What is OCD?
Lots of people have harmless habits that they carry out to make them feel more comfortable. For example, they like to put their personal effects in order or have their radio on a certain volume level. For the most part, these practices take little time and harm no-one but people quip that they are a 'little bit OCD'.
In reality OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is a serious mental health condition that adversely affects people's lives to the point that they can no longer live a fulfilled existence and are unlikely to be able to hold down jobs or relationships effectively. Examples of obsessive ritual often include such behaviours as excessive cleaning and handwashing, locking and unlocking doors and vehicles, repeated checking that loved ones are OK and refusal to carry out normal daily tasks in anything but a prescribed order. Therefore, if little habits start to become rituals which take over your life and preoccupy your thoughts to the point of serious anxiety, it is important to take steps to address the compulsions before they start to adversely affect your mental health.
One technique which has proved to be successful in combatting the comulsions is mindfulness. To become a competent practitioner takes several weeks of consistent committment to changing thought processes and brain patterns and courses are available to provide in depth training. This can help to combat the stress surrounding triggers and relieve general anxiety, but there are some techniques that you can employ on a daily basis to help to manage low level OCD.
Contrary to common misconception, mindfulness is not about emptying your mind. Instead it is more about distracting your mind from the things you don't want to think about by focussing completely on more positive and calming thoughts. The more you practice mindfulness, the more quickly it will have a positive effect on your ability to calm yourself. Mindfulness techniques can be challenging to fit into your daily routine in the same way that physical exercise can take a while to become a habit. Start with something simple and build up to more complex practice over time. Below are some examples of where to start:
- Repetitive exercise can not only boost seratonin levels in your brain, but also have a hypnotic effect. Because you are focussing on the rhythm or pattern of the exercise, you are unable to think about your problems. Dance and swimming are good examples of this and it explains why people often find an active holiday like ski-ing more therapeutic than just lying on a beach.
- Eat a diet rich in folic acid such as bananas, broccoli, potatoes, soy and foods with supplements. This will help to improve your concentration levels. As you eat, focus on your chewing rhythm. Try to chew slowly and really focus on the taste and texture of the food. Try to experience the food on every level rather than just consuming it as quickly as you can. Think about what you enjoy about that food and how each mouthful is slightly different.
- Think of problems like a patch of ice. When you are struggling to face challenges, don't fight your feelings. Stop and acknowledge how you feel, think about why you feel the way you do and try to accept that the problem will pass. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. With each breath, visualise the problem being gradually expelled from your brain and floating away into the atmosphere. Imagine the problem is getting smaller and smaller until you can simply puff it away, Open your eyes and focus on how much more relaxed and better you feel than a few moments ago. Tell yourself that you are in control of your problem and you can simply puff it away whenever you choose.
There are lots of resources online relating to mindfulness. Find a practice that works for you and reprogramme your brain by practicing it every day for 15 minutes a day for at least 6 weeks. Notice how much your way of thinking has changed at the end of the period and resolve to continue your practice in whatever way suits you going forward.