towards the goal of picking up the phone in a public phone box without washing my hands afterwards, I could pick it up and hold it for about twenty seconds, then I could put it down and go out, and walk around and try to distract myself from my urge to wash my hands by concentrating really hard on what I can see and hear around me for five minutes or so before I use a cleansing wipe, maybe doing the slow controlled breathing to help distract me and calm me down.

Then the next day, I could do the second step, going down town again and picking up the phone, but I could distract myself and do the breathing for ten minutes that time before using a cleansing wipe.

Then I could try it and do the distraction and breathing techniques for fifteen minutes.

And then the next time, I could try not cleansing my hands at all afterwards.

I'll think more about what I can do to distract myself after I've touched the phone.
I could look in shop windows and make an effort to remember everything I can see in each one, and then after each one I've looked in, I could turn away and see if I can list them from memory.
I could look at people's clothes and try to work out how they might have been made.
Or I could try and catch the registration numbers on about four cars a minute as they go by, and see how well I can repeat them back to myself, seeing if I improve over time.
There are probably lots of little games and things I could think of to do.

But I'll have to stop doing them when I don't feel so anxious anymore about doing the goals, to make sure they don't become an obsession.

Thinking About the Future After Recovery

An art gallery

When I've made some progress, and I can be sure I'm beginning to recover from this, I could encourage myself to continue with the steps by daydreaming about all the things I'll be able to do when I'm better.

For instance, I'll be able to travel around and visit interesting places without worrying about where I'm going to be able to wash my hands. That'll be good! I'll think about where I'd like to go. And I'll have the freedom to go shopping on my own. I'll be able to visit my friends without being scared of contamination and seeming rude because I'm always craving to run off and wash my hands. I feel far too embarrassed to visit them now because of that. But all that'll change. We might have quite a lot of fun. I could go down to the coast with them and play with their children in the sand. We might have a great time!

If once I feel sure I'll get better, I start looking forward to all the things I might do when I do, it'll be an incentive to continue with my steps to recovery, even if doing them is a bit tough because they make me a bit anxious. I'll know the anxiety won't last, because I'll have the experience of having done easier things that made me anxious at first and then stopped making me anxious once I got used to doing them again.


Part Four
Helping Myself Imagine Touching Things Without Getting Anxious

I know: Before I start doing the steps, I could get myself used to the idea of going out and touching things I'd usually hate to touch because I'm scared of being contaminated, by writing a story first, imagining myself doing various things I'd normally be scared of doing, with no problems at all. Then I could read it onto a tape and listen to it several times before doing those things for real, to get me used to the idea of doing them.

Grinning

Perhaps I could write an adventure story, making it as funny as I can, so the amusement will stop me feeling so anxious. Maybe it could be about being taken on a tour to another planet in a spaceship, where the people are all really strange. They could all have really weird clothes, and be made out of strange things. Maybe some could have twenty inch noses, or oranges for noses. Some could have chocolate eggs instead of heads. But they could still be walking around normally. Some could have rolled-up newspapers instead of arms, and some could have big springs for arms. There could be some with bananas or carrots for fingers. Some could have torn -up tissue paper for hair, or Autumn leaves for it, some of which would fall out every so often. Some could have string for eyelashes. The men could have beards made of grass, with dandelions and daisies growing out of them.

And they all could have strawberries for buttons on their clothes. Some could wear jewellery made of egg boxes or plastic cups. Some could have balloons or party streamers hanging from their ears, or earrings with teaspoons hanging from them. Some could have paper towels or carpet for clothes. Maybe some could have big teddy bear's legs, and cake tins for shoes. When someone hugs them, they could make a noise like squeaky toys. And if they sneeze, all the strawberries they're using as buttons on their clothes could fly off, and they have to run and catch them quickly before they hit the ground.

When they talk, some of them could sound like humans speeded up and high-pitched, and some could sound like humans slowed down. Some could do animal noises after each sentence. For instance, some could meow like cats; some could bark like dogs, and some make fox noises; some could moo like cows, and others could make sheep noises.

I could imagine the people looking as funny as possible, all behaving in an amusing way. I could make up all kinds of things.

Then I could imagine coming back to earth in the spaceship with lots of the aliens. They could all settle in my neighbourhood. Then, I could write a bit of the story where I went out and did things that would scare me now, like touching a phone to make a call from a public phone box, knowing I wouldn't wash my hands afterwards to get rid of any contamination. I could write that before I got there, some of the funny-looking aliens had used it. I could write a bit of the story about them doing all the things in the goals I've set for myself, and then myself doing them afterwards.

After I've finished writing the story, I could read it onto tape. Before I do those things myself for real, I could do some breathing and muscle relaxation exercises every day for several days, always listening to the story afterwards when I'm feeling calm. Then when I do go out and try doing those things for real, bit by bit, I could imagine that some of the funny aliens have just done them before me. I might feel amused instead of anxious then, so I might make a lot of progress quickly without worrying about it.

And also, imagining doing those things before I do them several times might mean that when I actually do them, I'll be used to the idea, so I won't be so anxious about it.

After I've done them several times imagining the aliens have done them first, I could try doing them without amusing myself, just trying to be casual about it.


Part Five
Other Ways of Reducing Anxiety Levels

I've found out that there are things I could do to lower my general anxiety levels, so that could help.

The Breathing Relaxation Technique

I'll do the breathing technique at least once a day for several minutes, or twice could be best, separate from the times when I do it while distracting myself while waiting before washing my hands. Perhaps I'll do it just after breakfast and dinner. I'll think of the best times. It might make me less generally tense.

Exercise Can Reduce Anxiety Levels

Skipping

And I'll start exercising more, because I've heard that gets rid of tension. There are probably exercises I could do in my home before I get confident enough to go out much. I could do some sit-ups every day. I could walk or run up and down the stairs a few times. And I know you can buy keep fit tapes. It would be good to get one of those and start an exercise routine indoors, if I can get used to the idea of sitting or lying on the floor, which they'd probably tell us to do.

Exercising

Once I start to beat the OCD so I feel like going out more, I could join a gym or an aerobics class. I know I'm still fairly fit. Before I do that, I could go out for short brisk walks.

Challenging Disturbing Thoughts

I know I have a problem when I walk past people outside, because I keep thinking they're going to be contaminated by me. But I could find somewhere quiet to walk the first several times, and every time I do get a thought like that, I could reassure myself that I know it isn't true because it's just a faulty brain message.

Nearly crying

But then there are the really horrible thoughts I have, the ones that really upset me, when I walk past someone, or I'm with someone I know, and a thought suddenly comes into my head that makes me think I'd like to harm them by contaminating them with something. Like poisoning them. I hate those thoughts, because I wouldn't want to do that to anyone really. They always make me upset, and I worry about having them again, or that I might really do it.

But I'm going to try not to let the thoughts upset me anymore. I'm going to stop feeling guilty about having them, because I know they're not my natural thoughts; they're just OCD thoughts. So when I have them in future, I'm going to just try to dismiss them from my mind, just trying to think disdainfully, "Oh, there goes another OCD thought! Isn't the OCD a pest!"

I'm going to do my best not to worry about it at all afterwards, since it was only the OCD playing up.

As soon as I've dismissed the thought from my mind, perhaps I'll try filling my mind with nice thoughts to replace it. I might make myself feel sympathetic to the person for a second or two, thinking about how horrible it would be if such a thing did happen to them. But I'll only do it to make myself feel caring towards them, not to make myself feel guilty about having the thought, since it wasn't my fault I had it; it didn't mean that that was what I really wanted to do, or that I'm more likely to do it; it was just the horrible OCD caused by the faulty brain messages I'm getting, and I'm on my way to getting rid of that, so I'll probably soon be able to triumphantly get control of it, and it won't be able to torment me anymore! Ha!

So yes, when I've reminded myself not to take the horrible OCD thought seriously, I could try to replace it with nice thoughts about the person it wanted me to think horrible thoughts about, not as if it's an OCD ritual that I have to do like a superstitious thing, but just as a distraction technique. There are probably other distraction techniques I could use as well. But I'll think about this one just for now. I could think about anything about them that looks nice, and remember any nice times we've had together that I can think of, and the things I like about them, if it's someone I know. And if it is, I'll think about what nice things we could do in the future, which I can start looking forward to now I'm beginning to get rid of this bully of an OCD! I'll think about what they enjoy doing, and think about whether there are things we both enjoy that we could do together.

Or if it isn't someone I'm that friendly with, I'll still think of anything I can think of that's nice about them, and consider whether there's anything about them I can compliment them on.

Or if it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable thinking about them so much, I can just think about any nice things that are going on around us, or any nice scenery.

Grinning

Or I know! Perhaps I could try to have a bit of fun and think of the OCD as just a pimply little schoolboy with really messy hair and a lump of chewing gum stuck on his nose, which he keeps there because he thinks it'll be quick to flick it into his mouth whenever he decides he wants to chew it for a while. And he'll have fizzy drink stains all down his shirt and chocolate around his mouth, and one of his sleeves all covered in butter where he's tried to butter a piece of bread and accidentally dangled his sleeve in the butter. I can imagine that he's got a high-pitched, squeaky little voice, and despite his small size and funny voice, he still wants to be a bully, but he isn't very good at it, although he used to scare me before I discovered that, because he used to shout at me from somewhere where I couldn't see him, and he was speaking through one of those voice-altering machines they sometimes use in recording studios that made his voice sound deeper and more threatening, so I couldn't tell what he was really like. But now I know! Whenever the OCD puts one of the really horrible thoughts in my mind, making me think I want to harm someone, I can try to imagine it's being spoken by this scruffy, cheeky little child who mistakenly believes he's big and clever, as he's running up to me speaking in his high-pitched squeaky voice, trying to suck the butter off his sleeve in between phrases. That might make me want to laugh, and it will hopefully stop me taking the thoughts that seriously. Then I could imagine him running off into the distance to play with other kids because he's not as big as he thinks, and because he's scared to hang around me for too long in case I give him a stern talking to, since he becomes a cry-baby if people stand up to him. Then I'll turn back to concentrating hard on the normal everyday things that are going on around me.

If I decide I'm not that keen on that image of the OCD for some reason, I'll invent another one, maybe just as funny.

Worried

If I start worrying that I have actually contaminated someone, and telling myself it's just a faulty brain message doesn't convince me, I could try to work out what evidence there is that I did. I could try to think through what happened when I met them scene by scene, so I can hopefully remember exactly what did happen, so I can reassure myself that I didn't do anything like that. But since I'd hate to do something like that, it's actually very unlikely that I would. But if it's worrying me that much, I could ask myself questions like:

If I've met the person since the time I'm worried about, I could ask myself whether they've fallen ill recently, to reassure myself that nothing happened.

Then again, since I know I wouldn't really want to do anything of the sort, I can just put it down to my faulty brain signals again.

The Importance of Eating Healthily

Fruit

I've heard that eating properly can lower anxiety levels, because the body feels better when blood sugar levels are stable, so that'll be something else I can do to help get rid of this OCD!

I've found out that it's important to eat breakfast in the mornings, because that replenishes energy levels after a night without anything fuelling them.
I'll have to try to do that. I know I do often miss breakfast. Maybe to get myself into the routine of eating it, I could start off with something small, like just a little bowl of cereal or one slice of toast. Then I could gradually increase the amount a bit, by maybe first eating two slices of toast, or slicing a banana and putting it with my cereal.

I've read that it's best not to eat that many sugary snacks or to drink sugary soft drinks during the day, since doing that increases the blood sugar a lot, but then it goes down further than it was before the snack was eaten or the person had the drink, so people can feel worse.
So perhaps I'll try cutting down on those. I'll buy nuts instead. I do like nuts. And fruit might be nice.

I've also discovered that hunger can make people more anxious as well, so it's best to eat proper meals.

The Problems with Caffeine and Alcohol

I've just read that tea and coffee are best avoided, or certainly reduced, because they're stimulants that can make people more tense if they're anxious already, and that alcohol can make people more anxious.
Perhaps I'll try a few herbal teas.

The information about alcohol says that the first couple of alcoholic drinks will calm a person down, but after that, it tends to have the opposite effect, and then people can have withdrawal symptoms during the night, and they will affect the body so it makes them more anxious the next day. It says the withdrawal symptoms can cause REM sleep to stop. It says that REM sleep naturally diffuses any emotional arousal the person was suffering from the previous day. That's its job. With it cut off, the person won't calm down, and so they'll still be nervous the next day. And because of the way Alcohol affects the brain, large amounts can bring on panic attacks. So can some illicit drugs.

Oh well, I think I'll cut down my alcohol intake. I know that doing that would be good for my physical health as well, so doing that would be a good thing anyway.

Finding Amusing Things to Do

Smiling

I'm going to start doing more things I enjoy and that make me laugh. That should cut down my anxiety. I'll think of some things I could do that I find pleasurable, and do them; and I'll think of all the things I could read or like watching on television or could think of or do that make me laugh, and amuse myself with them.


Part Six
Joining a Support Group

I could find out whether there are any support groups for people with OCD in the area. Maybe they'd know at the doctor's surgery. There might be support groups I could join online as well. I'll see if I can find out about one or two. Then when I feel up to it, I can join and see what's worked for them. People there might be able to give me even more ideas about getting better. It'll be nice to feel part of a community as well, since isolation makes me feel worse.

And if I think of things that help me get better, I'll pass them onto them, so I might end up helping quite a few people.

In fact, perhaps I could plan to help other people recover from OCD after I've recovered myself, so I can make sure something positive comes of this experience. I might be able to help people better since I understand them more, since I've been through OCD.

But I'll have to think a bit first about whether joining a support group is really a good idea, because although I might get a lot of encouragement from people, if people started talking a lot about their symptoms, I might start having obsessive worries about having them myself.

But then I could just dismiss them as mere OCD thoughts, as if they're being spoken by that horrible pimply schoolboy bully again to torment me, while he's running up to me sucking butter off his sleeve; and now I'm wise to his tricks, I don't have to let him bother me anymore.

Biting fingernails

But if I'm uncertain as to whether worries I have are just OCD thoughts or whether they're things I really do need to be concerned about, I could perhaps weigh up the evidence for them. So if I start thinking over and over again that I need to go back to the house to check I've locked the doors, for example, I'll maybe ask myself whether there was ever a time when I forgot to lock the doors before going out, or whether there was ever a time when I went back to lock them and went out again, and then when I came back after going out, I discovered I hadn't locked them after all. If the answers are either no, or very rarely, then I can be fairly sure that the thoughts that are worrying me are just OCD thoughts.

And I can start locking doors very deliberately and making a mental note that I'm doing it before I go out.

Perhaps I would never get that bad because of what someone in a support group said. But maybe I'll wait a while, and think about support groups when I'm well practised at ignoring OCD thoughts.


Part Seven
Making Other Parts of Life Less Stressful

I've noticed that the OCD comes on worst when there are other things in my life making me stressed, like when I've been trying for some time to do something without a break and not got far, or when my nagging relatives have visited. I'm going to try to make things in my life less stressful, like having more breaks, and being more assertive with my relatives.

Maybe I need to build up my confidence more. I'll stand up for myself more when I think my relatives are being unreasonable. For instance, if they criticize me for having given up my old job, instead of just putting up with it, I'll firmly and calmly say something like, "If you had OCD, then you'd understand why I had to give up my job. The reason you're criticizing me is because you don't understand, because you've never had it."

And if I can stand up to my relatives when they nag and scold me, I can certainly stand up to the OCD and continually order it to stop trying to rule my life if I find that helps!

Minor Forms of Obsessive Behaviour are Quite Common in the General Public

At least some of my friends are quite understanding though. Julie says she knows someone who said he's worried he might have OCD. But it doesn't sound as if his symptoms are that serious. ...

I've just read some information from a charity that says that fairly minor little obsessions are quite common, and they don't necessarily mean anything's wrong with a person. It describes a social gathering where there were several young mothers who got around to talking about habits they had like washing themselves after they'd used other people's toilets, or cleaning the taps in the basin as well when they washed their hands. It says that none of the mothers had OCD, and they were relieved when the person who wrote the information told them that lots of people have little irrational habits that they won't necessarily tell other people about, so what they did didn't mean they were odd, or that they were getting OCD.

So maybe Julie's friend's worrying more than he needs to. I'll give Julie this information to pass on to him. It might reassure him.

But I'll tell her what I'm doing to get over my OCD, so she can tell him, so if he's that worried, he can try the techniques out himself.

Thinking About Work

But thinking about stress, another thing that's been stressing me out recently is the loss of my job. The OCD's got worse since then.

But maybe it would help if I started looking at things differently. I work from home now, and I don't earn much, but at least I can work when I want and don't get bossed around. And this could be an opportunity to start looking for jobs I like the sound of better than my old one.

When I've recovered from my OCD, maybe I could go and visit my old work colleagues, and talk to my old boss, telling him how I recovered from it. I don't know if he'd understand though, so I don't know if he'd give me a reference if I applied for another job. If he doesn't, maybe I'll ask if they'll send me the appraisal reports they did on my work performance before I got ill. I know they were good. And I can give copies of them to people in companies I apply for jobs with in future, and hopefully, they'll think they're just as acceptable as references.

Having Some Enjoyment in Life

Smiling

I think I'll reduce the stress I feel at the moment by taking a few days off, to devote, as much as possible, entirely to having fun and doing things I enjoy. I think I'll make a list of things I could do, and then spend some time doing them. I could relax with a good book, and find funny stories on the Internet, and read up about things I find interesting.

After my break, I'll make sure I do more of the things I enjoy in the future. It'll be good if I can think of quite a lot of things to do, because as my OCD disappears, I'll have more time to spare that I'm no longer spending washing my hands, so I'll need things I can use to crowd out any OCD thoughts that might otherwise want to come back because I've got so much time to think. But then, I can go out a lot more and get another job when it's gone.

I'll make a list of all the nice things I'd like to do when I've got rid of the OCD. That'll hopefully be quite soon.


Notes

This article is written slightly differently from most articles. All the information in most of the articles in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, usually either to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and presents all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.

It's about someone with an obsession with washing her hands, but the recovery techniques could be helpful for people with all kinds of different obsessions.

If after browsing this article you'd like more detail on similar topics, try looking at the related articles on this website.

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Before putting any ideas that you might pick up from this article into practice, please read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.

Since this article's almost certainly too long to read all in one go, if you like the parts of it you do browse, feel free to add it to your favourites and read it bit by bit over the coming days or weeks as you choose, since it's really designed to be taken in as a step-by-step process anyway rather than a one-off. It'll also make it handy to read bits of it again and again, since it's normal for people to forget most of what they read the first time.

If you're worried that reading about other people's obsessions will make you scared that you might pick them up, Never mind reading the story; maybe go back to the contents.


The Story

The Way Things Are Before They Begin to Improve

Tearful

Maureen has developed an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She keeps having an urge to wash her hands even after she's touched things that have only a remote chance of having harmful dirt on them. It started after she got some dog dirt on her hands and couldn't wash them for nearly an hour. She was disgusted, and though she wiped them thoroughly, she feared that other people would come to harm because anything she was forced to touch before she could wash her hands properly would get germs on it.

After that, she often felt disgusted and kept getting urges to wash her hands after touching less and less harmful things. Not washing them made her feel anxious about contamination, and when she washed them, the anxiety subsided, so that made her think that washing them was helping. Now it's got to the stage where she's so fearful about what might happen if she doesn't wash her hands that she feels more and more afraid. So she feels compelled to wash them to keep the anxiety away. What she's really afraid of is the increasingly unpleasant feelings she'll experience as her fear mounts because she hasn't washed them.

She's even had to give up her job, because she was being criticized for getting up and going to wash her hands so much; but if she didn't, she became so anxious she didn't think she could cope.

Now, she's feeling isolated at home, which is making everything seem worse. She's started feeling scared to go out of her house, fearing she'll touch things that strangers have touched and become contaminated, or that she'll contaminate others.



The End


Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.

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Literature Used in Creating This Article


Disclaimer:
The articles are written in such a way as to convey the impression that they are not written by an expert, so as to make it clear that the advice should not be followed without question.

The author has a qualification endorsed by the Institute of Psychiatry and has led a group for people recovering from anxiety disorders and done other such things; yet she is not an expert on people's problems, and has simply taken information from books and articles that do come from people more expert in the field.

There is no guarantee that the solutions the people in the articles hope will help them will work for everybody, and you should consider yourself the best judge of whether to follow their example in trying them out.


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