January 8, 2012

OCD and Mindfulness

I remember when I was working with a therapist five years ago and she suggested that I read a book by Jon Kabat Zin called “Full Catastrophe Living”.  At that time, mindfulness was just emerging as a way of treating emotional disorders.  I read the book, and some of it really resonated with me.  For me though, in order to learn a new “skill” – I have to read and re-read about the topic until it sinks in.  At that time I couldn’t really find a lot of information about mindfulness as it applies to treatment for OCD, so it wasn't something that I adopted in my "tool box" for battling my OCD. 

Fast forward five (or so) years later and the situation has changed.  I have promised to write a book review for “The Mindfulness way through Anxiety”, and I will.  When I started seeing my new, awesome therapist – the one I am seeing now – we reviewed ALL of the strategies for coping with OCD – thought re-structuring, ERP, and mindfulness.  I have started doing my ERP again, and have really been trying HARD to practice mindfulness as well.  Given the other real personal stress that I have been going through, I really think that the time is perfect to develop the skills of mindfulness.  It has really helped me to sit through the incredible wide range of emotions that I have been feeling lately – grief, anxiety, disgust, disappointment, sadness, anger etc etc. 

Last summer I actually took a day course about ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy).  For those of you who don’t know (I suggest you read about it) – ACT is another form of mindfulness therapy, but it takes the whole thing one step further and suggests spending time clarifying your values and moving towards those values (the behavioural component).  It provides a “beacon” or an “eye on the prize” for times when the overwhelming emotions take over.  I’m sure we can all understand those times where you feel like you’re spinning and floating in space and IN THAT MOMENT you just don’t know what to do.  ACT has an answer for that – decide what you value most and move in that direction NO MATTER WHAT YOUR FEELINGS ARE TELLING YOU IN THE MOMENT.  

I have always been a very emotional person.  My therapist says that when people are told that they CAN’T have certain emotions then the feelings tend to come up even stronger.  It’s the whole idea of “what you resist, persists” – same thing with having thoughts.  OK, I get that, but it still doesn’t change the frustration I feel by getting completely overwhelmed by MANY emotions on a daily basis.  And to be honest, usually it’s the negative ones.  (Why can’t I feel overwhelming joy??????) I’ve struggled with how to show those emotions too.  Normally I’ve vacillated between blurting it out in an “in your face” way, and not saying anything at all (repressing them).  As I”m sure you know – neither works very well. 

Mindfulness seems to have an answer to this.  It’s not an easy answer – nothing in OCD ever is.  But I’ve practiced it in a few situations in the last week, and it really seems to have helped.  Now I just have to remember to use it!  The change in my reactions is different, and just that – A CHANGE.  Which is scary for me and causes me to have anxiety.  But I just notice the anxiety and sit with it.  And yes, it does eventually recede. 

I have definitely made progress.  Things aren't easy for me at all right now, and I have no idea where my path lies.  Not having a Mom around anymore has a way of making one feel "anchorless" which is a very scary feeling.  The uncertainty of how this will all "turn out" leaves me feeling very uncomfortable and unsettled.  But I am getting up everyday, still doing my ERP and other things that matter to me.  A year ago there is no way I would have been doing any of this.  Yes, the feelings are still there.  But I'm beginning to learn that the feelings will ALWAYS come and go.  And I'm also realizing that it's not about the feelings.  It's about the actions. 


  1. Feelings, ugh. I never realized how out of control I was with mine until I started CBT. And you are so right, it's not about feelings, but actions. I think I've finally figured out that feelings are very deceptive and I've put way too much stock in them. It seems like you are working really hard. I just know you will reap the benefits of that. I'm sorry about your mom.

  2. I look forward to your review of "Mindfulness through Anxiety" and hearing more about how mindfulness works. I'm exploring it too, so we can compare notes/help each other, if you'd like.

  3. I've read some about mindfulness and have a workbook called Mindfulness and Acceptance workbook for anxiety. It's been a while since i looked thru it and have forgotten which things i do that are called cbt, which are mindfulness, which are ACT. Altho i do remember listening to a speaker who said to think about a positive reason for wanting to do something so you are looking forward. I took that and used it in ocd by telling myself all the good things that will come if i do xxx erp, and it seemed to work. I don't know if that came before reading the ACT info or after, but sometimes i have to read/ hear the same ideas over and over before they stick in my head. :)

    Time to look at it again to help me start focusing on things other than ocd. Thanks for the reminder, Pure O. And i look forward to the review, too.

  4. Great post on mindfulness. I think it's a huge key to getting better. I've been at war with my OCD for so long and I think it's necessary to some point, however with this mentality I'm always on high alert and checking to see if anything will or is bothering me. I believe mindfulness and ACT can help a person co-exist with OCD....I just need to figure out how. I've practiced mindfulness for awhile now and it's tough, easy in example but tough in practice, but it really helps slow down my racing brain. Thanks for the great post.

  5. Wonderful post on mindfulness. I actually was involved in a study a few years back that involved mindfulness "classes," at the same institution where Jon Kabat Zin taught. It was an amazing experience and helped me deal with a lot of stress and anxiety that I had in my life at the time. I really believe that everyone can benefit from mindfulness......thanks for the reminder.