By Rachel Lacks, EdM
Do you ever have an itching feeling that you just have to do something, or else the
thought of doing it will haunt you? Do you ever feel the need to re-read a sentence in
your book again, or to go back to re-read a whole paragraph, or a whole page? Have
you looked at the pile of papers on your desk, and felt you just could not begin your
work until they were all nicely stacked? Have you ever left your home, only to feel
an urge to turn back around to check that the stove is off?
While you may feel alone in experiencing a nagging voice inside of your head, these
urges are actually not uncommon. In fact, they plague at least 1 in every 40 adults,
and about 1 in every 100 kids. These badgering feelings are called obsessions, and
they often lead to compulsive behaviors, which are repetitive behaviors that a
person feels compelled to perform in order to alleviate anxiety. Although obsessions
feel immensely difficult to resist in the moment, there are three strategies that you
can employ to regain control over your mind and your behavior.
[Important note: It’s fine to try these suggestions on your own, but often people
need the support of a therapist to assist.]
- Delay the response: Try putting small increments of time between obsessions
and compulsions. For example if you have a thought, “I should really check that
the door is locked one more time” try to resist the urge to check that door for a
few minutes, or even just 30 seconds. Over time, try to increase the increments.
Think about it like going to the gym for your mind. The longer you’re able to
delay a response, the better your mind will naturally habituate to the anxiety
and get used to feeling uncomfortable. Eventually, using this approach, many
people find that their urges to check the door become so minimal that they go
- Limit the response: Challenge yourself to cut down on the number of times you
engage in a compulsive behavior. If you feel the need to count each step as you
walk up the stairs, try counting the first several, and not the rest. Or go several
steps without counting, and then count he last few. Teaching yourself to tolerate
the discomfort of resisting is easier in smaller doses.
- Check the facts: Think of times in the past when you wanted to act on a
compulsive urge, and didn’t do it. It may have been when someone else was in
the room with you, because you would have been late to work, or simply because
it was too burdensome to perform the ritual. What happened those times? Did
the worst-case scenario that you’re imagining actually occur? Were you able to
live with the discomfort you felt in the moment, and did it eventually dissipate?
Reminding ourselves of times when our worst fears did not come true can help
us to resist our obsessions when they occur.
In sum, it can be hard to reduce and resist obsessions. But, doing so in smaller
chunks and keeping in mind that the worse case scenario is unlikely, can make
things a lot easier over time. Set manageable expectations and challenge yourself,
and you may be surprised at your own success!