My Anxiety Plan for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
The following strategies are designed for you to use as you begin to tackle your Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These strategies are best used for adults with mild-moderate signs of this type of anxiety related disorder. For individuals with more severe symptoms or who have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), we recommend treatment with a mental health professional, although MAP strategies can be used at home to support your therapy work.
Step 1. Helping you become an expert on anxiety
This is an important first step, as the information outlined in this step can help you understand what is happening when you experience anxiety. Learning that the worries and physical feelings you are experiencing have a name -anxiety- and that millions of other people also have anxiety, can be a great relief. To become an expert on anxiety you will want to read about the facts and learn important information. The following links can provide you with facts and information: ABC's of Anxiety: Understanding How Anxiety Works & Anxiety 101: What You Need to Know About Anxiety & Anxiety 102: More Facts & Fight-Flight-Freeze & When Anxiety Becomes a Problem: What’s Normal and What's Not
Step 2: Learning the facts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Reading about the information outlined on the obsessive compulsive disorder main page can help you feel less afraid of what is happening to you. After all, knowledge is power. In addition, understanding some important facts outlined below can provide you with some relief that you are not crazy, and that what you are experiencing might be called obsessive compulsive disorder.
- Everyone has thoughts that are upsetting or strange, and that do not make a lot of sense, from time to time. This is normal. In fact several well-conducted studies have discovered that close to 100% of the general population has intrusive and disturbing thoughts, images or ideas. These can range from the mild and odd, to the graphic and disturbing. For example: Shouting “fire” in the movies; Yelling at your boss; Switching lanes and driving into oncoming traffic; Having a sexual encounter with a stranger, and more.
- These types of thoughts can quickly evolve from simple “thought” status into an obsession, due to two critical ways the individual responds.
- Response # 1: When individuals apply meaning and importance to the thoughts they experience, and interpret their thoughts as problematic and significant, it causes these thoughts to get stuck on repeat mode. As a result, simple unwanted thoughts become an obsession. For example, let’s say that you had the following unwanted thought: “What if I pushed someone into traffic?” If you said to yourself, “That’s a terrible thought! But I know that it doesn’t mean anything, and I know I wouldn’t do that”, then you would probably not develop OCD. On the other hand, if you said to yourself, “Why did I think that? Maybe this means that I am a dangerous person!” then you increase your chances of developing OCD: your interpretation of your thought as important, meaningful and dangerous will make you have more of these unwanted thoughts.
- Response # 2: As these thoughts increase in frequency and intensity, they generate a lot of anxiety, resulting in the person trying to eliminate this anxiety through their actions, which ironically serve to worsen the OCD. In the above example, if the individual believes they might act on their thought, this will make them anxious, resulting in a decision to change their behaviour. Rather than walk alone to work the person might stay home for the day, or ask a coworker to escort them. Although their actions help to reduce their anxiety, it leaves the person dependent on missing work or on an escort to cope, and, doubting their own safety. This doubt gives rise to more of the same thoughts, over and over.
- Once obsessions are in full swing, the individual begins to engage in different behaviours designed to reduce the anxiety that these thoughts generate. In the short-term the behaviours do reduce the anxiety, but over time, the individual learns that without engaging in their behaviours the anxiety returns. This leaves them stuck and dependent on these behaviours, also called rituals, to cope with their anxiety.
Step 3: Creating your Obsessive Compulsive Disorder MAP
The best way to help you deal with OCD is to learn specific tools that can be used to cope with the symptoms, urges, and behaviours associated with OCD. These tools are intended to increase your ability to tolerate stress and anxiety, rather than to eliminate stress and anxiety, which accompanies thoughts, urges and actions associated with OCD. Stress and anxiety exist everywhere, and therefore it is an illusion to believe we can eliminate the source and experience of these emotions. It is far more effective to provide yourself with the tools to tolerate and cope, rather than to control and escape. For OCD, you can use any or all of the following anxiety tools to create your MAP (My Anxiety Plan). These tools are listed in a recommended order, although proceeding in this order will depend on your needs and interests. Challenge Negative Thinking and Facing Your Fears will be two of the most important tools for you to use to gain relief from your symptoms.
- Vicious Cycle of OCD
- Calm Breathing
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Helpful Thinking
- Challenging Negative Thinking
- Cognitive Coping Cards
- Managing Obsessions: Helpful Strategies
- Managing Obsessions: Unhelpful Strategies
- Exposure Therapy for OCD: ERP
- Facing Your Fears: Exposure
- Changing or Delaying OCD rituals
- Overcoming Perfectionism
- Tolerating Uncertainty
- Rewarding Bravery
- Returning to Routines and Pleasant Events
- Relapse Prevention
Final point: Although increased knowledge and the many tools available on this website can be very effective in helping you to manage your OCD, sometimes it is not enough. Some adults have very severe OCD and despite all their best efforts, they might still be struggling daily with OCD and related problems. If this is the case for you, we recommend you seek professional help through a consultation session with your family doctor, psychiatrist, or a psychologist/mental health worker.