It’s not uncommon for people with OCD to start noticing the role stress plays in exacerbating their symptoms. When talking about a recent uptick in OCD, people will often report noticing specific stressors, such as an increase in work stress, greater demand on their time and energy from others, and possibly discord with friends or family. Not only can stress cause an increase in intrusive thoughts, but it can also understandably make it more challenging for people to resist compulsions and engage in ERP. The combination of these two factors often leads people down an OCD spiral that they then need to work themselves back out of with response prevention.
The importance of managing stress may not seem like new info… and you’re right, it isn’t. We all know the importance of reducing stress and utilizing positive coping tools to stay grounded. However, for many of us, what we know is different than what we do! Here are some tips to keep stress down and your body & mind feeling more centered.
#1: Mindfulness Breaks
Implementing 2 to 5 minute mindfulness breaks into your day can be a huge stress reliever. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’m too busy to take a 2 minute break!”, but in actuality that 2 minute break will help you become more focused and efficient afterwards. So the real question is…. “Aren’t you too busy to not take a 2 minute mindfulness break?”
This is what a mindfulness break could look like:
1) Start by focusing in on your breath, breathing in through your nose slowly, hold, and then out through your mouth slowly (long exhale)
2) Set the intention to cultivate awareness
3) Focus your attention to what is occurring in the present moment and simply observe your thoughts, feelings, sensations as they arise. What do you feel? What do you hear? What do you see?
4) Set the intention to stay in a self-compassionate, non-judgmental mindset throughout the break. Shift away from judging your thoughts or feelings and instead view them from a lens of kindness and curiousity.
We all know the benefits of exercise on our health, both physically and mentally, but oftentimes we fall into all-or-nothing thinking with exercise. We can also become more fixated on weight loss and appearance rather than the other health benefits it’s providing. I use the word movement because it’s important to remember that any form of exercise is great! You don’t need to be an avid runner or attend a spin class. You can dance. You can stretch. You can stroll. All forms of movement help lower stress and produce major health benefits. If you move your body for 60 minutes… great! If you move your body for 10 minutes… that’s also great!
#3: Practice Resisting Rumination
It’s important to differentiate between the act of ruminating vs. the act of problem-solving. Rumination is “engaging in a repetitive negative thought process that loops continuously in the mind without end or completion”. Problem-solving, on the other hand, is when you are actively thinking about something with the goal of determining and prioritizing action steps to solve the problem, and then take action to the solve the problem. As you can see these two things both involve the act of thinking, but they have much different outcomes. Rumination is a significant component of OCD, anxiety, and stress. Practicing acknowledging the act of ruminating and resisting it, can be a helpful tool in minimizing stress.
#4: Prioritizing Pleasure
With everything on our plates these days (Work! Kids! Family! House! Pets! Friends! Bills!) it can be really hard to find time to engage in pleasurable activities. Whether it’s simply playing a game with the kids outside, taking a walk, reading a chapter of a book you’re really into… these little acts of giving yourself pleasure can be HUGE stress reducers. Life wasn’t meant to be lived in a state of productivity 100% of the time. Most people find that they are happiest when the time they spend on pleasure and productivity is balanced. When you give yourself the break you need to play or rest, stress goes down.
Stress management is something we can do throughout our day in “small” ways. Try prioritizing these 4 things and see whether you feel a bit more centered and grounded on a day to day basis. Let me know how it goes for you!
Are you a woman struggling with OCD and not sure where to start in getting help? Reach out today for a free consultation to discuss options for treatment or support.