Mindfulness Techniques For OCD: How To Deal With Obsessive Thoughts

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Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. When you practice mindfulness, you are training your brain to not automatically react in a negative way to thoughts and feelings. It’s essentially teaching yourself not to have strong reactions, which can be helpful for people with OCD.

This article will teach you how to deal with obsessive thoughts by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness can help you live more fully in the present moment instead of feeling overly consumed by thoughts about the past or future. What’s more, it can help you find peace in even the most difficult moments.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a serious neuropsychiatric condition that can be debilitating. It is characterized by intrusive, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors that the sufferer has difficulty resisting or stopping.

mindfulness for OCD
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder that affects how someone thinks and behaves. Yet mindfulness offers some hope.

OCD can cause obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, which might include repeatedly checking locks on doors, washing hands until they are raw, or hoarding items. These thoughts and behaviors can make it hard to function at work or school or in relationships. 

Obsessions are unpleasant thoughts that come into your mind. It’s not that you want these thoughts to come, but they just do. Sometimes the thoughts are about harm coming to yourself or someone you love, but other times it might be about germs or something else really odd.

The cause of OCD has not yet been definitively determined by scientists, but there are several theories that explain why some people experience such strong and intrusive thoughts.

It has been hypothesized that in OCD sufferers, the brain has difficulty turning off certain impulses.

For instance, a person suffering from obsessive compulsive thoughts may experience mildly irritating feelings that they left the oven on, even though they are sure they did not, to fearful thoughts that simply thinking negatively might harm others.

Another theory suggests that the cause may be psychological and that people with OCD place too much importance – through no fault of their own – on the kinds of intrusive thoughts that everyone experiences from time to time.

Obsessive compulsive thoughts are often triggered by stress, depression and traumatic life events, which, while not thought of as causes, can exacerbate pre-existing problems.

OCD sufferers often have unwanted thoughts or images that repeatedly enter their minds, leading them to feel anxious or distressed. They may believe that their thoughts will cause bad things to happen if they don’t act on them, or even that they can cause bad things just by thinking them. 

Symptoms of OCD may include:

  • Picking of skin
  • Repeated washing of hands
  • Checking locks on doors
  • Arranging and rearranging objects
  • Repeatedly checking to see if doors are locked or stove is turned off
  • Feeling the need to organize things perfectly

The good news is that mindfulness techniques can help you deal with these intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment – without judging it.

Mindfulness has been shown to help with anxiety and stress, so the practice can be useful for those struggling with OCD.

Mind-Blowing Ways To Beat Obsessive Thoughts Without Medication

The feeling of anxiety is familiar to most people. You may feel it when giving a speech, during an important meeting, or before taking an exam. It’s normal for your body to feel anxious in these situations. But if you experience anxiety so often that it begins to interfere with your daily life, this could be one of the signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

If you think you’re experiencing OCD, there are some important steps you can take to help manage your symptoms and get the treatment that’s right for you.

Anxiety and obsessive thoughts can be managed through practicing mindfulness.

Here are some helpful ways to practice mindfulness:

  • Notice your thoughts without judgment
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Accept yourself as you are
  • Be mindful when engaging with others

Researchers have found that regular mindfulness practice can help our brains become better at controlling impulses by promoting growth in the parts of the brain responsible for impulse control. In other words, mindfulness may be very useful for people who struggle with obsessive impulses.

Another common mindfulness technique used for OCD is self-compassion. Self-compassion entails self-kindness and acceptance, which can be practiced by using phrases like “This is an unpleasant feeling” or “I’m noticing this thought.”

By cultivating patience and kindness within ourselves, we can develop a more positive relationship with our thoughts. As we become aware of impulses through mindfulness, our brains can also handle them better, just as exercising makes our muscles stronger and more resilient to stress.

How To Use Mindfulness Meditation To Overcome Your OCD?

The most common technique that can help you manage obsessive thoughts is mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is a practice of sitting and paying attention to your breath and bodily sensations without judgment or analysis.

While stuck in repetitive or obsessive thought cycles, we fail to be present. Instead, we ruminate about how what we have said or done may have negatively affected others. By practicing mindfulness, you become aware of what’s happening in the present moment.

Research has shown that mindfulness can help us control impulses.

Because cognitive therapy alone seemed to lack what OCD patients needed, I cast about for something else. My return to meditation now convinced me that the best way to treat OCD would involve an approach informed by the concept of mindfulness.

I felt that if I could help patients to experience the OCD symptom without reacting emotionally to the discomfort it causes, realizing instead that even the most visceral OCD urge is actually no more than the manifestation of a brain wiring defect, it might be tremendously therapeutic.

The more patients could experience the feeling impersonally, as it were, the less would react emotionally or take it at face value. They would not be overwhelmed by the sense that the obsession had to be acted on and could better actualize what they knew intellectually: that the obsession makes no sense.

from The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, Sharon Begley

While practicing mindfulness meditation, we give our brain something to focus on (for example, the breath), while at the same time, catching our mind when it wanders away from that focal point, and gently bringing it back. As we become more observant of our thoughts, we can be more patient while dealing with impulses and urges, rather than acting on each and every one.

OCD Breathing

Mindfulness is also a practice where you focus your attention on breathing. When you do this, you are training your mind to focus on the present moment and not let your thoughts wander as much as they usually do.

The first step to practicing mindfulness for OCD is to learn how to do a breathing exercise called “OCD Breathing.” This exercise will help you shift your focus from obsessive thoughts to the present moment. The goal of this exercise is to practice being mindful of your breathing.

Instructions:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach, just below the belly button.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Notice how it feels when air enters and leaves through your nose or mouth. Pay attention to the sensation of air moving in and out of your nose or mouth, filling up and emptying each lung, expanding and contracting in the process.
  • Try not to think about anything else—just focus on breathing in and out for a few minutes before going on to the next step.

It’s okay if the thought lingers for a little while before you let it go. You can think about it as long as it doesn’t stop you from focusing on your breathing for too long.

Paying attention to the physical sensations of breathing, such as how our nostrils fill with air as we breathe or how our chest expands and relaxes, can help us overcome our obsessive compulsive thoughts and help us feel more grounded.

Living With OCD? Learn To Trust Yourself Again With Mindfulness

OCD is a mental illness that has a number of different treatments, but mindfulness is one of the most accessible and can be done anywhere. Mindfulness is a practice that enables a person to experience the present moment fully. This includes your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

It can help break us free of this internal trap, by grounding us in reality and cultivating greater self-compassion and kindness towards ourselves.

The next time you experience an obsessive thought, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing for a few minutes and allow your thought to come and go without focusing on it too much.

Taking the time to deliberately and repeatedly re-focus our attention on something like the breath or our surroundings may help us to deal more easily with our obsessive thoughts.

Effectively applying mindfulness skills to OCD triggers takes consistent daily practice. But you will be rewarded — not just by improved mindfulness skills, but by greater freedom to take action in the areas of life important to you.

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