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An OCD Crash Course

When you’re struggling with OCD, your experience probably falls somewhere on the spectrum from uncomfortable to terrifying.  You may have bizarre or frightening thoughts. You may believe that because you had a thought, it reflects reality.  Or you may have assumed that you need to act on everything that your brain tells you to do.

You may have thought to yourself, I wish someone would save me from my mind!

An OCD Crash Course

OCD makes commonplace activities an uphill climb; doing mundane things can often be paradoxically challenging for people with OCD. At its worst, OCD keeps people in a suspended in a state of electrified worry, feeling hunted by problems or threatening situations that may not even be real (that usually, overwhelmingly, are not real). OCD holds people back from living their lives. OCD has been known to ruin many a Saturday.

What is OCD?

In short, OCD is disturbing thoughts or uncomfortable physical sensations (obsessions).  People with OCD often do things to try to make themselves more comfortable after they have an obsessive thought, like wash their hands or check things (compulsions).

The obsession is the thought or sensation.  The compulsion is the activity performed in an effort to make the obsession go away or disprove the obsession.  Usually, a compulsion provides momentary relief, and then adds fuel to the fire.

Obsession + compulsion= obsessive compulsive disorder.

The Wiring Behind OCD

OCD is the brain’s error and danger detection center (the amygdala) sending out messages that there is a problem, when there is no problem.  The amygdala is the size and shape of two almonds and is nestled deep in the core of the brain.

Someone with OCD processes these error-and-danger messages and does something in response to the perception that there is danger.

This creates a circuit.  After someone with OCD takes action in response to the perceived threat coming from the amygdala and performs a compulsive ritual, the amygdala receives validation that there was indeed a threat, because the person with OCD did something in response to the error message.  The amygdala receives confirmation that its alarm bells will be listened to and acted on, and it learns to send more of them.

Brain scans of people with OCD are really interesting.  The amygdala “glows” from substantially higher than average activity.  The frontal lobe of the brain, which controls judgment and focus, is also substantially overactive. This is because after the amygdala sends out an error message, the frontal lobe decides there is a problem, and then devotes attention to it. People with OCD tend to focus disproportionately on perceived problems (“Did I leave a candle burning?” or “Did my boss scowl at me earlier? Oh my God, did she?”); hence, the frontal lobe also appears to glow in brain scans.

This heightened brain activity explains why some people with OCD perceive that there is conflict around them when there isn’t any; or that their world is dark, unfriendly, or even menacing.  The part of the brain in charge of detecting when there is an emergency or problem is sounding, for no real reason, without warning.

All those fears, phobias, aversions, and obsessions: all it is, is faulty wiring.


That’s the good news: it’s just faulty wiring.

There is comfort in understanding the brain science behind OCD. If you grasp that the thoughts, fears, and physical sensations you have are just sections of your brain misbehaving, the thoughts, fears, and physical sensations you have may seem less intimidating.

There’s more comforting news: you can rewire your brain. That’s how people with OCD get better. The same worry circuit that is activated when you act on an obsessive thought can be powered down by learning how to react to your thoughts and continuing to life your life, even when you feel anxious.

Sound confusing? Don’t worry: read my illustrated guide on how to keep living your life when you’re experiencing an OCD storm.  Or, contact me to learn more about my Glowing OCD Brain training.

What stories are you telling yourself?

We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves. Unfortunately, much of the time, these stories don’t make our lives bigger or better. Sometimes our stories limit us in small ways (“I don’t eat Indian food” or “I’m not the kind of person who goes hiking for fun”). Other stories act as a lens through which we see the world (“I never should have left Los Angeles and given up on acting” or “I don’t know what I’m passionate about and it’s driving me insane!”).  These stories influence our lives to an extent beyond imagination.

Here’s a sampling from some people I’ve talked to:

I’m a city person; I couldn’t live anywhere but a large city. I’m going to be  a director. I’m an artist. I’m an entrepreneur. I like asking for things. Netflix is my boyfriend. I’m a workaholic. I don’t like going to classes at the gym; it’s one more thing to be late for. I’m a morning person. I’m a night owl. I’m not the kind of person who goes to India.

I dated my soulmate two years ago, but I screwed everything up. I don’t think I’ll ever feel that way about anyone again. I don’t know my passion is and it’s driving me crazy. I have to get married by the time I’m thirty. I am so behind the people I went to high school with. If I’m not interested in a task, I’m incapable of doing it.

I’m annoying. I’m a bitch. I’m a failure. I’m a screw-up. I am not living the kind of life I planned on. If I had the opportunity to go back in time, I would do so many things differently. I suck at life. I fully suck. I’m such a fuck-up.


We frequently tell stories about ourselves that serve as the “elevator pitch” that we repeat to ourselves, about ourselves.  We all have a self-concept, and it becomes the lens through which we see the world. That story can be positive (“I’m a graphic designer in Boston. I’m known for wearing bright colors”) or glass-half empty (“I live in Boston. I left a corporate job to become a full-time freelance web designer. You wouldn’t believe how little money I make”). These stories—even if we don’t often consciously think about them—can greatly affect the way we see the world around us.  It could be a difference as drastic as living in full color or seeing the world in sepia.

For people with anxiety and OCD, it’s especially important to be aware of your “story,” because we have the tendency to get “stuck” on a thought that we believe to be true. If that thought is your story, you’re going to be repeating it to yourself a lot.   It’s in your best interest to make sure it’s a true story, and a good one.




This is what’s game changing.

It is entirely possible to change your story. In writing a new story, we can design the way we want to show up in the world. This includes, but is not limited to: how we want to feel, how we want to make others feel, how we express our talents, and how we experience our own company. We interact with ourselves in new ways: we experience more self-compassion, we learn to soothe ourselves, and we act with greater self-efficacy.

With the new year in mind, let’s unearth our stories, deconstruct our stories, and replace them with better stories. This is a process that can help everyone, but it’s especially important for people with anxiety and OCD, who can be especially self-critical.

For now, here’s a starting point to do some brainstorming. Ask yourself these questions and see if anything interesting comes up:

What is a story that’s problematic in my life right now?

When and where did I get this story?

Was it true then? Is true now?

Why am I holding on to this story?

Am I willing to trade this story for something better?

OCD Awareness Week




Today, October 9th, is day 1 of OCD Awareness Week.  OCD Awareness Week is an effort that is near and dear to my heart.  Many people live with OCD, and don’t know that they have OCD. The statistics on this subject are shocking. Most experts estimate that 1 in 40 Americans have OCD. Only 23% of people with OCD seek mental health treatment.  The lag time between when a person starts to experience OCD symptoms and when they receive professional help is a staggering 11 years.  Only 14 percent of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests solely in the form of obtrusive thoughts (“pure obsession”) seek help.  When you digest these statistics, something becomes clear: if so many people have OCD but don’t know it or don’t seek treatment, that 1 in 40 figure is probably way higher.

The 14% figure is especially meaningful to me.  When I finally sought professional help, when I was 24, my main complaint was that I had a huge, intrusive worry that ate at me every day.  At the time, I believed that the voice in my head–we all have one–was accurate as it narrated the outside world for me and scanned for problems. I believed that everything I worried about was true, including this one big scary worry.  I wouldn’t have described myself as having OCD; I just thought I had a HUGE problem to deal with.

When I was diagnosed with OCD, it was a huge surprise.  I didn’t wash my hands incessantly and I didn’t need my possessions to be lined up symmetrically in my room.  When I learned that “obsessive thoughts” was a thing, my OCD diagnosis made much more sense.  I also learned that tons of my worries, quirks, and habits–that I thought were totally reasonable–were also manifestations of OCD.

Thus, in honor of OCD Awareness Week, I’m going to describe some manifestations of OCD that people may not think is OCD.  The more people are aware of the huge range of ways that OCD can manifest, our collective consciousness will empower people struggling with OCD to identify it and seek help sooner.

This is what OCD looks like: obsessive thinking.

When we think of OCD, we think of someone who repetitively washes their hands and checks things. But often, OCD is invisible to everyone except the person experiencing it. For some people, OCD can manifest itself entirely in threatening thoughts. A person with this kind of OCD (often called “pure O”) spends a ton of time thinking, trying to disprove the thought and wash it away in their head. These obsessive thoughts can be especially frustrating, because they’re usually irrational and thus, they don’t respond to logic. Often, they tend to become inflamed and seem even bigger and more menacing, the more one tries to solve them.

Here are some relatively common obsessive thoughts that someone with OCD may struggle with:

What if I get fired?

What if I blurt out swear words?

What if I throw up right now?

What if I say something that offends the person I’m speaking to?

What if the people around me are all robots?

(After all, do you know with complete certainty that the people in your life aren’t robots? No, you don’t. But that uncertainty wouldn’t bother you if you didn’t grapple with obsessive thoughts/ OCD)

The way to handle obsessive thoughts is to practice total acceptance of the thoughts.  Leaning into a barbed-wire worry paradoxically makes it fade away.  If you have a tendency to think yourself in circles or worry about things that you don’t sense other people worry about, you may want to poke around this site and learn more about OCD.  You can also learn more at the website for the International OCD Foundation.

What to Do with Intrusive Thoughts that Won’t Go Away

Most of us have had the experience of having intrusive thoughts.  They’re the thoughts that “snag” in your brain and won’t go away.  When you finally shift your focus to something else, the thoughts periodically pop back. If you push the thoughts away, they may pop back faster. You feel hunted. The best way to deal with intrusive thoughts is to not push them away, but rather to have an unphased reaction to them. Acting like you don’t care about these electrified thoughts powers them down.  Most of us have had the experience of being stuck on a thought, sleeping on it, and finding that in the morning, we have the distance to say, “Wow, that thing that I was so upset about was really irrational.”

But what to do if you wake up in the morning and the thought is still there?

Invite the thought to stay awhile.

Having an intrusive thought that won’t go away and survives a good night’s sleep is unnerving.  The way to deal with it is an even more involved version of how you would deal with any other intrusive thought. Accept that you’re having the intrusive thought. Let it hang out in your peripheral vision. It may feel uncomfortable, but just let it be.

I like to visualize a “long term intrusive thought” this way: imagine that your token friend who drives you really crazy but you’re still friends, has shown up unannounced on your doorstep. Your friend is ringing the doorbell incessantly; she knows you’re home!  If you try to leave her out there, odds are good she is going to keep ringing the doorbell and she may start texting you or start calling you!  But if you go downstairs and say, “Oh, hey, come on in. I’m pretty busy right now, but if you want, you can sit on the couch and read a magazine.”  That pesky friend is going to get bored quickly and maybe think twice about showing up unannounced again.

If it sounds hard, that’s because it is hard. Not giving a shit when you have an unsettling, intrusive thought is like a muscle; if you have OCD, it’s a muscle you want to focus on strengthening.

I’m taking on this topic because it feels like my brain is on fire right now.


An intrusive thought has taken up residence in my head. It’s a thought I’ve had before. It’s disturbing, it’s really visual in nature, and it’s intertwined uncomfortably with my real life experience.  And I can’t sleep it off. It’s been five days of discomfort.

The good news is, I know this is OCD. I know this is OCD because it feels like there is an enormous problem.  But I logically know there is no problem.  I have shelter, I have food, I have friends, and everything is okay.  It’s just my brain. The issue is, when I react to this train of intrusive thoughts with anguish and fear, it’s like fanning a fire.  If I acted like I cared less, they would fade away.

So, I’m doing my best to embrace the thoughts.  I’m taking a positive affirmative approach: “Yeah, maybe I did make a huge mistake. And maybe I made the same mistake a second time. I screwed up majorly. Oh, well. I’m going to keep living my life.” I say this with affection, for the thought, for my glowing OCD brain, and for me.

I’m also making an effort to do things to get the feel-good chemicals flowing in my brain:

  1. Whenever I’m having a rough patch, I have a policy that I go into a get-exercise-everyday routine.  It’s the most surefire method to feel better.
  2. I’m doing little things that make me happy, like decluttering my apartment and listening to new music. A friend of mine recently introduced me to Glass Animals and Cillie Barnes, and I’ve been listening to any music that YouTube recommends based on my listening to these artists. I really enjoy listening to new music and getting familiar with new bands and new music gives my brain something novel to process.
  3. I’m upping my self-care game. Occasionally, this thought in my head feels like white-hot pain. So, I need to do everything I can to make myself comfortable. I’m getting lots of rest. I’m keeping my apartment crazy clean. I have my favorite super soft Ralph Lauren blanket at the ready when I want to cuddle up. I am drinking tons of cucumber water (putting fresh cucumber slices in a pitcher of water is the easiest way ever to get yourself to drink more water. It’s goddamn delicious).  I bought a bunch of dried lavender and put them in a vase in my living room; I bought a lavender aromatherapy candle and a lavender air freshener from Whole Foods. The smell in my house is inherently soothing. I bought fresh flowers for my desk. I got a manicure. Proactively doing these things makes me feel like the designer of my own life… even when it feels like my brain is a toddler having a meltdown.


OCD for Beginners: 8 Tips for Thriving with OCD

The thing that has surprised me the most about OCD is that OCD doesn’t go away. When I was diagnosed four years ago, I
had an initial gritty determination to “beat OCD.” This has evolved into an acceptance that I will always have OCD. Today, I know how to manage it, and it bothers me less. I am happy and healthy, and OCD is simply part of my lifestyle.

When you have OCD, you always have to keep working at it and building your skills. The goal is to “get good at having OCD.” This takes ongoing practice. OCD is an affliction that tries to trick you into thinking you have real-life problems to tackle or that danger is imminent. On a challenging day, an OCD veteran can feel like a beginner.

I have eight strategies/ mantras that I call upon regularly to keep irrational thoughts and worries in check. I’ll expand on each of these strategies in future blog posts, but for now, here’s a condensed look. They’re quirky, but they really work. These are the basics that I wish I had known when I was first diagnosed, around this time of year, four years ago. I affectionately call this list, OCD for Beginners.


  1. “This is just my brain.”

When you are suddenly hit by a wave of anxiety or a disconcerting thought, you can say to yourself, This is just my brain.

Sometimes, organs malfunction. See if you can look at OCD like a migraine; it’s something array happening in your brain. There’s no reason to panic; you can just say, “Ugh, my head hurts,” as casually as you might say, “Ugh, my stomach hurts.”

It’s just your brain—specifically, your amygdala, which detects danger and error—malfunctioning. The sirens can be summarily ignored. The worry or sense of impending doom is just your brain misfiring. The worry—and the content of the worry—is totally irrelevant. What matters is how you react to the thought. 99% of the time, that means going back to whatever it is you were doing.


  1. “Okay, so I’m having that thought.”

When you have intrusive thoughts, acknowledge them and accept that they’re there. Don’t push the thoughts away—that makes them swing back like a wrecking ball. Instead, say, “Okay, so I’m having that thought.” The thought can hang out in your peripheral vision, while you go about your day, doing your best to be unperturbed.


  1. “Don’t start.”

When you try to mentally resolve or disprove an OCD worry, the problem will dependably pop back up with an extenuating circumstance that keeps it relevant. Or, your brain may snag on new worries all day. This is especially true if you start “arguing” with OCD in the morning. It’s better to “not start” and to settle into feeling a little uncomfortable. Don’t start, and let the thought fade.


  1. “Okay, so I feel really anxious.”

When you feel gripped by an obsession or a worry, lean into it. Accept that you’re anxious, and remind yourself that you want to practice living your life, even when you’re anxious. Sometimes this approach makes the discomfort dissipate faster. More importantly, it creates wiring in your brain so you can dismiss irrational thoughts and train your focus on whatever it is you want to be doing.


  1. “I guess I’ll just ride this out.”

The comedian Marc Maron has a joke where he describes how he once ate too much Chinese food and his hand went numb. Because he had “drug wisdom” as a recovered cocaine addict, he said, “I’m just gonna ride it out.” That nonplussed attitude can be useful in hanging on during an especially anxious day. It’s powerful when you can say, “Eh, I guess I’ll just ride this one out.”


  1. “If it happens, I’ll deal with it.”  

The best way to defang a fear is to accept that it could happen. Picture it in HD and act nonplussed. This one takes practice (and draws tears).


  1. “This is actually really funny.”

If you have an obsession—whether it’s a new one, or one that has bothered you for years—imagine sitting across from your most level-headed, no-nonsense friend, and explaining the obsession to them. Perhaps you’d see that the thought that could bring you to your knees… is so ridiculous, that it’s actually really funny.


  1. “99 Problems.”

I met a woman with OCD who put things in perspective for me. She had a chronic, frightening obsession so extreme, it required restraint not to ask her about the sordid details of her dark days, out of morbid curiosity. Her take on OCD: “We all have 99 problems, and I prefer having this one. Because at least I have the power to manage it.”

Keep Calm and Carry On

I have an article in Fast Company today on how leaders and entrepreneurs with OCD can leverage their coping skills to thrive in their careers. In researching and writing the article, I learned a fascinating story about the origin of one of my favorite quotes: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”


Winston Churchill was prime minster of the United Kingdom during World War II. The mantra the government encouraged British citizens to bear in mind during an era of air raids was, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Says leadership coach Kelly Ebner, “That seems like Churchill’s self-talk to me.”

I made the argument that for people with OCD, “Keep calm and carry on” can be the foundation of a thriving lifestyle, where OCD is simply a nuisance guest at the party.

Please do check out the article and share on social media!

What to Do When You’re Having a Freak Out


One major challenge of living with OCD is that you feel like there is a serious threat or a huge, major problem… when you intellectually know there isn’t one. Call it an OCD storm, a freak out, a tizzy, whatever. You know there is not actually a time-sensitive crisis, but you want to feel better now, so you’re thinking yourself in circles.

This disjuncture is maddening. You know there isn’t an issue, but it really, really feels like there is one.  And God damnit, it’s Saturday!

[I wrote this with people who have OCD in mind, but all of this also applies to anyone having a freak out].

Here’s how to calm down and talk to your brain:

1. Establish that this is just OCD.

You know you have OCD.  You know that OCD is basically neurological malfunctioning.  The danger detection center of your brain says, “There’s a PROBLEM!” when there is no problem. Except right now, the problem feels so big and so dark, it’s like the last twenty minutes of a Harry Potter movie.

Take a step back and establish that this is OCD, and this might as well be a scary movie. Or a really dark children’s movie.

2. Pick a mantra.

You know that you don’t want to push away your thoughts.  That tends to make intrusive thoughts bigger. But you also don’t want to engage your thoughts or debate with them or invite them in for coffee. Articulate to yourself: “This is just OCD. This problem doesn’t justify a response. No action is needed on my part. I am going to go about my day.”  When intrusive thoughts pop up, nod at them, and use a mantra: “Okay, but no action is required on my part” or “Okay, but I’m just going about my day today.”  Accept the thoughts—don’t push them away—and then go about your day.

3. Do something really different.

Now it’s time to refocus.  If you have already started to freak out, you want to do something to reset your head.  So do something a little unusual.  Watch YouTube videos of reporters getting into laughing fits on air. Watch clips of your favorite standup comedian on YouTube (I love John Mulaney’s bit about an out-of-control high school party). Think of one of your favorite songs that has unclear lyrics, look up the lyrics, and listen to the song and read along. Make a list of 10 things you’re grateful for.  Make a list of your top 10 favorite moments from your life.  Give a stranger a compliment.

Do something positive to change the channel.

4. Don’t Google the problem.

Seriously, please don’t Google. No matter how much you want to Google, for reassurance or for comfort. Don’t give the “problem” another ounce of your energy.  If you can, close your laptop and do something else. If you don’t have plans for the day, make some. (And stick to them!)

5. Reach for support.

Personally, this happened to me a few months ago.  I had a small, real life problem that did not require any action on my part.  But it felt like I was being crushed by the pressure of this big, enormous problem, to the extent that it had become an OCD storm.  I was sitting in the parking lot outside Whole Foods—where I went because I wanted to treat myself—taking deep breaths and trying not to fully freak out.

So, I used a lifeline and phoned a friend. This friend knows I have OCD and has agreed to be a support for me when I need it.  (If you don’t have a person like this in your life, ask someone!)

The conversation went as such:

“Hi, do you have a second?… Okay, I just need to sound something out with you…. It feels like I have a massive, urgent problem.  I’m about to cry. But I know that there is no crisis.  It’s just my brain.  So as I have these thoughts, I’m going to say to myself, ‘Okay, okay, I hear you. It feels like there’s a catastrophe going on right now, but there’s nothing I need to do or think about today…’”

My friend said, “Sounds good!” We exchanged goodbyes and got off the phone.  If you look at our “transcript,” I didn’t tell her what was going on at all or ask for reassurance in any way.  It’s important not to ask for reassurance.  Instead, I simply shared my game plan with her, sealing it in.


And then I went about my day, and bought some sweet-ass palm plants* from Whole Foods.

*Despite my best efforts, the palm plants almost immediately died. But life goes on. And freak outs fade away.

The Best Way I Can Describe OCD Recovery

Many of us can remember the sense of shock we felt when we learned Bruce Willis was dead at the end of the Sixth Sense(Andy Samberg remembers. Google it. 😉 ) The end of the Sixth Sense is also a great metaphor for OCD recovery.

Sixth Sense

Throughout the movie, Haley Joel Osment was hunted by visions of “dead people” that only he could see. He was tormented.

In the end of the movie, nothing really changed.  That kid still saw dead people.  The only difference was that he reacted to them or interacted with them differently. In some cases, he quietly helped the dead people.  In other cases, he just acknowledged that they were there, and that was enough for everyone to have some peace.

For a person who is struggling with OCD, it’s pretty similar. You see envision things that feel very real and menacing. Others can’t see what you see, although they feel for you if you tell them. (Sometimes, they’re horrified if you tell them!) Still, you cannot do anything to placate or push away the visions you have.  Trying to make them go away irritates them and makes them stronger.

When your goal is OCD recovery, your job is to “be okay” with whatever visions you are having.  Being able to say, “Okay, so I’m having that thought” or “Okay, so I’m having this sensation” to whatever OCD thoughts you are having is courageous. It’s courageous to the extent of facing down ghosts.

Of course, this approach to OCD recovery, but it yields lasting dividends. This laissez approach rewires your brain in a positive way.  When you don’t react to your frightening OCD thoughts, your brain receives no validation for sending those thoughts–your brain learns that this information is ignored. So with enough repetition, your brain will send fewer erroneous warnings about danger (which is just OCD at work).

Can you be at relative ease with the thoughts and visions that you have?

Anxiety Strategy: “I’m Just Gonna Ride It Out”

I recently got hooked on comedian Marc Maron. Marc Maron has a huge body of work: you can listen to his CDs on Spotify, his standup clips on YouTube, his guest appearances on Conan and the Late Show and his popular WTF with Marc Maron podcast. Maron has major anxiety… and he’s not afraid to talk about it.

Marc MaronMarc Maron carries around his emotional baggage like a celebrity holds on to her oversized handbag. He is a recovered drug addict and alcoholic: he was addicted to cocaine when he was in his 20s, trying to break into comedy in Boston and New York. Today, he’s sober, and an Olympic-level overthinker.  He describes the struggle of being too inside your own head as “thinky pain.”

Thus, it’s almost appropriate that the punchline from one of his more popular jokes could be used as a mantra to weather through OCD and anxiety storms.

Marc Maron tells a story that he recently ate way too much Chinese food, and his hand went numb. But because of his years of experience doing drugs, he didn’t panic. He just thought to himself,

“I guess I’m just gonna ride this out…”

When you’re gripped by an irrational fear or you’re in an extended state of panic, you may experience that when you analyze the problem and look for reasons why the catastrophe in mind won’t happen, the more you can feel your brain knotting tighter and tighter. OCD doesn’t respond to logic. You can’t rationalize your way out when the whole storm was caused by an irrational thought.  It’s better to just surrender to having a storm.



You can listen to Marc Maron on YouTube; his “Drug Wisdom” bit starts at 3:24.

An OCD-Heavy Day

It’s very normal for people with back pain to have some days where they feel practically limber and other days when their chronic pain is much more severe.  For migraine sufferers, sometimes they have a day–or a long stretch of days–with no migraines. And other days, they have migraines that knock them off their feet.  People with depression can have great days where the blue sky looks clear and gorgeous and all feels well in the world. And they can also experience days where they have no idea how to muster the energy, enthusiasm, or life force to pick up the takeout they just ordered. And it’s the same deal with OCD.

Whether you’re new to managing your obsessive-compulsive disorder or you’re an obsessive-compulsive disorder veteran, it’s normal to experience your symptoms to varying degrees on different days. Some days, your usual triggers may occur and you react to them as you usually do.

DentistOther days, your brain feels like it’s full of knives.  In the span of three hours, you may experience a trigger, get “stuck” on a thought, experience a steady sequence of irrational worries, and then have an intrusive thought that really disturbs you and pops into your head every three seconds.

There’s a natural response: Why is this happening to me?!

“David After Dentist,” 2008 YouTube celebrity.

Because it happens, unfortunately.  It’s the same way that people without chronic mood issues can unexplainably have a good day or a crappy day (there’s the adage: “Some days you’re the pigeon, other days you’re the statue” for that one). OCD can vary in intensity from day to day, without any warning.

It’s not a good idea to analyze each obsession that bothers you; instead, try to be as “chill” as possible about it.  Think to yourself, “Okay, so I’m having an OCD-heavy day. This sucks.  Okay, whatever…” If you feel like you are getting pummeled by your thoughts, ready your stance to take the punch so you go down gracefully.  “Fighting back” with OCD thoughts only makes them bigger and more complicated.  But if you can roll your eyes at your OCD thoughts as you go about your Saturday errands, and not feel shaken, you’ve paradoxically won this round. Because when you don’t take action or react to OCD thoughts, you’re actively rewiring the frontal lobe of your brain when your amygdala says there’s a problem.  Over time, this response–non-reaction, over and over again–will heal your OCD.

Naturally, if you sense that you’re having a really intense OCD day because you’re not fully acknowledging that someone is inflamed in your life, then it’s okay to pause and check in with yourself.  If you’ve been really stressed, or you’re avoiding a problem, perhaps that is making your OCD boil over. But usually, that’s not how OCD words.  OCD isn’t logical. OCD isn’t logical, given the way a fully-sane person can stare at an unplugged space heater, pulse racing, and not feel confident that the space heater is off.

It’s better not to look for reasons as to why you’re having a flare-up. It’s better to not validate the part of your brain that arbitrarily pulls the fire alarm.

Go about your day, practice good self care, and take solace that tomorrow will probably be easier. And if it isn’t–you’ll know how to handle it.

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