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An OCD Crash Course

When you’re struggling with OCD, your experience probably falls somewhere on the spectrum from uncomfortable to terrifying.  You may have bizarre or frightening thoughts. You may believe that because you had a thought, it reflects reality.  Or you may have assumed that you need to act on everything that your brain tells you to do.

You may have thought to yourself, I wish someone would save me from my mind!

An OCD Crash Course

OCD makes commonplace activities an uphill climb; doing mundane things can often be paradoxically challenging for people with OCD. At its worst, OCD keeps people in a suspended in a state of electrified worry, feeling hunted by problems or threatening situations that may not even be real (that usually, overwhelmingly, are not real). OCD holds people back from living their lives. OCD has been known to ruin many a Saturday.

What is OCD?

In short, OCD is disturbing thoughts or uncomfortable physical sensations (obsessions).  People with OCD often do things to try to make themselves more comfortable after they have an obsessive thought, like wash their hands or check things (compulsions).

The obsession is the thought or sensation.  The compulsion is the activity performed in an effort to make the obsession go away or disprove the obsession.  Usually, a compulsion provides momentary relief, and then adds fuel to the fire.

Obsession + compulsion= obsessive compulsive disorder.

The Wiring Behind OCD

OCD is the brain’s error and danger detection center (the amygdala) sending out messages that there is a problem, when there is no problem.  The amygdala is the size and shape of two almonds and is nestled deep in the core of the brain.

Someone with OCD processes these error-and-danger messages and does something in response to the perception that there is danger.

This creates a circuit.  After someone with OCD takes action in response to the perceived threat coming from the amygdala and performs a compulsive ritual, the amygdala receives validation that there was indeed a threat, because the person with OCD did something in response to the error message.  The amygdala receives confirmation that its alarm bells will be listened to and acted on, and it learns to send more of them.

Brain scans of people with OCD are really interesting.  The amygdala “glows” from substantially higher than average activity.  The frontal lobe of the brain, which controls judgment and focus, is also substantially overactive. This is because after the amygdala sends out an error message, the frontal lobe decides there is a problem, and then devotes attention to it. People with OCD tend to focus disproportionately on perceived problems (“Did I leave a candle burning?” or “Did my boss scowl at me earlier? Oh my God, did she?”); hence, the frontal lobe also appears to glow in brain scans.

This heightened brain activity explains why some people with OCD perceive that there is conflict around them when there isn’t any; or that their world is dark, unfriendly, or even menacing.  The part of the brain in charge of detecting when there is an emergency or problem is sounding, for no real reason, without warning.

All those fears, phobias, aversions, and obsessions: all it is, is faulty wiring.


That’s the good news: it’s just faulty wiring.

There is comfort in understanding the brain science behind OCD. If you grasp that the thoughts, fears, and physical sensations you have are just sections of your brain misbehaving, the thoughts, fears, and physical sensations you have may seem less intimidating.

There’s more comforting news: you can rewire your brain. That’s how people with OCD get better. The same worry circuit that is activated when you act on an obsessive thought can be powered down by learning how to react to your thoughts and continuing to life your life, even when you feel anxious.

Sound confusing? Don’t worry: read my illustrated guide on how to keep living your life when you’re experiencing an OCD storm.  Or, contact me to learn more about my Glowing OCD Brain training.

How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts

Most people, whether they have OCD or not, have experienced intrusive thoughts at some point.  Intrusive thoughts are the thoughts that “snag” in your brain and won’t go away.  When you finally shift your focus to something else, the thoughts periodically pop back. If you push the thoughts away, they may pop back faster. You feel hunted. But if you know how to handle intrusive thoughts, it’s like having a secret superpower.

The best way to deal with intrusive thoughts is to not push them away, but rather to react to them as if you are totally unphased. Acting like you don’t care about these electrified thoughts powers them down.  Again, most people have had the experience of being stuck on a thought, sleeping on it, and then in the morning, once they have some distance, thinking: “Wow, that thing that I was so worried about was really irrational.”

But what to do if you wake up in the morning and the thought is still there?

Invite the thought to stay awhile.

Having an intrusive thought that won’t go away and survives a good night’s sleep is unnerving. It makes you wonder if the thought is real. (It’s still not).  The way to deal with an intrusive thought that is sticking around is simply a more involved version of how you would deal with any other intrusive thought. Accept that you’re having the intrusive thought. Let it hang out in your peripheral vision. It may feel uncomfortable, but just let it be.

You can try a few different visualizations:

Invite the worry to exist in your peripheral vision.  Imagine the worry pedaling away on a stationary bicycle.  It’s planted there, and it can pedal and sweat all it wants. Eventually, it will get tired.

Here’s another approach. Imagine you have someone in your social circle who you’re sort of friends with, who is also really annoying and overcaffeinated and clingy. Imagine that this person has shown up unannounced on your doorstep. This person is ringing your doorbell incessantly; she knows you’re home! If you try to ignore her, odds are good she is going to keep ringing the doorbell. She may start texting you or calling you. And you feel violated: why is she at your house, refusing to leave you alone when you clearly don’t want her there?  But imagine if you went downstairs and greeted her. “Oh, hey, come on in. I’m pretty busy right now, but if you want, you can sit on the couch and read a magazine.”  That pesky friend is going to be disappointed.  Odds are good, she’ll sit on your couch, leaf through a magazine, talk for awhile (and be ignored), and get bored quickly. Maybe this person will think twice about showing up unannounced again.

If this exercise sounds hard, that’s because it is hard. When you have an unsettling, intrusive thought, getting through the moment or the day is hard enough. If you use coping mechanisms to unplug the thought and teach your brain a new way to react to OCD thoughts, it’s like going to the mental gym. You’re strengthening a muscle.  You’re retraining your brain.  In fact, you are rewiring your brain.  When practiced over time, your brain is unphased by intrusive thoughts.  A year from now, a thought that could bring you to your knees might just feel like a cold breeze.

This work is hard and it’s so worth it.

If you are currently struggling, I recommend you check out my illustrated guide on how to handle an OCD storm.  If you’re interested in working one-on-one with me to learn OCD coping skills and how to live with your glowing OCD brain, you can read about coaching with me here.

OCD for Beginners: 8 Tips for Early OCD Recovery

When people learn they have OCD, what’s commonly the most surprising–and most gutting–things to find out in OCD recovery is that  OCD doesn’t go away. It’s true: OCD doesn’t get better; you get better at having OCD.  Once you develop the skills and tools to manage the way your OCD manifests, you use those skills without thinking about it much; the thoughts and fears that were once crippling aren’t even that noticeable.  What used to be an OCD storm is now a wisp.

Initially, people early in OCD recovery have an initial gritty determination to “beat OCD.” This never works.  Approaching OCD as an adversary usually leads to suffering.  There’s an acceptance step that is crucial in early OCD recovery. No one wants to have OCD. (Of course not!) But when you accept that you have OCD, you create space to be curious. You can learn how to manage your OCD and how to engage with your OCD thoughts. Eventually, you might look at your OCD recovery like an achievement: “I do all of these things in my busy, full life and I do it all with OCD.”  You’ll be happy and healthy, and OCD is simply part of your lifestyle.

When you have OCD, you always have to keep working at it and building your skills. The goal is to “get good at having OCD.” This takes ongoing practice. I have eight strategies/ mantras that I teach people with OCD to help them learn to live with OCD. These steps are quirky, but they really work. These are the basics that I wish I had known when I was first diagnosed. I affectionately call this list, OCD for Beginners.


  1. “This is just my amygdala.”

When you are suddenly hit by a wave of anxiety or a disconcerting thought, you can say to yourself, This is just my brain.

Sometimes, organs malfunction. See if you can look at OCD like a stomach ache; it’s something array happening in your brain. There’s no reason to panic; you can just say, “Ugh, my head hurts,” as casually as you might say, “Ugh, my stomach hurts.”

At the most basic level, OCD is your amygdala, the section of the brain that detects danger and error, malfunctioning. Your amygdala is telling you that there is danger or error when there is no danger or error. The warning sirens can be summarily ignored. The worry or sense of impending doom is just your brain misfiring. The worry—and the content of the worry—is totally irrelevant. What matters is how you react; the way you behave when you have an OCD thought teaches your brain how to react in the future. 99% of the time, the best thing to do is going back to whatever it is you were doing, and letting the thought hang out in your peripheral vision.


  1. “Okay, so I’m having that thought.”

When you have intrusive thoughts, acknowledge them and accept that they’re there. Don’t push the thoughts away—that makes them swing back like a wrecking ball. Instead, say, “Okay, so I’m having that thought.” It’s just a thought. We all have tons of thoughts, and we can choose which ones to focus on and engage with.  You don’t have to engage with the thought; just let the thought be like an out of control toddler who thankfully isn’t your problem.  If the thought feels really menacing, do your best to practice good self care as you let the thought dart around.


  1. “Don’t start.”

When you try to mentally resolve or disprove an OCD worry, the problem will dependably pop back up with an extenuating circumstance that keeps it relevant. Or, your brain may snag on new worries all day. This is especially true if you start “arguing” with OCD in the morning. It’s better to “not start” and to settle into feeling a little uncomfortable. Don’t start, and let the thought fade.


  1. “Okay, so I feel really anxious.”

When you feel gripped by an obsession or a worry, if all else fails, lean into it. Accept that you’re anxious.  People who have OCD often have days when they feel anxious. You want to practice living your life, even when you’re anxious. Sometimes this approach makes the discomfort dissipate faster. More importantly, it creates wiring in your brain so you can dismiss irrational thoughts and train your focus on whatever it is you want to be doing.


  1. “I guess I’ll just ride this out.”

The comedian Marc Maron has a joke where he describes how he once ate too much Chinese food and his hand went numb. Because he had “drug wisdom” as a recovered cocaine addict, he said, “I’m just gonna ride it out.” That nonplussed attitude can be useful in hanging on during an especially anxious day. It’s powerful when you can say, “Eh, I guess I’ll just ride this one out.”  At the end of the day, double down on the self care or do something that tends to help you reset back to normal.


  1. “If it happens, I’ll deal with it.”  

The best way to defang a fear is to accept that it could happen. Accept that if the worst case scenario did happen, you’d deal with it.  Whatever it is, you’d deal with it.  Sometimes, this radical approach can shock your brain into realizing how nonsensical something is.  Alternatively, this “I’m done worrying about this. Whatever happens, happens” is a very healthy form of surrender.


  1. “This is actually really funny.”

If you have an obsession—whether it’s a new one, or one that has bothered you for years—imagine sitting across from your most level-headed, no-nonsense friend, and explaining the obsession to them. Perhaps you’d see that the thought that can overwhelm and terrify you on bad days… is actually so ridiculous, that it’s actually really funny.  Or it’s so petty, it’s not worth one more iota of your mental energy.  *To be clear, this doesn’t mean deciding that you are going to avoid the thought; it means that you’re doing to avoid actively thinking about it.  You can have the thought, but there’s no need to engage with it, disagree with it, or try to reason it away.  It’s not worth your mental energy… just let the thought dissipate.


  1. “99 Problems.”

I know a woman with OCD who is really, really good at living with OCD.  She has a family and a job, and she balances her day-to-day responsibilities with putting daily effort into managing her OCD.   She was diagnosed with OCD almost 10 years ago; she had developed a chronic, frightening obsession so extreme, it required restraint not to ask her about the sordid details of her dark days.  The way her OCD manifested years earlier was extremely morbid.

Today, her take on OCD recovery is extremely empowering: “We all have 99 problems, and I prefer having this one. Because I have the ability to manage it.”

Want Self-Esteem? Do Something Esteemable

When we think about self-esteem, often we think in terms of how to change the way we feel about ourselves. But my favorite fast-acting strategy to boost self-esteem takes an outside-in approach. If you want to experience higher self-esteem, do something that makes you feel strong, competent, compassionate, self-compassionate, brave, and upstanding. If you want self-esteem, do something esteemable.

Whatever the problem is—you want to be more confident at work, you’re worried that you’re coming off needy in a relationship, you’re feeling anxious, you’ve been feeling anxious all the time—start by doing something that will make you feel like you’re in an upward spiral. The desired feelings may come sooner than you think.

Want self-esteem? Do something esteemable.


10 “Esteemable” Things You Can Do Right Now:

  1. Take on a longstanding nagging task, finish the task, and scratch it off your mental to-do list. Positive psychology researchers say that tackling a nagging task, even if it’s something as simple as decluttering a drawer, gives you a happiness and self-esteem boost
  2. Look up that local organization that you’ve been wanting to volunteer with, call them, and get the process started. Volunteering is one of the best ways to get a self-esteem and happiness boost.
  3. Connect two people in your professional network who you sense would benefit from knowing one another
  4. Text a friend who might be struggling, or recently overcame a big struggle, to tell her you are thinking of her
  5. Clean your car. Do a DIY mini-detail. The next time you drive your car, you’ll feel like you’re driving a chariot. Really: “boring self-care” is sometimes the best self-care.
  6. Send an email to a friend or professional connection who you have lost touch with, to say hello and to let them know that you’re always game to help them out should they need a professional favor
  7. Offer to give a coworker a hand if he or she seems swamped, even if you could totally get away with kicking back and playing on your phone right now
  8. Reach out to a professional you’ve recently met who is new to your industry or younger than you and offer yourself as a resource to them for career advice
  9. Catch up on email. Get as close as you can to hitting inbox zero.
  10. Sit down and read a book in print. If it’s not something you do regularly, reading will make you feel like an owl wearing glasses and a graduation cap.

What “esteemable” things could you do today?

Self-Talk: What stories are you telling yourself?

We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves. Unfortunately, much of the time, these stories don’t make our lives bigger or better. Sometimes our stories limit us in small ways (“I don’t eat Indian food” or “I’m not the kind of person who goes hiking for fun”). Other stories act as a lens through which we see the world (“I never should have left Los Angeles and given up on acting” or “I don’t know what I’m passionate about and it’s driving me insane!”).  These stories–often very similar to limiting self-talk–influence our lives to an extent beyond imagination.

Here’s a sampling from some people I’ve talked to:

I’m a city person; I couldn’t live anywhere but a large city. I actually don’t think I could live anywhere but New York!  I’m going to be  a director. I’m an artist. I’m an entrepreneur. I like asking for things. Netflix is my boyfriend. I have low self-esteem. I don’t like going to classes at the gym; it’s one more thing to be late for. I’m a morning person. I’m a night owl. I’m not the kind of person who goes to India.

I dated my soulmate two years ago, but I screwed everything up. I don’t think I’ll ever feel that way about anyone again. I don’t know what my passion is and it’s driving me crazy. Everyone else seems to have a calling.  I have to get married by the time I’m thirty. I am so behind the people I went to high school with. If I’m not interested in a task, I’m incapable of doing it.

I’m annoying. I’m a bitch. I’m a failure. I’m a screw-up. I am not living the kind of life I planned on. If I had the opportunity to go back in time, I would do so many things differently. • Everyone acts like I have so much agency in my life. I don’t feel free at all. • I suck at life. I fully suck. I’m such a fuck-up. •

We frequently tell stories about ourselves that serve as the “elevator pitch” that we repeat to ourselves, about ourselves.  We all have a self-concept, and it becomes the lens through which we see the world. That story can be positive (“I’m a graphic designer in Boston. I’m known for wearing bright colors”) or glass-half empty (“I live in Boston. I left a corporate job to become a full-time freelance web designer. You wouldn’t believe how little money I make”). These stories—even if we don’t often consciously think about them—can greatly affect the way we see the world around us.  It could be a difference as drastic as living in full color or seeing the world in sepia. When the story you tell yourself about yourself is negative, it’s bigger than limiting self-talk; it can become your worldview.

Everyone can benefit from being more aware of their self-talk and examining the stories they tell. For people with anxiety and OCD, it’s especially important to be conscious of your self-talk and to be aware of your “story.” People who struggle with obsessive thinking often have the tendency to get “stuck” on a thought that they believe to be true. If that thought is your story, you’re going to be repeating it to yourself a lot.  It’s in your best interest to make sure it’s a true story, and a good one.




This is what’s game changing.

It is entirely possible to change your story. In writing a new story, we can design the way we want to show up in the world. This includes, but is not limited to: how we want to feel, how we want to make others feel, how we express our talents, and how we experience our own company. We can change the flavor of our self-talk. When we do so, we interact with ourselves in new ways: we experience more self-compassion, we learn to soothe ourselves, and we act with greater self-efficacy.

Here’s a starting point to do some brainstorming:

What is a story that’s problematic in my life right now?

When and where did I get this story?

Was it true then? Is true now?

Why am I holding on to this story?

Am I willing to trade this story for something better?

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 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.

Self-Care Will Change Your Life

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.
Woman in nature


Self-care 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?

A Metaphor for OCD Recovery

Many of us can remember the sense of shock we felt when we learned Bruce Willis was dead at the end of the Sixth Sense(Andy Samberg remembers. Google it. 😉 ) The end of the Sixth Sense is also a great metaphor for OCD recovery.

Sixth Sense

Throughout the movie, Haley Joel Osment was hunted by visions of “dead people” that only he could see. He was tormented.

In the end of the movie, nothing really changed.  That kid still saw dead people.  The only difference was that he reacted to them or interacted with them differently. In some cases, he quietly helped the dead people.  In other cases, he just acknowledged that they were there, and that was enough for everyone to have some peace.

For a person who is struggling with OCD, it’s pretty similar. You see envision things that feel very real and menacing. Others can’t see what you see, although they feel for you if you tell them. (Sometimes, they’re quietly horrified if you tell them what you’re thinking or feeling!) Still, you cannot do anything to placate or push away the visions you have.  Trying to make them go away irritates them and makes them stronger.

When your goal is OCD recovery, your job is to “be okay” with whatever visions you are having.  Being able to say, “Okay, so I’m having that thought” or “Okay, so I’m having this sensation” to whatever OCD thoughts you are having is courageous. It’s courageous to the extent of facing down ghosts.

Of course, this approach to OCD recovery is really challenging, but it yields lasting dividends. This laissez approach rewires your brain in a positive way.  When you don’t react to your frightening OCD thoughts, your brain receives no validation for sending you those thoughts–your brain learns that this information is ignored. So with enough repetition, your brain will send fewer erroneous warnings about danger (which is just OCD at work).

Can you be at relative ease with the thoughts and visions that you have?

So what do you do for fun?

This is such a loaded question. “Fun” is an innocent thing. But if someone asks us, ‘So what do you do for fun?’ and we can’t think of something quickly enough or if our idea of fun is Netflix, playing on our phones in bed, and going to bars, we feel like pieces of shit.

This is an area where having OCD is an advantage over the rest of the population.

When you have OCD, your OCD thoughts/worries can sneak up out of nowhere. Your plans for the evening may have been to watch a hockey game/ see a movie/ have a nice Italian dinner with a friend, but in your peripheral vision, it’s as though your OCD worry is perched on a stationary bike, working up a sweat, and yelling, “Hey! I’m going strong over here! How’s the piccata? Are you remembering to worry about ‘x’?”

When you have OCD, sometimes things that you intended on being fully relaxing aren’t relaxing at all. As said before, OCD has ruined many a Saturday. When OCD elects to join you during what was supposed to be a fun activity, and you do your best to enjoy whatever it was that you were doing and you keep living your life, you get an A+. But that doesn’t mean that it was relaxing. To the contrary, it’s a mental workout to be present when your brain is thinking itself in circles around a problem that doesn’t exist.

So, people with OCD need to be a little more proactive about having fun, because every now and then OCD crashes the party.

For people with OCD, fun is for a mental release, to experience joy, to develop mastery around a new skill or hobby, and, of course, to press re-set when we’re anxious.

Consider this: Ways to Have More Formal Fun

  1. Make a Google Map of restaurants where you want to eat and work your way down your list
  2. Ditto for movies
  3. Make a list of “culturally important” movies you want to watch (that can be Casablanca or it can be Fight Club—both count)
  4. Cut pictures out of magazines and decoupage them onto wine bottles or old furniture around your house
  5. Go hiking.
  6. Read books. You use Amazon Prime for everything else, so splurge on some really good books. Here are three “fun” recommendations (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Heart and Brain, and Bossypants) and three “thinky” recommendations (Superbrain, The Happiness Project, and Come As You Are).
  7. Join an ultimate Frisbee league
  8. Take a class. It can be cake decorating, Spanish for beginners, or a weekly drop-in yoga class. Either way, you’ll create new fibers in your brain.
  9. Research recipes and cook an elaborate dinner for you and a friend
  10. Go to a hockey game. Seriously, they’re riveting.

How can you make this list your own?

Consider the Fun You Already Have

If you approach the things you do with a more formal mindset, you can see that you have fun way more often than you think you do. You just aren’t noticing it or categorizing your fun as fun.  Eating at restaurants can be a hobby, especially if you are trying different cuisines, appreciating the interior architecture, or trying to find the best fish tacos in the city.  Taking showers can be fun—entire careers are built around the pleasures of grooming.  Upgrade to using a set of scented bath products and your showers will feel like spas. If you like watching movies, great! Structure the activity so you’re working through a list of “Movies to Watch.”

The distinction is mindfulness: when you’re doing an activity, take pause and notice when it’s fun.  Then, you can recognize, “Oh, this is fun! This is how I have fun!”  You have more information for the future, when someone asks you what you do for fun or if you need to do something to cheer yourself up.

Schedule time for fun.

If you do have clear-cut hobbies—like playing an instrument, browsing at thrift stores, or reading business magazines—but the issue is that you can’t find time to do these things, schedule them.  Use the “Saturday” and “Sunday” pages in your planner, and block out an hour or an afternoon to enjoy your hobby.  Observe the time commitment the way you would an appointment with a personal trainer or a mentor.  As in, you can’t miss it.  If you do this enough consecutive weekends, you’ll find yourself drifting towards your more active, engaging hobbies, instead of crashing onto the couch with your laptop and grappling with decision gridlock while staring at your Netflix home screen. When you think about it that way, the way we use Netflix doesn’t sound like fun at all!  Let’s be more proactive about better alternatives.

You Can’t Go Home Again, Part II

Often,  young people who have just been diagnosed with OCD—or are dealing with a flare-up—”go home again” and move in with family to regroup. My strong opinion is that this isn’t a good idea. Going home again can often undo the progress that you’ve made in your life, such as having a good job, having a nice apartment, having a social circle. When you go home again, you risk dismantling your life. More crucially, going home again usually allows OCD to fester.

Instead of going home again, plant your feet in your life and take advantage of every support system around you.  Here’s how you stay:

Brush up on OCD basics.

When you’re having a prolonged tussle with OCD, make sure you have what you need in your toolbox. Remember mantras like, “Okay, so I’m having that thought” and “I’m just gonna ride it out.”

Tell your boss.

Please don’t leave your job. Instead, have a conversation with your boss about what’s going on and that you may need time to go to doctor’s appointments. You can say you’re struggling with a health problem (that’s true—it’s just your brain wiring misfiring) and it’s personal.  Legally, your boss can’t ask, “What is it?” If she persists and you don’t want to tell her, you can say, “I’m struggling with a common mental health issue and I’m getting help. I would appreciate having some flexibility in my schedule in the coming months.” Propose strategies you’d like to put into place so you can keep working while you work on you.

Make this point first: “I care about my career, I care about the company’s success, and I care about growing with the company. But right now, I can’t give 130%.  I need to slow down for two months while I take care of my health.” Then, you can propose solutions such as, “I’d like to have a hard stop at 5pm two days a week” or “I would like to establish that I’m not accessible by email after hours.”

Your boss probably really likes you. Or at the very least, your boss wants to keep you. Replacing employees, or figuring out staffing needs while an employee takes medical leave, is an extremely expensive aspect of running a business. It’s likely that your boss will want to work with you on this.

If you’re scared of this conversation, don’t be. If you were considering “going home again,” that means you were probably considering leaving your job anyway!  So, say what you need to say.  Also, tell your boss that you want to have an open dialogue: encourage her to tell you if she senses your performance is flagging at any point, so you’re aware of it, and so you can make adjustments.  (Then you don’t have to worry about it.  If there’s a problem with your performance, someone will tell you).

Reframe the way you think about work.

It’s also important to stay at your job because work provides a place to refocus and practice your OCD coping skills. When you feel your OCD flaring up, you can say to yourself, “I have OCD. I have some thoughts or sensations that I find really uncomfortable or frightening. I’ll just nod at these thoughts and acknowledge them.  Then I’m going to focus on work, and focus on doing my best, and nod at the thoughts whenever they pop up again.”

Tell your roommates.

Frequently, OCD thoughts and fears revolve around the home: fear of leaving the water running, fear of someone messing with the way the contents of your room (or the refrigerator) are perfectly arranged, fear of not flushing the toilet, etc. You could even be struggling with irrational, looping thoughts about your roommates “catching you” performing a ritual or acting strangely.

Here’s how to get in front of the story: tell your roommates. You can make it super casual: “Just so you know, I’m really struggling with anxiety. So if you see me acting odd, or if I seem distressed, that’s why.  I wanted to tell you, so you know that I’m getting help, and also so you don’t think I’m losing it.”

Then, it’s out in the open, and you can make your home your sanctuary

Create a sanctuary.

Find a place where you can be fully, completely comfortable.  An easy option is your bedroom (especially if you have your own room). Buy a few things to make this space comfortable, like a soft blanket, attractive art for the walls, or a new pillow. Consider other places where you can easily go to feel safe. Make a list of places that can be your “happy place.” This could be your favorite grassy spot in the park, your favorite chair in your local coffee shop, your favorite elliptical at the gym, or your favorite nook in the library or the bookstore.  When you feel like curling up into a frightened, anxious ball, know there’s a place where you can safely uncurl and spread out, cuing your brain into feeling totally at ease.

Whatever you do, just keep living your life. When your OCD flares up, instead of dismantling your life, focus on building your life. Instead of taking shelter, show yourself that you have the strength to handle the storm.

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