Forget about anxiety attacks, anyone who has ever been anxious about something knows pretty well how it is always connected with obsessive thoughts. Suppose you have your dream job interview tomorrow and you are feeling anxious, and what are the thoughts running through your mind? Aren’t 85% of these thoughts bordering on the what-if-this-goes-wrong?
The problem with anxiety is that it is a psychological trigger. How the brain reacts to neurotransmitters define whether you feel anxious or not. Don’t mistake the sweaty palms and palpitation to be the ‘cause’ of anxiety, because these are symptoms.
The range of obsessive thoughts, although indefinable, also determines the level of anxiety the sufferer goes through. For some, obsessive thoughts turn into a disorder, commonly termed as obsessive compulsive disorder, which triggers sever anxiety attacks. In fact OCD is a part of anxiety disorder; such is the correlation between the two.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
When you obsess over certain negative thoughts, which could arise from fear of something that might happen, it leads to a compulsion of performing certain behavioral actions repeatedly. Some examples of obsession are:
- Fear of contracting certain diseases
- Fear of being hurt physically and/or sexually
- Fear of hurting someone close to you
- Need for symmetry
- Thoughts of doubt
Some examples of Compulsion are:
- Washing hands repeatedly or doing excessive laundry or house cleaning
- Checking frequently whether the doors are locked or the windows are shut
- Checking on family member every few minutes
- Checking and rechecking answers or documents to ensure that you haven’t made mistakes.
- Having an exaggerated need to arrange things in a particular order
- Even hoarding is a form of compulsion where someone suffering from an OCD finds it difficult to get rid of things
What can you do about Obsessive Thoughts?
The knee jerk reaction to anything that troubles you is to end it. The worst advice you can give to someone suffering from OCD is to not get these obsessive thoughts. This does not work because you just cannot stop these thoughts all of a sudden, and if you do it comes back to you in full force.
Analyzing the reason behind your OCD and Anxiety- What exactly is the thought that you are obsessed about? Is it fear of contracting a disease or fear of getting bullied?
A study focused on understanding OCD came up with a particular case where a 13 years old child was afraid of going to school because of being overweight. She would be anxious to the extent that she would often lay awake late in night thinking about all the mean things other kids would say about her weight. And once or twice it did happen, someone did jeer at her. But what was surprising was that she confessed that her anxiety-ridden moments were worse than when it actually happened.
Challenge the thoughts- Okay, so tell yourself that ‘I might contract germs and get a disease. So what? Medical science has advanced leaps and bounds and there is a cure. I will be treated and then be fine’. When you start questioning yourself and put counter-arguments, these obsessive thoughts begin to crumble. Always challenge the worst case scenario, and convince yourself that even then you will win the battle against your OCD.
Command your brain to step away- A very good technique provided in the book ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom is that when you feel anxious and scared or are having a panic attack, command your brain to move away. Tell your brain that ‘I realize I am feeling anxious now. And I am going to step away from this feeling. Now!’ or ‘I do not need to check the door again. It is locked, and no harm can come to me’.
Postpone anxiety and OCD- This is again an effective technique. When you feel anxious or when unwanted thoughts enter your mind, tell yourself that you are going to feel anxious tomorrow at a certain time. Diarize this and take some time out to feel anxious tomorrow. If tomorrow at the designated time, you do feel anxious or get these obsessive thoughts, postpone again.
Exercise- As mentioned earlier in the article, anxiety is caused by the neurotransmitters in the brain. When you feel anxious get some sort of an activity, which will secrete dopamine and calm the brain. It also helps curb OCD by forcing your brain to refocus away from the thoughts. Working out regularly also ensures that the body and mind stays healthy. Yoga particularly is an excellent way to bring in mind-body harmony.
Build a support system- Turn to family and friends whenever OCD and anxiety hits. Do not however talk about your thoughts, just have a conversation in general and try to shift the focus to something else, something pleasant. Don’t try to isolate yourself because just the knowledge that you have someone to turn to helps in alleviating stress and anxiety to a great degree.
Remember you are more powerful than your thoughts. And it is you who control your brain not the other way round.