Breaking the thought patterns that lead to endless obsessive-compulsive behavior may be similar to breaking the habits of addiction.
This is just a personal essay. I’m obviously not a doctor, and have no formal qualifications to be giving advice of any kind, let alone medical. So don’t sue me. Instead, just read my thinking on OCD, based on my own experiences:
What is a habit? It is a repeated reaction to stimulus. Pathways to that reaction, that behavior, are strengthened every time we engage in the behavior. Some habits are logical and healthy, like drinking water when we feel the stimulus of thirst. Others are pointless or even destructive, like acting out with drugs or sex when confronted with anxiety or fear.
Some activities can be perfectly healthy (sex) in some circumstances and wholly unhealthy in others. Anybody with an addiction should recognize this. Abstaining from a behavior might be a necessary tool at times to break an addiction; that’s the What I Don’t Do part. But the What I Do part may be even more important. That’s what we choose and practice doing, in response to a stimulus, such as anxiety, that has habitually resulted in unhealthy behavior.
As in any addictive, or habit-based, behavior, OCD is harder to resist the more practice we have resorting to the compulsive behavior. It’s like we’ve been pouring grease on a slide and it’s become sooooo easy to slide down that slide instead of finding another path. We feel more and more powerless to resist.
The wonderful, amazing, and soul-freeing news is that we can, through persistent practice, forge another path. The more we follow the new, healthy path, the easier it becomes and the more goopy that old grease on the slide becomes, until it’s a lot easier to walk the new path than push yourself down the sticky old slide.
That may be a bit of an awkward metaphor. Here’s the simple truth about changing seemingly all-powerful habits:
The more you do it, the easier and more automatic it becomes and the easier it becomes not to follow the old habit. Brain scientists say we are making new pathways in the brain, and, well, they are brain scientists, so they’re probably right.
It may be that a lack of serotonin or other stress-stress-relieving chemicals in the brain is the discomfort that we are trying to alleviate through OCD. We attach other fears, other reasons for doing or thinking the rituals, but it may just come down to brain chemistry. So how do you change that brain chemistry — give yourself what you need without resorting to oil habits?
For me, it has been very helpful to engage in deep breathing exercises. Maybe these release chemicals that my brain had been turning to OCD to get. I love yoga and qigong (chi gong). These are energy-based practices that combine movement with deep breathing.
I also find affirmations extremely beneficial. These are positive phrases I repeat to myself that make me feel better. You can look some up on line and find ones that speak to you.
Both of these strategies are regimented in a way that is similar to OCD — often a qigong routine repeats each movement exactly nine times, and repeating affirmations may be reminiscent of your repetitive thoughts from OCD. But these are positive methods to reduce anxiety and improve mood. For me, they don’t get out of control like my OCD always did.
You may want to start with simple qigong routines found online. Two of my favorite teachers are Lee Holden and Robert Jahnke. Some good affirmations can be found in Rhonda Byrnes work (the Secret), in the early 20th century text, the Master Key System, and in the writings of Wayne Dyer.
These healthier alternatives to OCD may give you the inner resources to practice healthier alternatives to old, unwanted habits. There’s a Native American metaphor about two wolves living fighting within you. The one that wins and survives is the one you feed. Feed the wolf that allows you to live a more healthy and happy life.
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