When my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety was at its worst, the invasive thoughts were never ending. I would be attacked, all day every day, by a barrage of intrusive and sometimes scary thoughts.There seemed no single way of stopping them. I tried everything; I tried to reassure myself out of the thoughts; I tried to stop thinking the thoughts; I tried to tell myself that all was ok; I tried thinking something else. Nothing worked. I lived for so long with these thoughts. My every waking moment was consumed.
I did not have any compulsive tendencies such as hand washing or counting to ease the anxiety. My compulsion was to seek reassurance. This reassurance generally came from close family members. If not, I spent hours searching online for the right answer that would give me the right ‘thought’ to finally calm the anxiety. Sometimes I would find it. Sometimes not. This could go on for days, weeks and sometimes months.
Later on I took some cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy looked at specific behaviours and had much success at dealing with OCD and anxiety. One of the most beneficial techniques from the many they showed me, was ‘thought stopping’. In simple terms it was an agreement I made with myself to let go of trying to control my thoughts and simply let them ‘be’.To let them come, then let them go.
I learnt that it was my resistance to the awful thoughts, that made them stronger and perpetuated the distress.
So, with tools in hand I tried it out. I didn’t talk to myself and I didn’t analyse. I just let the thoughts ‘be’.
At first this was bizarre to me. How could letting all the thoughts come and go be of any benefit? How could this ever have any effect, when there was so much noise in my head? How could letting go of control, actually give me control?
But it did. Within a few days, and then through weeks of practice, I found that my new approach to the thoughts in my mind was actually working. Albeit in a small way at first. When a troublesome thought came, I let it just float around in my head for as long as it took to be replaced by another thought. Even though it was so hard to resist seeking reassurance and talking to myself, I continued the practice. Then all of a sudden I noticed that the thoughts started to move through my mind much more quickly than before. Almost to my surprise, the thoughts started to become ‘normal’ thoughts such as ‘Have I put the dishwasher on?’
When you have been used to a barrage of anxious thoughts day in and day out, you cannot believe how wonderful the feeling was to just think of something normal like washing. It was like a light bulb moment when I realised that all the attempts I had made to control the thoughts, were in fact making them worse. By letting go of the control and free falling, I had actually gained control again.
The CBT therapist explained that the thoughts played out like a film in the movies. Your mind is the big movie screen. As the thought appears we associate it with a feeling. The more afraid of the thoughts you are and the more you try to force them away, then the more they play on the screen. I think when you are dealing with OCD thoughts and other anxious thinking its important to note that the thought in itself cannot harm you. And the thought itself is not important. Its the importance that you associate with that thought, that causes the problem.
Due to the nature of anxious thinking, you become afraid of thoughts. By the very fact that you’re thinking them, is enough to throw you into complete panic. You feel that by thinking a thought, then this is absolute evidence you will act on it or that the thought makes you crazy. As you learn that the thoughts are not harmful, and you allow them to pass through your mind without attention, the less frequently they play on the big screen.
I did not master the technique immediately, and there were days that the technique didn’t seem to be as effective. But with perseverance it has become a lifelong tool that I use in the battle against the demon OCD and anxious thoughts in general.
I can assure you that over the past 20 years I have had all sorts of weird and wonderful thoughts. But the technique of thought stopping, together with the understanding that the thoughts mean nothing, have meant that I have lived the past 15 years OCD free.
Even 20 years on the thoughts still come to me daily, but they no longer worry me. I recognise them as OCD brain ‘farts’. I recognise that they mean nothing of consequence and go about my day.
You too can get some relief using this technique. Start noticing your thoughts. See them for what they are. Imagine the big movie screen in your mind. When an intrusive thought comes then just let it come. Let it play there, but resist the urge to talk to yourself, to reassure yourself or carry out any compulsion. See how, with practice, the thoughts carry on playing. As long as you don’t associate fear with the thoughts, then they have no power. It will take time to become proficient. I use a number of techniques for overall well-being but thought stopping is a key place to start.
Seek out some further reading on cognitive therapies for all sorts of mental health disease. Take a look at OCD Action website and forum for support and advice from others.
Hope this has given you some insight.
Onwards my loves, K xxx