Relief is one mindful breath away
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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder affects 2.2 million people in the US.
We often suffer in silence, triggered by unusual events and circumstances. Stressful situations can elicit symptoms. OCD manifests in myriad ways, including obsessive thoughts, compulsive checking, skin picking, and more.
Many have tried medication to find relief. Sometimes the disorder fades out in time. I?m one of the lucky ones. I don?t take meds anymore, and OCD symptoms rarely surface.
A few factors helped me improve. I stopped drinking and using drugs in 2003, and I?ve had a daily meditation practice since 2005. Most days, I don?t remember I have the diagnosis. Every so often, I?m reminded of my OCD.
I woke up feeling a little off-center today.
I?m not sure why some days are like this. I only know the comforter stuffing bothered me when I made the bed. It?s old and rolled up under the cloth. I can?t fix it. I knew I?d feel it later when I sat for meditation.
I?m staying at my parents? house with my two young children. I went into their room and found toys strewn about. I felt an immediate urge to clean and clear the mess. After I pushed it out of the way of me stepping on it, I felt instant relief.
Then it hit me.
I still have obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I got diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in my early twenties, after struggling with picking at my skin. It?s officially called Dermatillomania, compulsive skin picking. I couldn?t stop digging holes in my face and had an urgent need to get the pus out of a pimple.
Though it doesn?t impact me as it used to, my tendencies remain in some areas. Obsessive-Compulsive behaviors are not what psychologists would call maladaptive, in that I don?t experience negative consequences from my need for order, space, and predictability. I still squeeze my pimples, just not to an unhealthy degree.
Psychology Today defines Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as follows:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder in which people experience unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, images, or sensations (obsessions) and engage in behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) in response. Often a person with OCD carries out the compulsions to temporarily eliminate or reduce the impact of obsessions, and not performing them causes distress. OCD varies in severity, but if left untreated, it can limit one?s ability to function at work, school, or home.
People suffering from the effects of OCD often have a history of trauma. I?m no exception. I don?t know what event triggered my OCD. It doesn?t matter anymore because it no longer rules my life. I?ve learned healthy ways to manage my idiosyncrasies.
If you or anyone you know struggles with OCD, here are a few ways meditation can help:
Becoming self-aware is a path to mindfulness
Mindfulness is a form of meditation involving a state of conscious awareness of the present moment. It includes mindful activities, which means you focus on whatever?s in front of you.
Breathwork is a way to practice mindfulness. Mindful breathing is simple. Observe your breath without judgment. Paying attention to breathing centers us in the present moment, where nothing?s wrong.
When we?re aware of why we?re anxious, we?re already a step ahead. I?ve noticed how I can easily bypass my brain?s tendency to make it a problem needing to be solved. I start by making myself aware of the trigger. Then I can choose how to handle it.
OCD is an anxiety disorder. The goal for treatment is to reduce anxiety during the antecedent, which is whatever triggers you. My example is a messy room. I felt anxious about everything thrown around.
I didn?t initially recognize it as anxiety, yet I knew I was uncomfortable. As a single mom, I forget that not everyone feels this kind of sensation in their bodies when their kids make messes. I usually have no one to show me the contrast of different approaches. Today, I was aware it wasn?t merely an annoyance.
If I can bring myself to a state of conscious awareness at that moment, I?ll bypass the discomfort and might even be able to leave it there for my kids to handle themselves. It?s isn?t about being clean. It?s about being in control. Some things are out of our control, which in itself can be anxiety-provoking.
What can you control?
You can control your focus, your thoughts, and your breath. Here?s where meditation comes in. We can observe or control our breath anywhere, anytime. Controlling your breath can be as simple as inhaling, holding your breath for four seconds, exhaling.
I didn?t have to do a sitting meditation to redirect my thoughts. I only needed to acknowledge what was going on. Since I swiftly cleaned the room, I temporarily relieved my anxiety.
Because I was aware my urgent need was related to OCD, I could start to relax. If I couldn?t tidy right away, I?d be ok. We have the power to control our thoughts, and subsequently control our behavior.
On other occasions, I?ve walked away to change my focus. I do this more often when I?m staying away from home. My parents? house is predictably uncomfortable at times. I can?t control their habits or routines. I can control where I go and how much I participate.
In the middle of writing this, I went on a spontaneous walk to escape the sounds and smells of my dad?s tractor lawnmower. The exhaust smell makes me nauseous, and it?s too loud for me. I was free to leave, so off I went. Now I feel better without having to control the rest of my environment.
Guided and silent meditation brings peace of mind
Another kind of meditation is the most commonly known, sitting in silence. Your thoughts will inevitably wander. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggests imagining your thoughts floating by like clouds. If you continue getting distracted, you can choose to watch what happens in your mind or return your attention to your breath.
The most significant aspect for those of us with OCD is letting our thoughts be as they are. We don?t have to be afraid of our thoughts, and we don?t have to act on them. Meditation allows us to slow down. We sit with our discomfort, and it will eventually pass.
You can choose to do a guided meditation. Insight timer is a fantastic app with a multitude of guided meditation options. Guided meditations are perfect for beginners or advanced students who need more direction on any given day.
Listening to a soothing, gentle voice like Deepak Chopra can calm anyone down in a few minutes. I?ve been participating in his 21 Days of Abundance this month and last. It?s such a peaceful way to begin my day. I highly recommend it.
Walking meditation is a wonderful way to connect to nature and stay in the present moment. I prefer barefoot walking, as it?s a triple bonus health-wise.
Yoga is another way to access a meditative state, with a focus on intentional body movements and mindful breathing. Don?t be fooled by its simplicity. Yoga is a profound spiritual practice.
OCD doesn?t have to rule your life. Meditation and mindful activities will help relieve anxiety and set you on a path to serenity. Meditation allows us to center ourselves in the present moment, letting go of the past and our worries about the future.
Using these simple meditation techniques to treat OCD symptoms can be life-changing. Meditating every day has transformed and healed me. I envision the same for you.
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