Not sure if you turned off the light or replied to that email? Here, psychologist Adam Radomsky offers research-based advice on how to stop needlessly worrying.
For a certain one percent of the adult population, life isn't so enviable. All day long, they worry if they locked the door, switched off the stove or really washed their hands clean, and they waste at least an hour a day silencing these intrusive thoughts. Simply put, they suffer from an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Thankfully, recent research in Cognitive and Behavioral Practice shows an alternative treatment for OCD that gets to the possible root of this problem: a person's inflated sense of responsibility. Instead of forcing patients to face their worst fears, the standard therapy that many patients refuse to endure, Concordia University psychologist Adam Radomsky recommends setting patients' faulty beliefs about their safety and accountability straight to restore their self-confidence and quell their guilt.
For Professional Help, Radomsky spells out five strategies that sufferers of this debilitating anxiety disorder should try and offers further proof that a reality check can work wonders.
- International OCD Foundation
- Academy of Cognitive Therapy
- Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
Re-examine your responsibility. Many of the symptoms of OCD can be caused and/or exacerbated by increases in perceived responsibility. The more responsible you feel, the more you are likely to check, wash, and/or think your thoughts are especially important. Ask yourself how responsible you feel for the parts of your life associated with your OCD, then take a step back from the problem and write down all of the possible other causes. For example, someone who would likely check their appliances repeatedly might feel completely responsible to protect their family from a fire. If this person adopted a broader perspective, they would realize that other family members, neighbors, the weather, the electrician who installed the wiring in the home, the company that built the appliances, and others should actually share in the responsibility.
Repetitions make you less sure about what you've done. This is bizarre because we usually check and/or ask questions repeatedly to be more confident of what we've done. OCD researchers in the Netherlands and Canada, however, have found that when repetition increases, this usually backfires and may lead to very dramatic declines in our confidence in our memory. To fix this, try conducting an experiment. On one day, force yourself to restrict your repetition to just one time. Later that day, on a scale of 0-10, rate how confident you are in your memory of what you've done. The next day, repeat the same behavior but rate it a few more times throughout the day. Most people who try this experiment find later that their urges to engage in compulsive behavior decline because they learn that the more they repeat something, the less sure they become.
Treat your thoughts as just that -- thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are normal, but they become obsessions when people give them too much importance. In fact, cognitive theory states that obsessions are caused by the catastrophic misinterpretation of the significance of one's own thoughts. The metaphor we like to use for this is a very old radio, for which you would try to find the best signal and try perhaps even harder to ignore the noise. Spend a week making this distinction between your OCD thoughts (noise) and thoughts associated with things you are actually doing or would like to be doing (signal). See what happens.
Practice strategic disclosure. People with OCD fear that if or when they disclose their unwanted intrusive thoughts or compulsions, other people will judge them as harshly as they judge themselves. This sadly often leaves the individual suffering alone without knowing that more than nine in 10 people regularly experience unwanted, upsetting thoughts, images, and impulses related to OCD themes as well. Consider letting someone in your life who has been supportive during difficult times know about the thoughts and actions you've been struggling with. Let them know how upset you are with these and how they're inconsistent with what you want in life. You might be pleasantly surprised by their response. If not, give it one more try with someone else. We've found that it never takes more than two tries.
Observe your behavior and how it lines up with your character. Most people struggling with OCD either view themselves as mad, bad and/or dangerous or they fear that they will become such, so they often go to great lengths to prevent bad things from happening to themselves or to their loved ones. But ask yourself how an observer might judge your values based on your actions. If you spend hours each day trying to protect the people you love, are you really a bad person? If you exert incredible amounts of time and effort to show how much you care, how faithful you are, how you just want others to be safe and happy, maybe you're not so bad or dangerous after all. And as for being crazy, there's nothing senseless about OCD. People sometimes fail to understand how rational and logical obsessions and compulsions can be. Remember, your values and behavior are the best reflection of who you are, not those pesky unwanted noisy thoughts.