Imagine this –– you’ve had a great couple of days. No major intrusive thoughts – or at least ones you can’t handle. Your therapy sessions seem to be more focused on general life improvements and less on obsessive thoughts and compulsions.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a new thought pops up. You panic at the idea that this one thought can lead you toward a downward spiral of high anxiety that will bulldoze everything in its path.
Don’t panic! Take a deep breath, and follow these crucial steps towards nipping that sticky thought in the bud:
1. Label your thought for what it is — a thought.
Thoughts are just thoughts. They are not facts and they are not dangerous. You can even try reciting aloud, "I am having an OCD thought that _________."
2. Imagine your thoughts as passing clouds.
View them as an outside, impartial, observer instead of a willing participant. We don't need to know where the clouds are going or where they came from. Avoid forcing it out or keeping it hostage. There is no use in overengaging with this thought.
3. Remind yourself that you have no control over your thoughts.
Having a thought is no more controllable than a vital bodily function. Just like a cloud in the sky - we know we have no business controlling it. Once you relinquish this control, you'll feel less attached and personally invested in needing to understand the thought.
4. Set an appropriate goal — which is NOT to reduce anxiety.
The goal is to avoid reacting to the thought at all. If your anxiety happens to go down - great! If not, use the opportunity to continue strengthening your ability to sit in the discomfort.
5. Reward yourself for doing absolutely nothing about the thought.
Having an OCD thought, sitting in uncomfortable anxiety, and avoiding a compulsion, is an astonishing accomplishment. You should be proud of yourself. Keep it up.