Fill out this form to sign up for my newsletter!

OCD Awareness Month

One of my passions is speaking at colleges. For the past several years, I’ve been presenting on how high-achieving students can manage stress and the importance of making time for oneself and using leisure time to recharge. I love speaking; I enjoy meeting college students, sharing what I’ve learned, and traveling to a range of interesting and diverse colleges.  October is OCD Awareness Month and this fall, I’ll be speaking about OCD awareness and how everyone can benefit from learning OCD coping strategies.

This summer, I decided that I wanted to start speaking about OCD at colleges. I wrote a lecture about how most of us fall somewhere on an OCD spectrum and many people occasionally experience intrusive thoughts or have an irrational worry. People who could be diagnosed with OCD have intrusive thoughts and irrational worries more frequently. Many people who have OCD don’t know they have OCD, because there’s not enough discussion about the many ways that OCD can manifest.

I discuss how people can recognize if they have OCD, or are experiencing symptoms of OCD. I devote about half the program to discussing how to observe one’s thoughts; this is the cornerstone of recovering from OCD, but it’s a skill that can vastly benefit everyone. I discuss how the voice in our heads is like an obnoxious roommate that comments on everything and focuses on the negative. Thankfully, we can train our brains to choose what to focus on. Finally, by making time for leisure time and practicing self-care, we gain the reassuring knowledge that we can take care of ourselves and make ourselves comfortable when we need comfort.

I am really lucky: I have a great relationship with the sorority community at Quinnipiac University. This year was the third year I’ve given my presentation on stress relief for overachieving women at Quinnipiac. I asked the sorority leaders if I could also do a practice run of my new program on OCD for the Quinnipiac University while I was on campus.

They graciously arranged for me to speak in the early evening on September 8th. I was nervous, but the material went over really well and the students gave me great feedback, including that they said the concepts I discussed were new to them (and thus, they learned something helpful and interesting). One student posted about the program on her Instagram, and my heart practically exploded.

 

new-screenshot

 

So, I’m delighted that I’ll be speaking at a number of colleges this fall, including during OCD Awareness Month in October, about OCD and how everyone can make their lives better when they learn to observe their thoughts, choose what to focus on, and practice upgraded self-care.

 

Speaking Schedule:

September 26th: Creighton University (Omaha, NE)

September 28th: Villanova University (Villanova, PA)

October 4th: James Madison University (Harrisonburg, PA)

October 5th: West Chester University (West Chester, PA)

October 11th: Grand Valley State University (Grand Rapids, MI)

October 12th: Illinois State University (Normal, IL)

October 17th: Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY)

October 29th: Stevens Institute of Technology Women’s Empowerment and Leadership Conference (Hoboken, NJ)

November 8th: Miami University of Ohio (Oxford, OH)

November 9th: University of Texas, San Antonio (San Antonio, TX)

 

I’ll be posting photos from my speaking engagements (and my travels) on Instagram. For now, check out photos of my recent speech at Quinnipiac and at Muhlenberg College.

You Can’t Go Home Again

Frequently when I meet people with OCD and they tell me their story, I often hear the phrase, “so I went home again.” Taking shelter with one’s parents or other family members when one is first diagnosed with OCD, or during a prolonged OCD storm, is part of a lot of peoples’ stories, including mine.

But you shouldn’t do it. In fact, I’d argue, you should avoid it at all costs. I’ve met a lot of college students who have taken a semester off, or left mid-semester, to move back in with their parents because of OCD. I know 20somethings who have left their jobs to move back home while they regroup and find treatment for their OCD. I also know a handful of people who have moved back home more than once (“so I went home again”).

Alas, there are a few problems with going home:

 

1. Odds are good, “going home” won’t actually be restorative.

Picture a severely anxious person carving out time specifically to relax. While it would be lovely if that made way for a restorative or therapeutic experience, odds are good, that blank space would simply make more room for anxiety. OCD tends to fester if we’re not keeping busy. And many of us have probably had the experience of OCD flaring up during blocks of unstructured time.

 

2. “Going home” gives OCD power.

Part of why moving back in with your family isn’t a good idea—and part of why so many people go home “again”—is because pressing pause on our lives in an effort to heal from OCD paradoxically does the opposite: it gives OCD power. It’s retreating.

When you have OCD, the best thing you can do for yourself is to say, “Okay, so I’m anxious. I’m going to keep living my life.” When you “go home,” you’re doing the exact opposite.

When you find something to be scary or menacing, if you avoid it and run from it, it reinforces that whatever it is (whether that’s a snarling dog or a snarling thought in your head) is in fact dangerous, especially if you didn’t get close enough to explore it.

 

3. “Going home” may kill your confidence.

There are lots of benefits to living with family. You get to see your family, you get a slowed-down pace of life, and odds are good there will be more—or better—food than you tend to keep in your house. But odds are good, you will at some point resent that you live with your family. You may even feel like a loser. For that reason, keep your apartment.

 

4. “Going home” may put serious strain on your relationships with your family.

OCD is really hard for families. Family members’ reactions to a loved one’s obsessions can range from surprise, to irritation, to a full-on “Mama Bear”-esque desire to do anything to help. Alas, it doesn’t help things—on real-life level or a brain wiring level—when family members assure someone with OCD that there isn’t a problem or when family members participate in or help with rituals.

Most importantly, living with family will inevitably put a strain on one’s relationships. That’s too high of a price to pay.

 

5. “Going home” means you have so much more stuff to figure out.

Best case scenario, when you go home again, you find help and get better. But now you’re faced with the task of rebuilding your life. If you can return to your job and your apartment and your friends, that’s terrific. But it’s unlikely that everything will be so effortless.

During a prolonged OCD storm (an OCD hurricane, perhaps), the urge to flee and take shelter makes sense. It’s normal, even, to crave someone else taking care of you.

 

Instead, this is the time to prove to yourself that you can take care of yourself. You have a good life and you are willing to fight for it.

You are going to need to adopt a new way of living. You have OCD, and you need to master living your life, even when you have OCD. There’s no time like the present.
POP (1)

You want to ground yourself in your life. The best way to heal from OCD is to keep calm and carry on.

When you’ve been diagnosed with OCD and you’re scared, or you’re having a prolonged OCD storm, this is the time to put down roots.

30 Second Mood Boost

Instant mood boost formula, right here. Are you having an “off” day? You can spend a few minutes in an Instagram black hole, but that probably won’t actually make you feel better. We feel nice and disassociated when we fall into Internet black holes, but that doesn’t fix a weird mood.

If you want a real mood boost, you’ll need to jumpstart your brain by being a little creative and silly. Make a list of your favorite (non-human) things in the world. It’s meant to be fast and fun. Scrawl down whatever comes to your head first on the nearest piece of paper.

 

MY FAVORITE THINGS

 

  1. Seltzer

 

  1. Coffee

 

  1. Fresh flowers

 

  1. The John Mayer albums Born and Raised and Paradise Valley

 

  1. Going to the park

 

  1. Motivational quotes

 

  1. Going to the movies

 

  1. My magazine subscriptions

 

  1. TED Talks in the car

 

Odds are good, when you get to the “10 spot,” you’ll have a couple of ideas vying for that place. You could keep naming your favorite things. You could go on for awhile, thinking of things you really, really like.

Still feel shitty?

Go for a walk, or get some exercise. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, “Have you ever gone to the gym and said to yourself afterwards, ‘That was a bad idea?’” I said: No, never.

That’s a sixty-minute mood boost. Right now, we’re looking for fast gratification. And what better way than to make a list of all your favorite things? It can really change the channel in your brain.

Your turn. Ten things.

Mood boost favorite things

The Life-Changing Magic of a Daily Mastery Experience

This is a cool experiment. Want to feel more powerful and capable within the next thirty days, by picking up an easy habit? Have a mastery experience every day.

Do one thing every day that makes you feel accomplished or skilled, because you completed it. A mastery experience could be finishing a big work project, initiating a new project, getting to the gym, or installing the air conditioner. A mastery experience can also be doing something that you didn’t think you could do. (Such as installing the air conditioner! Or installing the air conditioner and choosing not to worry that it could fall out the window and kill someone). A mastery experience can even be any time when you focus on getting better at what you’re best at: devoting uninterrupted time to do work and build your skills. A mastery experience trains your brain to see challenges as opportunities to grow and get shit done.

I’ll get off my high horse: a mastery experience could be finally cleaning out your car. Mastery experiences can feel like seemingly insignificant things, but they make you feel like a boss once you accomplish them. You feel a sense of pride. You radiate a nice glow for the rest of the day.

mastery experience photo

 

So, create a system to have mastery experiences and enjoy that glow. Make a commitment to having some kind of mastery experience every day. Set an alarm on your phone and take sixty seconds every evening to consider what you did that day, that helped you grow as a person, that gave you an opportunity to learn something, or that gave you information that you could do something you didn’t think you could do. Make it a daily exercise in bravery… and soon, taking action to create a bigger and better life will start to feel like “just something you do every day.”

Keep Calm and Carry On

I have an article in Fast Company today on how leaders and entrepreneurs with OCD can leverage their coping skills to thrive in their careers. In researching and writing the article, I learned a fascinating story about the origin of one of my favorite quotes: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

 

Winston Churchill was prime minster of the United Kingdom during World War II. The mantra the government encouraged British citizens to bear in mind during an era of air raids was, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Says leadership coach Kelly Ebner, “That seems like Churchill’s self-talk to me.”

I made the argument that for people with OCD, “Keep calm and carry on” can be the foundation of a thriving lifestyle, where OCD is simply a nuisance guest at the party.

Please do check out the article and share on social media!

Give yourself a pep talk: when was the last time you were brave?

Man on planeDo you need a pep talk? Do you need to work up the nerve to launch something, make a big change, head outside your comfort zone, or say something really important?  Are you in the midst of doing something new and exciting, but in your head, you’re “faking it until you make it”?

If you’re the kind of person who can pick up the phone and call on one of your supporters, call someone on your team and say, “I need a pep talk!”

If that’s not your style, you can give yourself a compelling pep talk, using information you already have.

When was the last time you were brave?

Conjure the experience in detail: where were you, who were you with, what did you say, what did you do? You can either write this out, or just get comfortable in your chair and think about it.

How do you feel recalling it? Do you feel your posture get better and your chest expanding?

Now, think of four other recent experiences where you were brave. Picture each example like it’s the first scene of any movie: lots of detail to grab on to and a reason to immediately root for our hero.

…Now, what was it that you thought you couldn’t do before? It feels way more within your reach now, right?

In the same way that practicing self-care is powerful because we develop the ability to soothe ourselves in times of duress and discomfort, being able to give yourself a pep talk—one that is rooted in recent examples of your capabilities—is power. We all feel shaky from time to time, but if you have the skills to make yourself feel strong and powerful when you need it, that’s a really valuable life tool to have.

Who do you have on your team?

Who do you have on your team? People who thrive have support networks. Support networks are people you can go to for advice, encouragement, and even collaboration when you have a challenge or goal. Most people have support networks for different areas of their lives (i.e. a professional support network, a personal support network, a mental health support network).

To put it in a fun way, you need a team. You need to have people who you can reach out to, who you know are rooting for you. These are people you can shoot a friendly email, just saying Hey and telling them what’s new and asking them about their lives. These are parents, mentors, friends, “friendtors,” former colleagues, people in your professional network, who you can approach to buoy you with advice or offer a listening ear when you need it. Even if you don’t approach people for advice often, it’s so important to know that your team is in place.

What if you read this and think to yourself, I don’t know enough people to have a team.

Are you sure? Can you dig deep into your past and list all the people you’ve interacted with in a meaningful context, who have supported you?

Sample team:

My parent

My coach

My sibling

My favorite cousin

My favorite aunt

A close friend from college

My best friend

My work best friend

My friend who is ten years older than me, who I see as older and wiser

My professional mentor

My downstairs neighbors

 

Now is the time to reach out and make those connections. (The best time to build your support network is before you need to lean on them for something) Reach out to people, say hello, ask what they’re up to, and offer to support their work in some way to get the conversation started. Ideally you can add value to the relationship in your own unique way. Ask, How can I help? And send lots of gratitude to the all people on your team.

It’s good to have a team.

 

Befriend Uncertainty

In January, I made a goal to befriend uncertainty. It’s one of those goals with crap architecture: it’s qualitative and tough to measure. But I am noticing a marked difference in my outlook: I’m not sure what the next year will look like and I’m not using a five-year plan as a guide. There is no plan. For the most part, that’s pretty okay with me.

Many of us are “certainty junkies.” I was a certainty junkie up until January, when I decided to make peace with not-knowing. We try to control outcomes and manipulate situations so we feel like we know what’s going to happen in our lives. There’s a certain thing we want, and a certain way we plan things are going to go, and we make steady progress towards that thing. We feel more comfortable. But oddly, sometimes this quest for certainty makes us clenched up and closed off. We feel a tightening in our gut. We blame gluten. (I blame gluten!) But really, we’re worried: What if it all doesn’t work out?

There’s a chance it won’t work out. Which would suck. But if you are generally okay with uncertainty, something not happening the way you planned won’t be such a blow. Sidling up to uncertainty defangs it. We can learn to be comfortable with the idea that we don’t know what’s going to happen in our lives in the long-term. 

kxhrdstHk-medium

It’s so easy to get attached to specific outcomes and try to make it happen.  But when you unclench and lean into the uncertainty of life, you’re more likely to experience success. You conserve energy. You’re less likely to get in your own way. When we force things to happen—in work, in sports, in romance, you name it—it doesn’t usually turn out well. Something gets broken.

Embracing uncertainty means giving up striving. It’s about doing your best and being open to opportunities. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves? The hard part is not getting attached to certain outcomes. It requires trusting that everything will generally be fine and believing that the universe is looking out for us.

 

Self-Care Will Change Your Life

Woman in nature

 

Do you have a self-care routine? If not, get excited: self-care gives you energy, improves your productivity, and adds depth to the relationship you have with yourself. If you know how to take care of yourself and preventatively self-soothe, or self-soothe in healthy ways, that’s a really powerful thing. Self-care can be little things you do every day to maintain your physical and mental health, or it can be an activity that charges your batteries and makes you feel taken care of.

 

It will look different for everyone.

Self-care can be an indulgence or it can be doing activities that aren’t necessarily pleasurable but yield great dividends. For some people, self-care is brushing their teeth, eating healthy, and making time for 8 hours of sleep. For some people, it’s going to SoulCycle. For others, it’s avoiding the gym at all costs and starfishing on their bed. It can be a walk around your favorite park, to be in nature and recharge. It can be getting extra dressed up for work or it can be having a favorite outfit you wear for lounging around at home. It can be buying—and regularly enjoying—an extra-soft blanket. Self-care is often manifested in the divine feeling of sliding into crisp, fresh sheets on “change the sheets day.”

When you have awareness of the activities you do (or could do) to make yourself feel really taken care of, you can create new and improved self-care rituals that are a match for your preferences and values.  Explore and experiment, to figure out how to charge your batteries most effectively in the time allotted.

 

Self-Care is Powerful

If we think of ourselves as having imaginary iPhone batteries next to our heads, self-care keeps the percentage as close to 100% as possible. Self-care is also powerful in that it reinforces that we can take care of ourselves, that we can self-soothe when we need to, that we can self-soothe in healthy ways, and that we can implement systems in our lives to be happier, healthier, and high-functioning. Self-care can be a slowed down activity (like watching Netflix or reading magazines), but it also requires action: a commitment to make the time and follow through.

 

Integrate Self-Care Into Your Daily Life

Set your alarm for five minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush in the morning. Make your bed every morning. Buy perfume or cologne that you like, to wear every day. Identify something fun you can listen to, like a podcast or standup comedians’ albums, to make your commute more pleasant. Take your lunch break. Create a ritual for relaxing during your commute home from work. Tidy up your apartment. Nap whenever possible. Take a shower or baths, and take deep breaths in the steam. Curl up with a nice blanket. Meditate. Whatever you do, when you do it, make a mental note: “This is self care.”

 

Test Out “Big Ticket” Self-Care Strategies

Try these on a weekly basis or when you need a life boost: Carve out an afternoon at work to devote to getting to inbox zero. Take an Uber home if it’s late and you’re super tired, instead of taking public transportation home. Deep clean your apartment (including your bathtub). Plan a lazy Sunday (and plan out your lazy activities so you don’t go insane without structure). Get a haircut. Change your sheets. Buy new sheets. Get a massage. Turn your phone off for thirty minutes. Go away for the weekend.

Do you currently have routines that make you feel healthy and vital? Can you make yourself accountable to a self-care routine, so you know that your batteries will stay consistently charged? What’s one thing you can do to take great care of yourself today?

What to Do When You’re Having a Freak Out

2

One major challenge of living with OCD is that you feel like there is a serious threat or a huge, major problem… when you intellectually know there isn’t one. Call it an OCD storm, a freak out, a tizzy, whatever. You know there is not actually a time-sensitive crisis, but you want to feel better now, so you’re thinking yourself in circles.

This disjuncture is maddening. You know there isn’t an issue, but it really, really feels like there is one.  And God damnit, it’s Saturday!

[I wrote this with people who have OCD in mind, but all of this also applies to anyone having a freak out].

Here’s how to calm down and talk to your brain:

1. Establish that this is just OCD.

You know you have OCD.  You know that OCD is basically neurological malfunctioning.  The danger detection center of your brain says, “There’s a PROBLEM!” when there is no problem. Except right now, the problem feels so big and so dark, it’s like the last twenty minutes of a Harry Potter movie.

Take a step back and establish that this is OCD, and this might as well be a scary movie. Or a really dark children’s movie.

2. Pick a mantra.

You know that you don’t want to push away your thoughts.  That tends to make intrusive thoughts bigger. But you also don’t want to engage your thoughts or debate with them or invite them in for coffee. Articulate to yourself: “This is just OCD. This problem doesn’t justify a response. No action is needed on my part. I am going to go about my day.”  When intrusive thoughts pop up, nod at them, and use a mantra: “Okay, but no action is required on my part” or “Okay, but I’m just going about my day today.”  Accept the thoughts—don’t push them away—and then go about your day.

3. Do something really different.

Now it’s time to refocus.  If you have already started to freak out, you want to do something to reset your head.  So do something a little unusual.  Watch YouTube videos of reporters getting into laughing fits on air. Watch clips of your favorite standup comedian on YouTube (I love John Mulaney’s bit about an out-of-control high school party). Think of one of your favorite songs that has unclear lyrics, look up the lyrics, and listen to the song and read along. Make a list of 10 things you’re grateful for.  Make a list of your top 10 favorite moments from your life.  Give a stranger a compliment.

Do something positive to change the channel.

4. Don’t Google the problem.

Seriously, please don’t Google. No matter how much you want to Google, for reassurance or for comfort. Don’t give the “problem” another ounce of your energy.  If you can, close your laptop and do something else. If you don’t have plans for the day, make some. (And stick to them!)

5. Reach for support.

Personally, this happened to me a few months ago.  I had a small, real life problem that did not require any action on my part.  But it felt like I was being crushed by the pressure of this big, enormous problem, to the extent that it had become an OCD storm.  I was sitting in the parking lot outside Whole Foods—where I went because I wanted to treat myself—taking deep breaths and trying not to fully freak out.

So, I used a lifeline and phoned a friend. This friend knows I have OCD and has agreed to be a support for me when I need it.  (If you don’t have a person like this in your life, ask someone!)

The conversation went as such:

“Hi, do you have a second?… Okay, I just need to sound something out with you…. It feels like I have a massive, urgent problem.  I’m about to cry. But I know that there is no crisis.  It’s just my brain.  So as I have these thoughts, I’m going to say to myself, ‘Okay, okay, I hear you. It feels like there’s a catastrophe going on right now, but there’s nothing I need to do or think about today…’”

My friend said, “Sounds good!” We exchanged goodbyes and got off the phone.  If you look at our “transcript,” I didn’t tell her what was going on at all or ask for reassurance in any way.  It’s important not to ask for reassurance.  Instead, I simply shared my game plan with her, sealing it in.

IMG_2070

And then I went about my day, and bought some sweet-ass palm plants* from Whole Foods.

*Despite my best efforts, the palm plants almost immediately died. But life goes on. And freak outs fade away.

Glowing Brain Image by Peach and Gold | Designed & Developed with    by LizTheresa.com