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Feel or Escape?

I saw a quote that says:

"Feeling your feelings won't kill you. But trying to escape from them might."

This is a really great quote when embarking on a journey to improve your mental health - especially when dealing with anxiety disorders or OCD. This is a journey I have been on myself, I know how scary it can be!

It can seem so much easier just to run away from all your bad feelings, bottle them up, shove them under the rug, and continue with your disruptive compulsive behaviors. You can try and talk yourself out of it:

"I just like things clean, maybe I really don't have OCD."

"Any normal person would wash their hands this many times, it's just sanitary."

"This behavior doesn't really disrupt my life that much."

"I couldn't handle NOT doing this behavior."

"Therapy probably helps a lot of people, but I just couldn't do it."

Ever said any of these things before? Me too. These are all great examples of trying to ESCAPE facing your feelings. We're really good at using logic to try and convince ourselves that things aren't too bad, that we don't need to change, or that it would be impossible for us to try. In the end, we're just digging a deeper OCD hole.

I'd like to share three tips for learning to FEEL your feelings instead of running away from them.

  1. Observe, don't interact.

  2. Move on as soon as possible

  3. Find yourself

My first tip is learning to OBSERVE your thoughts without interacting with them, without judging them, and without internalizing them. YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS! Thoughts are a result of our life experiences being processed by an imperfect brain. Just because you think something doesn't mean it is true. You might be able to discover things about yourself from your thoughts, but it's important to let yourself off the hook - especially in the case of intrusive thoughts.

Second, learn to move on as soon as possible. In the case of intrusive thoughts like: "I'm walking down the stairs with a pencil, what if I tripped and stabbed myself?" This thought is useless, you can dismiss it immediately and continue walking down the stairs.

Instead of saying, "Oh my goodness that's so scary, I can never walk down the stairs with a pencil." or immersing yourself in a fictional storyline where you rush to the hospital with a pencil in your leg, you can try something different:

"Wow, there's that anxiety again. Get out of here!" The key is not allowing your thoughts to consume your life.

Third, find yourself. Remember who you really are despite the crazy thoughts. Our anxieties often stem from things that are important to us. We might obsess over a family member getting hurt, simply because we love them and want them to be safe. We might value cleanliness and hygiene, but take it to an obsessive level with OCD. Often, new moms will have intrusive thoughts of bad things happening to their baby, simply from the instinct to protect their child.

Thinking about hospitals and stitches and hot stoves and sharp knives doesn't mean you're obsessed with death - it means you want to take care of those you love.

Worrying about germs and salmonella and hand washing doesn't mean you're crazy - it means you might have a fear of yourself or others getting sick.

Find your true self, even in the dark thoughts. If there's no YOU in there - even more chance to dismiss it as soon as possible.

Let's try an example:

You're cooking a meal for your family. You open a package of chicken and find yourself thinking "I bet this meat is spoiled. This is going to make everyone sick." (When you know full well that the chicken is within the expiration date).

You keep cooking the meal, thinking the whole time that you're going to poison your family. You feel sick watching everyone eat the delicious meal you prepared, finding yourself thinking "I bet the chicken is still raw inside. They're going to get salmonella and it's all my fault."

You end up missing out on an opportunity to enjoy a meal with your family, bond with your kids, and eat satisfying food.

So, how can these three tips help? Let's re-run the scenario:

You're cooking a meal for your family. You open a package of chicken and find yourself thinking "I bet this meat is spoiled. This is going to make everyone sick." (When you know full well that the chicken is within the expiration date).

You pause and say "Okay, that was an anxiety/OCD driven thought." (observe it!) Note how you feel. Maybe you're holding your breath, feeling nauseous, sweating. Maybe you're experiencing a feeling of dread or a pit in your stomach.

Say to yourself "Hm. I am feeling anxious about cooking this meal. But I don't have to." This is where you've got to FEEL your feeling and allow yourself to continue living despite it. This is the hard part. It feels scary! But this is the moment where you can kick OCD in the teeth and take control.

It's okay to be worried about things. Maybe you can tell yourself: "I want my family to be healthy, this is important to me. I want to cook good meals. I can trust myself to do this."

Will the anxiety still be there? Probably. Will you need to re-direct your thoughts multiple times? Probably.

In the end, you make a wonderful meal. You engage with your family, you are present.

Isn't that the ultimate goal? We all want to focus more on the things that are MOST important to us and let go of the anxieties that leave us distracted, distant, and worried.

Let me know if these tips are helpful! Remember that I offer a free consultation call if you are interested in learning more about how my Cognitive Behavioral Coaching can help you with OCD!

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