Strategies for Managing OCD’s
Dance with the Devil
by L. Potter and the Friday Night Group
Adapted from "Speak of the Devil" by Dr. Steven Phillipson, Ph.D.
To understand the motives and rules of the devil of OCD is to gain an edge over it. Here is its game plan:
1. To seduce you into doing its bidding by promising that relief is just around the corner and only one more thought/ritual will resolve the dilemma and give more than momentary relief.
2. To exploit moments of weakness that come at the worst possible times in your life, i.e., when you perceive that it will be disastrous to become anxious.
3. The more you struggle to get away, the more power you give the OCD to choke you.
• Consider taking the leap of faith: the effort and pain you experience now in dancing with the devil can, if you decide to work wholeheartedly, eventually be less than giving in to the devil of OCD.
• Consider not rationalizing with the devil: do not attempt to treat the OCD by logically disputing the irrational nature of the spikes. This can give power to the spikes and feed the devil.
• Consider not monitoring your anxiety: to monitor it will predictably create more. Anxiety will come up and get into this dance. Expect this, and invite the anxiety to come.
• Consider that learning to accept that feeling impeded by this anxiety may be in your best interest: invite and be comfortable with being impeded, mediocre, or in pain.
• Consider inviting the spikes: they are your challenge and your opportunity to use and hone your techniques. Like anxiety, do not monitor their quantity, but invite their presence. Know that you always have room for one more spike, ad infinitum.
• If you are questioning whether something is an OCD matter and you feel anxious, it is. Treat it as such and do not give in to your rituals or ruminations.
• A common problem to be aware of is that, at first, you put the techniques into practice and feel some reduction in anxiety. Realizing this reduction, you may start to parrot the words that were useful before. Words such as “I can live with this discomfort/anxiety/spike” do have great potential benefit, but only if they are more than verbal incantation, and reflect a deep emotional commitment. These words are not a rock to be thrown at the devil, but a verbal prompt to get in touch with a true willingness to absorb the discomfort for as long as the devil desires to dish it out.
• Consider exaggerating the problem: tell the devil to “give me your best shot” and that you are willing to take even more than it is currently giving out.
• This management is not a cure: if you choose to take the leap, this will require consistent effort for as long as the devil decides to deal it out.
• Are you willing to take the risk? If yes, then bring on the devil!
What to do when you feel panicky
Four steps to management of anxiety (Objectify, Quantify, Assess, and Duration):
1. Objectively describe the sensation/experience to yourself. What do you feel? Is your heart beating fast? Palms sweaty? Lungs feel constricted? Muscles tense? Which muscles are most tense? Any numbness in your limbs? Create an analogy such as “my stomach feels like someone is driving a spike through it.” Through describing one’s intense negative experiences in tangible metaphors you create a distance, thereby lessening the experience.
2. Measure the intensity (on a scale of 1-10) – rate the level of anxiety
10 = The ultimate level of anxiety (e.g., feels like I will go crazy, die, etc. I need to find relief ASAP).
8 = Really intense suffering and pain with slight belief in your ability to tolerate it.
5 = Wavering between effectively coping and challenging enough to require to find some relief.
3 = Moderate discomfort and annoyance, but manageable.
1 = Little or no anxiety.
3. Honestly ask yourself “Can I stand this… do I have room in my life to be experiencing this
right now…?” Assess your capacity to tolerate the experience and recognize the choice you have available to you: 1) willingly enduring the anxiety without bailing out; 2) bailing out and seeking relief.
4. If you decide to endure it, decide upon the duration of time within which you can do so.
For example, you would tell yourself something like “I am willing to put up with this experience for 10 minutes.” You must also be willing to be reminded every 30 seconds or so, that the feeling of anxiety is still there. If you chose not to endure the feeling, try breathing exercises or muscle-relaxation exercises, or focus your attention on an object outside of your body. If it is really not worth the struggle to be tolerant, bail out any way available to you.
5. Optional: Challenge the experience to intensify. “Hey anxiety, I’m willing for this experience to get more intense, go ahead make my day!” “If my body needs to increase it’s level of anxiety (e.g., heart rate increase, sweatier palms, breathing more rapidly), can I stand it?” Then dare the anxiety to increase. Speak to the pain and challenge it to go up to a certain numerical intensity.
6. There are essentially three ways to deal with anxiety:
• being intolerant
• looking to escape
• relief seeking
• going on with things without responding to the anxiety
• just shifting focus
- Choose to make space for it to be there. In doing so, you gain confidence in your ability to tolerate it. Acknowledge it’s presence and allow it to remind you as often as need be that it is still there.