Info

Your Anxiety Toolkit - It's a Beautiful Day to Do Hard Things

With over a million downloads, Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast delivers compassionate, science-based tools for anyone with Anxiety, Panic, OCD, and other mental health struggles.
RSS Feed
Your Anxiety Toolkit - It's a Beautiful Day to Do Hard Things
2022
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2021
December
November
October
September
August
June
May
April
March
February
January


2020
December
November
October
September
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2019
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2018
December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January


2017
December
November
October
September
August
July
May
April
March
January


2016
October
September
July
June
May
April
March


All Episodes
Archives
Now displaying: Page 1
Sep 23, 2022

SUMMARY: 

In this episode, I addressed a question that was asked of me by a loyal follower.  They asked, “What do I do if the present moment totally sucks? Like, what if I have a migraine , nausea , chills , pain?  Any suggestions ?!”

This is such a great question and one we probably have all asked ourselves or our therapist at some point.  



Links To Things I Talk About:

ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:
This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

Ep. 303 What if the present moment totally sucks?

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 303.

Welcome back, everybody. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here with me. Thank you for listening. Thank you for supporting me. I know how valuable your time is, and I know there are so many people that you could spend your time with, especially out on the podcast field. So, I am so, so grateful to have you here with me. Really, really, really I am. I hope that you find these episodes incredibly helpful. My hope is to give you bite-size tools so that you can get on with your life and live your best life. I hope this podcast is everything that you wanted to learn. 

This week’s episode, I am totally, totally amped for. The reason being is, it was actually a response to a previous podcast where we talked about being present. Somebody had written back because they subscribe to my newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, please do so. I will leave a link in the show notes, or you can go over to CBTSchool.com and sign up there. They had responded and said, “But Kimberley, what do I do if the present moment totally sucks?” And they went on to say, “I have a migraine or nausea or chills or pains.” And they said, “What are your suggestions?” I figured, this is probably the question you all have for me. I come on, I share with you tools. And then you guys are probably always going to have a question and this is a really common one. 

WHAT TO DO IF THE PRESENT MOMENT TOTALLY SUCKS

Today, I want to talk about what to do when the present moment totally sucks. Before we do that, let’s first do the “I did a hard thing” segment. This one is from Rachel and they said:

“My thoughts get the best of me. I recently started teaching and I needed to stay long after the students go home. And I decided it just needs to be a busy time to distract me. I use your book to help me with any meditations and I just let my thoughts come and go. It was scary the first time, but now I’m used to it.”

Thank you so much, Rachel. I’m so grateful my book can be of assistance. I think you’re doing some really, really hard work there. So, congratulations on that. 

And then last of all, before we get into the bulk of the episode, let’s first share a review of the week and this is from Meldevs and they said:

“I am so thankful to have found this podcast! Kimberley is such a compassionate, warm, honest, and insightful person for those struggling with anxiety disorders as I do. I have learned more listening to her than I have in my years of therapy. The way that she presents each and every podcast episode so that I feel challenged and understood. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being there for people struggling with anxiety!”

Thank you, Meldevs. That is such a beautiful review, really. That brings me so much joy and I really, really appreciate all your reviews on the podcast, because it helps me to reach more and more people. Meldevs and Rachel, thank you so much for being a part of my community. Let’s get into the episode. 

What do we do when the present moment totally sucks? Let’s break it down. 

When we talk about being present, one of the biggest mistakes we make, and I talk with my patients about this all the time, is we assume that being present means everything feels great. I think we have in our mind that being present is when we are most mindful, when we are most at peace, when we’re most compassionate. And I’ll tell you honestly, that has not been my experience. Oh no.

HOW TO BE PRESENT WHEN ANXIOUS

Being present, the art of being present, the practice of being present in your most mindful sense has never meant being comfortable in my experience, especially as my experience with it as a clinician, especially as my experience of having my own mental illnesses and my own medical illnesses. No, it’s not that. Most of the time, when we need to be present are the times when things totally suck, when we’re in a great deal of distress. Because otherwise, if you’re not in distress, usually, you don’t have to be as present because often you naturally are. 

So, let’s just remember that our brains, when we are uncomfortable, is wired to focus on that discomfort. That’s how we’ve survived all these years. And it’s going to focus on the pain because it is trying to send a message to you to get the pain to go away. But when we have something where the pain won’t go away, have it be migraine, like you said, nausea, chills, discomfort could be also anxiety or intrusive thoughts because we all know we can’t stop those. When we experience those, yes, naturally, you’re going to want to run away from it. But as a part of this team and as part of this community, you guys know and hopefully, I’ve taught you that running away from discomfort only makes it worse. Resisting the pain we feel and the suffering we feel only makes it worse and increases our suffering. So, what do we do? Friends, we settle in. I’ll give you a personal example of when I actually recently had COVID. 

Some people bless your hearts. And also, I’m really still very mad at these people, but still, bless your hearts. I wish this was the case for everybody. But some people have very few symptoms when it comes to having COVID. I am not one of those people. When I have COVID and when I got COVID, I get bone pain. It is like the deepest pain in my bones. It goes right to the center of my bones and it is so painful. My daughter and my husband both had COVID as well. My daughter came in. And I, when I’m in this state where my bones hurt this bad, I’ve had it several times in my life. She said, “Mama, you’re tensing up. Your face is all squished.” I was holding my muscles tight. And thank goodness, because I was in so much pain that I actually needed somebody outside of my body to tell me this was happening because I just was so entrenched in the pain I was feeling that she said, “Mama, you’re all tense.” Thank goodness I’ve taught her that tensing up around pain actually makes it worse. Her and I have had many conversations around this. 

STEP ONE: VALIDATE

And so, I naturally was able to go, “Oh, okay, Kimberley, let’s pause.” Number one, validate. “Hun, you’re in a lot of pain.” You could even say, “This present moment totally sucks.” Or you could say, “Wow, I’m observing that you’re really uncomfortable right now.” So, if that’s you and your present moment really sucks, I’m strongly encouraging you first validating. The alternative would be you go, “It shouldn’t be this way.” But the truth is, it is this way. So, don’t go down the road of fighting it. 

STEP TWO: STOP RESISTING THE PRESENT MOMENT

The second piece is then check for where you are resisting the present moment and how much it sucks. Now I’m going to keep saying the word “sucks” really passionately because it does sometimes really suck, like really suck. And so, when it really sucks, it’s almost like the more it sucks, the more we have to soften around how much it sucks. If you have a migraine, the worse it is, the more you need to soften your brow and close your eyes and soften the environment that you’re in. The more you feel nausea, the more you feel your stomach nodding up. And some of you may feel that just by me mentioning it. The more you feel that, the more you need to soften around that physically by relaxing your muscles and softening your thoughts around it. Meaning now is not the time to beat yourself up for it. Now is not the time. Some people are going, “Yeah, but it’s my fault. I have nausea because I drank too much,” or “I ate too much,” or whatever it may be. Now is not the time to go through that. Now, the facts are, the present moment totally sucks. And so, let’s be gentle around it because our resistance makes it worse. 

If you were like me and you have the chills and you’ve got literal, like feels like every bone in your body is broken, now is not the time to fight that and tense your muscles. Now is the time to soften. If you’re having a full-blown panic attack, first acknowledge, “Okay, I’m noticing I’m having a panic attack.” And then soften around it physically and cognitively in your thoughts. Don’t resist it. 

Now, that being said, let me bring a very important concept to the table. And this actually just came up this morning. So, as many of you know, I have my online business, which is CBTSchool.com, and then I also have a private practice where we see clients. Because I can’t see all the clients that come to me, I have 10 amazing therapists who work for me and who I have trained and who I supervise every single week. We have a meeting every Monday, and we talk about cases. One of my staff was telling me today that one of her patients took what she said literally, which actually is pretty common. She was explaining to her patients that when you have anxiety and panic or discomfort, you sit in the discomfort or sit with the discomfort, or be with the discomfort. And this patient and client took it literally, which is fair. We have to be really descriptive and give lots of steps and explanations. And so, while they were feeling this discomfort, they literally sat in a chair and just stared and suffered. So, if I’ve ever said, sit with your discomfort, please don’t take it literally.

And so, what I want to remember here and what I remind you of, I should say, is once we’ve acknowledged and we stop the resistance to it, we must then reengage in something we value. So, let’s use me as an example. I had COVID. I literally felt like every bone in my body was broken. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get up and go for a run. It doesn’t mean I’m going to get up and see patients because I’m actually in pain. I wasn’t able to. But what I can do is instead of putting my attention on how much it’s painful, I’m going to put my attention onto something else. And it could be as little or as minute as the sound of the leaves rustling outside, the sound of music, the, the smell of the cough medicine I had taken, the taste of the cough medicine I had taken, the touch of the blanket. So, you just get really in touch with that. And then you catch how your mind then keeps offering you thoughts that make you want to reengage back with the pain. 

Now, again, I’ll give you another example. Most of you know, I have a chronic illness. I have postural orthostatic tachycardic syndrome. I am dizzy almost all the time. It’s under control now. I don’t faint nearly as much as I used to. But dizziness is actually a very normal part of my existence, particularly when I’m standing up. And so, my job is to allow it and then to catch when my brain starts to say, “It shouldn’t be this way. This isn’t fair. It’s not good. This is bad. It could be better. Your life could be better.” My brain offers me those thoughts and I choose not to entertain them.

Now, I’m not perfect at this, and this is something I’ve been practicing for a long time, so please be gentle with yourself. My job and your job, when the present moment totally sucks, is to be an observer to our brain. And of course, as I said, at the beginning, it’s going to present to us all the problems and why this shouldn’t be the problem. And you just say, “Thank you for showing up. I totally get what you’re saying, brain. Thank you for being there for me, but I’m going to keep directing my attention to whatever it is in front of me.” 

If you have anxiety and you’re having panic, you’re having high levels of anxiety, I’m going to say to you, ask yourself the question, what can I do or what would I be doing if anxiety wasn’t here right now? And go do those things. Don’t just sit in the discomfort. Only go engage back with life. Do the most that you can with your life WHILE you have anxiety.

Now, let’s also address one other main issue. In no way am I saying to dump toxic positivity on yourself here. In no way am I saying things like, “Oh, you should be happy. The leaves are so beautiful.” Again, like I was saying to you, no, absolutely not. That is not what we’re talking about. 

If you feel sad about this, if you feel down about it, if you feel a little discouraged or irritable, that’s okay. We can also be mindful and acknowledge, “Yeah, I’m feeling really frustrated with how I feel so terrible.” We’re not here when we’re mindful. We’re not here to say it shouldn’t be this way and just be happy about it. No, like I said to you, in my experience being present, my most mindful is actually when things totally suck. And I don’t try and change it that often. In fact, I just try to allow it, bring it in and then add other valuable things into my life. 

Can it be positive? Absolutely, if you want it to be. But if the suffering you’re experiencing is depression or hopelessness or grief or panic, we don’t need to throw a bunch of positivity on there unless it’s really helpful to you. All I’m here trying to do is get you to not fight how painful it is because that usually makes it more painful. And also, we don’t want to thicken the pot of it by going, “You’re right. It does suck. It’s not fair,” and all those things. That can actually often-- we have research to show that that rumination actually makes our suffering worse.

I know I said that was the last thing, but I have one more important thing to say, which is, please, please practice nonjudgment. If you’re going to be mindful, you have to practice nonjudgment. You can’t have mindfulness without nonjudgment. I have a whole episode on that. The whole point here with nonjudgment is, when we say this moment totally sucks, it’s actually a judgment. And I don’t want to take that from you. I don’t want to take that from you. It’s okay. You’re allowed to acknowledge it. But we also want to catch that how sometimes when we’re judgmental, this is good and this is bad, we actually train our brains to send out more anxiety hormones when we have that experience the next time, especially when we tell ourselves it sucks and it shouldn’t be there. So, keep that in mind. 

Anytime I’m going through something difficult, and this is very true of my work that I did around dizziness, with my POTS, is I had to take all the judgment out of it to reduce my suffering around my dizziness. Because the more I judged it, the more I felt completely hopeless and depressed about the situation. The more I felt like, oh, I just don’t have an answer, there is no answer. 

Again, I didn’t say, “Wow, I love dizziness. It’s so positive and wonderful.” I just said, it’s a sensation. I’m going to be gentle. I’m going to acknowledge it and allow it and lean into it, but not give it too much attention. And it’s neither good nor bad. And that was a conscious, intentional decision. Again, be careful that it doesn’t become toxic in that you’re pushing too much positivity on yourself, but again, it’s a balance.

So, there it is. That is what I would encourage you to do when the present moment totally sucks. And as I said, the present moment, especially when you’re suffering, it will totally suck sometimes. But that doesn’t mean you’re going in the wrong direction. It doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way forever. There’s another piece to catch. 

I am just in love with you guys. I really am. What an amazing, amazing community. Please, if you want to be part of my community, you can go over to Instagram @YourAnxietyToolkit. You can listen to this podcast and go right back to the beginning and listen to the beginning ones. You can go over to Facebook. We actually have a private Facebook group called CBT School Campus. You’re welcome to come and join us there. Thank you. Just love you, love you, love you. 

Have a wonderful day and I’ll talk to you next week.

Sep 16, 2022

In This Episode:

  • What is the difference between a Panic Attack and an Anxiety attack? 
  • What is the prevalence of Panic Disorder? 
  • Are anxiety attacks dangerous? 
  • Are Panic Attacks dangerous? 
  • How does anxiety affect the body? 
  • What anxiety does to your body when expereincing a panic attack?  
  • What is the best treatment for panic disorder

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more. 

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

302 Are Panic Attacks Dangerous Your anxiety toolkit

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 302. 

Welcome back, everybody. Today, we are talking about a question I get asked very commonly: Are panic attacks dangerous?

Now I get this question a lot from clients who are just starting treatment. However, I will say I do get this question a lot on social media. People like doing the last-minute panic DM. What’s happened usually is they’ve experienced a panic attack or an anxiety attack, and then they have the thought, what if this panic attack is dangerous? What if this panic attack creates some illness in my body or is unhealthy for my body or unhealthy for my baby, if they’re pregnant. And so, from there, now they’re having anxiety about their anxiety and, as you guys know, then anxiety just takes off from there. So, I wanted to address this with you first. I’ve got a series of questions that I want to go through here with you. I will be looking a little bit at my notes because I wanted to make sure I got everything today. 

Before we do that, let’s first do the “I did a hard thing” segment. This is a segment where you guys write into me and tell me the hard things that you’ve been doing – facing your fears, staring your fear in the face, or maybe it’s something not related to fear. It’s just something that you’ve been going through. So, go ahead and submit those to me anytime you would like. Let’s go over. This one is amazing. It says:

“Honestly, Kimberley, you have changed my life in the last two weeks. I was in such a low place and coming across your podcast gave me so much power. I even faced my fear of heights last weekend and I went bungee jumping.” Love it. “That was frightening. And as I was falling, I screamed F-U-C-K,” but they said it in real life, excuse the language. “And I just thought, if I can do this, which is honestly terrifying, I can stop my mental rituals that are just so hard and scary.”

This message is so good and it’s exactly the epitome of the work that we do and you do, which is when we face our fear, we realize how strong we actually are. And then we go on to face our fears again, which helps us to feel even more strong and courageous, which makes us do even harder things. And from there, our life turns away from getting smaller and smaller to getting bigger and bigger. So, I love this. 

All right, let’s get to the show. So, we really want to pull apart, are panic attacks dangerous? But what’s interesting about this is, often when we talk about panic attacks, people start to talk about what’s called an anxiety attack. So, let’s first just pause and really talk about what is what. So, what is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack? Let’s just go through that first so that we all know we’re talking about the same thing. 

What Is The Difference Between A Panic Attack And An Anxiety Attack? 

A panic attack or panic disorder is a disorder that is in the DSM, which is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That’s what we use to diagnose people. It usually involves a sudden onset of panic. It can last for minutes, sometimes longer than that or hours. For some people who are really struggling, it usually involves shaking or trembling or it may be heat flashing, hot flashes through your body. Some people experience a sense of detachment from their body. They may experience dizziness, sweating, heart pounding, maybe depersonalization and derealization, which we have episodes on if you want to go back and listen, trembling, sweating, weakness, feeling of extreme terror. Some people have numbness in their hands and feet, again, which is why they then question, is this dangerous? You can imagine, if you’re having any of these symptoms, it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying. But once we really get educated about what that is, then we can actually work with it.

Now, as I said, when it comes to having panic disorder, you need to have had at least one of those panic attacks. And then that’s usually followed by one month or more of the person then fearing having another panic attack. And that can actually lead to some people having panic disorder with agoraphobia. Some have it with agoraphobia, which is where you feel like you can’t leave the house, and some do not. 

So then the other part of this question is, what about an anxiety attack? Now, here’s the thing to remember. I asked quite a few clinicians, what do you think the difference between these is? And I actually got a ton of different answers, which I know isn’t super helpful for you guys, but some just basically said, “I don’t consider them any different at all.” Others said, yes, there is a difference in that an anxiety attack isn’t usually a disorder of its own, and it’s usually in relation to an actual threat. So, let’s say, panic disorder is very sudden, it’s often irrational, but not always. And so, it’s coming on very strong out of nowhere. However, an anxiety attack often gradually builds. It can last for several months. It can cause restlessness, sleep issues, fatigue, muscle, tension, and irritability. That though can all show up with panic disorder as well, but the main key thing that a lot of clinicians, and I’ve done some research online, is some people believe that it’s about what the trigger is. So, with an anxiety attack, if the trigger is an actual threat, like there is a dog running towards you and it’s going to bite you, or there is an actual threat in your society, a gun or weather issues, extreme weather, that that would be a trigger that would cause an anxiety attack and that’s how you would separate them. 

Now, for the sake of today, I’m going to use them interchangeably. Whether it’s from a current stressor in your life that is actually a danger or whether it’s panic disorder in that it’s just sudden and out of the blue or related to a specific fear or phobia you have, I’m going to talk about them as if they’re the same, given that their symptoms are often the same. And really, what I want to look at today is about whether these symptoms are dangerous or not.

What Is The Prevalence Of Panic Disorder?   

Before we move on, let me quickly give you a little prevalence here, because I just wanted to normalize if you’re having panic, and I’m going to read directly here. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 2.7% of the adult population in the United States experience panic disorder each year. That’s pretty big. They went on to say, approximately 44.8% of those individuals experience a panic disorder that is classified as severe. 

Now, I think that’s actually really interesting because anyone who’s had a panic attack is going to say it’s severe because a panic attack is 10 out of 10. So, I think that that’s actually-- I’m surprised. I would be surprised if it’s actually not way more than that. But what I’m guessing they’re also talking about here is the degree in which it impacts their functioning. Because a panic attack in and of itself, and we’ll talk about this here in a second, isn’t a problem. What can get in the way is it starts to make your life very, very small and can impact your functioning, your ability to have conversations, interact with people, go to work, go to school, sleep, eat, and so forth. So, really important that you get those points. 

Are Anxiety Attacks And Panic Attacks Dangerous? 

But then we want to move over to: Are these anxiety and panic attacks dangerous? So, let’s talk about that. Let’s look at those symptoms – chest pain, hot flashes, dizziness, pounding heart. Often when we experience those symptoms, we would make the assumption that something is terribly wrong with our body and we better get to the hospital pretty quick. Chest pain – what do you see often on advertisements and so forth?

You can imagine, when you have those sensations, it makes complete sense that your brain is going to set off the alarm. I do encourage you all, if you’ve had these symptoms, go and see a doctor, explain to them what happened and have them do a check on you so that you are really clear that what you’re experiencing is a panic disorder or a panic attack or an anxiety attack. We all know the common TV show where they get rushed to the hospital and they’re having a heart attack. And then the doctor, in a comedic way, says, “You’re having a panic attack. It’s common.” It is true. Statistics show it. I think this is correct that the most admissions into an ER is panic attacks. Isn’t that so fascinating? So, it makes sense that people are afraid.

But once you’ve had that clearance and I do encourage you to get clearance and just speak with your doctor always about that stuff, and if they’ve defined like you’re having a panic attack, then your job is actually, when you have those sensations, to not respond to them as if they are threats. If you respond to them as if they’re threats, you’re going to create more panic. We’ve got a whole ton of other episodes out about panic, so I’m not going to talk about too much there. But what I want to talk about is, are they dangerous? And the same goes for anxiety attacks. 

What I’m going to tell you once and once only is, no, they’re not dangerous. Our body can withstand all of these symptoms many, many times. Lots of people who’ve been through very difficult times or had panic disorder can go on to live wonderful, healthy lives. But here is where I want to maybe address the elephant in the room. If you don’t follow me already, there is a chance you found this podcast because you saw the title and you were like, “Oh yes, I want to know if they’re dangerous.” And once you listen, you may actually feel compelled to come back and listen to this episode again and again to reassure yourself that they’re not. If that is the case, I’m going to strongly encourage you not to keep listening after you’ve listened to the first time. 

Let me give you some information about that. When I see a patient for the first time, I do a lot of psychoeducation. I share with them, these are common sensations, this is normal if you’ve got panic. If you have these sensations, we’re going to treat them like we would treat panic symptoms. I would educate them if they’re concerned about the dangerousness. But then I would say to them, after today, we’re actually not going to keep revisiting these questions because what will happen is, the more you tend to these questions, the more you actually be fueling your panic disorder. Anytime you respond in a way that’s urgent and need to reduce your anxiety or your uncertainty, the chances are, you’re making the anxiety worse. So, I want to give you permission to go and see your doctor. I want you to get permission to share all of the details that you’re experiencing. Then I want you to give yourself permission to have your panic attacks without trying to solve whether they’re dangerous or not. Not tending to all of this, because the truth is, number one, nobody knows, number two, even I don’t know for certain, for every different person, and number three, the more you try and solve it, the more that you’re putting too much attention on this question that can actually keep you stuck in the cycle.

How Does Anxiety Affect The Body?  

Once we look at that, and that’s probably as far as I would go with my patients as well in terms of addressing that, often people have questions like, well, then what’s the impact of anxiety on my body? How does anxiety affect my body? How does panic impact my body? And again, I want to tread very gently because you deserve to have some psychoeducation about that, but we also want to be careful that we don’t spend too much time, again, tending to fears about what anxiety is doing to our body. Remember here, a lot of anxiety disorders is ultimately the fear of fear itself. Even though the content might be on something specific, it’s usually our resistance to having fear and experiencing fear and doing so without response or reaction. 

So, does it impact the body? Yes and no. Meaning it does tend to make us increase sleep struggles. It makes it difficult to eat. There are many impacts that it can have on the body. But again, catch – the question, how does it impact my body – if that’s actually you saying, is this dangerous? 

Think of it this way. When we ask questions and we pose questions to our mind, the words we choose and the emphasis we ask them can actually create more anxiety. If we say, “That’s so dangerous, we shouldn’t be doing that,” it’s true of anything. When you label anything as good and bad, you actually increase your resistance and your wrestle with it. If you say something is bad, you’re going to have anxiety about it next time. 

And so, what we want to look at here is, yes, it does impact our body in terms of it’s exhausting and it creates struggles without regular functioning. So then what I would encourage you to do, instead of tending to back and forward on, is this anxiety good or bad for my body, what does it do to my body, does this anxiety impact my body in a healthy way – instead, put your attention on, what will help me overcome this anxiety in the long term? Anytime we ask for the short term, we’re always going to do something that’s a safety behavior or a compulsion, an avoidant behavior, a reassurance-seeking behavior. So, just keep asking yourself, what will help me in the long term overcome this fear? And often that involves not ruminating about whether it will be dangerous or not because when we ruminate, we get stuck. And when we get stuck, it makes the fears look bigger. 

Isn’t it interesting, and I’m going to call myself out here, in that in my attempt to address the question, are panic attacks dangerous, my advice or my encouragement to you is to practice not trying to solve that question, i not giving attention to that question. Yes, you can get basic psychoeducation or you can go to your doctor and get a checkup, but anything beyond there, you’re always, and hear me if you can, if you can take one thing away from today’s episode, is really remember that anxiety is about willingness to tolerate discomfort and it’s about your willingness to be uncertain, especially if you have disorders like panic disorder, OCD, phobia, social anxiety, generalized anxiety. It’s almost always going to be, can I be uncertain? How can I be more uncertain? How can I practice riding the waves of uncertainty? And that’s very much the case with this specific question. 

So, I hope that is helpful. Again, catch your urgency to listen to this over and over and do your best to acknowledge the thought that you’re having, treat it like a thought and not a fact, and then move on into the things that actually bring you value into your life because that is what recovery looks like. 

Thank you so much for being here with me today. I am honored to have this special time with you. I hope that was helpful. Do please remember, it is a beautiful day to do hard things because this work is hard, but it is done in effort to really serve and nurture the future you. Even though it’s hard right now, we’re really tending to the wellness of the future you when we take on these really difficult concepts

Have a wonderful day, everybody, and I will see you next week.

Sep 9, 2022

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 301.

Managing OCD Relapse (with Jazzmin Johnson) 

Welcome back, everybody. I am covered in goosebumps. I literally, as we speak, just finished the recording of this episode. I wanted to come on and do the intro right away just because I’m so moved by this week’s guest.



This week, we had Jazzmin Johnson. She’s a mental health advocate and she came on to talk about something she felt really, really passionate about, which is relapse, particularly related to relapse with anxiety disorders, even more particular and specific is with OCD. And she brought to the conversation the same struggles that I have seen my patients have over and over with relapse and how hard we can be on ourselves when we relapse and how difficult it can be to pull ourselves out of relapse. It’s a topic that I haven’t touched on nearly enough. And so, I’m just so grateful for her to come on and share her story and the steps she took to overcome any kind of relapse that she was experiencing, and identifying the difference between a lapse and a relapse I thought was really profound.

I’m just so excited to share this episode with you. I actually had scheduled it to be out much later and I’m like, “No, no, no, we just have to get this out. This is so, so important.” So, I’m so thrilled. I’m not even going to do an “I did a hard thing” because this whole episode is Jazzmin explaining to us how to do hard things. So, I’m again impressed with how she’s handled it. So, let’s get straight to the show.

I love you guys. I hope you can squeeze every ounce of goodness out of this episode. I think the main real message we took away is it’s a beautiful day to do hard things. So, enjoy the show.

301 Managing OCD Relapse with Jazzmin Johnson Your anxiety toolkit

Kimberley: Welcome, everybody. I am so excited to have a special guest on the show that I’ve actually been wanting. We’ve been talking back and forth. I’m so excited to have Jazzmin Johnson on today. Thank you for being here, Jazzmin.

Jazzmin: Thank you so much. I’m absolutely honored and really, really excited to chat.

Can OCD Relapse? 

Kimberley: Yeah. So, let’s dive in. We are going to talk about relapse, which is a topic I think you brought to my attention. I have not covered barely at all. So, let’s dive into that. But before we do that, can you give us a little background and fill us in up to where we’re at with relapse? Can OCD Relapse? 

Jazzmin: Yeah, absolutely. So, my name is Jazzmin. I’m 28 years old. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was just freshly 23. So, it’s been a while. Looking back on my life, I’ve had OCD for a very long time, long before I was 23. So, definitely fun to look back on your life and the moments and say, “Oh, that was an interesting behavior and no one really caught that.”

My story is I always love to tell it, but it started off with a really simple night of not sleeping, something that we think we’ve all experienced. And up until that point, I had assumed I was this rock-solid girl who was tough and I skateboarded on the weekends and just knew that nothing could touch me. And I remember having a hard night of sleep one night and my heart was beating really fast and I just felt really panicky. It was such a bizarre feeling for me. I remember at the time reaching out to my sister who also struggles with anxiety and OCD as well, and I just said, “Hey, have you ever dealt with this weird heart palpitation thing at night and you can’t relax?” And she just sent me a text in all caps and was like, “Yes, that’s anxiety.” And I think it was just this bonding moment where we were just like, “Oh, okay, I guess I’m like you like. Let’s do this.”

But with that I think came a lot of fear too, because as someone who was assuming I was this rock-solid gal, who was tough and never stressed about anything, to have that identity switch that happened when I was told that I might have anxiety. As all of us know, listen to this, anxiety is a terrible feeling and it’s even harder when it really sticks around for a long time. I remember feeling like my body was buzzing all the time and I remember trying to explain it to my boyfriend and he was just like, “That’s really strange.” And I’m like, “You don’t understand. My whole body feels like it’s vibrating all the time and I just couldn’t sleep at night.” And so, I ended up reaching out to my mom and she helped me find a therapist, which I’m really grateful that my family is really pro helping people with mental health disorders. So, they knew exactly how to help me.

So, I popped in with a therapist and was just like, “I don’t have anxiety. Why am I having anxiety? What’s going on?” And she just asked me if there were things that made me anxious. And I just remember telling her, “No, there’s no reason. My life is really good. I really enjoy where I’m at and I love my job and I love my boyfriend and I love my life. So, why am I feeling this way?” And she just said, “Well, have you talked to anybody about it?” And I remember telling her, “Yeah, my mom and my sister, and they’ve told me the things that make them anxious.” And so, now when I think about those things, I plan to be anxious in those scenarios too. And I just told her I was having a hard time figuring out what was causing this anxiety. And she just said-- I will remember these words forever because they started everything for me. But she said, “Maybe you just need to find yourself in all of this.”

And so, I went home and was just like, “What does that even mean, how do you find yourself?” I was so lost. And at the time, I was thinking, okay, I’m 23 years old. What do I need to do? Do I need to eat, pray, love, and go to Italy and dump my boyfriend? And then that’s when that thought popped in my head. And I thought, what if I need to leave my boyfriend in order to not feel anxious anymore? And of course, that terrified me at the time. I’d been with my boyfriend for five years. We were high school sweethearts. I knew in my bones I would marry him one day. And the idea that the only way out of how I was feeling was to lose something that I really valued was just life-shattering. And so, I just spent so much time thinking to myself, no, that can’t be it.

But OCD is the doubting disorder and I just hated this idea that what if that was the key to it all and it was something I didn’t want to do. And so, I fought it and I probably struggled with that thought for another three or four months. I spent every day thinking about it the first time I woke up in the morning. And it got to a point where my body and my brain was trying really hard to convince me to leave because it wanted this relief from this anxiety. So, I was almost trying to convince myself and arguing with my mind on why I need to leave. And it would jump from maybe I didn’t like the way he looked or he has a mustache this week and I don’t like mustaches, so maybe I need to leave. Or his jokes are really bad. I can’t be with someone whose jokes are bad. I mean, it’s almost comical to the point where the things that my brain was trying to do to get me out of this scenario that felt like anxiety was ruling at all.

I remember going to therapy every week, and my therapist just said, “You’ve been talking about this for a long time and it sounds like you might be struggling with some obsessive thinking, and it might be OCD.” And that crushed me because at the time, I thought of OCD as flicking light, switches on and off, and I did not know what it was and that it could look different. So, I just got really scared and she just said, “Nope, we’re going to work through this. You’re going to be fine.”

And so, we did my first exposure in that appointment and it was absolutely horrible and it was so hard, but we sat down and we mapped out what my life would look like for the next five years if I chose to leave. My life looked great. I was like, “I would move. I would go to LA and become a fashion designer,” whatever I was into at the time. And she was like, “You’d probably be okay. So, why is this so scary to you?” And I just told her, “I just don’t like this feeling of losing agency over my choices and feeling like anxiety was making those choices for me.” And that really made me spiral into a bit of a depression and just really struggled with feeling like I could do anything really.

My therapist and I, we talked and I was prescribed antidepressant, which I owe my life to because that antidepressant gave me the strength to stand up against OCD for the first time in my life. And so, I started and I started just diving into the OCD community and listening to stories online, reading about it. Not just reading about people that were struggling, but people that had made it out or had worked through it and were doing really well. I just loved listening to specifically Stuart Ralph’s The OCD Stories podcast and your podcast really. I just loved hearing people’s stories about OCD, because I would listen to it on my way to and from work on my hour-long commute. And I would always smile when I was listening to these people’s poor traumatic stories, just because I could hear how different our obsessions were, yet we were all doing the same thing. There were so many similarities that I heard and I just felt such a sense of community and belonging. And so, I just really dove into that and was like, “Hey, let’s talk about this. Now, why isn’t anyone talking about relationship, anxiety, and relationship OCD?”

I reached out to Stuart Ralph and he let me post a little blurb on his website about what I was going through and that started my advocacy journey. And so, now I just float through life and deal with what it throws at me. And of course, I struggle at times. OCD will always stick around, but I try really hard to always have all of my social media channels open for people that just want to talk. And I find that’s just such a good space to have for people when they just need someone to understand. So, that’s a brief, little rundown of my life with OCD so far. 

Kimberley: I had goosebumps for quite a bit of that. It’s just like it gives me the chills in the best way and that you’ve gotten through so many bumps and windy corners and stuff. Then we come to here now. So, you’ve got this progression, this windy story and you arrive. And obviously, you’re doing pretty well. Tell me about this idea of relapse and what that means to you.

How to Deal with OCD Relapse

Jazzmin: Yeah. So, I look at lapses and relapses, in my opinion, a little differently. So, of course, in my journey, I had a few lapses. There were things that life happens and stress trauma happens. A few instances, I was really unfortunate to be in a space at my work where someone chose to take their life. And I was not at work, but I walked in about two minutes after it happened, because it happened at my work. I didn’t see anything, but just the feelings of the people around me just was really traumatic. And so, my OCD latched onto that for a while and that sense of safety that I felt and the fear of being in another instance or something else that would be traumatic. And of course, there’s been other moments in my life where really wild, crazy things have happened. And my OCD does always find something to latch onto for a short while. But usually, I’m able to notice a behavior and feel like, “Oh, that feels familiar. Uh-oh, I think I might be stuck again,” and then I can usually spot it. But this last spring, I had a bit of a relapse and I call it a relapse more than a lapse because it looped back into my old themes that I had worked through a lot. And it lasted for a really long time. And I really had a hard time finding that kind of pathway out. I couldn’t really find where on the cycle, the OCD cycle I was to where I could see where to get out.

And so, at the time, I looked at relapses as failure and I think that’s one thing I really wanted to talk about. But I imagined that since I had come so far in my recovery, that when OCD shows its face again, I would know that it was OCD. I would see it and I’d be ready and I’d have my warrior gear on and I’d fight it and I’d carry on with my life. I think this last spring, just with the chaos that happened in my life, I learned that that’s not always the case. And sometimes it takes a little bit longer. But also, I think it always unlocks new layers to your recovery journey and healing that I think I needed to learn. So, I’m really grateful that it happened, which is so funny. I wish I could tell myself that four months ago and I was really in the thick of it, but yeah, I’m really grateful that I had that experience.

OCD Relapse Story…or is that not the right wording? 

Kimberley: Why do you think-- because I really resonate with what you’re saying and I think I’ve had, even in the last couple of weeks, some clients who’ve come back to treatment after doing really well with ERP and therapy. Can you tell us your OCD relapse story? Why do you think we consider it a failure to relapse? Where did that come from, do you think?

Jazzmin: I think for me, I hear a lot about in the OCD community of just this idea of being fighters and warriors and we’re going into this battle. And once you’ve won the battle once, you feel not untouchable, but you just have that upper hand. And I think with every new theme that it throws at you, which it always will, it’s something new and it might take longer to recognize that, oh, this is the same thing. But for me, it felt like I was just losing a game, losing a battle, and that I knew how to fight. And I always would use this metaphor with my therapist that I felt like I had my toolkit with all of the things I had learned over the years, all of the exposures I can do and scripts and stuff I can write, but it felt like it was in a toolbox that was locked. Like I had to find the key before I could get to that toolbox. And when you’re feeling so terrible, you’re frantically searching to find that specific key. And I just found myself fumbling.

And so, I think that idea of failure comes from just knowing better too. I felt like I knew better. I know what OCD looks like. I know this cycle like the back of my hand, yet, somehow it sneaks into my life again. I don’t realize it until either it’s too late and I’ve been doing compulsions for months maybe. And that is always a real letdown just in your personal self-esteem, and your idea of where you were in recovery can sometimes shift. And that’s scary because you think you’re through it or you’re better than that or that you know better. And then to find out maybe you were wrong, it’s really hard to sit with.

Kimberley: Yeah. It’s an interesting reframe, isn’t it? We think of being a fighter and getting through it as if you won the battle and the battle is over. It can be a massive dent to your self-esteem would you say? Or tell me a little bit about, did it shift your perspective of yourself being a fighter for a while or were you able to be like, “No, no, this is the work”? How was that feel?

Jazzmin: I think it’s a little different for me because at the time, I really considered myself an advocate. And I felt as an advocate, I guide other people and I help them through these things. And I remember a really specific moment with my husband after we had just met my baby niece for the first time. And the entire time we were visiting her, I was having intrusive thoughts probably every second and it was jumping themes. It was harm and then pedophilia and then harm again and harming myself. And I remember getting in the car with him as we left and just crying. And he just was like, “What’s going on? Talk to me.” And I just told him, “I’m so tired. I know what this is. I had those thoughts. I knew they were OCD. I knew the moment they showed their face, because why would I ever want to do that to my beautiful baby niece?” And yet, they still made me anxious. And I had made the story to myself that if an intrusive thought made me anxious, I’d already lost. So, my reaction to it was the first thing I could control. And when you get thrown a new theme, it knocks you down because you’ve never seen it before and it’s scary.

I just remember crying to him and just explaining, “I am so frustrated with myself because I know what this is. I know what I’m doing and I can almost step outside of myself and see the cycle. I can draw it on a piece of paper. In fact, I did that often, and yet I couldn’t stop.” It was just a lot of disappointment in myself.

I think as an advocate, you feel like you should know better and I helped people through this. In fact, there were times when I was in that relapse that people reached out to me for help. And I strapped on my booth and helped them and walked, talked them through it all and found them therapists and then was like, “Why can’t I do that for myself? Why am I so good at helping others and not giving myself the tools that I know are sitting right in front of me?”

Kimberley: Yeah. I thought it was really interesting. You said like you were mad at yourself, or maybe I didn’t use that word correctly, for having anxiety about your thoughts. Oh my God, when did the expectations get so high? What are your thoughts about that?

Jazzmin: I have no idea. It’s so funny too, because when I look back on the themes that I’ve always had, it’s always been around feeling anxiety. I have a fear of feeling anxiety. And that first thing I had was, maybe this will get rid of my anxiety. So, all of my obsessions were what’s the key to get rid of it. In fact, I often have an intrusive thought to this day that maybe my anxiety disorder is caused by the fact that I have hair and I need to shave my head to not feeling anxious anymore. And I have the best hair. I love my haircut. I have the best hair stylist, so I’m just like, “No, I don’t want to shave my head.”

Kimberley: You don’t want to go all Britney Spears on yourself.

Jazzmin: No. But it’s so funny to me how that works and the way-- yeah, I lost my train of thought there because we were laughing about Britney Spears, but--

Kimberley: But no, I think going back to what I was saying is I think you’re right. I think that we judge ourselves based on whether we’re anxious about something, like, “Oh, I shouldn’t be anxious about that.” But that’s just our brain doing its thing.

Jazzmin: I was holding a newborn baby that I was related to for the first time in my whole life. Of course, I’m going to be terrified. I’m going to throw her against the wall. That’s a normal thing to feel really anxious about. But I think also when you’re in recovery, there’s a certain acceptance you have with anxiety. You learn that anxiety is going to be a part of my life and I’m going to accept it. And I’d always thought that I had done that. And then I remember doing ERP School this last spring. And you mentioned something about, I believe it’s willingness versus willfulness. Is that what it is?

Kimberley: Yeah.

Jazzmin: And I remember feeling angry with you when you mentioned that because I knew you were right. And I was like, “No,” because that was that missing piece that I had yet to figure out. I was always like, “Yeah, I get that I’ll have to feel anxious sometimes in my life. But I’m only feeling anxious and allowing myself to feel anxious because I hope that that will be the key to get rid of it.” So, it was just, that was always the way out. And for the first time, I had to realize that while I was allowing anxiety to happen, I wasn’t really welcoming it in a way. And so, that was what unlocked that little portion in my head.

Kimberley: Okay. So, I just have a question. The therapist/educator in me is like, tell me more – you obviously took ERP School – what is it about? And I’m so happy that that was helpful. But I want to know, because you’re not alone. I love knowing when things make people mad because it means there’s a roadblock there. There’s a common human roadblock that we all get to. So, what about that made you mad? I’m so curious.

Jazzmin: Yeah. I think in all honesty, it was a little bit of resistance because it was like, I knew that that was that next step and I really didn’t want to do that. Everything that I’ve ever done was to get rid of my anxiety. Even my OCD, all of my research, and all of the exposures that I worked on was only to get rid of that anxiety. And at the beginning of every video, you talked about, you said, “Hey, if that’s your goal, let’s reframe that.” And I was just like, “How do I do that? How does someone want to feel anxious?” I just really struggled with understanding how-- it’s such a terrible feeling. I hate it so much. How am I supposed to be happy to experience that? And I wasn’t sure how to connect those two. 

I also was always looking for someone to just tell me how, like to give me steps and just say, “Hey, this is how you become willing to be anxious, or the willfulness, this is how you do it.” I remember talking to my therapist about it and I just said, “Kimberley was talking about this, and can you just tell me how to do that?” I was like, “How do I lean in? Is that something I should just tell myself? Is it something I need to write down?” And she just said, “I think it’s not something I can tell you. I think it’s a little more abstract than that.” And I just said, “Okay. So, you can’t give me a step-by-step on how to get out of this,” because that’s how I am. And she just said, “No, I think it’s a feeling.” It scared me more than it made me angry. And I think that’s why it made me angry because I knew that that was what I needed to do. So, that anger really comes from fear of just knowing what’s next and what I need to do. And it’s something I think I’ve put off for a very long time.

Kimberley: Yeah. Listen, this week alone, I’ve had multiple of these conversations with my clients. I think it’s such a common roadblock for everybody. Like how often people who have recovered said, “When I stopped trying to not be anxious is when I actually got relief from my anxiety.” And it’s like what you resist, persist, is always this sort of thing.

Jazzmin: Absolutely.

Kimberley: I love that you told me that. Number one, I’m terrible. I always giggle when people say that my stuff made them mad because I’m like, “What happened?” But I think it’s such an important point, right? It’s such an important piece of the work. So, how would you encourage people to manage relapse or lapse?

Jazzmin: Yeah, I think I was really lucky to have my sister by my side through this relapse, especially if someone who understands OCD. And encouragement was a huge thing in having a support system because I had my husband, I had my sister, I have grown a community on Instagram of people that know I have OCD and I don’t shy away from putting on my Instagram like, “I’m relapsing right now. Give me a minute. Let me figure this out.” And my comments are always flooded with like, “You got this. We believe in you. Hang in there if you need anything.” And so, I think that was a huge part of that healing for me, was just the support. 

But I also think there’s a huge part about self-compassion that fits into this, about allowing yourself the opportunity to stumble. And I think it gives us its humanity. We’re going to fall and we’re going to trip and that’s going to happen. And also, life is not perfectly straight and boring where nothing bad ever happens. That’s what makes life exciting. So, I think there’s a big self-compassion piece to it all of just allowing yourself to be wherever you are.

Kimberley: Is the self-compassion piece the work you’d, like you’d said, sometimes when we relapse? And I’ve had these conversations. It’s like, “Oh, there’s a layer of your therapy that you hadn’t done, or that this is a good thing for your long-term recovery.” Was the self-compassion work you had previously done or did you have to take on the self-compassion once you realized you had relapsed?

Jazzmin: Self-compassion was not at all a part of my previous healing and it was something that I was really missing. I bought your book too, The Self-Compassion Workbook. I wrote through when I was on an airplane ride once. And again, it also made me frustrated because I remember you had me write like how I felt about me if my OCD was flaring up or what I thought to myself about the fact that these intrusive thoughts were present. And all of the things that I wrote were really nasty about myself like, “Why are you thinking that? Even if I know everyone has intrusive thoughts, people don’t have those ones or they don’t make them feel the way that mine make me feel. So, I’m not strong enough or I’m not doing well enough or I’m not as well as I thought I was.”

And so, self-compassion was that layer of my healing that I don’t think I had reached yet but I think I really needed because again, I think I have that tough girl mentality and I want to be strong for everybody. And when it comes to doing that for myself, I fall short. So, I think it was really helpful to just learn, to give myself grace and to watch the way that I was speaking to myself when I was struggling and allowing myself to struggle, allowing myself to feel bad because that’s life. 

Kimberley: Yeah. I love that you had support. I love that you had those people cheering you on, like clapping their hands, “You can do this.” What would you encourage people to do if they didn’t have that support? And in the same question, were you able to start to have that voice? Where you were like, “I can do it” and have that kind of coaching voice as well? Or was that not a part of your experience?

Jazzmin: So, I think if anyone doesn’t have that support, the first thing I would encourage them to do was to find the community online because that’s how I mostly got that sport in the beginning, was just finding people that were struggling in a similar way. But also, I think a huge part of that self-compassion in your voice is to be that voice for yourself and to be an advocate for yourself in those moments. And so, yeah, I think there’s a part of just doing it for yourself in a way. And there was a second part of that question you asked.

Kimberley: No, no, you answered it beautifully, because I think that is a piece of it too, is I have found for myself and I could be-- you may not feel this at all or the listeners may not feel this at all, but a huge part of my self-compassion journey was instead of going to other people to cheer me on, I had to learn to do it myself. Not to say you don’t deserve to go and get it. It’s not a problem if they cheer you on, that’s not a problem at all, but that was a huge piece of it. And I try to practice that with my patients as well, like can you cheer yourself on just a little, can you reframe that you’re strong while you suffer kind of thing. I think there’s so many reframes that we can make.

Jazzmin: Yeah, absolutely. And I think back to the things that I did to encourage myself and I remembered one thing that I did is, I would have a full day of negative thoughts and negative intrusive thoughts and really struggling. And then maybe for two minutes out of that day, I would feel this overcome of like, “Hey, I got this. Wait a minute, I can do this.” And I’d always snap a selfie when I was feeling that. And so, over the course of this relapse, I have tons of these selfies and some of them I’m crying in and some of them I’m in the coffee shop or I’m in my car. And when I was really feeling down, I’d look back on that and I’d be like, “Hey, that’s the version of me that’s cheering me on right now.” And I would look back on those photos all the time and be like, “Hey, yesterday at 2:04 PM, I felt okay for a minute.” And even if it was just a minute, I’m going to trust that girl right there, because that’s who I am.

Kimberley: Wow. That’s so cool. I love that. I’ve never heard that before. What an amazing way to capture you in that moment. I love that so much.

Jazzmin: I think I put it in my phone, in my folders as reminders of hope. And I would look at those pictures whenever I needed it because I think seeing proof that you were there at one point too, it’s like, that was me and I could be there again.

Kimberley: I love that so much. I actually think that that’s a piece of the tool belt or the toolkit that we need to have more of, like how can you remind yourself that you’re in the game and you’re doing the game. I love that so much. I remember many months ago, I did a podcast with Laura. I can link it in the show notes. She talked about, she did a collage of photos of her doing her exposures, even though she’s crying or even though-- and I just think that’s it, right? Just to remind ourselves that we’ve been there and we’ve gotten through it is so huge. 

This goes back to the very beginning, but how do you-- is there a difference in how you respond depending on whether it’s a lapse, your version of a lapse or a relapse? For you, is the response and the tools you use the same or is it different? 

Jazzmin: I think for me the tools are about the same. I would almost say I use less tools in my lapses and that’s always what causes them. So, I relax into this anxiety that I’m feeling and I let my guard down maybe a little bit and I start doing something. But generally, the way that I spot myself out of those cycles is to-- I quite literally will map out. I’m like, “What thought just made me anxious, and then what was my initial-- what did I feel like I needed to do to make myself feel better?” And then once I could take that step back, I could see what was going on. And I think my relapse was a little bit different because it reached that core fear of mine about feeling anxious forever or feeling like I wasn’t going to get rid of it. And so, I think it was a little harder to find that exit of that loop because it was something that I was so deeply engraved in my being that I’ve had for so long that I don’t think I ever really looked at. I always treated the surface of my obsessions and never really realized what is the core of this. It’s feeling anxious. It’s just this fear of anxiety.

Kimberley: Yeah. And how are you doing now? Can you give me a realistic description on how to recover with OCD Relapse? 

How to recover from OCD relapse

Jazzmin: Yeah. I would say I’m doing really good right now. I’m actually 16 weeks pregnant. We found out we were pregnant back in May. And so, pregnancy is one big exposure because as someone who doesn’t like not knowing the future and is not great with uncomfortable sensations, that is pretty much all this pregnancy has been. But I remember explaining to a friend like sometimes when you’re pregnant, at least for me, I’ll just have these waves of sadness. Nothing is making me sad. I’m actually having the best day ever, and I’ll just have to go cry really hard for 10 or 20 minutes. And I was thinking to myself, this is something a couple years ago that would really scare me. I’d be really fearful of these feelings. And I have just come so far in my journey with anxiety and OCD that when I feel that way, I just surrender to it and I say, “Hey, babe, I’m going to go upstairs. Give me 10 minutes.” And I’ll just go hang out in the bathroom and let it out and wipe my tears away and just allow that I’m going to feel that way sometimes and it’s okay and I think so.

So, right now, I’m doing really well and navigating, of course, pregnancy as much as I can as it’s super new. And of course, I have a lot of fears about being a mother and when those intrusive thoughts will show their face again, when I’m holding my baby, which I’m sure they will. But I’m really leaning into this idea that the version of me that will make it through that will be born in that moment. So, there’s nothing I can really do right now to make that intrusive thought not stick as much when it happens. All I can do is just trust that when it happens, if it happens in that moment, I’ll gain whatever resilience I need to work through it. And there’s a lot of self-trust that comes into that. And really trusting that I’ve got this and who knows, maybe I’ll stumble and I am fully allowing myself the opportunity to do that. So, I think that’s just been a big part of this journey for me, is allowing the unknown to just exist. 

Kimberley: I love what you’re just saying. In fact, I have had clients who’ve actually written invitations to OCD like, “I welcome you to my baby’s birth,” or “I welcome you to my wedding,” and so forth. And so, I think that this is beautiful in sort of an insurance policy for relapses to say, “I’m inviting you to this big event,” which is what you’re doing.

Jazzmin: Yeah. It’s like, “Let’s join me. I know you’re a part of my life and I want to see what are you going to throw at me. Let’s do this.” Almost like, “Let’s do this together. It’s not a fight and I don’t want you to go away, but I’m curious to see what you’re going to bring to the table and I’m looking forward to seeing how I handle it, learning whatever I need to learn in that moment.”

Kimberley: See, you have a lot of willingness.

Jazzmin: Now I do.

Kimberley: You have got it. I’m so grateful to have you on and to share your story. This is so good. So good. Tell me-- let’s just wrap it up with like, okay, someone is in the depth of their relapse, they’re the lowest of the low. What words of wisdom do you have for them?

Jazzmin: Feel it. I think that’s what I would say. I think when you’re in those lows, you’re always looking for that way out. And of course, naturally, you want a way out. There’s no way you want to be there forever. But I think just really leaning into this idea that the only way out is through and just really feel what you’re feeling and don’t be scared of it, because I think fear really holds us back from a lot of healing.

Kimberley: So beautiful. Thank you so much for coming on.

Jazzmin: Thank you so much. It’s so much fun. And I just want to say, I want to sing your praises for a minute. Your podcast and just you as a person are so kind, and I really found that just your content and just your presence was so comforting in the time of really darkness for me. And I think sometimes when you’re going through OCD, you have a lot of people that have that fight mentality and they’re like, “You got this. Just go at it, run at it.” And you just showed a level of gentleness in approaching that. And that was what really helped me find that self-compassionate voice. So, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the things that you do and what you do on here. It’s incredible.

Kimberley: Oh, thank you. I’m covered in goosebumps. I can’t tell you-- I say this every time, is when you’re here talking to a microphone and no one’s there, sometimes you don’t really know who you’re touching and I just love hearing that. Thank you, because it really means so much to me that I could be there without even knowing that I’m being there. So, it brings me just so--

Jazzmin: Sometimes you just need to know. You need someone to tell you like, “Hey, what you’re going through is hard and it’s okay that it’s hard.” And I think that’s something you’ve always done for people, that we can do hard things.

Kimberley: We can. It’s a beautiful day, right? 

Jazzmin: Uh-hmm.

Kimberley: Thank you, Jazzmin. You have been such an inspiration. If people want to follow you, where can they get ahold of you?

Jazzmin: So, my Instagram is where I’m the most vocal. It’s Jazzmin Lauren. My name is weird. J-A-Z-Z-M-I-N. I have a jazz musician as a father. And I would say I’m not super vocal on big advocacy stuff on my social media. My goal is just to share my life as someone with OCD. So, my DMs are always open though. If you ever want to reach out and just say hi, or if you want help finding a therapist, I know how to do that and I’m always willing to help. So, yeah, you can find me there.

Kimberley: You’re amazing. Thank you so much.

Jazzmin: Thank you.

Sep 2, 2022

Welcome back, everybody. I am so excited to be here. This is my first recording since returning back from Australia, after having five and a half weeks in Australia with my family and I could not be more thrilled. I had the most incredible time. I tell you, my cup was overflowing by the time I left. My heart was full. I didn’t realize that my heart was very empty, even though I have so much love in my life and joy in my life, and in many areas of my life, my cup was so full. But I didn’t realize how much my heart needed to go home and actually just live in Australia for five and a half weeks and let my kids learn what it’s like to live in Australia and be in Australia. It was so wonderful. I’m just so incredibly grateful to have had that opportunity.

That being said, I’m really also very, very sad to be back. However, I am making a choice to love-- how can I say it? Like love all of the parts of my life – the hard parts, the good parts, the easy parts, the parts that still don’t make sense to me. I’m making a point to love all the parts and feel all the parts and be gentle with all those parts. And I’m guessing you have some-- well, it may not be that exact experience. I’m guessing there’s some part of your life that you have to practice that with as well. And I strongly encourage it because it just opens up an opportunity for compassion and kindness and no more fighting in your mind. It’s just like, yes, it’s hard being an adult or a human. It’s hard, right? But again, it’s a beautiful day to do hard things.

300 Are Intrusive Thoughts Normal or Dangerous Your anxiety toolkit

This week on this episode, I’ve actually been wanting to do this episode since I left, because this was one that I was almost going to record before I left and I just ran out of time. It’s funny, I do a lot of Googling for my job, not for reassurance reasons, but often will type in a keyword just to see who’s talking about certain topics and how I can talk about it better with my clients. And often when I type in “intrusive thoughts,” you know how in Google, it auto-populates what it thinks you’re going to ask? It often asks, is intrusive thoughts normal? Are they normal? And the other one that often comes up is, are intrusive thoughts dangerous? And so, I wanted to talk about that because if that’s one of the most Googled questions, well, let’s talk about it. Okay, let’s talk about it because it’s another common. It’s the question that we get asked with my staff. I have a private practice. We have 10 amazing therapists. It’s probably one of the most common questions people ask on their first session. So, let’s talk about it. 

Okay. So, the first question is, are intrusive thoughts normal? Well, let’s first get a feel for what is an intrusive thought. Now an intrusive thought is a thought that is intrusive. Meaning you don’t want it. It happens automatically. It just pops into your mind. It’s usually repetitive. It’s usually distressing. Often it will go completely against your values, but not always. Sometimes it could just be a random benign thought, like if you know, we call them “earwigs” here in America. I don’t know what we call them in Australia, but it’s like where a commercial or a song just goes over and over in your mind. That’s actually technically an intrusive thought as well, even though it may not have the presence of anxiety. 

But that’s what an intrusive thought is, and all humans have intrusive thoughts. They’re completely normal. Everyone has them. Even, you may have asked a close friend or a parent or somebody and say, “Hey, I have these intrusive thoughts sometimes, or really bizarre and strange. Do you have them?” And if they say no, I actually don’t believe them. What I’m guessing they’re actually saying is they have them, but they don’t distress them. But they do have them. We all have these thoughts that just randomly pop up in our mind that make absolutely no sense, that have absolutely no relation to what we’re doing. So, as you’re out to lunch with your friends, you might have this most bizarre thought. That’s what our brains do. They come up with some bizarre things, just like sometimes our brains have bizarre dreams. 

So, when we’re talking about this question – the question being, are intrusive thoughts normal – the answer is yes. They’re very, very common.

Now, the next question that often gets asked is a variation of this question, which is, what intrusive thoughts are normal? And I’m here to tell you all of them, every single one of them. When we talk about normal, we’re talking about what is average, what the average human experience is, and all of them are.

Now let’s actually get straight to the weirdness, shall we? You’ll most likely find that you have these intrusive thoughts during the most peculiar times, like when you’re making love to somebody or having sexual relations with someone, while you’re making a phone call to talk to, or when you’re making eye contact with someone. Maybe it’s someone your boss, or someone who you normally wouldn’t have these thoughts about and you normally wouldn’t welcome these thoughts about – that’s when you’re going to probably have them. When you’re on a first date, when you’re changing a baby’s diaper, when you’re handing, let’s say, you’re working behind a cash register. As you hand the money to the person is when you’re likely to have the most bizarre or strange intrusive thought. That’s really, really common, so I want to normalize that for you.

Now when I use the word “bizarre” or “strange,” that still has some judgment to it. So, I want to call myself out on that. Our job is to take judgment out of intrusive thoughts. The reason we often struggle with them is because we tell ourselves, “Oh, there are some thoughts that are good and some thoughts that are bad. And there are some intrusive thoughts that are good. And there are some intrusive thoughts that are bad.” And I’m here to tell you, or I’m here to remind you that there is no good or bad thoughts. They’re all just thoughts. There is no good or bad scenario in which you can have intrusive thoughts. Meaning it’s not bad to have intrusive thoughts during sexual intercourse, because we tell ourselves that, or it’s not good or bad to have thoughts when you’re with your baby or you’re at work with your boss or you’re doing homework, thinking about your teacher, or you’re thinking about someone you deeply love. There’s no right or wrong thoughts to have. They’re just thoughts. They’re thoughts. They’re projections that show up in our brain. 

The only reason they become a problem is when we frame them as a problem that has to go away. And so, again, the main core message of today is, let’s not treat thoughts like problems. Let’s not treat the anxiety associated to it as a problem. And I do understand it’s painful. I do understand there’s a large degree of suffering there, but a lot of the time, the suffering comes from the fact that we’ve told ourselves, or we’ve put this expectation on ourselves that there’s a right and a wrong way to have intrusive thoughts, or there’s a right thought and a wrong thought to experience in your mind. Let’s not do that anymore. Let’s just let thoughts be like raining cats and dogs down on our mind, and we let it rain and rain, cats, and dogs in whatever form it is. Whatever thought and whatever content it is, we just let it come. Okay? 

Now, let’s look at the other big question that people have that seem to be Googling, which breaks my heart, which is, when do intrusive thoughts become a problem? And I’m here again to tell you they’re never a problem. They’re never a problem. I don’t want you to think about intrusive thoughts or frame them as a problem. 

Now, let’s get a little deep into that though, because it’s not as black as white as I’m saying it is. So, if you are someone who experiences intrusive thoughts, which we all do, and yours are associated with a large degree of suffering – anxiety, panic, uncertainty, dread, sadness, grief, like again, raining cats and dogs – it’s like you’re having intrusive thoughts and then all the emotions, rain, cats, and dogs around you too. Am I right? When you’re having that experience, I totally get that that is a large amount of suffering that you experience with the intrusive thoughts. 

So, again, I don’t want you to feel like I’m gaslighting you or diminishing the suffering that you experience around your intrusive thoughts. But we will say that when we get really close and we get the magnifying glass really out and look, when we have the intrusive thought and you have the consequential or resultant anxiety and sadness and suffering, it really only becomes a problem. I don’t love the word problem, but I’m just going off the question. When we respond to that thought with criticism and punishment and self-judgment, and we beat ourselves up for having a brain that created and generated thoughts, that’s the real problem that I see. 

So, when do they become a problem? They’re not, but they can become a problem if we then beat ourselves up because when we beat ourselves up, now we’ve got two problems. We’ve got the suffering of the intrusive thought and we’ve got now you’re beating yourself up and suffering even more. 

Sometimes when we have those thoughts, we then go on to do other compulsions to try and get rid of those thoughts as if those thoughts were problems. So, we could see where this becomes a loop. If you have a thought and you tell yourself they’re wrong and that they’re a problem, you’re probably going to beat yourself up, which is doubled the suffering. And you’re probably going to do some pretty stretching, long painful behaviors to get rid of it, which is adding even more to your suffering.

So, what we want to do is if we look at that like it’s a cycle, instead of judging and instead of responding with some kind of compulsive safety behavior, we can actually intervene at the thought at the top of this chain of reactions and go, “Okay, I’m having thoughts. I’m allowed to have them. I’m going to have them. Humans have them. They’re not a problem. I’m not going to treat them like a problem, even though my whole body wants to treat them like a problem. But I’m going to be really gentle and shift the way I respond from one of being critical and responsive to one of being accepting and compassionate.” 

And the last question here is, are intrusive thoughts dangerous? That’s what I consider to be the most extreme framing of an intrusive thought, that thoughts are dangerous. And here I want to say to you, no, thoughts are not dangerous. Thoughts are thoughts.

Now, again, let’s drop down a little bit deeper and look at this a little closer. You can have thoughts about dangerous things. That’s different. Meaning thoughts about unicorns aren’t dangerous. We can all agree with that unless you have a specific phobia about unicorns. We can laugh at that, but some people do. It’s like some people’s thoughts attack many areas in our lives. So, you can have a thought about a unicorn and we can all agree that that’s not dangerous. But for some reason, if we had a thought about hurting someone we love or dying, which might have the theme of dangerousness, we then go, “Oh no, that thought is more important because it’s about danger. It’s more important. My thoughts about what I’m going to have for lunch or my thoughts about will I be late for this meeting, that’s not a big deal. But my thoughts about harming people or hurting people or something bad having to myself, well, that’s a dangerous thought.” No, I’m actually going to say, that’s not a dangerous thought. That’s a thought about danger. Or if we go a little deeper, it’s a thought about a possibility of danger, not even an actual certainty. 

And so, what I’m really wanting you to do as I walk you through these is to learn to have a different perception of thoughts, and learn to be mindful about the thoughts that we’re having. So, instead of having a thought and assuming that your thought is a fact, which thoughts are not facts, instead of doing that, we’re going to go, “Oh, I’m having a thought about such and such,” or “I’m having thoughts about these thoughts,” even to go even more deep into the mindful meta response. 

So, here is where we shift our reaction, and what I’m going to offer you as I finish up this episode is double down here, if you can, on how you frame thoughts and how you perceive thoughts, and how you respond to thoughts. Make it your agenda for this week, month, or year or decade or life in that you start to practice observing thoughts and without framing them as a problem, dangerous, abnormal, as there’s something wrong with you because there’s nothing wrong with you. We all have these thoughts. Some of us have more than others, yes, but that still doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Some have more suffering related to them, absolutely, but I still want to frame that it doesn’t make you a faulty, broken human. That’s not what this is about. Thoughts do not generate worth. Meaning if you have good thoughts, you have lots of worth, and if you have bad thoughts, you have very little worth. That’s not a thing. We just want to go back to thoughts being what gets projected in our mind and not give them all that power. 

So, that’s the pieces that I want you to take. Take as much as you need from today. Some things may feel really true, like I’m speaking directly to you. Some may feel like, “Ah, that doesn’t land for me so much.” That’s okay. Take what you need. Consider what your experience of this conversation was, if you got triggered at some point or you feel really angry at some point or resistant or absolutely wonderful. Sometimes this can actually also start to become a compulsion in that you listen to this over and over to get reassurance that you’re not a bad person. So, check with that as well and ponder on it. Take what you need. Learn from it and what you needed to hear today. 

Before we leave, let’s do the “I did a hard thing.” This one is short and sweet. This is from Natalie. Natalie said: 

“I had pre-cancerous cervical cells removed yesterday and I was so anxious, but I did it.”

So amazing, Natalie. I love this. Now, it’s short and sweet, but I actually think that’s a really, really hard thing. That takes some courage. So, I’m super, super proud of you for that. You should be so proud of yourself. 

And then before we finish up, we have a review from Coronacouchpotato, and they said:

“Brimming with resources. A friend referred me to this podcast and I am so grateful. I had received more helpful information in the past couple weeks listening to this podcast than I have in the past year or so in therapy. I tell everyone I can about this podcast and how it has changed my life. Thank you, Kim!”

Oh my goodness. Coronacouchpotato, I cannot thank you enough for your review. 

I will tell you a little story. I realized while I was away in Australia that I need to slow down enough to really be connected with the people who I am helping. Sometimes I think I go, go, go so fast, and I have this idea of helping all these people. I actually have to slow down and think about like, wow, it’s so cool that Coronacouchpotato and I are doing this together. And Natalie and I, we’re doing this together. And for you, even though I’m not saying your name, we’re doing this together. Isn’t that so cool? 

Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful. And so, thank you, thank you, thank you for allowing me to be on this journey with you. I am honored. Thank you for trusting me. And if you would love to leave a review, I would love to feature it. So, go ahead and do that. 

All right, folks, have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to have all the intrusive thoughts. 

I’ll talk to you next week. Thank you again. Amazing for 300 episodes and I’ll talk to you soon.

Aug 26, 2022

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 299. 

Welcome back, everybody. 299, wow. That is amazing. I am so excited. I don’t know what it is about the word 99 that just makes me so joyful. 

One of my favorite episodes is actually number 99, which was the only episode and the only time where I actually have a full conversation with my husband on the podcast, and we talked all about agoraphobia and panic disorder specifically related to flying. So, if you want to hear me and my husband have a good conversation about his experience, that was one of my favorite episodes of all time.

But here we are, Episode 299, 200 episodes later, and we’re still going strong. No need to slow down. If anything, let’s speed it up a little. Shall we?

Before we get started on this week’s episode, I am going to do the two segments that we do every week. First, I want to give you a little bit of a peek into where we’re going today. So, what we’re talking about is a question I get all the time, particularly when I’m talking about having a chronic illness. Specifically for those of you who have a chronic illness and have a mental illness as well, but also, this could be just for anyone because this is a human problem, this is not a mental health problem. 

We’re talking about balancing exhaustion and when you have to “push through” and what do you choose? This has been a huge part of the work for me in my recovery from having postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. I feel like I’ve nailed this. To be honest, this is an area that I have learned very, very well, and it has saved my life literally in terms of I would be crashing and burning with tears and a major tantrum if it weren’t for my ability to balance, rest and push through. So, let’s talk about that in a second. 

First of all, we’re going to do the review of the week. This is from Carsoccer27, and they say:

“There are a lot of things that this podcast has helped me with. It’s a great toolbox in many of my anxiety triggers. I never knew where to start to help my anxiety. This podcast has helped me find my starting place and has helped me find my self-identity. Highly recommended!”

Thank you, Carsoccer27. What a beautiful thing to say. To be honest, for someone to say that I’ve helped them find their self-identity, that is an amazing compliment. That sounds amazing to me. So, I’m so happy I’ve been able to walk along you in the journey of that. That’s just so cool.

Okay. We now have an “I did a hard thing” from Anonymous. Anonymous said:

“I did an exposure exercise. I get anxiety when I’m around people. So, it was hard for me to get groceries at the store, but I conquered my fear and got the groceries. And another important one is that I graduated college dealing with what I deal with.”

Anonymous, I love this. What I love about this the most is you talk about your struggle to get the groceries while also adding graduating college. Two massive things. Two major accomplishments. And I’m so grateful for you that you shared that because I think some people have said to me like, “Groceries, everybody’s getting the groceries. I should be able to do that.” But I love that you’re celebrating how hard that was for you. We all need to do a better job of celebrating when we face a hard thing, whether bigger and small.

299 Balancing exhaustion and having to push through Your anxiety toolkit

Okay. So, let’s get into the episode. All right. Thank you first for Carsoccer27 and Anonymous. Let’s talk about balancing this push and rest. This balance between push and rest. If you could listen to me right now, you could see me. I’m swaying back and forth like a teeter-totter or a seesaw. It is a balancing act. 

So, let’s just get the truth out. Having a mental illness or a medical illness is the most exhausting thing, and people will not get it. They will not get it until they’ve been through it. They don’t understand the degree of exhaustion that you are experiencing. So, I first want to just straight up validate you. It’s okay that they don’t get it. It doesn’t mean that you’re not validated and that you aren’t as exhausted as you are, because you do have to go through it to get it. So, let’s just be real about that. 

Now, even though you are exhausted, you still are going to have to have times in your life where you have to push through to get stuff done. Anonymous is a great example of this. They push through despite going through anxiety the whole time, just push through, got through college. But what we have to be careful of here is this push through mentality. I’m actually right now reading a book by Ed Mylett and it’s called Max Out Your Life. I personally love it. It’s so inspirational. And as I’m listening to it on Audible, I’m like, “Yeah, let’s max out our life.” It’s so empowering and I just want to flex my muscles until I’m like, “Wait.” The anxious workaholic in me and the perfectionist in me wants to take that literally. And in the past, I have where I’m like, “Yeah, let’s max out our life. Let’s just push through and just push and push and push.” And then as I’ve said to you in the intro, I collapse and everything goes into a big pile of mush. 

So, this is where we call it balancing. It’s a great idea and yet, it’s so empowering to hear that. But it’s not healthy to take on a high percentage of push through mentality. So, if you’re hearing this on social media and you’re reading books about it, listen with a little bit of a skeptical ear. Because you are already exhausted, pushing through more is probably going to tip the scales so that the scales tip over and you don’t recover at all. You’re actually in big trouble. 

What we want to do today is we actually want to really learn the art – again, I’m swinging back and forth now – the art of balancing, the push through, and then making sure there’s time to rest. So, you do a little bit of a push through, you get through the class or you get the groceries or you pick up your kids or you go to a dinner that you don’t want to go to that exhausts you. And then you balance that with rest. 

Now what I mostly hear my clients say is, “But Kimberley, I shouldn’t need to rest for that one thing. Everybody else is fine. I shouldn’t need to rest.” And this is where I’ll often say-- I look at them dead in the eyes. So, imagine I’m looking you dead in the eyes right now and I’ll say, “But whether other people are exhausted or not, you are and you have to radically accept it and you have to listen to your body.” It’s completely not even a calculation we need to take into consideration on how other people are handling it. You are exhausted. That’s the fact. And so, we do need to balance this teeter-totter, this seesaw of you push a little and you rest a little, you push a lot and you rest a lot. There’ll be times where you push a little and you still have to rest a lot. And that is, you’re doing it. The way I think of it is, if I rest enough today, I’ll have more energy for tomorrow so I can push through a little tomorrow, because you do. When I say push through, I mean, just get the things you value done. I’m not saying go hard and max out when you’re already exhausted. I actually don’t think that’s super helpful. I’ve fallen into that trap way too many times.

The other thing here is, a lot of times, when we “push through,” meaning we have to. We have to show up for our kids and our partner and our boss and our parents and whatever, yourself. So, you’ve done that. And then when you go to rest, you look at Instagram and you watch some TV. There’s nothing wrong with going on Instagram and watching TV at all. I do it myself. But I want you to really just use this. Again, I love to ask questions. So, the question I’m going to ask you is, is that in fact restful? Does that actually fill your cup up, restore you? Because if you’re pushing through, you’re using up energy, you’re using up resources, you’re using up time, you’re using up your mental space. Does the resting that you’re doing actually restore you? If it’s no, I very much encourage you to take a look at what might be restorative for you. 

Often people will say, “Nothing is restorative. Even when I rest, my anxiety is going through the roof.” And so, that’s where I would say, “Okay, if that’s the case, you may need to actually push through in terms of really double down with your treatment, really double down with your mindfulness, that’s the pushing through, so that you do learn how to rest.” 

Often by the time a client comes to me or one of my staff, they’re already exhausted. They’re already depleted, because they’ve been trying to work through this disorder by themselves for a very long time. And so, when we say, “Buckle up, let’s get going with exposure therapy or we’re going to do mindfulness and we’re going to practice these skills,” they might be like, “Dude, I’m already exhausted. I don’t even have the capacity to do that.” And so, we’d say, “Yeah. This is an example of how we’re going to double down now, “push through” so that we can balance that exhaustion, so we can take away the thing that seems to be exhausting you.”

So, again, it’s a push and a pull. It’s a little balance game. It’s like juggling, and juggling requires a rhythm and a balance and a practice and a consistency that you’ll have to find for yourself. But I strongly encourage you to spend some time looking at this because I think we hear too much about the push through on social media in society. And then on the flip side, we also have like, “Oh, you’re exhausted. You should rest.” And that’s true. But resting alone won’t get you better. So, it’s this dialectical two opposing things happening at the same time. 

So, that’s what I want you to think about. An example for me, I’ll just give you a quick example. When I was really sick and my husband was working so much, I had to push through because I had to take care of two young children. I didn’t have a choice. What I did do, though, is when I was “pushing through” and even though I was so exhausted, I then challenged. While I’m pushing through, what am I doing that makes this more exhausting and how can I make it less exhausting? 

So, an example, often with clients, they’ll say, “I have this test and I have to just push through, I have to study for it.” And I’ll say, “Okay, while you push through, and while you do that hard thing,” because pushing through is another word for just saying doing the hard thing, “as you do the hard thing, is there anything you can do to lessen the stress on your body? Could you maybe not tense your neck and shoulders so much? Could you breathe a little more? Could you take some more breaks? Could you have a bottle of water? Could you take little moments to breathe and do a little mindfulness or meditation exercise?” 

So, the thing here is you can also be resting while doing little intervals of pushing through or doing the hard thing. For me, that was a crucial piece. While you’re pushing through, you’re letting go of stuff that doesn’t matter just to save yourself the exhaustion of taking that story on or that rule on or that expectation. While you push through, maybe lower your expectation. That might be helpful. Maybe lean in with a large degree of self-compassion and like, “Wow, Hun, you’re pushing through, you’re doing this hard thing. I’m going to be so gentle with you while you do this hard thing.” That’s so beautiful. Such a beautiful act of kindness. And then by doing that-- or when you’re exhausted and you’re resting and you’re feeling guilty for resting, you’d say, “Hun, you’re resting and this is so hard for you and this is triggering for you. Keep going. So brave. Keep going. I’m so grateful that you’re taking this time to rest for me.” Cool, right? 

All right. That’s all I have for you today, guys. Just play with this. There has to be a balance. If this is still confusing for you, put it on paper, write down how many hours a day you push through and how many hours you rest, and just say, how can I increase the rest by 15-minute increments? What would that look like for me? What would that feel like for me? What would be helpful? Where can that be possible? How can that be possible? And maybe that 15 minutes will make a world of difference. It’s better than nothing.

I’m going to take a deep breath with you. I’m going to hold my heart for you. I’m going to remind you that you’re stronger than you think, that the work you’re doing is important and amazing and inspiring, and don’t give up. Don’t give up. Keep tweaking and tweaking and taking baby steps and you will get there. You will get there. 

All right, I’m going to send you so much love. Have a wonderful week. It is a beautiful day, it’s a beautiful week, it’s a beautiful month to do hard things. I’ll see you next week.

Aug 26, 2022

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 299. 

Welcome back, everybody. 299, wow. That is amazing. I am so excited. I don’t know what it is about the word 99 that just makes me so joyful. 

One of my favorite episodes is actually number 99, which was the only episode and the only time where I actually have a full conversation with my husband on the podcast, and we talked all about agoraphobia and panic disorder specifically related to flying. So, if you want to hear me and my husband have a good conversation about his experience, that was one of my favorite episodes of all time.

But here we are, Episode 299, 200 episodes later, and we’re still going strong. No need to slow down. If anything, let’s speed it up a little. Shall we?

Before we get started on this week’s episode, I am going to do the two segments that we do every week. First, I want to give you a little bit of a peek into where we’re going today. So, what we’re talking about is a question I get all the time, particularly when I’m talking about having a chronic illness. Specifically for those of you who have a chronic illness and have a mental illness as well, but also, this could be just for anyone because this is a human problem, this is not a mental health problem. 

We’re talking about balancing exhaustion and when you have to “push through” and what do you choose? This has been a huge part of the work for me in my recovery from having postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. I feel like I’ve nailed this. To be honest, this is an area that I have learned very, very well, and it has saved my life literally in terms of I would be crashing and burning with tears and a major tantrum if it weren’t for my ability to balance, rest and push through. So, let’s talk about that in a second. 

First of all, we’re going to do the review of the week. This is from Carsoccer27, and they say:

“There are a lot of things that this podcast has helped me with. It’s a great toolbox in many of my anxiety triggers. I never knew where to start to help my anxiety. This podcast has helped me find my starting place and has helped me find my self-identity. Highly recommended!”

Thank you, Carsoccer27. What a beautiful thing to say. To be honest, for someone to say that I’ve helped them find their self-identity, that is an amazing compliment. That sounds amazing to me. So, I’m so happy I’ve been able to walk along you in the journey of that. That’s just so cool.

Okay. We now have an “I did a hard thing” from Anonymous. Anonymous said:

“I did an exposure exercise. I get anxiety when I’m around people. So, it was hard for me to get groceries at the store, but I conquered my fear and got the groceries. And another important one is that I graduated college dealing with what I deal with.”

Anonymous, I love this. What I love about this the most is you talk about your struggle to get the groceries while also adding graduating college. Two massive things. Two major accomplishments. And I’m so grateful for you that you shared that because I think some people have said to me like, “Groceries, everybody’s getting the groceries. I should be able to do that.” But I love that you’re celebrating how hard that was for you. We all need to do a better job of celebrating when we face a hard thing, whether bigger and small.

299 Balancing exhaustion and having to push through Your anxiety toolkit

Okay. So, let’s get into the episode. All right. Thank you first for Carsoccer27 and Anonymous. Let’s talk about balancing this push and rest. This balance between push and rest. If you could listen to me right now, you could see me. I’m swaying back and forth like a teeter-totter or a seesaw. It is a balancing act. 

So, let’s just get the truth out. Having a mental illness or a medical illness is the most exhausting thing, and people will not get it. They will not get it until they’ve been through it. They don’t understand the degree of exhaustion that you are experiencing. So, I first want to just straight up validate you. It’s okay that they don’t get it. It doesn’t mean that you’re not validated and that you aren’t as exhausted as you are, because you do have to go through it to get it. So, let’s just be real about that. 

Now, even though you are exhausted, you still are going to have to have times in your life where you have to push through to get stuff done. Anonymous is a great example of this. They push through despite going through anxiety the whole time, just push through, got through college. But what we have to be careful of here is this push through mentality. I’m actually right now reading a book by Ed Mylett and it’s called Max Out Your Life. I personally love it. It’s so inspirational. And as I’m listening to it on Audible, I’m like, “Yeah, let’s max out our life.” It’s so empowering and I just want to flex my muscles until I’m like, “Wait.” The anxious workaholic in me and the perfectionist in me wants to take that literally. And in the past, I have where I’m like, “Yeah, let’s max out our life. Let’s just push through and just push and push and push.” And then as I’ve said to you in the intro, I collapse and everything goes into a big pile of mush. 

So, this is where we call it balancing. It’s a great idea and yet, it’s so empowering to hear that. But it’s not healthy to take on a high percentage of push through mentality. So, if you’re hearing this on social media and you’re reading books about it, listen with a little bit of a skeptical ear. Because you are already exhausted, pushing through more is probably going to tip the scales so that the scales tip over and you don’t recover at all. You’re actually in big trouble. 

What we want to do today is we actually want to really learn the art – again, I’m swinging back and forth now – the art of balancing, the push through, and then making sure there’s time to rest. So, you do a little bit of a push through, you get through the class or you get the groceries or you pick up your kids or you go to a dinner that you don’t want to go to that exhausts you. And then you balance that with rest. 

Now what I mostly hear my clients say is, “But Kimberley, I shouldn’t need to rest for that one thing. Everybody else is fine. I shouldn’t need to rest.” And this is where I’ll often say-- I look at them dead in the eyes. So, imagine I’m looking you dead in the eyes right now and I’ll say, “But whether other people are exhausted or not, you are and you have to radically accept it and you have to listen to your body.” It’s completely not even a calculation we need to take into consideration on how other people are handling it. You are exhausted. That’s the fact. And so, we do need to balance this teeter-totter, this seesaw of you push a little and you rest a little, you push a lot and you rest a lot. There’ll be times where you push a little and you still have to rest a lot. And that is, you’re doing it. The way I think of it is, if I rest enough today, I’ll have more energy for tomorrow so I can push through a little tomorrow, because you do. When I say push through, I mean, just get the things you value done. I’m not saying go hard and max out when you’re already exhausted. I actually don’t think that’s super helpful. I’ve fallen into that trap way too many times.

The other thing here is, a lot of times, when we “push through,” meaning we have to. We have to show up for our kids and our partner and our boss and our parents and whatever, yourself. So, you’ve done that. And then when you go to rest, you look at Instagram and you watch some TV. There’s nothing wrong with going on Instagram and watching TV at all. I do it myself. But I want you to really just use this. Again, I love to ask questions. So, the question I’m going to ask you is, is that in fact restful? Does that actually fill your cup up, restore you? Because if you’re pushing through, you’re using up energy, you’re using up resources, you’re using up time, you’re using up your mental space. Does the resting that you’re doing actually restore you? If it’s no, I very much encourage you to take a look at what might be restorative for you. 

Often people will say, “Nothing is restorative. Even when I rest, my anxiety is going through the roof.” And so, that’s where I would say, “Okay, if that’s the case, you may need to actually push through in terms of really double down with your treatment, really double down with your mindfulness, that’s the pushing through, so that you do learn how to rest.” 

Often by the time a client comes to me or one of my staff, they’re already exhausted. They’re already depleted, because they’ve been trying to work through this disorder by themselves for a very long time. And so, when we say, “Buckle up, let’s get going with exposure therapy or we’re going to do mindfulness and we’re going to practice these skills,” they might be like, “Dude, I’m already exhausted. I don’t even have the capacity to do that.” And so, we’d say, “Yeah. This is an example of how we’re going to double down now, “push through” so that we can balance that exhaustion, so we can take away the thing that seems to be exhausting you.”

So, again, it’s a push and a pull. It’s a little balance game. It’s like juggling, and juggling requires a rhythm and a balance and a practice and a consistency that you’ll have to find for yourself. But I strongly encourage you to spend some time looking at this because I think we hear too much about the push through on social media in society. And then on the flip side, we also have like, “Oh, you’re exhausted. You should rest.” And that’s true. But resting alone won’t get you better. So, it’s this dialectical two opposing things happening at the same time. 

So, that’s what I want you to think about. An example for me, I’ll just give you a quick example. When I was really sick and my husband was working so much, I had to push through because I had to take care of two young children. I didn’t have a choice. What I did do, though, is when I was “pushing through” and even though I was so exhausted, I then challenged. While I’m pushing through, what am I doing that makes this more exhausting and how can I make it less exhausting? 

So, an example, often with clients, they’ll say, “I have this test and I have to just push through, I have to study for it.” And I’ll say, “Okay, while you push through, and while you do that hard thing,” because pushing through is another word for just saying doing the hard thing, “as you do the hard thing, is there anything you can do to lessen the stress on your body? Could you maybe not tense your neck and shoulders so much? Could you breathe a little more? Could you take some more breaks? Could you have a bottle of water? Could you take little moments to breathe and do a little mindfulness or meditation exercise?” 

So, the thing here is you can also be resting while doing little intervals of pushing through or doing the hard thing. For me, that was a crucial piece. While you’re pushing through, you’re letting go of stuff that doesn’t matter just to save yourself the exhaustion of taking that story on or that rule on or that expectation. While you push through, maybe lower your expectation. That might be helpful. Maybe lean in with a large degree of self-compassion and like, “Wow, Hun, you’re pushing through, you’re doing this hard thing. I’m going to be so gentle with you while you do this hard thing.” That’s so beautiful. Such a beautiful act of kindness. And then by doing that-- or when you’re exhausted and you’re resting and you’re feeling guilty for resting, you’d say, “Hun, you’re resting and this is so hard for you and this is triggering for you. Keep going. So brave. Keep going. I’m so grateful that you’re taking this time to rest for me.” Cool, right? 

All right. That’s all I have for you today, guys. Just play with this. There has to be a balance. If this is still confusing for you, put it on paper, write down how many hours a day you push through and how many hours you rest, and just say, how can I increase the rest by 15-minute increments? What would that look like for me? What would that feel like for me? What would be helpful? Where can that be possible? How can that be possible? And maybe that 15 minutes will make a world of difference. It’s better than nothing.

I’m going to take a deep breath with you. I’m going to hold my heart for you. I’m going to remind you that you’re stronger than you think, that the work you’re doing is important and amazing and inspiring, and don’t give up. Don’t give up. Keep tweaking and tweaking and taking baby steps and you will get there. You will get there. 

All right, I’m going to send you so much love. Have a wonderful week. It is a beautiful day, it’s a beautiful week, it’s a beautiful month to do hard things. I’ll see you next week.

Aug 19, 2022

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit – Episode 298. 

Welcome back, everybody. How are you? It is a beautiful summer day here in California. I love summer. It is very hot, but so happy to be here with you. I’m sitting in my office. I have a cup of tea. I have my little flowers next to me, and I’m just so grateful to have you here with me as well. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey. I’m so honored. Really, I am. I know you have many options. It’s just an honor to be walking in this journey with you.

Today, I want to talk to you about seven questions you can ask yourself every day. It doesn’t mean you have to ask all of them. They’re just my favorite seven questions. They’re questions I ask myself all the time, the questions I ask my patients all the time. They’re not groundbreaking in that they’re going to change your life, but they will definitely keep you on track. 100%. They’re what I call guidance questions. They’re questions that prompt you to go in the next best direction, take the next best step. So, I can’t wait to share those with you.

Before I do, let’s do the review of the week. This is from Kendall Wetzel. She said:

“Listening to her podcast and following her on Insta--” if you don’t follow me on Instagram, head over to Your Anxiety Toolkit on Instagram. She’s saying, “Following her on Insta has been so great for keeping me in check with my OCD. She’s gentle, positive, and awesome.” Thank you. “So thankful for this free resource.”

Thank you so much, Kendall, for your amazing review. I love your reviews. Thank you for putting in the time to do that for me. It’s a gift. Thank you.

All right. Before we get into the episode, let’s do the “I did a hard thing.” This is from Joy. Joy said today:

“I told my boss I was resigning. It was a hard conversation to have and I overthought everything leading up to it.” Joy, I love that you shared that. We are human beings. We’re doing the best we can with what we have. But Joy goes on to say: “But I did it and it went well. This morning I woke up and I said it is a beautiful day to do hard things and that helped me to get through the day. Thank you.”

Wow, Joy, love it. I mean, such a totally human response. Even though we overthink things, you still did it and that is all that matters. That is all that matters. That is all that matters. So amazing.

298 7 questions to ask yourself everyday Your anxiety toolkit

All right. Let’s get into these seven questions. Shall we?

All right. I’m actually going to do this pretty quickly, folks. I will leave the questions in the show notes. I strongly encourage you if you’re not driving to sit down and write them out and take some time today to journal on them. Again, it doesn’t have to be all of them. You can make it into a pretty PDF. You could print it out. You could make it into a daily journal, prompts. But these questions, I just sat down and I looked at my computer and I was like, “Okay, what are the questions I commonly ask my patients?” Now, of course, I always ask my patients, how are you doing? I also ask my patients like, how was your week? I didn’t include those questions. Of course, I ask the questions again as guiding questions that lead us towards the whole reason you’re here, which is to live the life you want to live and compassionately.

Alrighty. So, here we go.

Question #1: Does does this behavior line up with my values?

So important. Often, I’ll just speak for myself, but I’m going to probably assume that you are just like me, given that we’re both human beings, but maybe not. Maybe you’re way more evolved than me. But often I find myself doing things that don’t line up with my values, because either society told me to do it or I’m on autopilot and I’m doing what I’ve just always done. And so, therefore, I just keep doing it and I catch myself doing it or I’m trying to avoid some emotion or some fear. So, the question is, does it line up with my values? Often it doesn’t. So, this is a question that guides me. I want you to think of it like your north star or your compass. These are compass questions as they guide you back on track. Does this line up with my values? If it’s a yes, proceed. If it’s a no, we might move our way down the other questions, or you might just want to reflect on that.

Question #2: Does this behavior line up with my long-term goals?

The thing around values is sometimes values will contradict each other. I really value being a good mom, but I also really value being a really good therapist. And sometimes I can’t meet both those values. I can’t be a really good therapist and a really good mom every single day. I can just do the best I can, but sometimes I have to go to work instead of being with my kids. Sometimes I have to be with my kids and I have to cancel a client. So, it’s hard. So, the question I ask myself is, does it line up with my long-term goals? Long-term goals. And I’m talking specifically here in regards to recovery. The last few weeks’ episodes are just about this, is getting clear on your goal, holding yourself accountable. Does this behavior line up with my long-term goals?

Question #3: What is one thing I can do right now that lines up with my long-time goals and my values? 

What’s the one thing, not the big thing? I struggle with this one so hard because I like to knock things out. It feels so good. It’s like a little adrenaline high, and I get discouraged when I can’t. So, I have to keep asking myself, just what’s the one little thing I can do right now in that direction? What’s the one thing? Don’t worry about the 17th thing. Just do the first, next best thing.

Question #4: Is this behavior effective? 

This is similar to the other questions. So, again, you might want to ask yourself all of these. You might get overwhelmed. But this is a question I often ask. I think I’ve mentioned in previous episodes, my 2022 goal is to be more effective. Sometimes I’m doing things and I’m like, “This is not an effective use of my time.” Again, you don’t always have to be effective. Sometimes we just do things for the pleasure of doing them or for the process of doing them, or for the joy of doing them. But is this actually reaching the goal? Is it effective?

Sometimes my mom always to say, excuse me, if I kill this phrase, but she’d say, “You’re jumping over quarters to get to pennies.” She’s talking about saving money. You’re jumping over small amounts of money. Excuse me, you’re jumping over big amounts of money just to save small things. I told you I was going to kill that. I did the best I could. So, you’re jumping over quarters to get to pennies. If you live out of America, you’d say you’re jumping over 10 cents to get to a-- you’re jumping over 10 cents to get to 1 cent. But that’s true too. Are you doing one thing to reduce a little bit of discomfort when you could be doing something that would give you way better outcomes? This is very true of those of you who are doing compulsions. Sometimes we’re doing it and we’re like, “No, I just have to get this certainty. And if I get this certainty, well, then I’ll have relief.” But it’s like, okay, is that effective for your long-term plans? Yes. It reduces your short-term discomfort, but it actually increases your long-term discomfort.

Question #5: How willing am I to be uncomfortable?

This is the big one guys. If you’re going to ask yourself one question in your whole day, this is the one. How willing am I to be uncomfortable? Whether it be that you’re facing your fears on purpose, doing an exposure, how willing am I? Or whether it’s just doing something you have to do that you don’t want to do, like Joy told us this morning, she had to resign. Even if it’s something you have to do, how willing are you to be uncomfortable? How willing are you? Are you in resistance to the fact that this is happening? It’s happening. You’re anxious. You’ve got something hard to do. You can fight it or you can allow it.

Question #6: Can I do this for another 10 seconds? 

Oh, I love this one. I love it. I love it. I love it. Here we go. Can I do this for another 10 seconds?

A client of mine once told me this. I think I’ve done an episode on this before, but it was a client of mine many, many, many years ago who said that they’d heard-- actually, I think it was like Grey’s Anatomy or some TV show. Well, maybe it was some research. They said anybody could do anything for 10 seconds. And so, they would say to themselves while they’re doing their exposure, “Can I do this just for another 10?” And when that 10 seconds is up, “Can I do it just for another 10 seconds?” You may increase it to 30 seconds, a minute, 10 minutes, an hour, or you may reduce it. “Can I do it for five seconds?” But it’s a great question. It really challenges this sort of-- we have these thoughts like I can’t do it anymore. But when you ask yourself, can I do it for another 10 seconds, well, then the script gets flipped.

Question #7: How can I make this fun? 

I mean this, even if it’s doing an exposure that is petrifying and 10 out of 10 anxiety, how can we make this fun?

A part of you is probably throwing your phone against the wall and being like, “What the heck, Kimberley? None of this is fun. I don’t want to do these hard things. Go away.” And that’s fine. It’s a question you don’t have to ask if you don’t want, but I want you to ponder, how can you make it fun? How can you make the hard thing fun?

So, as we look at these questions, these seven questions through the lens of it’s a beautiful day to do hard things-- let’s put it into sentences.

It’s a beautiful day to do hard things that line up with your values, because that was question #1: Does it line up with my values?

It’s a beautiful day to do things that-- excuse me, let me say it’s a beautiful day to do hard things that line up with my long-term goals. That’s question #2.

It’s a beautiful day to do one hard thing. (Question #3)

It’s a beautiful day to do hard things that are effective. (Question #4)

How willing am I to do the hard thing? (Question #5)

It’s a beautiful day to do hard things for 10 more seconds. (Question #6)

And last one, it’s a beautiful day to do hard things, making it fun. So, how would I word that? It’s a beautiful day to do fun, hard things. I’m being silly now. But it’s true.

I really want you to think about these. These are my favorite seven questions that I ask my patients. Try them on. See how they feel. If you like them, proceed. If you don’t, that’s fine. Just drop them. This is where you take what you need and leave what’s not helpful.

I really want to remind you, this is not therapy. So, I’m not tailoring this specifically to your needs. So, if it doesn’t feel right, just leave it. Not everything is for everybody.

All right. I love you. Have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to do hard things. Thank you so much for your support. Keep doing the hard things and I will talk to you next week.

Aug 12, 2022

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 297. 

Welcome back, everybody. How are you really? Just doing a quick check-in.

I love the quick check-in, the drop down into your chest, the drop down into whatever discomfort you may be having. And just take it a minute to actually check-in. So important. How often are you doing this? Hopefully, multiple times every day. 

All right. Today, we are talking about accountability, and this actually came, I was listening to something. I can’t remember even what it was, but someone was having a strong reaction to the word “accountability,” which words matter. They really, really do. But what I think is more important is the meaning in which we place on words. It’s a huge part of diffusing from what we tell ourselves all day. So, the whole point of today is to talk about this important treatment concept or recovery concept. And I’ll come back to why. But it’s so important. It’s so, so important. I’ve got a couple of different views about certain things, so you’ll have to hang with me each. Everyone is so important, but hang with me.

Before we do that, let’s first do the review of the week. This is from Maggie Paulson. Maggie wrote:

“I love this podcast. I’ve never been diagnosed with OCD, but I recognize that I have anxiety. This podcast has helped me to learn more about how my brain works, and her gentle and loving approach to treatment has helped me learn to handle my intrusive thoughts and my anxiety. To say that has improved the quality of my life is an understatement. I’m very grateful for Kimberley and her podcast.”

Thank you, Maggie. You fill up my heart. Thank you so much for your reviews. All of you, even if you just click the five-star review or however many stars you think it deserves. You don’t even have to write a review. You can just give it stars, and that helps me. So, thank you so much. 

All right, drum roll. We have the “I did a hard thing” segment. This is from Anonymous. Anonymous said:

“Today, I manage not to lapse into a behavioral addiction that I’ve been struggling with for over a year. It’s very easy for me to use this addiction as a coping strategy for the stresses in my life. But I realized today that a good life free of this addiction is better than a good feeling that only lasts momentarily.” Oh my gosh, Anonymous, I want to give you a standing applause right now. “Although every day is going to be challenging when it comes to not lapsing into addiction, if I take each day as it comes and have the attitude that it’s a beautiful day to do hard things, I know I can live addiction free.” 

So good. So good, Anonymous. Oh my gosh, lLet me read this line again. It says, “I realized today that a good life free of this addiction is better than a good feeling that only last momentarily.” So much wisdom in that sentence. Amazing. So much wisdom. That is true for all of us. Isn’t it? So true for all of us in that we just-- the real living we want, the real pieces on the other side of that hard thing. So, so true. Thank you so much, Anonymous, and thank you so much to Maggie Paulson for that amazing review. 

Ep 297 Can you hold yourself accountable without being self critical Your anxiety toolkit

All right, folks, here is something I want to first start with. So, we’re talking about, can you hold yourself accountable without being self-critical? That’s a really important question because, and the reason it’s so important for recovery is, unless you’re in an intensive treatment center, where you have services 24/7, chances are, you’re doing a lot of this hard work. You’re doing a lot of these “hard things” on your own. And in order to do a hard thing, you do have to be accountable. You have to generate. If you could see me, you can see me like my arms are moving like cogs are turning. You have to generate motivation to do these hard things, because the truth is, no one wants to do these hard things. That’s why they’re hard. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to do hard things today because hard things suck. I keep saying that lately and I mean it. It’s hard. I don’t want to discount and make this podcast out to be like, “Oh, it’s just easy. Just do these five mindful things and you’re going to be fine.” No, it’s hard work. You have to generate motivation and you have to generate accountability. The accountability is what gets you to do it, even though you don’t want to do it.

And here is the point I want you to really take from this episode. Hopefully, this is a shorter episode, because I know I’ve been going a little longer lately. I’m a bit chatty. I’m chattier lately. I don’t know why. Here is the point. Being accountable is not synonymous with blame and harsh treatment. So, let me put that same concept into different words. Holding yourself accountable doesn’t mean the same as blaming yourself, beating yourself into doing the thing that you said you were going to do. That’s not accountability. Accountability is just holding yourself accountable to do the thing. Saying have some accountability doesn’t mean treat yourself terribly. And as I was saying at the beginning, I had heard something and I don’t even remember where. I’m assuming it was on Instagram. They were saying like, “Don’t tell me to be accountable. That’s just mean. That’s just mean that you would ask me to be accountable.” And I’m over here going, what? No, hun, someone somewhere you’ve picked up the idea or someone’s taught you that accountability means getting whipped and that isn’t true. That’s not true. 

Accountability, we just last session, last episode did 196. It was about, what is your recovery goal? So, we got really clear about what do you want your life to look like. If you haven’t listened to that, please go back and listen to it. So, we got really clear on that. And accountability is saying, I love myself so much, and I love those recovery goals so much that I’m going to do this thing. That’s accountability. I value my well-being so much. I value that goal that I want for myself. I believe in myself so much that I’m going to do that thing. That hard thing. It’s not whipping and beating. It’s not mean words. It’s not saying get off your butt your lazy thing. That’s self-criticism. That’s not accountability. That’s just bullying. That’s self-bullying. 

And so, what I want you to look at is, accountability is simply saying, I’m going to do the thing I said I’m going to do because I deserve it. I deserve the outcome, the dream, the goal, the life that lines up with my values. Accountability isn’t saying, push through no matter what, no matter how much pain you’re in, just like plow through it. Believe me. I’ve been there. I’ve been there. Sometimes you have to do that. I’m not going to say that that’s particularly even wrong because sometimes we do have to push through, but you don’t have to be mean. And it’s asking yourself, how willing am I to show up and do this hard thing so I can get this goal? Exactly like Anonymous said in this “I did a hard thing” segment. That’s accountability. Everything that Anonymous said is accountability. I should have actually-- sorry, Anonymous. I should have just read your “I did a hard thing” and said, “There you go, folks. That’s the episode. That’s what accountability looks like.”

So, it’s accountability. Compassionate accountability will still get you across the finish line. Often when I talk to clients about roadblocks to self-compassion, they’ll say, “Well, I won’t get up and do it if I don’t beat myself up.” Is that you? Maybe I should ask that question. Does that resonate with you? Like, “I won’t get to the gym. I won’t exercise. I won’t do the exposure unless I beat myself up. That’s the only form of transportation to get myself to do the thing.” 

If that’s the case, please make today the day that you start trying something else. I’ll tell you why real quick and then I’m going to finish up. Yes, there are times when being self-critical gets you to do the thing. And if that’s what it takes, it’s up to you. You get to choose. I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong. I’m not going to tell you you are wrong. I don’t want you to feel judgment about that from yourself or from me because we’re all doing the very best we can with what we have. So, that’s totally fine. But if you use that as your only way, the chances are, eventually, it’s going to burn you out. You’re going to start to feel so bad about yourself that you will give up. We’ve got all the research and science to back it. 

So, it’s only short-lived. This is only going to work for a certain amount of time until it stops working. So, let’s use today to try something different. Let’s put eggs in different baskets. Let’s practice compassionate accountability. 

Again, I’ll say it, compassionate accountability is doing the thing that you set out to do, because you love yourself and you love your goals so much that you’re willing to do the hard thing. That’s it. That’s it, friends. That’s all I got to say. 

All right. I love you. Have a wonderful day. I just love you. I’m squeezing my fist. I just love you guys. Thank you for being a part of my community. Thank you for supporting me. I totally understand you have gazillions of options for podcasts and gazillions of people who are probably doing great things. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey. It’s an honor. Really it is.

Have a wonderful day.

Aug 5, 2022

In This Episode:

  • The importance of having a specific recovery goal
  • Why you need a recovery goal in order to gain traction with OCD and other anxiety disorders 
  • What does your “recovery dream” look like? 
  • What is getting in the way of your recovery goal? 
  • Learn to live your life “as if” you had already reached your recovery goal. 

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more. 

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION 

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 296. 

Welcome back, everybody. I am so fired up for this episode. Oh, I just love this stuff. I love it. I love it. I love it. 

Okay. Let’s get started. First of all, let’s do an “I did a hard thing.” This one is epic. This one is from Fisher and they said: 

“I have OCD, health anxiety, and panic disorder. And last year, I was diagnosed with POTS,” which is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. That is the chronic illness that I have also. And they’ve said: “This was very overwhelming for me. I was petrified of exercising because of the exercise intolerance that comes with POTS and worrying that it was a life-threatening cardiac issue.”

Oh, I am with you, Fisher. So, for those of you who don’t know what exercise intolerance is, it’s like it’s almost impossible to do exercise. When you stand up, you pass out. And when I’ve been triggered by POTS, it’s hard to even do a block around, walk around the block of my house. 

“My doctor did all the cardiac tests to rule out any underlying issues before diagnosing me with POTS and recommended cardiac reconditioning to help me get started with recovery. My first barrier to overcome this was to trust in my physician and their diagnosis and follow their recommendation for exercise therapy. My second barrier was facing my fear of exercising. I can now say that I’m in my last week of the program after going twice a week for three months, along with exercising on my own at home. It’s been a struggle. There are some days where I flare up.” I hear you, Fisher. I totally get you. “And it seems impossible, but accessing self-compassion, budgeting spoon usage for the day, and moving things around to allow myself to rest have been invaluable tools to help me with the experience. A wise person told me after my diagnosis, the only predictable thing about living with a chronic illness is that it is unpredictable. So, I try to accept that uncertainty as a part of my life, living with anxiety and POTS.”

Fisher, I just love you. You’re killing it here. “I have a lot of work to do in learning to live with my chronic illness and my OCD and health anxiety recovery, but I make a little progress each and every day. P.S. Would you consider doing an episode on coping with chronic illness that mirror anxiety symptoms like POTS? I’d love to hear the skills that have helped you and some of you recommend coping strategies. Thanks for all the hard work that you do on this podcast.”

Fisher, I would love to have you on the podcast. I am going to write it in my notes to reach out to you because I think this is such an important topic, one that I myself have gone through, and thank you for writing this. You are doing badass, amazing hard work. So, yay. Thank you. You will hear from me. If you don’t hear from me, reach out, because I think that would be wonderful. 

Okay. Let’s take a breath because that brought up a lot for me. I just feel such deep compassion for Fisher and all of you who are just doing the hard thing. So, so cool. 

All right. Quickly, review of the week from Mosley23. They said:

“I’ve been listening for several years and can say that this podcast has helped immensely to understand my OCD and anxiety. Kim and her guests have provided very helpful ideas, strategies, and encouragement that have been so key in helping me to get to a good place with my mental health. Could not recommend it more highly if you or someone you love have an anxiety disorder.”

Thank you so much, Mosley23. Your reviews mean the world to me. The world really. Really, it’s so helpful. And again, if you give a review, and I know specifically what episode you’re talking about or what specific thing, it means then I can do more of that and help more people. So, yay. 

296 What is your recovery goal Your anxiety toolkit

 

All right. Let’s talk about recovery. It’s taking all of my energy not to bang my hands down on the table and be like, “Let’s do it.” 

All right. So, I take walks every morning and I often listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I’m a big self-help, non-fiction kind of gal. And I’m often listening to these most motivating speakers and it gets me so fired up. This morning, I got so fired up because this is such a part of the work of being a clinician. We get trained on all the theory and the statistics and the diagnoses, but we don’t get taught very well how to help a client identify what is your recovery goal. What are you here for? And so, even though you, listener, loving beautiful person, human friend – even though you’re not here for therapy, because this is not therapy, I want you to be really intentional about your recovery goals. 

Why is that important? Because, when you’re dealing with a mental health issue, you’ve already got a full-time job. You’re working your butt off to manage that. And sometimes we can put our attention so much on the disorder instead of making time and carving time and having a mindset towards, what do I want life to look like once I recover and how can I use that recovery goal to fuel the work I’m doing now while I’m in the trenches?

So, what I’m not saying here is, list off 20 magical things that will happen to you in the future when you get rid of your anxiety disorder, because that just means now you have an additional list of things to check off and it’s overwhelming and anxiety producing. So, I’m not talking about just lists. I’m talking about getting clear on what you want life to be like, even if anxiety is there. 

So, let me ask you. You guys know, I love questions. First question, what does your recovery dream look like? What do you wish it looked like? So, often when I ask that to clients, their first response is, they put their hand on the buzzer and they’re like, “Pick me.” I don’t want anxiety and I don’t want that to be your goal. So, the absence of an emotion is not a recovery goal. We need anxiety. If you didn’t have anxiety, you’d put your hand on the hot plate. You’d jam your hand in the door. We need anxiety. So, try not to make that your goal. I’m talking about specifically, zoom in and imagine that you are the ring camera on your house. What would be happening in your house, around your house, around your life? How would you be interacting with the world? That’s the stuff I’m really interested in knowing. 

So, for me it’s like, okay, if I was in my fullest recovery, I would be with my kids. I would be helping my clients and my listeners and my followers. I would be a connected wife. I would be a wife that shows up for my husband, even when it’s tough and we’ve got stuff to work out. I’d be someone who still has good days and bad days. But the bad days I just keep showing up, like it’s a beautiful day to do hard things. I’d be that person. I’d embody “it’s a beautiful day to do hard things.” That’s what recovery would look like for me. It might not be that for you. And please don’t just use mine because mine is just for me. Make it specific for you and look at that, write it down. Because in those answers, in those questions and answers is all of the details in which you can start to implement today. 

So, example being, if that was my recovery goal, what can I do today? I can get down on the floor and I can play with my kids, even if anxiety is there. I can go to my husband and say, “How are you? How are you really?” And practice staying in the moment and practice listening instead of letting my anxiety do all the talking. I still do the talking, but I’m listening to my partner, not to my anxiety. I’m practicing this and it’s not perfect. I might even suck at it. That’s fine. But I’m already working towards the recovery that I want, the life that I want, the dream that I want. 

While I have anxiety, and if it’s there, I’m also going to bring myself into intention that my goal was to help people, to be of service, to show up for you guys and have a couple of giggles and be myself because that’s a huge goal for me, to be more myself, which means I have to share a few layers of professionalism and just show up as Kimberley, the imperfect, giggly, silly, goofy, all-over-the-place Kimberley. So, I’m working towards that, whether anxiety is there or not. And by practicing that, I’m already 20 steps towards the recovery goal because I got down-dropped into what was it that I was looking for? So, this is the work, guys. Don’t use this recovery list as a list of expectations that you tell you, you won’t ever get to. Instead, use it as a way to implement it today. 

Now, what I just said is the perfect segue into identifying the next question I had in my prep for this. Are you living according to old stories or your recovery goal? Because often, if we’ve made mistakes in the past or we’ve struggled in the past or we have messed up in the past, as we’re engaging with our goals, we’re telling ourselves a story. What’s the point? Look at that, what I wrote down. Like, I want to show up for my followers and listeners. I want to be a wife that’s engaged and connected. I want to be a mom that’s on the floor playing with their kids. I want to be a therapist that is just pouring my heart into the people. So, that’s my list. 

But if I’m living according to old stories, I’d go, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen because you totally screwed up with that one client that time, and you totally said something inappropriate to that one person and offended them and harmed them.” And so, you’re just, “Nah.” You think you don’t deserve to have that recovery or it’s just not possible for you, Kimberley. That’s what we call a fixed mindset. You’re living off of old stories. “No, I couldn’t do it in the past. I tried. So, there’s no point. There’s my recovery list. I’ll never get there.” That’s old stories. 

And the whole point of me talking with you every week on doing the “I did a hard thing” segment isn’t just because-- well, yes, it’s because I love it. I ain’t going to lie. I love it so much. But the whole point I do that is so that you guys can see baby steps lead to medium size steps, leads to large steps. And you mess up and you totally screw up. I’ve done whole episodes about this in the past. Just recently actually. You mess up and then you go, “Okay, I’m going to just do one more.” It’s going to try one more time, and one more time. The whole AA approach, if you have an addiction, if you go to alcoholics anonymous is one more day. And there’s some research around that model because it helps you just to stay in the short term, doing today, not looking at the long term, and changing the story. 

The next question I have is, are you really clear of what recovery will look like, and does that line up with your values? The reason I ask that, and that’s the final question of this episode, is when I ask my patients like, “Okay, let’s get a recovery plan together. What are your treatment goals? What do you want to look like once therapy is done? How would we define that?” Often, because they’ve been trained and conditioned from society to be this, they’re like, “Okay, so I want to have a house and I want a car and I want to have 100,000 followers on Instagram and I want to be a size blobbidy blah.” And it’s just like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Is that what society told you or is that actually what you want? Do you actually value those things? Are they coming from a place of getting other people’s approval or are they coming from a place of what really feels good to you, really feels good? What feels true to your values? Because yeah, it’s easy to say, “I want to have this many dollars in the bank,” or “I want to have achieved a certain thing.” That’s fine. I’m not against that. In fact, I love that kind of thing. I love goals. But I first want you to ask yourself, why? Why do you want that goal? Is it because you want approval or is it because you want to prove you’re worth? Because if it’s any of those two things, it’s probably going to be a painful process. Because, number one, you won’t get approval from other people that’s long-lasting because that depends on their mood and their values themselves, and you won’t get up to a place where you feel worthy because you’ve based that on a conditional relationship.

The only way we can actually build self-worth is to drop all the conditions and recognize that you’re worthy right now, whether you reach this goal, this recovery goal or not. It’s not a condition. The thing to remember here is your worth doesn’t go up if you reach these goals. Please remember that. Your worth is the same whether you reach them or not. You’re a valuable, important human being that deserves love and kindness. So, just keep an eye on that. I’m sorry, I’m going on a little tangent there, but it’s so important as you embark on getting really clear. And I really want you to be really, really clear. I really do. 

I’ll use a really ridiculous example, and mind me, I understand that this is a very privileged example, but my daughter is going off to middle school. She’s going to a school that’s very far away. And so, I have to engage in a carpool. We have a four-wheel-drive that we use to do all of the outdoor stuff that we do. So, I need a bigger car to fit seven people. And so, I’m trying to get really clear on values as I buy this car. I understand this is a ridiculous example, but let’s use it as an example. As I go to buy a car, what do I want to feel when I get in the car? What are the things that matter to me? Is it the brand? Do I have to drive a Mercedes Benz or is it the functions? Is it the way it makes me feel? Is it the color? Is it the way my kids feel? That will help me to make a decision. So, I drop down into, really what do I want? What’s important to me? Is it important for me to have technology or is it important for me to have ease? Is it important for me to have technology or pay less for this car? And so, it’s asking questions. Don’t go overboard here, but asking questions so I get really clear on what matters to me, what values matter in this decision. 

So, again, I get the ridiculous privilege of that whole question, but they’re the questions I want you to ask about you, because you deserve that. When you make decisions about your recovery and your life, you want to ask the questions that are detailed so that you can pivot in those areas. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but get clear on what you want recovery to look like. Because if you don’t, you’ll probably find that you’re wavering around feeling directionless, not sure why you’re doing all these hard things, feeling like, what’s the point really? But when you know exactly what the outcome you want is, you’ll know exactly the point. 

Okay. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. Thank you for being here. It is a beautiful day to do hard things. I hope that was helpful. I will talk to you guys next week, and have a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful day. By the time you hear this, I’ll be back in the United States from my trip. If you want to go back and listen to the old episodes, I encourage you to do that. All the goodness is right there in those early ones. 

Have a wonderful day, everybody. Talk to you soon.

Jul 29, 2022

SUMMARY:

Today we talk all about how to manage when your fears appear in your dreams.  This was a heavily requested topic, so I hope it was helpful for you.

In This Episode:

  • Why our fears and obsessions show up in our dreams
  • What to do when your fears appear in your dreams 
  • How to manage the distress when dreams feel “real” 

Links To Things I Talk About:

ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more. 

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION 

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 295.

Welcome back, everybody. It is Episode 295, which sounds like a whole lot of episodes. It really, really does. Actually, it shocked me when I saw that number.

Today, we are talking about when your fears show up in your dreams. I would say quite regularly, actually, a client, particularly morning clients will often say like-- I’ll be like, “How are you? How was your week?” And they’ll say, “Well, I’m just feeling really overwhelmed. I had the most bizarre dream last night and it’s hard to shake it off.” And so, I’m wondering, I’m guessing. I’ve had this experience, I’m guessing you have too. And I wanted to talk this episode about how we might respond to that situation and what we need to look out for when we have this situation, particularly if you have anxiety. That’s really the specific group of humans we’re speaking to today. And I’ll share a little bit more about that as we get going.

All right, before we do that, let’s do the review of the week. This one is from FullWalrus and they said:

“I found this podcast by Googling an issue I was having, and this just popped up.” FullWalrus, this makes me so happy. Thank you so much for Googling this and finding me because that means we’re doing a good job at being on the internet and helping people in that way. “I had kept away from podcasts about mental health in fear of being triggered or being told I was crazy after all, and that didn’t happen obviously. Kimberley is a gifted presenter and a therapist who introduced me to Buddhism and mindfulness in a way I’d never thought of before. For the first time, I feel like I actually have the tools to help me manage OCD, and this show is sure a beautiful compliment to any therapy you should be currently undergoing because we all need therapy. Thank you for everything, Kimberley. My life is forever changed and I am forever grateful.”

Thank you, FullWalrus. What a wonderful, wonderful review. I just love hearing how I’m helpful. I love hearing what episodes are helpful and it’s really cool that I’m a really-- I love Buddhism. I find it to be exactly what I need every time I’m in a hard time. So, I’m so glad that I’m bringing that in a way that isn’t overwhelming or overpowering. So wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

This week’s “I did a hard thing” is coming to you from Holly. Holly says:

“Last week, I went to court to obtain full custody of my son since his father has become a threat to him. This was extremely difficult seeing as we have been in an abusive past. My anxiety was the highest it’s been in a very long time, but ultimately, I knew I had to take action. I did my hard thing and I couldn’t be more proud of standing my ground and not succumbing to so many fears.”

Holly, sending you so much love. This is 100% doing the hard thing. It’s so hard, because often we’re talking about irrational fears and so forth, but I love that you brought like I’m doing this real thing. This real thing. And I love when you guys share with me both you’re facing your fears related to your disorder, but also just facing fear about showing up and living according to your values and showing up for your family. And Holly, just so good. Thank you so much for submitting that “I did a hard thing” for our “I did a hard thing” segment.

295 When your fears show up in your dreams Your anxiety toolkit

Okay. Let’s talk about dreams. So, again, often people will bring to my attention like, what do I do if my fears show up in my dreams, or even fears you didn’t have right. Like fears that you never considered during the day, but once you go to sleep, it gives it to you, sucks it to you, and whatnot. So, what do we do in this situation?

Most people will report they wake up in a massive ball of sweat, high heart rate. It feels so real. It feels like it actually happened. And it takes some time for that to burn off. It really, really does. Some people say it even takes the whole day to burn off. And so, if that’s the case for you, you’re definitely not alone.

Now, one thing to think about when we’re thinking about dreams is we’ve been fed this belief that dreams are like windows into our soul and that they must mean something, and that some people interpret dreams. In fact, I’ll tell you a story. I’m a clinician, I’m a CBT therapist. I use science-based treatment methods. And I do remember looking for a therapist several years ago actually and asking some colleagues. And one colleague, who knew me really well, referred me to this dream analyst. And I went for the first session. I was like, “This is not going to work for me,” mainly because of exactly what I’m going to tell you.

Now, if you like dream analysis, 100% no judgment. The reason that I had a strong reaction to it is I was going through a very, very anxious time, and I knew that if I engaged in that behavior, it was going to trigger me in ways that I’ll share here very soon.

The way I understand and the way I was trained and the way I’ve researched dreams is dreams, are just thoughts you have at night. So, if you’ve listened to this podcast, you’ll know that during the day, if you have a thought, I’m probably going to tell you, thoughts are thoughts. Don’t give them your attention. Don’t give them too much kudos. And so, dreams are no different. They’re just thoughts that you have while you’re asleep, and do your best not to give them a ton of importance, a ton of weight, a ton of value, because when you do that, you can get in trouble, particularly if they’re anxious thoughts.

Now, let me say here, I am notorious for having the weirdest dreams. My husband often, when we first got married, would sit up in the morning and be like, “Tell me everything you dreamed,” because I dream about like, I once had this dream about turtles and we went scuba diving together. And me and these turtles, they were like cartoon turtles. We’re like going through these tunnels together. Ridiculous stuff. I’ve had dreams of going hot air ballooning with a giraffe, and I have had this dream many, many, many times. I would say tens of times. And so, yeah, sometimes dreams are just silly and crazy. But where they’ve got fear attached or danger attached or catastrophes attached, it can be really hard for us to not get caught up in them.

So, the next question is, is it effective to interpret our dreams? My opinion is there’s nothing wrong with it, but here are the things to look out for. If you have a dream and it’s attached to your obsession and you’re interpreting your dream, it’s a chance that you’re doing compulsions to try and get certainty around that obsession. So, if you’ve already got the fear and the obsession, interpreting the dream actually maybe just reinforcing the fear, giving it too much importance, giving it too much value, and therefore feeding you back into a cycle where you’re going to keep having more of them, and you’re going to keep having anxiety about them, because you’re responding to them as if they’re important and dangerous.

If they’re just random like you wake up, often people say, “I had a dream that a loved one died,” or “I had a dream that a loved one was in an accident or it was my fault or so forth.” If you have that, what I would encourage you to do is look at it curiously. For me, it’s either like a really silly cartoon style dream or it’s that I’m responsible for something, which just is a sort of, if I’m curious about that, I’m like, yeah, that makes sense. I tend to be hyper-responsible. I tend to take responsibility very seriously. So, that makes sense. But I’m not going to go and dig around more than that because now I’m digging around in the content of my fears and giving those fears way, way, way, way too much attention. Way too much attention.

So, is it effective to interpret your dream? It depends. And I will say really clearly, if it is around your obsession, I strongly discourage you from doing it with one caveat, with one exception, which is unless it’s for the purpose of actually doing an exposure that’s scary. So, that would be the one time I would say, yes, it’s cool to interpret your dream. If you’re doing it on purpose in effort to actually induce the actual obsession and fear that you have so that you can practice tolerating the uncertainty and you can practice writing that wave of discomfort.

We can and we do do exposures to the content of your dreams. So, again, if a client has a dream or you have a dream and it’s triggering you, whether it was a part of your old obsession or just a new one, you can choose if it’s really bothering you to do an exposure. You could do an exposure with imaginal exposures. We cover imaginal exposures in ERP School, which you can go and find out about at CBTSchool.com if you’re interested. ERP School is our online course that teaches you how to apply ERP to your obsessions.

So, you could do an imaginal exposure where you write a story about your worst fear coming true and the consequences of that, and you read it over and over and over and you just allow the anxiety to rise and fall. You could do that. Or let’s say if it’s a fear like, not long ago, I had a dream about this one area of the corner of my kid’s school. It was like this really bad thing happened. So, if it’s really bothering me and I’m struggling with reducing my mental compulsions about that. Yeah, I might go into that corner and just sit there and read a book or just wait there for my kids or whatnot. So, yes, you can do exposures to the content of your dreams, particularly again, if they’re really strong, repetitious, and they seem to be persistent.

What we can do in addition to that is apply a ton of mindfulness to the dream content itself. So, this is what this would look like. You wake up, whether it’s from the morning or from a nap. You’ve had a dream. It’s really overwhelming. It feels really real. It might even feel like you’re actually in the moment of this catastrophe or this event. And even though it feels real, we’re actually just going to be mindful of that.

Now, what does mindfulness mean? Let’s do a quick recap. Mindfulness is being present with what’s actually happening. So, within that moment, what’s actually happening is things feel unreal, things feel strange, things feel scary. Your heart might be beating faster. You might be sweating. You might have a tummy ache. So, that’s what’s happening. We’re present with that, but we’re also present with what else is happening. Oh, the birds are chirping. I feel my pajamas against my skin. This is the taste of the coffee I’m drinking. I can smell the coffee as well. We’re just being very mindful of what else is happening, and we’re doing all of that nonjudgmentally.

Key point: We’re doing all of this. We’re having the weird feeling. We’re having the anxiety. We’re smelling the coffee. We’re feeling our feet against the floor and we’re practicing not judging these things as good or bad, even though they might be uncomfortable. When we are acknowledging that they’re here, we’re allowing them. We’re being willing to experience them, not pushing them away, and we’re practicing being non-judgmental.

Now you may need to do this, and this is often our clients will say, “Yeah, I did that, and then it kept bothering me.” And I’ll say, “Well, did you do it again? Could you do it a little longer?” And they’ll go, “Yeah, I did. But then it kept bothering me.” And I’ll joke with them. I try never to be condescending, but I’ll say, “But did you then do it again? Did you keep going?” And that’s the key to mindfulness. Mindfulness, we don’t do these behaviors to make the discomfort go away. We do them moment by moment, minute by minute, 10 seconds by 10 seconds, just to practice being in the presence of this discomfort and giving the discomfort zero of our tension.

Now, the other thing we may want to do here is activate a behavior. So, if you’re feeling totally overwhelmed, totally anxious, everything feels like it really actually happened. A lot of clients will say somebody died in their dream and they actually cry and they’re experiencing grief as if it actually happened. That’s true too. That often happens. We would engage in behavioral activation of going, “If I didn’t have this feeling, what would I be doing?” Such a good question. If I didn’t have this experience, what would I be doing? And go and do that thing.

So, if I didn’t have this dream, I’d be getting up and I’d probably go for a walk or I’d sit down and check my emails or whatever it may be. Make sure you do those things and try not to divert away from the behaviors you would’ve done had you not had this dream. That’s the response prevention piece. If you didn’t have this dream, would you be giving this content your attention?

So, let’s say I had a dream about my child dying, which is devastating, the idea of it. So, when we say I wake up and I feel like it actually happened, my body is telling me it actually happened, even though maybe my child is right in front of me. Then how do I engage with the rest of the day? Am I ruminating about ways to prevent that from happening? Am I actually implementing behaviors to prevent it from happening? Because if I’m doing those things, I’m actually doing compulsions. I’m trying to solve a thought that I had, not an actual thing.

And so, this is why this is so important that we understand that dreams are just thoughts you have at night or during sleep. That doesn’t mean that they’re important and they need to be analyzed and that it’s a sign of something to come, because we wouldn’t do that with an intrusive thought. We’re learning not to do that. So, when we have a thought, we’re learning not to go, “Oh my gosh, that must mean it’s a sign.” We’re learning to undo that reaction and going, “Yeah, thoughts are thoughts.”

So, this is how I want you to maybe consider changing your response to dreams, especially scary dreams. Again, let me be really clear. If you love analyzing dreams and you find it helpful and you don’t find it loops you back into the anxious cycle, wonderful. No problem. I’m definitely not against dream analysis. But for those folks who were anxious, I just want you to know this information, keep it in your back pocket, or maybe even your front pocket for the times when you catch yourself engaging in behaviors that become ineffective.

My word of 2022 is “effective.” I have it written everywhere. It’s a huge part of the decisions I make every day, every minute. Does this keep me in being effective? And so, it’s such a great question when we ask ourselves, is this behavior effective? It won’t always be, you don’t always have to be effective. But sometimes again, when you catch trends that are getting you to be ineffective, we want to see if we can make a change. Okay?

So, that’s Episode 295: When your fears show up in your dreams. I hope it was helpful. Do not forget, it is a beautiful day to do hard things. This work is not easy, friends. This work is actually-- let’s just be real. This work sucks. It really, really does. It’s exhausting. It’s hard. It’s taxing. It beats you down. So, please be gentle. It is a beautiful day to do hard things. Please remind yourself of how brave and strong you are because you’re stronger than you think. And I will see you next week.

Have a wonderful day.

Jul 22, 2022

SUMMARY: 

Correcting thoughts can but a very helpful tool to use when you notice that you have lots of thought errors.  However, in some cases, correcting thoughts can become a compulsion.  In this episode, ask the question, “Can correcting thoughts become a compulsion?” And review what you can do to make sure you are not engaging too much in the content of your thoughts. 

In This Episode:

  • How to correct your thoughts and how this can help people who have errors in their thinking
  • How to determine when it is helpful to correct your thoughts 
  • How to determine when correcting thoughts is becoming a compulsion

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more. 

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION 

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 294. 

Welcome back, everybody. What a special treat to have you here with me today. 

Today, we are talking about when correcting your thoughts, we call it cognitive restructuring in therapy – when you correct your thoughts, when does that become compulsive? Or we could also say problematic. And so, we’re actually going to go into this today, and then I’m going to let you decide for yourself what is helpful and what’s not. But I hope today is really helpful. It’s a very, very, very important topic. It’s often one of the biggest mistakes therapists make, particularly those who are not trained in anxiety disorders and OCD, and ERP. It’s probably one of the biggest mistakes that they make. So, I want to really review this so that you can have the information in your back pocket and you can make the decisions for yourself.

Before we do that, let’s first do the review of the week. This is from Cynthia Safell and Cynthia said:

“I first was introduced to Kimberley’s clear and compassionate teaching style when I took the ERP school course for therapists.” This is wonderful, Cynthia. So, for those of you who don’t know, we have ERP School, which is a course where I teach you exactly how I would do ERP if you were my client. And then it turned out that a lot of therapists were taking this course. And so, we duplicated the course and I added a whole bunch of modules for therapists, so they can become excellent therapists for people with OCD as well. So, I am so delighted that Cynthia has written this review. She goes on to say: “In the past 3 weeks since taking the course, I recommended both the course and podcasts to my clients. So helpful. Thank you, Kimberley.”

Wow, Cynthia, literally, that is the biggest compliment. Really, it is. If a therapist can trust me so much that they would recommend it to their clients, that is the biggest gift to me. And thank you so much for telling me that, because it just brings me so much joy and so much pride. So, thank you so much, Cynthia, for that amazing review. 

Alright, before we move on to the bulk of the content of this episode, we also want to do the “I did our hard thing” segment. This is from Abby and Abby is over here doing some hard things. So cool. Let’s go. It says:

“I have come on holiday. I’m terrified of flying. My anxiety was high. My thoughts were racing, but I did it.” So good, Abby. “I got on the plane and I got on holiday. It was scary, but I did it and I’m proud. Now to commit to the holiday first two days have been hard, but sitting with it and not letting it ruin my time.”

Abby, this is so good. Not only did you get on a plane, but you’re doing all the hard things in addition, and that’s so good. What a treat for you. What a reward for you. You did the hard thing and now you’re on vacation. Isn’t that so cool? Thank you so much, Abby. And thank you so much, Cynthia, for being an amazing part of our community.

Alright. So, let’s get down to it, shall we? So, I am a cognitive behavioral therapist. I love cognitive behavioral therapy. If you haven’t heard what that is, I’m assuming you have, but basically what that means is there is a cognitive component to treatment, which is focusing on your thoughts, and there is a behavioral component to treatment, which is where we focus on changing behaviors. 

Now, in some disorders, we spend a little more time on cognitions and a little less time on behaviors. And in other disorders, we spend a little more time on behaviors and much less time on cognitions. So, I think it’s important for you to know that it depends on your disorder on how much cognitive restructuring or changing and thinking we do. And so, the whole point of today is to explore, is your cognitive restructuring, is changing and challenging your thoughts helpful for you and your set of symptoms? And you get to make that decision. I’m not here to tell you what’s right or wrong, but I do want to give you some guidance. 

294 Can correcting out thoughts become a compulsion Your anxiety toolkit

So, first of all, the big question that my staff bring to me when we’re in supervision, and this was actually inspired by a conversation we had during supervision, was what is the role of correcting distorted thoughts in treatment? So, if someone presents to me a distorted thought, a statement, they might say, “I’m an idiot,” or “What’s the point? I only ruin it and mess it up anyway,” or “I always make mistakes. I never do anything right.” I as the clinician and them as the client may benefit by pausing the session and checking in with them in how true is that statement. Is it really true that you never do anything right? Is it true that you are an idiot? Could we challenge that and could we start to have you practice changing the words you use towards yourself? 

I am a massive, massive advocate for cognitive work because I think that in general, we walk around and we say a whole bunch of stuff that’s not true. I do it too. I actually have put-- in the last 18 months, I have put in massive amounts of time and energy into catching because I was finding I was saying a lot of sweeping generalizations like, “I feel terrible today.” Even though I didn’t feel well, it’s like, okay, I’m saying these words, “I’m so tired.” That was another big one I used to say every day. My husband would ask, “How are you, Kimberley?” “I’m so tired.” And it’s not that that thought was wrong or not true. I was really tired. But I had to check, is it helpful for me to keep saying this? Is there another way that I could maybe reframe this or present this or look at this?

So, yes, there’s definitely a role in challenging and correcting errors in our thinking. And so, it’s important that we first look at what is a thought distortion or a cognitive distortion, or a thought error. It’s usually any thought that’s, number one, not true or not helpful, or keeps you responding in a way that isn’t beneficial. So, again, the thought for me is “I’m so tired.” It’s true. Is it helpful? No. Does saying that actually make me feel a little bombed and a little down? Yes. Could I maybe replace it with something else? That’s up to me. There’s no right or wrong. 

I want to be really clear here in that when we talk about correcting thoughts, we are not saying toxic positivity, like, “Oh, I’m supposed to tell myself I feel fabulous because I don’t.” That’s not what this is about. We don’t do that kind of thing. We just make small little shifts depending on what feels helpful to you. 

So, let’s go through a couple of scenarios. Does correcting thoughts help with depression? Now, based on the research, the treatment for depression is actually really balanced in terms of doing 50% cognitive work and 50% behavioral work. These numbers I’m throwing out aren’t science-based, but just in general, I want you to think about like, yeah, you have to do both. You have to look at correcting the lies that depression tells you, but you also have to look at your behaviors and how can you engage in behaviors that actually make you more fulfilled and happy and not feeling down. 

So, yeah, with depression, we look at a lot of thoughts that are very critical, sweeping generalizations, we look at a lot of thoughts that discount the positive. I thought that’s like discounting the positive like, “Well, yeah, even though I got an A in that test, still, I’m probably going to fail my last year of college.” So, they discount the positive thing and they make another sweeping statement. So, we really want to make sure we’re correcting thoughts when it comes to depression. It’s really important because depression lies. 

Do we correct thoughts when it comes to generalized anxiety? Well, yes, we can. But this is where this topic is so important, is you want to be careful. If you’re spending a lot of time correcting thoughts, there’s always room to correct your thoughts about things. But if you find that you’re trying to correct your thoughts just to reduce or remove your uncertainty, then it’s likely that it’s going to get you stuck in a loop where you have to keep doing that thought correction in a somewhat compulsive way to feel good.

And so, what we want to do here is, yeah, we want to be mindful of our thoughts, and then we may choose whether we want to correct it or not, or whether we just want to observe that I’m having a thought. This goes for depression as well because mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a huge, huge science-based treatment for depression. So, you’re going to see a trend happening here. So, we always want to observe the thought because it helps us to diffuse from the thought and see it in perspective. And then we can choose to correct it if it’s helpful in that moment. Maybe if you’ve never corrected it before, if it’s a new thought that it’s helpful for you to do a little thought work with. And then again, you’d still do the behavioral piece with generalized anxiety. So, if you’re having a lot of anxiety, you still want to work on not avoiding things and not seeking reassurance and not doing any self-critical behaviors, and so forth. 

So, yes, what I would say is there is some benefit to correcting thoughts. The main thing with this is as long as it’s not the only tool you’re using, because if it’s the only tool you’re using, you’re going to be putting in a lot of work, a lot of time of the day correcting thoughts, and that’s probably going to take you away from living the life you want. Several episodes I did a podcast about your recovery plan and what’s getting in the way. The truth is, if you can identify the things you want to be doing when you’re recovered, once you’ve done that, you can start implementing that right away.

So, I often will check in with myself because I’ve been doing a lot of work too. Okay, I could correct the thought right now, or I could just immediately throw myself into the behavior I want to live by. That’s according to my values. And then I make a decision. What would be most helpful? Should I explore this thought? Or would this be a wonderful time to do my paint by numbers? PS, I love Paint By Numbers. It literally got me through COVID. You have to try it. It’s the coolest thing and it’s so fun. But I ask myself like, do I want to just allow the thought to be there and go do the thing I love? Or would it be helpful for me to correct it? There’s no right answer. But if I’m trying to correct things that I’ve already corrected and that I already know the answer to, yeah, I probably am going to choose to do the Paint By Number, if I’m completely honest. I think that’s a more effective route. You are going to have to think about it and do a little cost-benefit analysis for yourself. 

Then we are going to move over here, and this is very similar. Does correcting thoughts help with obsessive-compulsive disorder? You can see a progression here with depression. Yeah, we do quite a bit of it. Generalized anxiety, a little less because it can sometimes be very repetitive. When it comes to obsessive-compulsive disorder, guys, you have to be very careful about correcting thoughts. Because if you’re correcting thoughts to try and reduce or remove your uncertainty, it will most likely, and I would probably go as far to say, definitely turn into a compulsion that will keep you stuck. Because remember, the treatment of OCD and obsessive-compulsive disorder often involves leaning into discomfort, leaning into uncertainty, leaning into doubt, leaning into tolerating whatever experience of uncertainty and discomfort that you have. 

So, here is what I say to my clients, and this is exactly what I said to my staff. One of my staff had said, “Okay, when do we correct thoughts and when don’t we then?” And here is the thing. If somebody is coming to me and they’re saying something that’s an error in thinking around their ability to cope with discomfort, I would 100% correct that. So, an example would be, if a client says to me, “I can’t handle my discomfort,” I will probably have them challenge that. I might even say, “How do you know? Could this be the first time that you actually do tolerate this discomfort or cope with this pain?” So, I would 100% challenge and correct thoughts around their coping. 

But if someone has a thought, “What if I have a panic attack?” the truth is, trying to correct that is uncertain anyway. You’re not going to be able-- you can’t say, “No, I won’t,” because you don’t know that. You can’t say, “Yes, I will,” because you don’t know that. So, only correct thoughts around your struggle to cope. Never correct thoughts where you’re trying to reduce or remove your uncertainty. That would be my best advice to you. 

Another point here is, if you find you’re correcting the same thought repetitively, chances are, it’s a compulsion or will turn into a compulsion. The reason that I push this so heavily is you’re going to-- here is where I really struggle the most, is you’re going to-- if you’re on Instagram, a lot of you come, listen, you follow me on Instagram. We have an Instagram account called Your Anxiety Toolkit. There are hundreds of accounts that tell you to correct every single thought you have, and I don’t agree with that. I do not agree with that. I think that that is terrible advice. Because number one, you could spend your whole day doing that, particularly if you’ve got bad anxiety or depression. Number two, you could spend your whole day doing the exact same behaviors you did last yesterday and last week that obviously didn’t reduce or remove your discomfort. And the third thing to remember here is we have scientific evidence specifically for obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also for generalized anxiety disorder, that most people who have these disorders, there is a certain set of things happening in their brain where cognitive restructuring just doesn’t stick. The part of their brain that allows them to correct things, there’s a weakness there or there’s this bad connection there, which means if this were to work, it would’ve worked already and they probably wouldn’t suffer because they would go, “Oh yeah, you’re right. That doesn’t make any sense.” And off they go. 

It’s really frustrating because I know a lot of you see your partner or your friend who can quickly correct a thought or quickly do a quick Google search, quickly get reassurance and they’re fine. They get to move on. But the brain of an anxiety disorder is different, specifically the brain of someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder is different. And so, for you, you might get a moment of relief, but then you find the thought comes right back. And so, again, there’s no real point you can. Doing it is like whack-a-mole. If you do it,then discomfort goes away and then it comes back and you do it again. And now you’re just stuck, like weeding weeds that keep growing. 

So, these are the things I want you to think about for yourself. I’m definitely not telling you what you have to do. Again, this is not therapy. But I want you to do a little inventory for yourself and just ask yourself what would be helpful and what’s not.

The last question I have here for myself is, when does correcting thoughts help in recovery? Just like I said before, if it helps you in terms of reducing your self-criticism, increasing your sense of mastery over a task, or increases your ability to feel like you can cope, well then, I think it’s a helpful tool. I’ll give you an example of that. 

I personally hate running payroll. Every month, I have these beautiful 10 and 11 staff. It’s actually more like 13, 14 beautiful staff who work for me. And at the first of every month, I have to run all this payroll stuff. And guys, to be honest, I suck at it. I’m terrible with numbers. I get all the numbers mixed up. It takes me twice as long as it would, but I really do value the importance of me knowing what’s happening in my business. So, I do it. I’m doing it. While I’m doing it, I have a lot of thoughts like, “I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this,” and a lot of like, “Ah, this is too hard” thoughts. 

So, in that situation, I’m correcting my thoughts so that I can embody a sense of like, “No, I’m a really good boss and I’m trying to run a business that helps other people with their life.” And so, I correct my thoughts so that I can embody like, “No, this is important. I want and I’m choosing to do this. This is important for my staff. It’s important for me to get it right. And it’s worth the time.” So, in that situation, correcting the thoughts is really helpful because it helps me with that degree of anxiety. However, if I was having thoughts like, “What if you make a mistake? What if you make a mistake? What if you make a mistake?” correcting my thoughts to like, “You won’t make a mistake or that’s not even true. So, it’s not going to be helpful.” 

So, again, let’s go back. When it will help is when it’s around your coping, when it’s around your capabilities. So, if you’re having a lot of thoughts like you suck and you can’t and you’re not good enough, you’re not strong enough, you’re not wise enough, you’re not courageous enough, yeah, you can correct that into more encouraging statements. But we don’t do it around uncertainties. We don’t do it around uncertainties. That will keep you stuck.

Now the last thing I will say here before we wrap up is, is there a difference between education, reassurance, and assurance? So, let’s just break that down. If a client comes to me and they say, “Oh my gosh, I keep having these horrible intrusive thoughts. Something must be wrong with me,” through the lens of education, I might educate them and say, “Listen, everyone has intrusive thoughts. You’re just like everybody else and you shouldn’t be ashamed. And I really want you to understand that having intrusive thoughts is a normal part of having a really healthy working brain.” I consider that education. And you deserve to get education around things. So, if you have, let’s say, a new illness, it’s okay to go and get educated about the new illness. That’s not a compulsion.

Now, there will be times where you educate yourself and you need to tweak what you know or learn something new, and that is also fine. The thing I would have you as we leave for this episode just continue to think about is the thing that we want to look out for is when it’s called reassurance, which is repetitive over and over attempts to reduce or remove a thought specifically related to your anxiety or your uncertainty. So, that’s the real thing I want you to think about and look out for. Take note. And the other thing I want you to remember is, please don’t beat yourself up if there are days when you do a lot of thought correction and it turns out to be a compulsion. You’re just a human being. There is no right or wrong. Often, I’ll say to a client, they’ll be like, “But what if I do correct a thought?” I’ll say, “You know what, you’re going to have ups and downs. So, try not to get too perfectionistic about this practice.” 

There’s just these general ideas and you’ll know in your body if you’re doing it compulsively. A great and easy way to know if you’re doing something compulsively is, are you doing it with urgency? Are you doing it with an experience of resisting discomfort in your body? Are you doing it to reduce or remove a thought that you’re having? And are you doing it repetitively? Those are things where if you’re doing those things, you will know you’re probably doing a compulsion. And in fact, I encourage you to get really good at catching those things because then you will be one step closer to recovery. 

Alright, my loves, that ends the episode on whether correcting thoughts is a compulsion or not. I’m going to let you really come to a conclusion on your own, or you can go and speak with your clinician and get to the bottom of that for yourself.

Have a wonderful, wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to do hard things, and I will talk to you very, very soon, aka, next week.

Have a good one, everyone.

Jul 15, 2022

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 293.

You guys, I’ve totally screwed up. Oh my God, it’s going to be one of those episodes where I laugh a lot. Maybe not. Who knows? 

Alright, I totally screwed up. It’s funny because I have for months been thinking about doing an episode and reminding you guys mostly so I could remind myself that I’m a human being, that I’m going to make mistakes, and it’s one of the biggest lessons that I have had to learn over and over and over and over again. It’s really frustrating, you guys. I’m so frustrated by this fact that humans make mistakes. I don’t like it. It makes me mad. If only we could figure out a way where we don’t and we don’t disappoint people and we don’t screw up. If anyone has figured this out, let me know. Just shoot me an email, tell me your special secret, because I haven’t figured it out yet. So funny. 

Okay. Before we get into it, this is actually pretty much a coincidence and I love when big coincidences happen, but the review of the week is actually from Flashcork. They’re writing a specific review on Episode 193, which I think is really cool because this is by coincidence 293. And they said:

“This episode 193 is just what I needed to hear today. I’m stressed and anxious about my upcoming trip and experiencing racing thoughts. This will help me to manage those feelings and practice by shortening the leash.”

Now, if you haven’t listened to this episode, it is probably one of my most favorite episodes. A lot of my patients and clients have said that this concept has helped them a lot. And so, really go back and listen to 193. If you want to practice being able to be in a place where you can manage those thoughts a little better, go back and check that out. It’s just a metaphor. 

Flashcork says: “It makes sense because it has worked for me walking Sally, my Golden Retriever.”

I make a reference to thoughts being like a dog on a leash. So, you can go back and listen to that anytime.

That’s the review of the week. Thank you, Flashcork. So happy to have you join us. 

The “I did a hard thing” is from Allison. Allison says:

“I’m going to go on a job interview next week after applying to a different job, going through the grueling interviewing process and at the end not being successful. I’m working really hard to believe in myself, screw up my courage to attend this interview and be open-hearted about the new possibilities. It’s hard to pick yourself up and try again, but I’m doing the hard thing of trying again. I’m scared, but I’m proud of myself.”

Ep 293 I made a mistake Your anxiety toolkit

Allison, you are doing the work. And I’m actually going to take your advice today, Allison, because this is so perfect for the topic of today, which is like, yeah, sometimes we do screw up and we just have to get up and we have to try again. It’s so important. I’m so, so I’m impressed. I’m just so impressed with your courage and thank you so much for sharing that because I think we’ve all experienced it. 

So, Allison, let me tell you my hard thing. I want to preface this with, I think in my-- if I’m being completely authentic with you guys, I think that I’ve somehow, for many years of my adulthood, without me realizing, and in not a super severe way either, it was a very secret underlying compulsion I think I’ve been doing for years that I didn’t even know I was doing until the last couple of years is I was trying to find a way, constantly striving to find a way that I could live in a world where I didn’t make a mistake. Now I understand I’m a human. I don’t think I’m a superwoman. But in my mind, I think I’ve had-- well, I know I have, let’s be honest. I think in my effort to control my emotions that I’ve engaged in these little nuanced secretive behaviors of constantly trying to find the formula where I don’t upset people and I don’t screw up.

Let’s just take a minute because it’s funny for me to say that because how many times during the week with my clients and with you guys and everything I do is about self-compassion and letting go of control. And all along there was this nuanced little secret slither going through my life. And I think that number one, a part of this is true for a lot of people who have anxiety and are high functioning. Because I spoke to a couple of friends about this and they were like, “Yeah, to be--” when you have anxiety, to be high functioning, you have to put in place systems and procedures and routines to keep you going. And it makes sense that we often engage in other little behaviors that make us feel like we’re getting control when we don’t. 

Everybody knows, I even spoke about it a couple of sessions ago, that I am so in love with calendaring. My life has changed since I’ve been more intentional about my calendar. I’m not compulsive about it at all. Because I’m managing two children and two businesses and a chronic illness, if I can be really intentional and effective with my schedule, I can go into the day. I never worry about what I have to get done anymore. Really, I don’t. It was the best change I ever made because I have a system where I write down what I need to do and I throw that list out because I immediately calendar the times that I’m going to do it. So, I know it’s going to get done because it’s in the calendar. And if I don’t get it done, I’ll reschedule it. And I know I’ll get it done. And through the process, I’ve actually built such trust with myself. I know. I know I used to worry that I won’t get things done. I never worry about that anymore because I’ve gotten really good at this process. You guys know what’s going. 

This week is literally the only week of the year where the things on my calendar cannot be rescheduled because my beautiful daughter, who is a delight, she’s growing up to be this absolutely gorgeous human. I wish you could all meet her. She’s just so good. I know I’m biased, but she is just so wonderful. It’s her graduation. She’s graduating elementary school, you guys, and I’m going to have a middle schooler next year.

So, the one thing this year-- because I’m my own boss. I can schedule what I want. The one thing I can’t miss is her graduation. And last week, you know what’s going to happen here I was prepping to present at this conference and I got on the call and then we were doing this rehearsal and she said, “Okay, great. I’ll see you next Friday.” And I was like, “No, no, no, no. It’s the week after.” And she said, “No, no, no it’s next Friday.” And I’m like, “No, no, it’s not. And I’m always right. It’s in my calendar.” And she’s like, “No, it’s really not. It’s next Friday. You agreed to it on this date.” And I realized she’s right.

Now, I said to her, literally, “I cannot do it with this whole thing. I can’t do it. I’ve totally screwed up. This is not something I can reschedule.” And she was like, “Oh, okay.” So, she had to basically message a whole foundation. They had to change everything. They had to try and figure it out. This is where it was so humiliating, is they had to reach out to the person who was going after me, who is a very, very, very well-known person in the OCD community who I respect and don’t know. So, it’s like I have a relationship and had to ask him to reschedule his entire day because I screwed up. 

Now, I know this is not a huge disaster. This is in the grand scheme of things. This is not a huge problem, but I felt so bad. Oh my God, it was so painful. I was in this meeting and to see their faces of just pure annoyance and frustration and anger of like, “What? You got the date wrong?” They were very kind, but I could tell they were annoyed. 

And so, my question to you, because I love questions, is what do we do when we screw up? What do you do when you screwed up? 

Now you might be thinking this isn’t a big deal. I want you to think about a time when you did screw up that’s a big deal for you, and I want you to ask yourself, what did you do when you screw up? 

Immediately for me, this is the reason I wanted to really do this episode, is there was this interesting shift in me this time where-- because I haven’t screwed up this big in a couple of years. This was a pretty huge screw-up. I looked like a complete fall in something that was organized months ago, we’ve been talking about it, emailing back and forth. How did I miss this? I don’t know. But what was fascinating to me is, once upon a time, I would’ve said some very mean things to myself. Really, really mean. And I probably would’ve-- now that I’m noticing it is I would’ve responded, not just with self-criticism, but I would’ve tightened my belt even more with checking behaviors, rechecking, more controlling calendar, like compulsive calendaring. I would’ve overcorrected because I have been known to overcorrect. If you ask my partner, he’ll tell you I often used to overcorrect pretty bad. If I make a mistake, I would-- if I upset someone, I would go overboard trying to get them to like me again. Or I remember I used to-- if I was worried I offended someone, I would like to apologize over and over and over again. I don’t know if you’ve done any of these behaviors. You might want to gently say, “Kimberley, you’re not alone.” I’m kidding. 

But this time what? I notice this shift in me where I was like-- what I say to my son all the time is, “Oh my gosh, I’m such a ding-dong.” I’ll say you’re such a ding-dong and he’ll say you’re such a ding-dong. It’s a funny thing. It’s lighthearted and it’s not critical. It’s just like, “Ding-dong. You’re such ding-dong.” And what was interesting is I responded by went, “Oh my gosh, I’m such a ding-dong,” but it wasn’t-- I said things that sounded critical, but it wasn’t. There was this giggle to it. There was this acceptance of my humanness to it. It was so playful in my response. And I mean, this is a big deal for me because I very much value the respect of the people in my field and I work really hard to get their respect. Not in a people-pleasing way, but it’s a very big value for me. And it was funny. I just went, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I’m a ding-dong.” And then I said, “What can we do to fix it?” It was just a very transactional thing. Whereas before I would’ve, “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I did this. You should fire me.” I would just go overcorrect. 

So, let’s come here to the questions because I love the questions. If you’re driving, don’t do this. But if you’re not driving, I’d love for you to actually sit down with a notepad and just journal some of this out. So, when you screw up, what do you do? 

The second question is, is it okay for you? Because it was fine for me, and I want you to actually check-in, is it okay for you to make jokes about yourself? Answer it honestly. If it’s a yes, that’s okay. It can be giggly, nothing too harsh. If no, take that and really follow that out when you do make a mistake. 

Number three, is it helpful to apologize? Yes, of course. When we screw up, we should apologize. But how many times? And how do we apologize? Do we say it in a way that’s very factual, “I’m so sorry, this is a huge inconvenience for you”? Or do we say, “I’m sorry, I’m such a mess, screwed up person. I’ve ruined your day,” and make up a whole story about it? Because a lot of us do that when we screw up. Do you apologize over and over and over? 

Catch how do you respond to try and make it up to them. And that’s a really big one. Because if you find that you’re trying to make it up to them that’s okay. But are you doing it because it equals the degree in which you screwed up or are you doing it just to remove the discomfort you feel about the fact that you’re a human being? Make sure it’s in proportion. So, if you, let’s say, forgot to text somebody about something, you wouldn’t need to buy them a $100 gift card. That’s going overboard. Maybe it depends on the situation, but we’re just making an assumption here. If you forgot someone’s birthday. Well, yeah, you probably need to take them out for dinner and do make a big deal about it. But do you need to do that four times this month or throw them a party that puts you out of pocket? No. Don’t try to make it up to people in a way that actually takes away from your well-being. 

This is the next thing, is-- once I did this, I was really proud of myself. I’m not going to lie. I handled it pretty well, I think, and I was like, “Wow, I’ve made some pretty big growth in here obviously.” What was interesting is, once I hung up from them and I was like, “Oh dear.” I have all of these emotions, which I’ll talk to you here in a second about, I had to ask myself. The next question is, how long am I going to be on the hook for this, meaning from myself? How long am I going to hold myself on the hook? When am I going to let this one go? Because what I could have done is I could have said, “Okay, I made a mistake. It was not a good mistake there.” Obviously, I need to make some changes, but I’m going to beat myself up for the rest of the day. I’m going to ask yourself, how effective is that and is it in proportion with what happened, and is it effective? Really, does it make it less likely that you’ll do it again? The truth is, if I beat myself up all day, it’s not going to reduce the chances of this happening again, because it was a human mistake. And then the last question is, what can I do to resolve this if anything?

But let me come back to the emotions because those questions are very much related to these emotions. When you make a mistake and whether-- let me pose a couple of things to you. It could be something you do to somebody else. It could be something you do to yourself. Meaning if you do a ton of compulsions and you are up all night and now, you’re exhausted, or it’s any mistake you make. You had a huge panic attack and you left the party of your best friend and she’s really mad at you because you left her birthday party. It could be that you were depressed and you just couldn’t show up for your friend this day. So, there are so many ways in which this plays out. It doesn’t just have to be with scheduling.

When we upset other people or our behaviors impact other people, it’s normal to feel strong emotions. That’s normal. Often what we do is when we feel those strong emotions, we respond to them as if we need to squash them immediately, because we’ve told ourselves we can’t tolerate them. Guilt is probably one of the most common, shame being the second. There may be some anxiety related to it as well, or maybe some other emotions as well. But let’s take a look at those emotions and just quickly review how they may actually impact you. 

So, when we feel guilt, guilt is usually you’ve done something wrong, and I had done something wrong. So, guilt was an appropriate emotion. But I always think of guilt-- I’ve done episodes on this in the past. I think of guilt as just a stop sign to ask you, is there anything I can do to fix this now or in the future? Again, just really logical. In this situation, yeah, I can reschedule. I can be honest. I can do what I can to apologize. But beyond that, there isn’t anything else. And so, any residual guilt I feel from there, I must just tolerate. I must compassionately ride the wave of guilt.

Often, I see my clients, and I’ve done this myself, is if guilt is here, I’m going to beat myself up for it. No matter what, that’s the conditions. If guilt is present, I will beat myself up. And I want to invite you to have guilt and just be kind and let it ride. It’ll burn off like a candle. It’ll burn itself out and it’ll slowly dwindle away. 

Guilt is “I did something bad.” Shame is “I am bad.” If you do something and you screw up, and you feel shame, your job is to check-in and recognize that mistakes don’t make you bad. Literally, no mistake. There is not a mistake you could tell me of that makes you bad. Even if there was an absolute catastrophe that happened, mistakes don’t make you bad. You’re a human being. You’re going to make them. And I know, like I said to you, if you figured out how not to be human, please email me. I’ll happily take your email into my inbox and I’ll apply your rules. But the truth is, I know none of you are going to email me because it’s not possible and we have to accept it. We have to accept it. I’m just joking really about the email. 

And so, there is really no place for shame. If you feel shame, same as guilt, write it out compassionately. Give it very little of your attention. Don’t get into the content of what your shame is saying. Write it out and let it go. Meaning, like I said to you, there’s really no point in me dwelling on this because it’s done and I can’t do anything about it. All I can do is be kind to the feelings I’m feeling.

Now, a lot of people will say, “Oh my gosh, I wrote this response on an email or call or I presented, or I was in a party, and now I feel nothing but anxiety because I totally made a mistake.” I’ve had people even say like, “Oh, I was at a party and I passed gas,” or “I said something stupid.” I mean, I could tell you some absolutely ridiculous stories. 

Actually, let me tell you a quick, funny story, because I’ll come back to this, is recently, I attended this creative writing course, but it was actually a writing course for people who are business owners, and they were talking about getting really clear about you and the message you want to give and how to tell stories about it and so forth. And he was asking these questions about, who are you? And what’s something that the people closest to you would say? And I was thinking about it and I don’t think you guys know this about me, but I have, not in my professional life, but in my personal life, I have a way of the most bizarre things happening to me, like silly things. I always find myself in these situations where everyone is like, “Oh, only Kimberley would get put in that situation.” So ridiculous. I can’t even-- one day I think if I really let go, I’ll tell you some ridiculous stories. But if something really bizarre is going to happen, it always happens to me. And so, I just wanted to tell you that, because I want you guys to know that as the podcast is where I get a little more personal and bizarre things totally happen to me all the time. But let me go back. 

So, let’s say you have anxiety. You’re having anxiety about something that happened, and you’re thinking like, “Oh my God.” And your brain is just telling you catastrophe after catastrophe, after catastrophe, all of the worst-case scenarios. The truth is, that’s your brain’s job. Its job is to tell you of all the catastrophes, but it doesn’t mean you need to respond as if they’re all true and happening. And so, again, we go back to these core questions, is how can I stay with the facts that it happened? How can I acknowledge that it is what it is and that I can’t solve it, I can’t make it go away? And how can I act in a way that doesn’t overcorrect again, not over-apologizing, not asking for reassurance, not avoiding those people, not saying too many jokes, and so forth? So, we want to catch that. We want to catch how we go into anxiety and respond in that compulsive way. 

As I said to you at the beginning of this episode, I think that I was for many years doing this very nuanced compulsion of over-checking schedules and even being super neutral and kind to people so that I would never offend them. Stripping my personality down just so I would never harm them or never hurt them, which is not me being authentic, and I can see that now. 

So, these are the things I want you to think about. And then once you identify these strong emotions – again, we’ve looked at guilt, we’ve looked at shame, we’re now looking at anxiety – the job is to ride them out, let the anxiety burn out on its own. We don’t need to tend to it. It happened because we’re human and we’re going to allow it to rise and fall on our own. 

So, here is where I want you now to, number one, give yourself permission to be a human. Humans screw up. It’s a fact. It’s something we have to accept. How can we be in these situations and change the way we react so that we are not beating ourselves up and we’re not overcorrecting for the future? 

The only last thing I’ll say here is, if you’re trying to control what people think about you, you’re never going to win because what they think is a reflection of them. So, here is the last point. I screwed up. It’s just a fact. I put other people out. My mistake is probably going to interrupt some people’s time next week. I don’t like that. That doesn’t line up with my values, but it is what it is. There’s not a lot I can do. But what they think about me is completely a reflection of them. 

So, if let’s say this one person goes, “Oh my gosh, she is such an unorganized person and is horrible,” that really shows the degree in which they’re judgmental. Meaning they haven’t allowed me to show them that I’m more complex than that, that I have many other qualities, and so forth. If they were to say, “Oh my God, you’re fired, you’re terrible,” again, that’s not a fact either. And that’s a reflection of them and their struggle to be flexible and find solutions and so forth. Not that they’re bad, it’s just it’s more of a reflection on them because, in this situation, the people were very kind and they said, “We’ll work it out. We’ll see if we can reschedule you to be later on in the day,” and that it really was a reflection of how flexible they are. 

So, I want you to really remember here that you making a mistake doesn’t make you good or bad. Their judgments about you doesn’t define whether you’re good or bad or that they’re good or bad. It’s just we’re doing the best we can and it’s just it is what it is. 

So, that’s it, guys. We make mistakes. It’s terrible. I know it’s hard. It’s really painful, but can we hold space for the pain and the emotions associated and ride them out without beating ourselves up? That’s the real question. 

Have a wonderful day, everybody.

Jul 8, 2022

SUMMARY:

In this episode, we explore how to manage uncomfortable sensations. Many people do not struggle with intrusive thoughts and intrusive images, but instead, struggle to manage intrusive sensations. My hope is that this will give you some tools to manage these uncomfortable sensations and help you reduce how many compulsions you do to reduce or remove these feelings.

In This Episode:

  • What is an intrusive sensation?
  • What is the difference between an uncomfortable sensation and an intrusive sensation.
  • How to manage uncomfortable sensations such as rapid heartbeat, tingling limbs, numbness, lightheadedness, chest pain, etc.

Links To Things I Talk About:
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com. CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...
If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 292. 

Welcome back, everybody. Today, we are talking about something that I very rarely talk about that I should be talking about more because it’s like 20% of the conversations I have with clients. And I’ll explain to you why in just a second. 

First, I’m going to do the review of the week. This one is from Linelulu. And they said:

“Grateful. I am so grateful that I stumbled onto your podcasts. Your soothing voice enhances your messages as I am trying to understand more about anxiety, and panic attacks to be a better support for someone very close to me. Thank you!”

You are so welcome, Linelulu. Thank you for that beautiful review. Please, I know I ask you every single episode. If you benefit from this podcast, this is one way that you can help me. So, if for any reason you feel like you have a few spare minutes, please do go and leave a review. 

The last thing before we get talking about sensations is to do the “I did a hard thing” of the week, and this one is from Camille. Camille says:

“I’ve been managing my dermatillomania,” which we also know is compulsive skin picking, “very well. However, I had a very stressful day and picked my skin pretty bad, in my opinion. I had a party to go to that night with a bunch of people. I didn’t know. And I almost didn’t go. But I pushed myself to go and no one said one thing about my skin. I’m so glad I went and got over the fact that my skin needs to be perfect in that instance.”

Camille, this is so good on so many levels, that you showed up and you did the thing that you wanted to do. And ugh, it’s so good. And how wonderful that you had supportive friends. Again, we sometimes were really hard on ourselves and we think people notice everything about us, every flow, but how wonderful that they embraced you and no one said anything. So, thank you so much for Camille for putting in that “I did a hard thing.” I just love hearing you guys doing all the hard things.

Ep 292 Uncomfortable Sensations Your anxiety toolkit

Now, why do we do this segment? Let’s just go back and look at that. So, most of you know that the thing I say all the time is “It’s a beautiful day to do hard things.” Our brains naturally default to this idea of like, “No, I shouldn’t do the hard thing. I should do the easy thing.” Marketing keeps telling us don’t do the hard thing, do the easy thing. Commercial advertising is always sharing the easy five-step way to do something. And we want to flip the script because while it’s good to have things be easy, when it comes to anxiety and these kind of conditions that we’re often talking about, it’s often important that you stare that scary, hard thing in the face. 

Now, that is the perfect segue into this week’s episode about sensations. Now, at the beginning of the episode, I said it’s crazy that I haven’t done a lot of these episodes because sensations is 20% of the work. Now, why did I say that? In total, the clients that I see and that my staff see in our private practice, they’re coming to us for one of five reasons usually. They either have an intrusive thought that they don’t know what to do with, they have an intrusive feeling that they don’t know what to do with, they have an intrusive urge that they don’t know what to do with, they have an intrusive image that they don’t know what to do with, or they have an intrusive sensation that they don’t know what to do with. Five things. 

99.9% of our patients and of the people that we help come with one of those five problems. It doesn’t matter what you call it. They’re coming with, “This is the experience that I’m having.” That’s so overwhelming and difficult and hard that then they go on to do behaviors to try and manage it, and we teach them how to manage those five things in a way that doesn’t require them to do the behaviors that cause them trouble. 

So, let me give you a little more information about that. So, when we’re talking about sensations, we’re talking about-- let’s first get a definition. What is a sensation? A sensation is a physical feeling or a perception resulting from something that happens or that comes into contact with the body. So, really what we’re saying is a sensation is an experience you have in your body and it’s very specific. So often when I’ll say to a client, “Okay, how can I help?” they’ll say, “Well, I’m anxious.” And I’ll say, “Okay, tell me about your anxiety.” And they’ll then usually go on to say, “Well, I’m having these thoughts,” or “I’m having these feelings,” or “I’m having these urges. I’m having these images,” or “I’m having these sensations, and I don’t like it. They make me uncomfortable.” And when I have them, I do these again, like I said, behaviors that kept me into a ton of trouble. Meaning they’ve got big consequences. 

So, often a sensation we consider to be an obsession, just like an intrusive thought, is an obsession. It’s as relevant. And it’s important if someone has anxiety for us to go, “Okay.” This is a common question. If you were my client, this is a common question I ask. I’ll say, “Imagine that I’m an alien and I’ve never, ever once in my life experienced anxiety, and I want you to tell me what it feels like because it doesn’t make any sense to me.” And often clients will struggle with this because they’ll be like, “Well, I just have anxiety.” And I’ll say, “No, we need to understand what specifically, how do you specifically know you’re anxious?” “Oh, I have tightening in my chest or I have shortness of breath, or I have a lump in my throat or I have these butterflies in my tummy.” So, immediately, once we get that, we’re like, “Okay, now we know what we’re dealing with. Okay, now we have specific sensations and now we can develop tools around them so that when you have them, you don’t either engage in avoidant compulsions or physical compulsions or mental rumination or reassurance or self-punishment.” So important. 

Now, let’s slow down here a little and look at what that looks like for many of my patients and many of you. So, this is not scientific, what I’m about to tell you. This is really just coming off of my stream of consciousness and my experience as a clinician, is I’ve broken them down into four main sensations that my patients report to me. Again, this is not a clinical list. So, I want to preface. I don’t want to ever mislead you into thinking this is scientific. But often one of the sensations that people will feel are physical experiences of anxiety, like I listed. It could be butterflies in your tummy, tightness in your chest, as I just said, and I’ve listed them off. 

The next one is specific sensations around what we call depersonalization and derealization. I’ve done full episodes on those in the past. So, go back and check them out. But this is the experience of this weird feeling. The sensation is like, everything feels strange. I feel like distorted, like I’m in a daydream. It feels very hazy and strange, or I feel like I’m outside of my body. Now while we have words to describe derealization and depersonalization, they are also at their most basic form of sensation, a basic sensation. So, I put that in its own category. 

The next one is similar to anxiety and derealization and to personalization, but I’ve put them under the category of panic. Now, the reason that it’s so important for us to talk about sensations is, people who have panic disorder are very sensitive to the sensations that they have because panic is such a 10 out of 10 anxiety. So, it’s like can’t breathe, racing thoughts, major overwhelmed, dizzy, sweating. These are all sensations. These are all things that we perceive or we experience in our body. 

And then the last one is physical pain. This is a sensation too. When you physically have pain, a tummy ache, that’s also a sensation. 

Now, let’s talk about why I separated those, because I’ll give you a really perfect example of how this gets messy. Most of you know that I have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which is symptoms of dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, stomach troubles. And often if you stand for too long, you faint. Now, what does that sound very similar to? You guys are probably laughing at me already. Anxiety. It looks exactly like anxiety except the fainting piece, dizziness, lightheadedness, stomach aches, headaches. So similar. And so, when we have, and this is where it gets difficult, when we have a chronic illness or if we have health anxiety, when we experience a sensation, sometimes we can’t figure out whether it’s real pain and real threat or if it’s anxiety. 

The thing to remember here is the response needs to be similar. So, for me, when I had dizziness and lightheadedness, yes, of course, I’m not going to push myself to a place where I pass out, but I’m going to first stop and go, “Hmm, let me try to dip into these sensations. Instead of catastrophizing them as this is terrible and bad things are going to happen, I wonder what would happen if I just labeled them as a sensation.” 

The thing here is, when we have sensations, and you’re having them right now, believe it or not. It could be an itch. It could be a muscle that’s sore from a workout you had, it could be a stomach ache because you just ate an amazing dinner and you just had a little more than you wish you had, or you’re having anxiety. We all have them. Where we often get into trouble is when we label them as good or bad. So, that’s the main point here first. Are you labeling your sensations as good or bad? 

When I would have my POTS symptoms, I get dizzy. At the beginning, I go, “This is bad, this is bad. Bad things are happening,” which would then give me anxiety, which would make it worse. And now I’ve got this hot mess. Massive hot mess. Same for people with health anxiety. They have tightness in the chest and they go, “Oh my God, I’m dying. I’m having a stroke,” or “I’m having a heart attack.” And when we label it as bad, we get more anxiety, which makes it worse, and now we’re in a cycle. If you’re having a panic disorder and you’re starting to notice that small little tingle of anxiety coming up, this like whoosh of anxiety that whooshes over you when we have a panic attack, and you label this as, “Oh, this is bad, this is terrible. I got to get it to go away,” you can bet your bottom dollar, it’s actually going to feed you more anxiety. So, question whether you are labeling your sensations as good or bad.

Now I’m guessing some of you are thinking, “Well, Kimberley, of course, I’m going to label it as bad. It is bad. It’s terrible. I don’t like it.” And I get you. But we’re here to learn. We’re here to grow. We’re here to recover. So, I want you to think beyond that judgment and look at first the judgment doesn’t help you. Whether it’s true or not, it’s not helpful. It makes it worse. So, let’s work at being nonjudgmental about the sensations that we have. 

The response we have to your sensations can determine whether you get stuck in a cycle of having more discomfort. Let me rephrase that in a different way to make an even bigger point. The response you have to your sensations can determine whether you have anxiety about them in the future. Because if you treat the sensations today like they’re dangerous and harmful and they require immediate emergency, you’re training your brain to perceive those sensations as scary and bad and dangerous. And so next time you have them, your brain is going to send out a whole bunch more anxiety. So important. 

I’ve had my share of panic attacks in my life, but when I have them and if I’m like, “Oh, dear God, please don’t,” I know my brain is going, “What, what, what? What’s wrong, Kimberley? Why are you telling me this is terrible? Okay, it is terrible. I’ll keep sending out anxiety.” But when I can respond by going, “Good one, brain. It’s cool. There’s no amount of sensations I can’t tolerate. It’s fine. I’m going to ride it out.” Again, we don’t know how to bypass it with positivity by going, “It’s great. I love it.” We’re not saying that. But we are saying if we can reframe the sensation as tolerable and manageable, you’re less likely to have anxiety about the sensation tomorrow.

Now, I know a lot of you may be asking, “But how do I know when it’s something to just be uncertain and nonjudgmental about or when I should rush to the hospital and so forth?” Number one, you’ll know. But the other piece, I don’t want to discard you on that one because that’s hard to say, especially if you have anxiety, especially OCD and health anxiety. But the other thing is, for me, if I’m having it and I’ll use me as an example, if I’m having dizziness and lightheadedness, which could be anxiety or it could be my POTS, I just keep on the deferring. I keep on deferring like, “Okay, can I just stay with it nonjudgmental for another few minutes?” If I’m getting to feel really horrible, of course, I’m going to sit down and take a rest. I’m not going to push through and be unkind. But I just keep being curious. Could I it do a little longer? Could I have a little more? Could I be nonjudgmental for another few minutes? 

It’s so important because when it comes to anxiety, the way in which we respond to the sensations is as important as how we respond to intrusive thoughts. Particularly like I said, if you’ve got depersonalization, derealization, panic disorder, physical pain, generalized anxiety, health anxiety, so important. If it’s social anxiety, it’s a big one because a lot of people with social anxiety have an aversion to the sensation of being flushed in their cheeks. But if you respond to your cheeks flushed as bad, you’re probably going to get more of it. It’s paradoxical.

Now, here is one other point I want to make before we finish up, which is there is no sensation you can’t ride out. This was a huge one for me because I’ve had anxiety and I’ve had some pretty bad chronic illnesses. If I go into the day telling myself, “I won’t be able to handle it,” I usually have anxiety about the day. Have you noticed that? I know you can’t answer back, but I really want you to consider the question. Do you notice that in your experience? When you tell yourself “I can’t handle things,” does that actually then create more anxiety for you? And sometimes more depression too, if I can be completely honest. 

Last week, we did a whole episode on depression. I think it’s really important to recognize that. Even I should say other sensations are like depression, that’s that sinking, dark, gray sensation that goes with having depression. I should put that there as the fifth type because that’s a sensation that can be scary too. Grief can be an experience that-- there are sensations associated with grief that feel intolerable. But when we tell ourselves we can’t tolerate them, we actually then create more anxiety and depression. So, these are things to think about when it comes to sensations. 

Now, if you were in an office with me or one of my staff, we are most likely to say, at the end of the day, you’re going to have to say, “Bring it on.” Once you identify the sensation, it really comes to, do you avoid it or do you say it’s a beautiful day to do this hard thing, to experience this hard thing? And so, we would say, “Bring it on.”

Now, in ERP School, we talk about this. I probably should do an episode on this. Let me just actually write myself a note to episode on this. If someone really comes to our office with a stronger aversion to certain sensations, we do what we call interoceptive exposures. We talk about this in ERP School. It’s an online course. But an interoceptive exposure is where we purposely expose you to the sensation that you’re avoiding. 

So, examples might be, if you really don’t like dizziness and you’re doing things to avoid dizziness, we would sit you in our chair and we would spin you around 30 times and then we’d walk the hallway ways with you while you’re dizzy. 

If you’re afraid of shortness of breath, we would give you a very small straw. One of those straws that you use to stir your coffee with, and we would have you practice breathing through that so that you, on purpose, tolerate the feeling of having shortness of breath. 

If you really don’t like the feeling of shortness of breath, like tightness in your chest, we might wrap a bandage around your chest, so tight that it feels like you can’t breathe, just for a few minutes. We’re not here to torture you. But these are examples of interoceptive exposures that we do because not only are we like “Bring it on,” we’re like, “Let’s have more of it.” Let’s practice doing it so we can practice nonjudgment, we can practice non-aversion. We can practice saying I can handle this and learning that we can handle this is cool. So, so cool. That’s the thing. 

So, depending on where you are and how severe you are in your aversion to sensations, there are multiple ways you can respond. I want you just to use this episode as an opportunity for you to check in, where are you in respect to your experience with sensations? Do you have aversion to them? How willing are you to feel them? Questions are my favorite, you guys. You know this about me. So, ask yourself these questions. So important. 

All right. That is it for sensations. I hope that is helpful. I know I took you on a couple of meandering tangents there, but I hope you stayed with me. I love talking to you about this stuff and I hope that that did give you some clarity on how you may handle it in the future. 

All right. I will see you next week. Have a wonderful, wonderful day, and don’t forget, it’s a beautiful day to do hard things. I’ll talk to you later.

Jul 1, 2022

SUMMARY

A few months ago, I posted on social media and asked “What are your best tips for depression” and the response was incredible.  Hundreds of people weighed in and shared their best tips for managing depression with OCD and other anxiety disorders.  

In This Episode: 

  • Hundreds of people with depression shared what skills they use to manage OCD and depression 
  • What skills can become compulsions 
  • How to manage day-to-day depression when you are feeling hopeless (OCD hopelessness) 

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit Episode 291.

Welcome back, everybody. So, I want to set the scene here because things are shifting. Things have shifted. So, I am right now sitting in my office, which is in Southern California, in the United States. But as this launches and goes live, I will be in Australia for the summer. I think I’ve talked to you guys about this in previous episodes, but my husband and I made a decision that the children and I will go to Australia to see our family for the entire summer. Oh my goodness, what a huge undertaking, but we’re doing it and I am so excited. So, really, I’ve had to batch 10 episodes ahead of time. 

Now, what I’ve done is I’ve done my best to make these the best episodes I can batch for you, like the things that seem to be coming up the most for my clients, the questions my staff seem to be asking the most, and the things that everyone seem to be really, really liking and appreciating on social media.

And so, in preparation for today, I was thinking about what’s one of the most helpful, most enjoyed, and engaged posts on social media, because I do spend a lot of time over on Instagram. And by far, interestingly by far, my most popular post I have ever made in the whole history of me being on social media is tips on managing depression. What? I’m an OCD and an Anxiety Specialist, but yet my most popular post in the whole time I’ve been there is on managing depression. So, that’s what we’re talking about today. 

Now, in order for me to do 10 posts, 10 podcasts, excuse me, in order, I’ve had to manage my time down to the minute because right now we are leaving in 18-- no, what is it? Not 18 days. It’s like 15 days. So, we’re leaving in 15 days. I have all of this in addition to the work because I usually just do these here and there. I’ve had to manage my time, and what I have relied on the most is managing my time using what we call “calendaring.” I talk a lot about this on my online course. If you go to CBT School, we have a whole course on managing time. 

But the reason I also share that with you is as we talk about skills today, we’re going to be talking about cognitive skills and behavioral skills. And if you have depression, I strongly encourage you to go and sign up for that course. It’s not an expensive course. It’s jam-packed with how to schedule your time so that you can lessen the heavy load that you’re carrying or the time about the lists of things you have to do and get done. So, I do recommend you go check that out. Go to CBTSchool.com and I think it’s /time management. Yes, it is. 

We’re about to get into the show. First of all, let’s do the “I did a hard thing.” This one is from Anonymous and it says:

“I stopped driving and spending time with children because of OCD. But yesterday, I drove my little sister to school. I was scared, but I’m so proud of myself. Thank you, Kimberley.”

This is so good. I can’t tell you how many people when they’re anxious, they stop driving. It’s actually a really common question I get on social media. It actually surprised me at first in that how common it is. It’s one of the first things people stop doing, is driving. So, Anonymous, amazing. You are just all for the correct courage and all for the bravery and I’m celebrating you right now. That is so, so amazing. Great, great job. 

And one more thing, let’s do quickly a review of the week. This is from Robin. Robin says:

“I’m not sure how to condense all of my happiness and thanks, but I’ll try. Was recommended to listen to your podcast by my therapist (who is just superb and I’m grateful she exists) and I instantly fell in love with your genuine desire to help which seeps through the sound waves. I am hooked on the real-life stories that I can connect to my own experience and have gotten my sister hooked as well who struggles with anxiety as I do. Thank you for your tools and support!”

Thank you, Robin, for that amazing review. Please do go over. And if you listen to the podcast, leave a review. It does help me help other people and more than ever, that is my biggest mission. 

Ep 291 Tips for managing depression Your anxiety toolkit

 

Tips to Manage Depression (From Hundreds Who Have Been There) 

All right, let’s do it. So, let me just give you a little bit deeper context here. So, what I did is I did a poll on social media. So, just to give you some context, I have around 75,000 followers on social media. So, I posted: “Please just give me your best tips for managing depression.” Hundreds of people wrote in and the reason-- I don’t give you the numbers because I’m bragging. I want you to know this is not just from me. This is from hundreds of people who weighed in, who’ve been there, who’ve had depression and they shared little nuggets of what has helped them. And I want to-- in fact, we actually had to split this post into two because there was just so many submissions that we couldn’t fit them all in one post. So, here we go. 

The number one tip for managing depression and these aren’t in order, by the way, this is not the one that was most popular. This is just as we went through, these were the ones that seemed to be really coming up for the same a lot of people. The first one is-- this is going to be a fun one for you, is many people reported that having a dog or a cat or a pet helped them to feel like they had a purpose in the world, that they were there to take care of someone, and that that pet gave them an incredible amount of love. 

I loved this one. What was interesting, I’ll give you feedback right away, is there was a little controversy and feedback around this. A lot of people were saying, “Please don’t encourage people to get a pet just because they’re depressed. Taking on a pet is a huge responsibility.” There was a little controversy, a little backlash, I would say, over that point. But I really do agree that those who do have a pet and can commit to taking on a pet have found that that’s really helpful for their mental health. Most people said having a pet is the most mindful they are in the day when they’re petting their pet, feeding their pet, cuddling with their pet, listening to their pet, and so forth. So, that I thought was an amazing, amazing tip or thing you could practice. 

Number two, probably again, one of the most important from a clinical perspective is exercise. Now, yes, I know, it’s hard to exercise when you’re depressed, but we do have a ton of research to show that exercise is in fact as effective as an SSRI. Not to say you shouldn’t be on an SSRI. I actually am on all four meds. But exercise is an additional benefit. And so, I strongly encourage everyone to at least get out. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, but around 25 minutes was what most people who have depression said, that was the ideal amount. If you get to that point, you actually get more benefit, which I thought was really cool. 

The next one is: Practice mindfulness. Now again, so helpful. If you have depression, usually, I’m going to guess, your mind tells you a lot of lies, a lot of horrible lies, a lot of absolute painful lies. And a big part of managing it is using what we call mindful-based cognitive therapy. And so, what we mean by that is, first, we are aware and we just observe thoughts as thoughts. We don’t take thoughts as facts. And then the cognitive therapy side is once we identify that we’ve had a thought, we may actually stop to correct it. So, if your brain says, there’s no point, you’re a waste of space or the future is going to be nothing but terrible or my life is nothing but terrible – when it tells us these lies, we can actually stop and go, “Okay, now, number one, that’s a thought and I’m going to observe that thought nonjudgmentally.” And then you can also go, “Okay, let’s actually check the evidence for that depressive thought. Hmm, do I bring purpose into the world? Is the world going to be terrible?” and look for maybe some holes in this theory and start to be curious about whether that’s in fact correct. It’s so important. Mindfulness. I personally think these two, the exercise and the mindfulness, are key, are major keys to managing depression.

The next one that was suggested by a lot of people was to talk to family and friends, even if they don’t fully understand. And I loved that little caveat to go on. As much as depression makes you want to isolate and shut down, make sure that you are going and you’re just connecting with them. You’re talking with them, you’re sharing what you’re going through, even if they don’t understand, because the truth is they won’t. Even if they’ve been through what you’ve been through, they won’t fully get it. They’re not the ones getting fed the lies of depression like you are. Or if you’re a family member, I want you to understand it’s really not helpful to say to someone with depression, “I totally get what you’re going through,” because the chances are you don’t. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t relate on some level. That doesn’t mean we can’t connect and support each other. So, important. So, so important. 

This one was an interesting one. And I want to-- some of these surprised me, but lots of people reported that attending couples therapy, couples counseling, if you’re in a relationship, was helpful for their depression. Now, I wonder if that is because maybe their relationship was a part of what’s very difficult for them, but I can see the benefit in that. I don’t talk about this very often, but I personally love couples counseling. I have no problem admitting that we’ve been to couples counseling before. It is thebomb.com. It is such a beautiful thing to do with your partner. Is it hard? Yes. Is it bumpy? Yes. But there’s something really cool about knowing that you’re showing up to the same place every week with the same goal, which is to strengthen your relationship. That in and of itself is just really, really cool. And a lot of people responded saying that that was really helpful for their depression, which I thought was really cool. 

Next one, you guys aren’t going to be shocked by this, and I definitely wasn’t, which was to practice self-compassion. You guys, depression is nasty. It tells you nasty. I’m doing everything I can not to swear here, but it’s like BS. It tells you such nasty BS. And one of the best insurance policies against that, or one of the best defenders against that, or I should say offense, the offense against that is to practice compassion for yourself, to practice being kind and respectful and being tender to the suffering that you’re experiencing. Because believe me, I do know, I’ve experienced depression throughout different parts of my life. It’s horrible and it feels-- the only way I can explain it is you can’t understand it when you’re in depression because you’re in depression. But once you’re out of the depression, for me, it felt like someone had pulled this gray veil off my head that I didn’t even know was there until I’d come out of a depression by going to a lot of therapy and so forth. And I was like, “Whoa, I had no idea everything was under a gray veil until the gray veil was lifted.” So, that compassion piece is really important because I didn’t know the depression was there until the depression had lifted, if that makes any sense. And had I known it, I probably would’ve been much, much, much kinder to myself. 

Next point, I love this. It’s very similar to what we talked about before, but it says, no matter how much you don’t want to, get up and move your body. Now, I could have easily put this under the category of exercise. But a lot of the comments weren’t-- this wasn’t talking about exercise. It was saying, stand up and stretch was one of them. Just stand up and swing your body around, move it around, get into the flow, let the blood flow around your body. And they were saying that that is a shift in mentality. It’s a shift in mindset. I know even today as I’m recording all these episodes, I’m going to need to practice this, because if I just stay here and I stare into this microphone and I’m looking at the screen, my brain is going to get a little distorted and strange. I’m going to have to go upstairs, shake it off, get a cup of tea, move around. And so, I love that they distinguish this separate from exercise.

Next point, oh my gosh, this is gold right here. It says, do something you used to enjoy. Now, when we’re depressed, often nothing feels enjoyable. Even food isn’t enjoyable anymore, or company might not be enjoyable. The things you used to love, the vibe is gone. But what a lot of people were saying, and this is again from people who’ve had depression and managed it, is they were saying, whether or not you enjoy it now, continue to do the things you used to enjoy, but also spread out. 

This is one thing I didn’t mention here, is a lot of people said, be curious about little things that you used to enjoy that you never really developed as a hobby. So, an example would be, I think somebody said something to the likes of like, I used to love hopscotch. Of course, they loved it when they were very, very little. So, as they got older, of course, they stopped playing hopscotch into their adulthood. But they were like, “I literally wrote down a list of everything I used to enjoy and I just did it, whether I’ve done it for 40 years or not.” So, little things. It doesn’t have to be grand things. It doesn’t have to be hobbies. It could be going, “I remember as a kid, I used to love boba or whatever.” Go and get some. Do the things you used to enjoy, even if they’re teeny tiny. 

Another huge group of people said sunlight. Sunlight is a huge part of managing depression. Now, thank goodness for these, my community, because if I was putting together a podcast or managing depression, I would’ve completely forgotten about the people who have seasonal affective depression because I live in California and I wouldn’t have thought of that. But so many of my followers are from all around the world and hundreds of people responded saying, you have to get sunlight. You have to get exposure, UV lights. There are all these really cool exposure lights that you can talk to your doctor about getting. So, thank you to everyone who wrote this in because I would’ve forgotten that. 

And for me too, what I will say is I work indoors a lot. I work at my desk a lot. Most of you know I am running two separate businesses at once. My private practice and CBT School. So, the days where I don’t just-- even if it’s go outside and sit in the sun while I have a cup of tea for 10 minutes, I do notice a shift in my mood. Again, don’t do too much. We don’t want you to get sunburn. We don’t want you to have too many exposures to UV rays. But I do believe there’s such a benefit for mental health. 

Okay, next one. This one is amazing. So, many people wrote some variation of this, but we pulled it into this one point, which is write a list of “I can” statements. Meaning, when you’re depressed, depression will tell you can’t. “You can’t do that. You can’t do this. What’s the point of doing that? You can’t. Don’t do it. You won’t do it. Don’t do it.” And so, a lot of people were talking about writing a list of either your strengths or your characteristics or things that you can do. And I think that that is such an amazing shift – to write a list of I can’s. I can work out. I can call my friend. I can get some sun today. I can go to therapy. I can play with my dog. It’s very similar to the term “should.” That simple move of saying “I should exercise” to “I could exercise” like “I should be kinder to myself,” or you could say, “I could be kinder to myself,” those small shifts in sentences can make such a difference. So, I like either of those.

Next one, appreciate the little things you do for yourself. You might start to see a trend here. When you’re depressed, the big stuff feels really hard. So, you got to zoom in on the little stuff. And they were saying, appreciate the little things you do for yourself. So, an example might be, “It’s really nice that you made yourself a cup of tea before you recorded these podcasts, Kimberley,” or “Wow, it was kind of you that you bathed today. Great job. Making sure you ate breakfast. Great job. Getting out of bed today.” Often with depression, we go, “Oh, that’s stupid. Why would I celebrate getting out of bed? Everyone gets out of bed. I’m such a loser because I can’t get out of bed.” I mean, that’s the mindset of someone with depression. And so, we want to shift that away from such critical voices and going, “Good job you got out of bed. That’s a big deal when you’re depressed. Good job on brushing your teeth when you’re depressed. That’s a big deal. Good job on saying no to that thing you didn’t want to do. That’s a big deal.” Really, really important. 

I have three left. The third last one is, take your medication. Hundreds of people wrote this in and I just loved it. It filled me with joy because whether you choose to take medication or not is entirely your decision. But 10 years ago, I remember when I was-- 15 years ago when I was starting to do my internship, there was this article. I think it was like a USA Today article or something, and it was talking like, let’s take the stigma out of medication. And so, great. We’re starting to have those conversations. But to see now how the response was of like, “Just take your medication,” it just really made me feel joyful that maybe that means there’s a little less stigma about it, and I really hope that I help you to take the stigma out. 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking medication. In fact, I’ll tell you a quick story about myself, when I-- you’ll probably remember I went through a period in 2019 and 2020 where I was very, very sick and I had severe depression alongside it. And I remember the doctor saying, “Okay, we’ll prescribe you such and such for this condition and such and such. And we’ll prescribe you an SSRI for your depression.” And he didn’t really even ask if I was depressed, he just prescribed it. And I was like, “What? You didn’t even ask me if I was depressed.” And he goes, “No, no. Most people who have POTS,” I have pots, “they get depressed.” And I was like, “Huh, that’s interesting.” And I thought to myself, okay, I don’t-- for a second, I thought, no, I don’t really need it. But then I was like, “You know what? What a gift to give myself the help. If it’s going to help, I’m going to do it. What a gift.” Not that I’m at all encouraging you to take medication, but I just want to share with you my experience. I could have seen it as like, “Oh, I’m so bad. That’s weak and that’s lazy and I should try without it.” But I was like, “You know what? I’m really not well. I’m going to take all the help. And if one form of the help is to take a pill, I’m going to take a pill.” I’m not going to tell myself a story that that’s lazy. In fact, I’m going to say that’s pretty badass, that I would accept the help. I’ll get going. Sorry, I had to tell you that really important story from my perspective. 

All right. Two to go. Second last one: Surround yourself with people who help keep sight of what’s important. This is important. If you’re depressed and you’re surrounded by people, whether it’s physically or on social media, people who are very materialistic or they are striving towards things that actually make your depression worse, find different people. You want to find yourself around people who strive for similar things that are aligned with your recovery. 

I’ll tell you again a different story. As a business person, I love business. I really do. I love being a therapist, but if I wasn’t a therapist, I’d go to business school because I just love it. But I notice that if I’m hanging around with other people who are business-minded, it can get really icky and the messages can get really gross. And I can find myself falling into this trap of winning and wanting more. I was finding that I was starting to be hard on myself until I caught this and was like, “Whoa, I need to unfollow these people because this is not good for my mental health. I need to surround myself with people who have the same goals, like what’s important as their goal.” And that was really, really monumental for me. So, do an inventory of your friends, your family, your social media, your colleagues, and try to only surround yourself with people who support your recovery. 

Last one is, when you’re having this feeling, don’t numb it out. I’m leaving this at the end. I probably should have put it at the front, but don’t numb it out. It’s okay. Sometimes you will need to turn your brain off and watch some TV. But if that’s all you’re doing to manage your depression, the chances are you’re going to get more depressed. That’s why I keep talking about scheduling and calendaring. Because often when we’re depressed, we want to just stay in bed and numb the feeling out. Sleep all day, watch TV just to numb the depression. But that only makes it worse. And this is the behavioral piece of managing depression, which is one of the gold standard treatments for depression is what we call time blocking or activity scheduling so that you schedule your day. Nothing heavy, nothing crazy. But you do that so that in doing that, you actually reduce your depression because you feel accomplished and you don’t feel like the day was a complete waste. Again, there’s a balance. You don’t want to overschedule, but you do want to engage in the day. You want to make sure that you’ve got things planned. So, don’t numb. Try to activity schedule. 

If you need help with that, head over to CBTSchool/-- sorry, you’ll go to products and then there’ll be time management there, or CBTSchool/timemanagement. You can learn that in that course. It’s a really pretty cheap course and it’s pretty quick. It’s like a two-hour course and I walk you through exactly how I do it. 

All right. So, that’s it. There are tips for managing depression. There’s like 12, maybe 15 of them. They’re from hundreds of people who have been there. I just love this community so much. If you haven’t followed me on social media, head over to Instagram under Your anxiety Toolkit, and I’ll be there. Thank you. 

All right. Have a wonderful day. I will see you next week. Next week, we’re talking about sensations and anxiety and panic. So, I’ll see you there. Have a good one, everyone.

Jun 24, 2022

In This Episode, we discuss:

Is it important that you stop doing all your compulsions?
How can I practice Self-Compassion as you move through recovery?
How can you balance facing fears and also being gentle on yourself?

Links To Things I Talk About:

ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION 

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 290. 

Welcome back, everybody. 290, that sounds like a lot of podcast episodes. It’s funny. Sometimes I don’t think of it. If you have asked me on the street, I’d say, “Yeah, I’d have about maybe 110 in the can.” But 290, that is a lot of episodes. I do encourage you to go back and listen to them, especially the earlier ones. They’re my favorite. But no, go back, play around, check out the ones that you love. There’s probably some things there that you could probably go back and have a good giggle at.

All right. We today are talking about a question that came from a student in one of my courses. I’ve found this question to be so important. I wanted to bring it in and have it be a podcast episode because I think this is a very important question and I think it’s something we can all ponder for ourselves.

Now, before we go into it, I would like to give you the “I did a hard thing.” This is a segment where someone shares a hard thing that they’ve done. And I love the “I did a hard thing” segment probably as much as anything.

This one is from anonymous and they said:

“I have contamination OCD. And one thing I’ve avoided for a very long time is raw meat and eggs. Over the winter, I discovered that ERP is so much EASIER (and I use this term very loosely in capital letters) if my exposures are value-based.” This is so good, Anonymous. “So I decided that I wanted to be the mom that baked with her kids, anxiety be darned. I wanted my kids to have warm memories baking in the kitchen with their mom as the snow fell. So each week over the winter, we picked a new recipe, and over the weekend we made it as a family. The first time I cracked an egg, my husband took out his phone and took a picture. He was so proud. The exposure was still hard and I didn’t feel calmer at least while baking, but I tried my best to present and enjoy the time with my kiddos. Later, my son brought home A Joy Is book made at his school. Each page had something on it that brought him joy – fishing with dad, some are vacations. And there on the page.” Oh my God, Anonymous, I’m getting goosebumps. “There on a page was ‘making cookies from scratch with mom.’” Oh my God, I think I’m crying. Oh my goodness. I have goosebumps everywhere. “It is so hard to measure success with ERP sometimes, but that gets real, tangible evidence that I had accomplished something and it felt so good.”

Holy my stars, Anonymous. This is incredible. Wow. This is what it’s all about, you guys. This is what it’s all about. For those of you who are listening, I don’t read these before the episode. I literally read them as just I pull them up and I read them. This one has taken my breath away. I just need a second. Oh my goodness, that is so beautiful. So beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Oh my gosh, that is so perfect for this week’s episode. All right, here we go.

Do I have to stop all of my compulsions Your anxiety toolkit

 

This week’s episode is about a question, like I said, is it okay to keep doing some of my compulsions? Again, this came from one of the courses that we have. We have two signature courses for OCD. One is ERP School, and then the other one is this Mindfulness School for OCD that teaches mindfulness skills.

Now, the reason I love this question is, they’re asking me as if I am the expert of all things, OCD. And I want to let you in on a little truth here – I am not. You’re probably like, “What is happening? She’s been telling us that she’s an OCD specialist all this time. And now she’s telling me she’s not the expert.” I am not the expert of you. And I want to really make sure that is clear. Anytime someone says, “What should I do? What’s the right thing to do for me?” I try my best not to tell them that is best for them because I’m only telling them what I think is best for them. That doesn’t mean it’s the facts. So, I want to be very clear. I am not the expert in you. You are. You do get to make choices of your own.

That being said-- and I’ll talk more about that here in a second. But that being said, let’s look at the question and just look at it from a perspective of just general concepts of OCD.

Now, in the beginning of ERP School, we have a whole module that explains the cycle of obsessions and compulsions. I draw it out on a big sheet of paper, like this huge sticky note. And it’s actually really funny because I’m trying to squeeze myself into the frame of the video with this huge sticky note. When I think back to it, it makes me giggle. But here let’s take a look.

The thing to remember here regarding this question is, if you have a fear and the fear is what we call egodystonic, meaning it doesn’t line up with your values, you know it’s a fear, and you know it’s probably irrational. If you have this fear and you respond to the fear as if it is dangerous and important and urgent, you actually are keeping your brain afraid of the fear. And you’re continually keeping your brain stuck in a cycle where your brain will set off the metaphorical fire alarm every time it has that fear. When you have fear and it doesn’t line up with your values and you have the insight to see that it’s irrational or that it’s keeping you stuck and it’s not effective for you and not responding anymore, your job is to practice changing your behaviors and your reaction to that thought so that you can train your brain not to set the fire alarm off next time. It may take several times or many times. But again, if you have a fear and you respond to it like it’s important, your brain is going to keep thinking it’s important. If you have a fear or an obsession and you keep responding to it with urgency, your brain is going to keep interpreting that fear as urgent, serious, dangerous, scary things.

So, I’m always going to encourage my patients and my students to always check in on this one golden question, which is, what would the non-anxious me do? Or what would I do if I weren’t afraid of this thought? Or another question is, am I responding from a place of fear, generally? And if that’s the case, then I would encourage my patient to really work at reducing that compulsion because the compulsion keeps the cycle going.

Now, that being said, still, again, I’m going to say, under no circumstances do I get to tell you what to do. Only you will know what’s right for you. And I have had clients, I will say, I’ve had clients where they’ve written out their hierarchy. They’ve gone all the way to the top. And there’s several things at the top where they’re like, “No, I’m actually going to keep these ones. These ones are ones that don’t interfere with my life too much. I’m comfortable. I’m not ready to face them yet. And so, no, I’m going to keep doing them.” And I respect that. Again. I am not the expert on everybody. Everyone gets to make their own value-based decisions. That’s entirely okay.

I always say to them, going to the top of your hierarchy and cutting back on all of the compulsions is, think of it like an insurance policy on your recovery. It’s not going to completely promise you and guarantee that you won’t have obsessions in the future or you won’t have a relapse here or there. No. And that’s okay. That will happen. We’re going to actually have a conversation about that here in the next few weeks on the podcast. But you can help train your brain by marking off all those compulsions.

So, what I’m going to leave you here with-- this is actually not going to be a long podcast, but what I’m going to leave you with is the actual answer to the question. Is it okay if I keep doing some of my compulsions? Yes, it’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to win all the challenges. And for reasons that are yours, you get to make those decisions. And really that’s your personal decision as well, and-- we don’t say “buy,” we say “and.” And just keep in mind the nature of compulsions. Compulsions keep the cycle going.

Just keep that in mind gently, in a tender place. Put it in your back pocket. And here is the question I’m going to leave you on, is ponder why you don’t want to stop this compulsion. What’s getting in the way? If you’re really honest with yourself, what’s the reason you want to keep doing it? Does doing it keep you aligned with your values? Is there a way to be creative and strategic in this situation where you can slowly reduce the compulsion, even if it’s a baby step? It’s so important just to be pondering and asking yourself questions. I have to always stop and say like, “Okay, Kimberley--” I call myself KQ. Everyone calls me KQ. “KQ, let’s get real. What’s really happening here.?” And I’m not doing it in a mean way. I’m having a heart-to-heart. What’s really happening? What’s really getting in the way? Are you being honest with yourself? And sometimes you have to have really honest conversations to be like, “Oh, I know. I’m totally giving myself stuck here.” And it might take some time before you’re ready, and that’s okay too. Okay?

So, I want you to think about those things. Maybe even write the questions down. Go back and listen, or you can go to the transcript of this podcast. Write those questions down and go back and review them every now and then, because those are questions I ask my patients every single day. Every single day. And the questions I ask myself and the questions I ask my patients are often what defines how successful they are because we’re questioning the status quo. And that’s what gets them better.

Before we finish up, let’s do the review of the week. This is from Robyncox and they said:

“Thank you, Kimberley. I’m not sure how to condense all of my happiness and thanks but I’ll try. I was recommended to listen to your podcast by my therapist (who is just superb and I’m grateful she exists) and I instantly fell in love with your genuine desire to help which seeps through the sound waves.” I love that. “I am hooked on the real-life stories that I can connect to my own experience and have gotten my sister hooked as well who struggles with anxiety as I do. Thank you for your tools and support!”

Thank you, Robin. Again, I love hearing your reviews and I just love hearing that I can be of service and help you and be a part of your day. I love knowing that people are like taking walks, listening to me and we get to have chats together. It’s beautiful. It’s really, really such an honor.

All right. That’s it for Episode 290. That’s a lot of episodes, but I think we’re doing well. I will see you next week for Episode 291 and we will go from there. Oh, one thing to note. By the time you talk to me next time, I will be in Australia. We are going to spend the summer there this year and I could not be more excited. I’ll send you my love from there. Have a great day.

Jun 17, 2022

In This Episode:

  • What is whack-a-mole obsessions? 
  • Why do my obsessions keep changing? 
  • What is the treatment for fears that keep changing? 

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more. 

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION 

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 289. 

Welcome back, everybody. I am so happy to be with you again. I won’t lie. I’m still on a high (that rhymed) from the managing mental compulsion series. Oh my gosh, you guys, I am so proud of that series, that six-part series. If you didn’t listen to it, please do go back. I’ll probably tell you that for the next several podcasts, just because I am really still floating on the coattails of how amazingly, so wonderful that was. And it really seemed to help a ton of people, which is so fulfilling. 

I do love-- it’s not because of the ego piece of it, I just do love when I know I’m making an impact. It’s really quite helpful to feel like you’re making an impact. And sometimes when I’m putting out episodes, I really don’t know whether they’re helpful or not. That’s the thing about podcasts compared to social media, is with social media, if you follow me on Instagram @youranxietytoolkit or Facebook, I can get a feel based on how many comments or how many likes or how many shares. But with podcast, it’s hard to know how helpful it is. And the feedback has been amazing. Thank you, everyone who’s left reviews. What a joy, what a joy. 

What the cool thing is, since then, it’s actually created this really wonderful conversation between me and my therapist. So, for those of you who don’t know, in addition to me owning CBT School, I also own a private practice where myself and nine of my therapists were actually, now 10 extra therapists, in the process of hiring a new person. We meet once a week or more to discuss cases. And the cool thing about the mental compulsion series is it brought the coolest questions and conversations and pondering, what would this help this client? How would it help that client? These are the struggles my clients are having. Because as I kept saying, not every tool is for everybody. Some you’ll be like, “Yes, this is exactly what I needed,” and there’ll be other things where they might not resonate with you. And that’s totally fine. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong. That’s because we’re all different. But it’s really brought up a lot of questions. And so, now I’m actually going to hopefully answer some of those questions in the upcoming podcasts. 

Today, we’re actually talking about what to do when your obsessions keep changing. Because we’re talking about mental compulsions and reducing those, and that’s actually the response prevention part of treatment, what’s hard to know, like what exposures do you do for somebody whose obsessions keep changing or their fears keep flip flopping from one to the other? One week, it’s this. Next week, it’s that. And then it’s funny because a lot of clients will say, “What was a 10 out of 10 for me last week is nothing now. And now all I can think about is this other thing. I was really worried about what I said to this one person. Now, all I can think about is this rash on my arm. And the week before that, I was really upset that maybe I had sinned,” or there was another obsession. Again, it’s just what we call Whack-A-Mole. We’re going to talk about that today. 

But before we do that, we are going to do the “I did a hard thing” segment. This one is from Marisa. And Marisa is at the @renewpodcast. I think that might be her Instagram or their Instagram. Marisa said:

“Last week I submitted my dietetic internship applications. It was a long, stressful process and anxiety definitely came up during it. And I was able to move through and do the hard thing. I kept reminding myself that the short-term discomfort of submitting the application was worth the long-term reward of hopefully getting a step closer to my goal of becoming a registered dietician through completing the internship. Even though there is still uncertainty and the outcome that I have to sit with while I wait to find out the results of my application, I have learned through my ERP work that I can sit with the discomfort and uncertainty. Thank you, Kimberley, for reminding me that it is a beautiful day to do hard things.”

Marisa, I hope that you get in. I hope that you get all of the things that you’re applying for. This is so exciting. And yeah, you really walked the walk. This is exactly what we’re talking about when we do the “I did a hard thing” segment. It doesn’t have to be OCD-related or anxiety-related. It could be just hard things because life is hard for everyone. I love this. Thank you so much, Marisa. 

If you want to submit your “I did a hard thing,” you may go to my-- it’s actually my private practice website where I host the podcast. If you go to KimberleyQuinlan-lmft.com and you go to the podcast link, right there, there is a link that says “I did a hard thing.” It’s actually KimberleyQuinlan-lmft.com/i-did-a-hard-thing/ okay? But it’s easier just to go, and I will try to remember to put this in a link in the podcast. 

All right. One more piece of housekeeping before we get going is, let’s do the review of the week. This is from Sass, and Sass said:

“I have had an eating disorder for many years and I spent my adult life trying to understand my compulsions and obsessions. When I found your podcast last summer, everything started to make sense to me. You have given me an understanding and acceptance I couldn’t get anywhere else. I look forward to your weekly podcast and enjoy going back and listening to the earlier podcasts as well. Thank you for all you do.”

Sass, I get you. I was exactly in that position when I had my eating disorder. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t feel like people explained it in a way that made sense to me. And the obsessive and compulsive cycle really made sense to me. So, I am so grateful to have you, and I’m so grateful to be on this journey with you. Really, really, I am. Thank you for leaving that review. 

Whack a mole Obsessions Your anxiety toolkit

 

Okay, let’s do it. Today, we are talking about Whack-A-Mole obsessions. Now, Whack-A-Mole obsessions is not a clinical term. Let’s just get that out of the way. There is nothing in the DSM or there’s no-- it’s not a clinical scientific term, but it is a term we use in the OCD community. But I think it’s true of the anxiety disorder community. Maybe even the eating disorder community as well, where the fears flip flop from one thing to the other. This may be true too if you have health anxiety. It might be true if you have generalized anxiety, social anxiety, where one day everything, it just feels like this fear is so intense and it’s so important and it must be solved today. It’s so painful. And then for no reason, it goes. And then it gets overshadowed by a different fear or obsession or topic. 

And what can happen in treatment is you can start to treat one, doing exposure. This was actually one of the questions that came up through ERP School, which is our online course that teaches you how to create a plan for yourself to manage OCD. Some people will say, “Oh, I created a hierarchy. I followed the steps in ERP School. I started working on it and I did a few exposures and I did a few marginals. And boom, it just went away and then a new one came or the volume got turned down.” It could be that you addressed it a small amount, and then it went away and got replaced by another. Or it could be that you didn’t even get time to address it and it just went to a different topic. And this is really, really distressing for people, I’m not going to lie, because you’re just constantly whack-a-moling. You know the Whack-A-Mole game? You’re whack-a-moling things that feel super important, super scary, super urgent. 

And so, what I want to do first is just validate and recognize this is not an uncommon situation. If this is happening for you, you are definitely not alone. And it doesn’t mean in any respect that you can’t get better. In fact, there’s a really cool tool, and I’m going to teach it to you here in a second, that you can use. We use it with any obsession. This is not special to Whack-A-Mole obsessions, but you can use it with any exceptions or if things keep changing. But first of all, I just want to recognize it is normal and it’s still treatable. 

What do you do? The thing to remember here is, when you zoom out, and this is what we do as clinicians, our job as clinicians, and I say this to my staff all the time, is to find trends in the person’s behaviors and thinking. And what you will find is, when you’re having Whack-A-Mole obsessions, while the content may be different, when you zoom out, the process is exactly the same. You have a thought, a feeling, a sensation, or an urge that is repetitive, that is uncomfortable, that creates a lot of distress in your life. And of course, naturally, you don’t want that distress. That’s scary. And so, what you do is you do a compulsion to make it go away. It doesn’t matter what the content is. It doesn’t matter what the specific theory is. This is the same trend. And so, when we zoom out, we can see the trend, and then we can go, “Aha. Even though the content is the same, I can still intervene at the same point.” When we talk about this in ERP School, is the intervention point is at the compulsion. 

And so, the work here is the content doesn’t matter. Your job is to catch and be aware, like we’ve talked a lot about mindfulness, is to be aware and identify, “Oh, I’m in the trend. I’m in the cycle.” While the one content has changed, the same behaviors are playing out. So, you catch that. You then practice being willing to be uncomfortable and uncertain about the content, because that’s the same too. The same cycle is happening. The thought and the fear create some anxiety, some sensations, and so forth. 

And then we have an aversion to that. And then our job is to work at not engaging in that compulsion. So, that compulsion might be mental rumination. It might be doing certain behaviors, physical behaviors. It might be reassurance seeking. It might be avoidance. It might be self-punishment. It might be self-criticism. And your job is actually to go, “Okay, it really doesn’t matter.” And I really want to keep saying that to you. If the fear is, what if I have cancer? What if I’m going to hurt someone? What if I’m aroused by this? What if I have sinned? What if things are asymmetrical? What if I got some contaminant? What if I don’t love him enough? It doesn’t matter. What if it is not perfect? What if I fail? It doesn’t matter. I’ve just listed some, but if I didn’t list your obsession, please don’t worry. It’s for every one of these. The content for all of them are equally as important. 

Sometimes what we do is we go, “Oh, that one is okay. But this one is really serious, and we have to pay attention to it.” And so, we have to catch that and go, “No, it’s all content. It’s all--” you could say, some people say it’s all spam, like the spam folder. Because when we get an email, we have emails that we really need to see – events, meetings coming up. And then we always have spam, the stuff that’s like, “Please send me money for Bitcoin,” or something. So, we put that in the spam folder. And so, your job is to catch the trends here, the patterns, and learn how to put those obsessions in the spam folder, no matter what the content.

Now, this does require, and here’s the caveat, or I would say this is the deal-breaker, is it does require a degree of mindfulness in your part to be aware of what’s going on. And this is a practice, like a muscle that you grow. So, what it requires is you have to be able to catch that you are in the content. You have to be able to catch that you are in the cycle that keeps you stuck. And that does require you to be mindful again. And I get it. I’m not saying that you’ll ever be perfect at this because I don’t know anyone who is. There will be times when you’re so caught up in the content and you’ve been doing compulsions for an hour, two hours, two days, two months and you haven’t caught it. And you’re like, “Oops, wait. Oops, I didn’t catch that one.” That’s okay. We don’t beat ourselves up. Then we just go, “All right, I’m at the point where at least I’ve caught it. I’m aware that I’m in the content. I’m aware how this is playing out exactly the way that it played out yesterday, but with a different obsession.” And then you just move on from there. Don’t beat yourself up. But it does require you to strengthen the muscle of being able to catch that you’re in the content. And it’s what we call insight. It’s having the insight to recognize.

Now, insight is something we can strengthen with practice. It’s not just one and done. It’s practice. It’s repetition. I have to do this all the time for myself. While I don’t have OCD, I do have anxiety and I will catch myself going down the rabbit hole with something until I’m like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, you’ve been here before. It looks exactly like what you did on Tuesday where you’re trying to figure out something that’s not in your control. Kimberley, this is not in your control. You’re trying to control something that isn’t even your business.” And I’ve seen that trend in me. And so, my job is to catch it. Once I can catch it, then I know the steps. I know, “Okay, I got to let this one go. I got to accept the discomfort on this one. I’m going to have to ride this wave of discomfort. I’m going to have to radically be kind to myself.” We know the steps. And once we can get those steps down, it’s about catching it. But this is what we do when the obsessions do keep changing. 

Now, I’m not going to say this is easy because it’s not. And if you require help doing this, reach out to an OCD therapist or an anxiety specialist who knows ERP. Remember here, and I’m telling you this with the deepest, most absolute degree of love, is CBT School, the whole mission of CBT School is to provide you tools and resources for those who don’t have tools and resources. So, if you haven’t got a therapist and you’re finding this really, really helpful, but you’re still struggling, don’t be afraid. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. It just means maybe you need some more professional help. Maybe you have a therapist and you’re listening into this just to get extra tools. Great. Take what you learn and then take what struggles you have and figure that out. 

I really want to stress here, and the reason I bring that up is, when I say this, it isn’t as easy as it sounds and it does require sometimes having somebody else, this is why I go to therapy myself, is even though I know the tools, it’s really nice to have a second set of ears just going, “Wait a second. Sounds like you’re caught up in the content.” If it’s not a therapist, maybe you could have a loved one or even journaling I have found is really helpful in that when you journal it down, and I do this regularly, I then read it, not to judge it, but just to see what trends. And I get a highlighter and I just highlight like, where are the trends? Where am I seeing the same patterns playing out? And that’s where we intervene. 

So, that’s Whack-A-Mole obsessions. That is what to do when your obsessions keep changing. I do hope that that was helpful, not just to validate you, but to give you some skills moving forward. I am so grateful to have you here. Don’t be afraid to let me know what you think. I love, again, getting your feedback via reviews. I urge you to join the newsletter. That will then allow you to reply and give me feedback that way. I love hearing from you all. 

All right. I’m going to sign off and I’ll talk to you very, very soon.

Jun 10, 2022

SUMMARY: 

Today, I share what to do when you get “bad” news.  This episode will share a recent situation I got into where I had to use all of my mindfulness and self-compassion tools.  Check it out!

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more. 

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION 

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 288. 

Welcome back, everybody. We literally just finished the six-week series on managing mental compulsions. My heart is full, as full as full can be. I am sitting here looking into my microphone and I just have a big, fat smile on my face. I’m just so excited for what we did together, and I felt like it was so huge. I have so many ideas of how I want to do something similar in the future with different areas. And I will.

Thank you so much for your feedback and your reviews. I hope it was as helpful as it was for me, even as a clinician. I found it to be incredibly helpful, even as a supervisor, supervising my staff. I have nine incredible staff who are therapists, who help treat my clients and we constantly keep referring back during supervision of like, “Do you remember what Lisa said? Do you remember what Reid said? Listen, let’s consider what Jon said or Jon Hershfield said, or Shala Nicely said.” It was just so beautiful. I’m so grateful.

If you haven’t listened, go back and listen to it. It’s a six-week series and ugh, it was just so wonderful. I keep saying it was just so wonderful. So, if you go back, I did an introduction, Episode 282. And then from there, it was these amazing, amazing experts who just dropped amazing truth bomb after amazing truth bomb. So, that’s that.

Today, I am going back to the roots of this podcast. And I’m sharing with you-- for those of you who have been listening for a while, we usually start the episode with a segment called the “I did a hard thing” segment. This is where people write in and tell me a hard thing that they’ve done. If you go to my website, which is KimberleyQuinlan-lmft.com. There on the podcast page is a place to submit your “I did a hard thing.” And today’s “I did a hard thing” is from yours truly. I just had to share this story with you. I feel like it’s an important story to tell you guys, and I wanted to share with you that I’m not just talking the talk over here, I’m walking the walk.

So, today’s episode is called When You Get Bad News. I’m just going to leave it at that. Before we get started, I would love to leave you and share with you the review of the week. This is from hannabanana3131, and they said:

“Fantastic mental health podcast. Such an amazing podcast. I have learned so many useful tools for dealing with my anxiety and OCD. And Kimberley is such a loving, compassionate coach - I feel like she’s rooting for me every step of my healing journey,” and she’s left a heart emoji.

Thank you so much, hannabanana. I love, love, love getting your reviews. It does help me so much. So, if you have a moment of time and the podcasts are helpful for you, that is the most helpful thing you can do back. When we get reviews, then when people who are new come over and see it, it actually makes them feel like they can trust the information we’re giving. And in today’s world, trust is important. There is so much noise and so many people talking about OCD and anxiety, and it’s easy to get caught up in nonsense stuff. And so, I really want to build a trust factor with the listeners that I have. So, thank you so much for doing that.

Okay. It’s funny that hannabanana says, “I feel like she’s rooting for me,” because the “I did hard thing” is me talking about my recent experience of having a root canal. Worse than a root canal. So, let me tell you a story now. I’m not just telling you this story to tell you a story. I’m telling you this story because I want to sometimes-- when we do the “I did a hard thing” segment, it’s usually very, very short and to the point, but I’d actually like to walk you through how I got through getting some really bad news. So, let’s talk about it. And I’ll share. I’m not perfect. So, there were times when I was doing well and there was times when I won’t.

So, for those of you who don’t know, which I’m guessing is all of you, I have very bad gums. My gums, I inherited bad gums. It comes in my family. I go in every three months for a gum routine where they do a deep cleaning or they really check my gums to make sure there’s not receding too much. And because of that, I take really good care of my teeth. And because of that, I usually have very little dental issues. I never had a cavity. I’ve never had any cracks or any terrible swollen problems. That just isn’t my problem. My problem is gums and it’s an ongoing issue that I have to keep handling.

So this time, I go in, I get my x-rays, and the doctor comes in. And I have this really hilarious dentist who has not got the best bedside manner, but I do love him and he has been with me through some really tough times that when I found out I have a lesion on my brain, I fully broke down in front of him and he was so kind and gave me his cell phone number. He was just so lovely. But he comes in and he rubs his hands together and says, “What are we doing here today, Kimberley?” And he looks at the x-rays and I kid you not, he says, “Holy crap!” Literally, that was his response, which is pretty funny, I think.

From there, I proceed to go into some version of a panic attack. I’m like, “What? What’s wrong? What do you see? What happened?” And I think that was pretty appropriate for me to do that. So, I want to validate you. When you get big news, it’s normal to go into a fight or flight, like what’s going on, you’re hypervigilant, you’re looking around.

Now, he waited about 45 seconds to answer my question. I just sat there in a state of panic while he stared at the x-rays on the wall. And these 45 seconds, I think, was the longest 45 seconds of my life because he wouldn’t answer me. And I was just like, “Tell me what’s wrong. What’s wrong?” So, he turns around and he says, “Kimberley, you have a dead tooth.” And I’m like, “What? A dead tooth? What does that even mean?” And he says, “You have a tooth infection that is dormant. Do you have any pain? Do you have a headache? What’s going on?” And I’m like, “Nothing, nothing. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” And so, he proceeds to immediately in this urgent, panicky way, call in his nurses, “Bring me this, bring me that, bring me this, bring me that. Bring me this tool, bring me this chemical or medicine or whatever.” And they’re all poking at me and prodding at me and they’re trying to figure it out. And he’s like, “I cannot figure out what this is and why it’s here.” So, bad news. Just straight-up bad news.

Now, the interesting thing about this is, it’s hard to be in communication with someone, particularly when they’re your doctor and they appear to be confused and panicking. Not that he was panicking, but he was acting in this urgent way. That’s a hard position to be in. And if you’ve ever been in a position like that, I want to first validate you. That’s scary. It is a scary moment that your trusted person is also panicking. Just like when you’re on an airplane and it’s really bumpy. But if you see that the air hostesses are giggling and laughing, you’re like, “Okay, it’s all good.” But when you see their faces looking a little nervous, that’s a scary moment. So, first of all, if you’ve been in that position, that’s really, really hard.

What he then proceeded to tell me is, “Kimberley, this tooth has to come out. It has to come out immediately. We cannot wait. It’s going to cost a god-awful amount of money. And this has to happen right away.” Now in my mind, you guys know me, I am really, really strict about scheduling. I have a schedule. I’m not compulsive about it, but I run two businesses. I have a podcast, I have two children. I have a medical illness. I have to manage my mental illnesses all the time. So, I have to be really intentional with my calendar.

So, this idea that immediately, everything has to change was a little alarming to me. But what I remember thinking, and this is one of the tools I want to offer you for today, is being emotionally flexible is a skill. And what we want to do in those moments, and this is what I practiced was, “Okay, Kimberley, this is one of those moments where your skills come in handy. Thank God for them.” How can you be flexible here? Because my mind wanted to go, “You got to pick up the kids and you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to a meeting tomorrow and you’ve got clients and you can’t do this. This can’t happen this week.” But my mind was like, “I’m going to practice flexibility.”

In addition to that, when things change really quickly, we tend to beat ourselves up like, “Such and such is going to hate me. They’re going to be mad at me. They’re going to think I’m a loser for having to change the schedule.” And I just gently said to myself, “Kimberley, we’re going to be emotionally flexible here and we’re going to let everybody have their emotions about it.” So, the kids get to have their emotions about everything changing and my clients get to have their emotions about it too. And having to cancel the meetings, they get to have their emotions. Everyone’s allowed to have their emotions about the fact that many, many things are going to be canceled in the next few days.

And that has been such a work of art for me, but it has been so beautiful for me to say, instead of me going, “No, no, no, I can’t do this,” because I don’t want them to have feelings and I don’t want them to think this about me, now I’m just like, everyone gets to have their feelings. They get to feel disappointed. They get to feel angry. They get to feel annoyed. They get to feel irritated. They get to feel sad. Everybody gets to feel their feelings about it because that’s a part of being a human. That’s one of the tools I want you to think about. Just play with these ideas. You’ve just come off the six-week series. These are some more ideas to play with.

But then from there, I had about 36 hours where I had to wait for this surgery. And during that time, I had to have an x-ray where I was told, and this is the real bad news, is this infection, actually, this is gross. So, trigger warning, guys. The infection actually ate through a part of my jaw bone. I know. Isn’t that crazy? The infection was so bad and it was right at this area where I guess nerves come out of your jaw. There’s this tiny hole right at the front, around the sides where the nerves come out of your jaw and up into your lips and the infection spread and was all over that area. I know that is gross, but it’s also really scary.

So, not only did I have to think about all of the changes, but he, the doctor, the dentist had made me very aware that this surgery has to go really well, and that if he pushes too hard or he pulls too hard with a tooth or he had to put in a-- there’s these words I don’t even know, but like a canal, like some kind of fixture so that he can create a new tooth because I had to have a tooth completely pulled out. He was like, “If I push it in too far, I actually may hit this nerve, which could be very, very bad.”

So, this uncertainty felt horrible to me. And of course, I’m going to have these intrusive thoughts like, “What if I never get to speak again? What if I lose a feeling in my gums and what if he pushes hard and this is terminal? What if, what if, what if, what if?” And so, my skill here, and we’ve learnt this from managing mental compulsions, is bring it back to the present. Until there’s a problem, we don’t solve them. So, that’s what I kept doing. “It’s not happening now. Kimberley, it’s not happening now. It’s not happening now,” even though it’s a real threat, even though it’s going to be something I have to face, because sometimes our fears are like, “What if something happens?” But it’s just a what-if. There’s no actual event that you know for certain is going to happen.

This was like, “Yeah, you’re going to do this in literally 30 hours and all of these risks are here.” You guys have probably got stories like this, where you’ve gone in for some brain surgery or any surgery where there’s a risk, but this risk was pretty huge. He was very concerned. I think appropriately concerned.

So, here I am for 30 hours, managing this stuff where I’m like, “Okay, this could go really well or this could go really bad, like really, really bad.” I giggle just because it makes me nervous just to think about it. That’s a nervous giggle that you just heard me. I don’t know. I often giggle when I’m nervous. But it’s a big deal. So, I, in these moments, had to weigh up, go back to what Lisa Coyne was talking about. I was like, “Okay, values versus fear. Which one do I consult with?” I had reached out to the dentist to say, “You know what, let’s just not do this. I’m not in any pain. Let’s just keep it there. Let’s just not.” And his response was like, “That’s not even an option. If you’ve already got this much damage, this could get worse and be very, very problematic.” So, I didn’t even have the option to back out. I had to do this.

And so, as I proceeded forward, I had to keep being aware like what Jon Hershfield talked about and Dr. Grayson and Dr. Reid Wilson, and Shala. I had to really allow all the intrusive thoughts to come like, “Yup. Possible. Yup, that’s possible too. Yup, that’s possible too. Maybe it does. Maybe it will. Not going to give it my attention right now. I see you’re back again. Good one, bro. Hi there, I see you. I fully accept the uncertainty.” That was me for l30 hours, literally bringing in every tool I have.

The cool thing is it was a hugely busy week. And because I have been really doubling down on my mindfulness skills over the last few months, that actually really helped. Every time I noticed that I was getting anxious, I was like, “Okay, what does the keyboard feel under my fingers?” I have these fiddles that I play with and I’m like, “Okay, what does this feel like? This rubber feel like, or this metal feel like, and so forth?” So, that was really helpful.

The day of the surgery, I go in and I’m fully anxious. I’m going to the bathroom. I’m needing to pee. I feel dizzy. I’m not allowed to be on my medication. Oh, and that’s the other thing, is this maybe the-- what do you call it? The silver lining. Just a little update for you guys, is there is a small chance, because this infection has been here for a long time and we haven’t actually detected it yet, that it may be the reason for all my POTS symptoms. As some of you may know, I have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. It is a chronic illness related to dysautonomia. It causes me to faint and have headaches and nausea and dizziness and blood pooling and it’s the worst. And there is a chance that that might be why. So, I’m half scared and half excited all day, which is a lot to handle.

But as the day is moving forward, I’m getting more and more nervous and I start to feel the urge to start to seek reassurance. I start to observe the urge to Google. I start to observe the urge to ask the doctors many, many, many, many questions. And when I say it, I’m saying that very intentionally. I observed the urge, which is I didn’t do those behaviors. I just noticed the urge that kept showing up. “Ooh, let’s try and get this anxiety to go away. Ooh, let’s try and get that anxiety to go away.” Knowing that when it’s my turn to sit in that chair, I will ask specific questions. So, I’m not saying you can’t ask your doctors questions, but that was key for me, was to observe the urge to seek reassurance, observe the urge to go into avoidance.

I’m not going to make this story too much longer, but what I will say, I want to tell you the funniest part of this story. I’m in the doctor’s office because I had to go in for this very fancy x-ray that does all your nerves because he was afraid he was going to hit one. He’s showing me the x-ray and I’m literally looking at it. He’s showing me cross-sections of my jaw. And you guys, it was so scary. You can see the hole that it’s created. You can see the infection and how it’s deteriorated the bone. It was so scary. And so, he puts his hand on my-- and I’m like, at that point, “Is there any way we could get away with not doing this? Because this is really scary.” He puts his hand on my hand, he says, “I’m going to go and take care of all of these last patients I have so I can give you 100% of my attention and I will be back.”

You guys, this is the funniest thing ever. So, the dental nurse is there watching me. My heart is through the roof. My blood pressure is all over the place. She stands in front of me and she says, “Miss Kimberley, don’t be worried. We’ve watched all the YouTube videos.” And I swear to you, every piece of panic that I had went out the window for that small second and I laughed so hard. She said, “In fact, that’s where the doctor is right now. He’s just going to watch the YouTube video one more time.” And I just died laughing.

Now for some of you, that may have actually been really anxiety-provoking. But for me, it was exactly what I needed. I needed someone to make this so funny. And it was so funny. I swear to you, every time I think of it, the way she says it in her accent was the most hilarious thing ever. It was so perfectly timed. The delivery was perfect and I burst out laughing.

He comes back in-- this is the end of the story. I’m not going to drag it out for too much longer. I promise. But he comes back in, and I just wanted to share with you, because I know last week with Lisa, I had a really emotional moment, and I think it was really tied to this. As he was putting in the IV – because I had to be knocked out. He said he couldn’t take a risk of me moving. So, he knocked me out for the surgery – tears just rolled out of my eyes. And I wasn’t going to be ashamed of it. And what came up for me was, I said, “Please, sir.” I said “Sir,” which I think is so funny, because I know him by his first name. “Please, sir. Please just take care of me.”

And for me, tears were rolling down my face, but that was an act of compassion for myself. Instead of me saying-- because I know two years ago, or even six months ago, I probably would’ve said, “Please, don’t kill me,” or “Promise me nothing bad would happen.” But there was this act of compassion that just flowed out of me, which was like, “Please, sir. Please take care of me.” And it was coming from this deep place of finally in my life, being able to ask to be taken care of. And I’ve been working on this, you guys, for about a year, is having the ability to actually ask for help has been something I’ve really sucked at and it’s something I’ve worked so hard at. And for me, that was groundbreaking, to ask for help.

Now you could say it was me pleading with him, but it wasn’t. It was me. It was an act of compassion. It was an act of saying, “I’m scared. I’m not asking you to take my fear away. I’m just asking you to hold me in a place of kindness and compassion and nurturing and care.” And that for me was profound.

So, I just wanted to share that with you. I know that it might not be as skills-based as some of the other episodes, but I love sharing with you hard things and I love sharing with you that I’m a human, messy human who’s doing the best they can and is imperfect too. But I just wanted to give you a step-by-step one. It’s okay if it’s hard and there are skills that you can use and we can get through hard things. It’s a beautiful day to do hard things, I always say that. And so, I wanted to just record this and share with you the ups and the downs of my week and help you maybe if there’s a time where you’ve gotten bad news on ways that you might manage it.

Now, what I do want to end here with is, I understand my privilege here. I understand my privilege of getting bad news and being able to get medical care and have a lovely dentist and a lovely nurse who makes funny jokes. And sometimes the news doesn’t end well, and I get that. I want to honor you that there is no right way to get bad news. And the grief process of getting bad news is different for everybody. This was more of an anxiety process, but I want to honor to you that if you’re going through some hard thing in your life where you’ve gotten bad news, I want to also offer you the opportunity to grieve that and I want to honor that this is really, really a hard thing to go through. So, I really want to make sure I make space for you with that because my experience is not your experience, I’m sure.

So, that’s it, guys. That’s what to do when you get bad news. That’s my experience of getting bad news and I hope it’s been helpful.

We are embarking on some shifts here with the podcast. I am so inspired to be more focused on just delivering the tools to you and being a safe place for you and being a bright, shiny light for you. And so, I’m doing a lot of exploring on how I can do that. So, if you ever-- again, please do feel-- if you want to give some thoughts, please do reach out, send me an email. If you’re not on my newsletter list, please do go and sign up. I’ll leave you a link in the show notes, or you can go to CBTSchool.com and sign up for the newsletter and you can reply there as well or you can leave a review.

All right. I love you guys. Have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to get bad news and do the hard thing. I love you. Have a great day.

Jun 3, 2022

SUMMARY: 

In this episode, we talk with Lisa Coyne about ACT For mental compulsions.  Lisa Coyne addressed how to use Acceptance and Commitment therapy for overcoming mental compulsions. We cover how to identify your values using a fun little trick!

In This Episode:

  • How to use Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to manage mental compulsions
  • How to practice Willingness in regards to reducing mental rituals and mental rumination 
  • A fun little Value Based tool for identifying your values. 
  • How to be curious instead of thinking in a limited way. 

Links To Things I Talk About:

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

Managing Mental Compulsions (With Lisa Coyne, PhD) Your anxiety toolkit

 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 287. 

Welcome back, everybody. I am so excited. We are at Episode 6 of this six-part series of how to manage mental compulsions. You guys, we could not end this series with anyone better than Dr. Lisa Coyne. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Lisa Coyne. I bet you, you probably have. She is the most wonderful human being. 

I have met Lisa, Dr. Lisa Coyne multiple times online, never in person, and just loved her. And this was my first time of actually getting to spend some really precious time with her. And, oh my gosh, my heart exploded like a million times. And you will hear in this episode, you will hear my heart exploding at some point, I’m sure.

I am so honored to finish out the six-part series with Lisa. This series, let me just share with you how joyful it has felt to be able to deliver this as a series, as a back-to-back piece of hope. I’m hoping it has been a piece of hope for you in managing something really, really difficult, which is managing mental compulsions.

Now, as we finish this series up, I may or may not want to do a recap. I’m not sure yet. I’m going to just see where my heart falls, but I want to just really first, as we move into this final part of the series, to remind you, take what you need. You’ve been given literally back-to-back some of the best advice I have ever heard in regards to managing mental compulsions. We’ve got world-renowned experts on this series. You might have either found it so, so educational and so, so helpful while also feeling sometimes a little bit like, “Oh my goodness, there’s so many tools, which one do I use?” 

And I really want to emphasize to you, as we finish this out, again, so beautiful. What a beautiful ending. I almost feel like crying. As we finish it out, I really want to remind you, take what you need, take what’s helpful, or – well, I should say and – try all of them out. Practice with each of the skills and the concepts and the tools. See what happens when you do. Use them as little experiments. Just keep plugging away with these skills and tools. Because number one, they’re all evidence-based. I very carefully picked the experts on this series to make sure that we are bringing you evidence-based, really gold standard treatment. So, that’s been a priority. Just practice with them. Don’t be hard on yourself as you practice them. Remind yourself, this is a long-term journey. These are skills I still practice. I’m sure everyone who’s come on the show, they are still practicing them. And so, I really want to send you off with a sense of hope that you get to play around with these. Be playful with them. Some of them will be we’ve giggled and we’ve laughed and we’ve cried. So, I want you to just be gentle as you proceed and you practice and remind yourself this is a process and a journey. 

That being said, I am going to take you right into this next part of the six-part series with Dr. Lisa Coyne. This is where we bring it home and boy, does she bring it home. I feel like she beautifully ties it all up in a ribbon. And I hope it has been so helpful for you. Really, I do. I want this to be a resource that you share with other people who are struggling. I want to be a resource that you return to when you’re struggling. I want it to be a place where you feel understood and validated. And so, thank you so much for being a part of this amazing series. That being said, let’s get over onto the show, and here is Dr. Lisa Coyne.

------

Kimberley: I literally feel like I’m almost in tears because I know this is going to be the last of the series and I’m so excited. I had just said this is going to bring it home. I’m so excited to have Dr. Lisa Coyne. Welcome.

Lisa: Thank you. It’s so nice to be here with you, Kim. Hi, everyone.

What is a Mental Compulsion? Do you call it a Mental Compulsion or a Mental Ritual? 

Kimberley: Yes. So, first of all, the question I’ve asked everybody, and I really am loving the response is, this is a series on managing mental compulsions, but do you call them mental compulsions, mental rituals, rumination? How do you conceptualize this whole concept?

Lisa: I would say, it depends on the person and it depends on what they’re doing. I call them any number of things. But I think the most important thing, at least for me in how I think about this, is that we come at it from a very behavioral perspective, where we really understand that-- and this is true for probably all humans, but especially so for OCD. I have a little bit of it myself, where I get caught up in the ruminations. But there’s a triggering thought. You might call it a trigger like a recurrent intrusive thought that pops up or antecedent is another word that we think of when we think of behavior analysis. But after that thought comes up, what happens is the person engages in an on-purpose thing, whatever it is that they do in their mind. It could be replacing it with a good thought. It could be an argument with yourself. It could be, “I just need to go over it one more time.” It could be, “I’m going to worry about this so I can solve it in advance.” And that part is the part that we think of as the compulsion. So, it’s a thing we’re doing on purpose in our minds to somehow give us some relief or safety from that initial thought. 

Now the tricky part is this. It doesn’t always feel like it’s something we’re doing on purpose. It might feel so second nature that it too feels automatic. So, part of, I think, the work is really noticing, what does it feel like when you’re engaging in this activity? So, for me, if I’m worrying about something, and worry is an example of this kind of doing in your mind, it comes with a sense of urgency or tightness or “I just have to figure it out,” or “What if I--” and it’s all about reducing uncertainty really. 

So, the trick that I do when I notice it in me is I’ll be like, “Okay, I’m noticing that urgency, that tension, that distress. What am I up to in my head? Am I solving something? Is that--” and then I’ll step back and notice what I’m up to. So, that’s one of my little tricks that I teach my clients.

Kimberley: I love this. Would you say your predominant modality is acceptance and commitment therapy? What would you say predominantly you-- I mean, I know you’re skilled in so many things, but what would you--

Lisa: I would say, it’s funny because, yeah, I guess you would. I mean, I’m pretty skilled in that.  I’m an ACT trainer. Although I did start with CBT and I would say that for OCD, I really stick to ERP. I think of it as the heart of the intervention, but we do it within the context of ACT.

ACT for Mental Compulsions 

Kimberley: Can you tell me what that would look like? I’m just so interested to understand it from that conceptualization. So, you’re talking about this idea. We’ve talked a lot about like, it’s how you respond to your thoughts and how you respond and so forth. And then, of course, you respond with ERP. What does ACT look like in that experience? I’d love to hear right from your mouth.

Lisa: Okay. All right. So, I’m going to do my best here to just say it and then we’ll see if it sounds more like ACT or it sounds more like ERP. And then you’ll see what I mean when I say I do both of them. So, when you think about OCD, when you think about anxiety, or even maybe depression where you’re stuck in rumination, somebody is having an experience. We call it a private event like feeling, thought, belief that hurts, whatever it is. And what they’re doing is everything that they can to get away from that. So, if it’s OCD, there’s a scary thought or feeling, and then there’s a ritual that you do. 

So, to fix that, it’s all about learning to turn towards and approach that thing that’s hard. And there’s different ways you can do that. You can do that in a way where you’re dialing it in and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to do the thing,” but you’re doing everything that you can to not feel while you’re doing that. And I think that’s sometimes where people get stuck doing straight-up exposure and response prevention. It’s also hard. 

When I was a little kid, I was really scared to go off the high dive. I tell my clients and my team the story sometimes where it was like a three-meter dive. And I was that kid where I would be like, “I’m going to do it. All the other kids are doing it.” And I would climb up, I’d walk to the end of the board, freak out, walk back, climb down. And I did this so many times one day, and there’s a long line of other kids waiting to get in the water. And they were pissed. So, I got up and I walked out to the end of the board and I was like, “I can’t.” And I turned around to go back. And there was my swim coach at the other side of the board with his arms crossed. I was like, “Oh no.”

Kimberley: “This is not the way I planned.”

How do you apply Acceptance & Commitment Therapy for OCD and Mental Compulsions? 

Lisa: And he is like, “No, you’re going.” And I went, which was amazing. And sometimes you do need that push. But the point is that it’s really hard to get yourself to do those really hard things sometimes when it matters. So, to me, ACT brings two pieces to the table that are really, really important here. You can divide ACT into two sets of processes. There’s your acceptance and mindfulness processes, and then there’s your commitment and valuing processes, which are the engine of ACT, how do we get there? 

So, for the first part, mindfulness is really paying attention on purpose. And if you want to really learn from an exposure, you have to be in your body, you have to be noticing, you have to be willing to allow all of the thoughts and sensations and whatever shows up to show up. And so, ACT is ideal at shaping that skillset for when you’re in the exposure. So, that’s how we think of it that way. 

And then the valuing and commitment is, how do you get yourself off that diving board? There has to be something much more important, bigger, much bigger than your fear to help motivate you for why to do this hard thing. And I think that the valuing piece and really connecting with the things that we most deeply care about is part of what helps with that too. So, I think those two bookends are really, really important. There’s other ways to think about it, but those are the two primary ways that we do ERP, but we do it within an ACT framework.

Using Values to manage Mental Compulsions

Kimberley: Okay. I love this. So, you’re talking about we know what we need to do. We know that rumination isn’t helpful. We know that it creates pain. We know that it keeps us stuck. And we also know, let’s jump to like, we know we have to drop it ultimately. What might be an example of values or commitments that people make specifically for rumination, the solving? Do you have any examples that might be helpful? 

Lisa: Yeah. I’m just thinking of-- there’s a bunch of them, but for example, let’s take, for example, ROCD, relationship OCD. So, let’s say someone’s in a relationship with a partner and they’re not sure if the right partner is. Are they cheating on me? Are they not? Blah, blah, blah, blah. And it’s this like, “But I have to solve if this is the right person or not. Am I going to be safe?” or whatever the particular worry is. And so, one of the things that you can do is once folks notice, they’re trying to solve that. Notice, what’s the effect of that on your actual relationship? How is that actually working? So, there’s this stepping back where an ACT, we would call that diffusion or taking perspective self-as-context, which is another ACT, acceptance, and mindfulness piece. And first of all, notice that. Second of all, pause. Notice what you’re up to. Is the intent here to build a strong relationship, or is the intent to make this uncertainty go away? And then choose. Do I want to work on uncertainty or do I want to work on being a loving partner and seeing what happens? Because there’s so much we’re not in charge of, including what we’re thinking and feeling. But we are in charge of what we choose to do. And so, choosing to be present and see where it goes, and embracing that uncertainty. But the joyfulness of it, I think, is really, really important. So, that would be one example. 

Kimberley: I love that example. Actually, as you were saying, I was thinking about an experience of my own. When your own fears come up around relationship, even you’re ruminating about a conversation or something, you’ve got to stop and be like, “Is this getting in the way here of the actual thing?” It’s so true. Tell me about this joy piece, because it’s not very often you hear the word joy in a conversation about mental compulsions. Tell me about it.

Lisa: Well, when you start really noticing how this is working, and if you’re willing to step back from it, let it be, and stay where you are in that uncertainty, all sorts of new things show up. Stuff you never could have imagined or never could have dreamed. Your whole life could be just popping up all of these possibilities. In that moment you stop engaging with those compulsions, you could go in a hundred different directions if you’re willing to let the uncertainty be there. And I think that that’s really important. 

I want to tell a story, but I have to change the details in my head just for confidentiality. But I’m thinking of a person who I have worked with, who would be stuck and ruminating about, is this the right thing? I could make decisions and how do I-- for example, how do I do this lecture? My slides need to be perfect and ruminating, ruminating, ruminating about how it works. And one day they decided, “Okay, I’m just going to be present and I’m just going to teach.” And they taught with a partner. And the person themself noticed like, “Wow, I felt so much more connected to my students. This was amazing.” And the partner teaching with them was like, “I’ve never seen you so on. That was amazing.” They contacted this joy and like, “This is what it could be like.” And it’s like this freedom shows up for you. And it’s something that we think we know. And OCD loves to know, and it loves to tell you, it knows the whole story about everything. And it’s more what you get back when you stop doing the compulsions if you really, really choose that. It’s so much more than just, “Oh, I’m okay. I noticed that thought.” it’s so much more than that. It’s like, yes, and you get to do all this amazing stuff. 

Kimberley: Right. I mean, it’s funny. I always have my clients in my head. When someone says something, I’m imagining my client going, “But like, but like...” What’s the buts that are coming?

Lisa: And notice that process. But see, that’s it. That’s your mind, that’s their minds jumping back in being like, “See, there it is again.”

Kimberley: Yeah.

Lisa: And what if we just don’t know?

Using Curiosity to Stop Mental Compulsions 

Kimberley: And this is what I love about this. I agree with you. There have been so many times when I’ve dropped myself out of-- I call it being heady and I drop into my body and you get this experience of being like, “Wow.” For me, I can get really simple on like, “Isn’t it crazy that water is clear?” I can go to that place. “Water is clear. That is incredible.” You know what I mean? It’s there to go to that degree. But then, that’s the joy in it for me. It’s like, “Wow, somebody literally figured out how to make this pen work.” That still blows my mind. 

Lisa: I had a moment. I started horseback riding again for the first time in literally-- I’ve ridden on and off once a year or something, but really riding. And actually, it was taking classes and stuff for the first time in 30 years. And they put me in this class and I didn’t know what level it was. I just thought we were just going to walk around and trot and all that stuff. Plus, she starts setting up jumps. And I was like, “Oh my God, this is old body now. This is not going to bounce the way it might have been.” It’s what means all these 15-year-olds in the class.

Kimberley: Wow.

Lisa: I’m third in line and I’m just on the horse absolutely panicking and ruminating like, “Oh my God, am I going to die? Should I do this? What am I going to do? Should I tell her no? But I want it and I don’t know what I’m going to--” and my head was just so loud. And so, the two girls in front of me go. And then I look at the teacher and I go, “Are you sure?” It’s literally the first time I’ve ever done in 30 years. She just went-- she just looked at me. And I noticed that my legs squeezed the horse with all of the stuff rolling around in my head. And I went over the jump and it was, I didn’t die. It was really messy and terrifying. Oh my God, it was so exciting and joyful. And I was so proud of myself. That’s what you get--

Kimberley: And I’ve heard that from so many clients too. 

Lisa: It’s so awesome. 

Kimberley: I always say it’s like base jumping. It’s like you’ve got to jump. And then once you’ve jumped, you just got to be there. And that is true. There is so much exhilaration and sphere that comes from that. So, I love that. What about those who base jump or squeeze the horse and they’re dropping into discomfort that they haven’t even experienced before, like 10 out 10 stuff. Can you walk me through-- is it just the same? Is it the same concept? What would you advise there?

Lisa: So, I think it’s important to notice that when that happens, people are not just experiencing physical sensations and emotions, but it’s also whatever their mind is telling them about it. And I think this is another place where ACT is super helpful to just notice, like your mind is saying, this is 10 out of 10. What does that mean to you? That means like, oh my gosh. And just noticing that and holding it lightly while you’re in that 10 out of 10 moment, I think, is really, really helpful. 

So, for example, I have a really intense fear of heights where I actually freeze. I can’t actually move when I’m on the edge of something. And I had a young client who I’ve worked with for a while. And as an exposure for her, but also for me as her clinician to model, we decided. She wanted me to go rock climbing with her, which is not something I’ve ever done, ever, and also fear of heights. So, I kept telling myself, “Fear of heights, this is going to suck. This is going to be terrible. This is going to be terrible.” And there was also another part of me interested and curious. 

And so, what I would say when you’re in that 10 out of 10 moment, you can always be curious. So, when you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’m really scared,” the moment you’re unwilling to feel that is the moment it’s going to overwhelm you. And if you can notice it as a thought, “I’m having the thought, I don’t think I can handle this. I don’t think I’m going to survive this,” and notice it and be curious, let’s see what happens. And so, for me, I noticed interestingly, even though I’m terrified of heights, I wasn’t actually scared at all. And that was a shocker, because I was full sure it was going to be the worst thing ever. 

And so, notice the stories your mind tells you about what an experience is going to be and stay curious. You can always be curious. And that’s going to be, I think, your number one tool for finding your way through and how to handle those really big, unexpected, and inevitable surprising moments that happen in life that are really scary for all of us.

Kimberley: Right. And when you say curious, I’m not trying to get too nitpicky on terms, but for me, curiosity is, let’s experiment. I always think of it like life is a science experiment, like let’s see if my hypothesis is true about this rock climbing. Is there a way that you explain curiosity?

Lisa: Yeah. Well, that’s part of it, but it’s also part like what you were describing. Isn’t water cool? It’s more than, is this true or not true? That’s so narrow. You want, “No, really? What does this taste like?” And that’s the mindfulness piece. Really notice all of it. There’s so much. And when you start doing that, you’ll find-- even if you do it outside of exposure, for example, as practice, you start to notice that the present moment is a little bit like Hermione’s purse in Harry Potter, where you think it’s this one thing, and then when you start to expand your awareness, you notice there’s tons of cool stuff. So, in these big, scary moments, what you might see is a sense of purpose or a sense of, “Holy crap, I’m handling this and I didn’t think I could. Wow, this is amazing,” or “I’m really terrified. Oh my gosh, my nose itches.” It could be anything at all. 

But the bottom line is, our bodies were meant to feel and they were meant to experience all the emotions. And so, there is no amount of emotion or fear or anything that we are not built to handle. Emotions are information. And to stay in the storm when it’s such a big storm, when OCD is ramping you up, it teaches the OCD, “Actually, I guess I get to stand down here eventually, I guess I don’t need to freak out about this so much. Huh, interesting. I had no idea.” I don’t know if that’s helpful or not.  

Kimberley: No, it’s so helpful. It is so helpful because I think if you have practiced curiosity, it makes sense. But for someone who maybe has been in mental compulsions for so long, they haven’t really strengthened that curiosity muscle.

Mindfulness for Mental Compulsions

Lisa: That’s so true. So, start small. Don’t start in the storm. Start with waking up in the morning and noticing before you open your eyes, what do you hear? How do the covers feel? Do you hear the birds outside your window? Start with that. And start in little moments, just practicing during the day. Start a conversation with someone you care about, and notice what your mind is saying in response to them, what it’s like to notice their face. Start small, build it up, and then start practicing with little tiny, other kinds of discomfort. Sometimes we’ll tell people like impatience. When you’re waiting in line or in hunger or tiredness, any of those, to just bring your full awareness to that and be like, “What is it like inside this moment right now?” And then you can extend that to, “Okay. So, what if we choose to approach this scary thing? What if we choose to just for a few seconds, notice what it feels like in this uncertain space?” And that’s how you might begin to bring it to rumination, be curious about what was the triggering thought. And then before you start ruminating or before you start doing mental rituals, just notice the first thought, and then you don’t have to answer that question. And there’s different ways to handle that, but curiosity is the beginning. And then stopping the compulsion is ultimately, or undoing it or undermining it in some way is going to be the other important piece.

Kimberley: I’d love to hear more about commitment. I always loved-- when I have multiple clients, we joke about this all the time. They’ll say, “I had these mental compulsions and you would be so proud. I was so proud. I was able to catch it and pull myself back into the present. And yes, it was such a win. And then I had another thought and you’d be so proud of me. I did the same thing. And then I had another thought and...”

Lisa: You’re like, “Was that the show that you just did right there?” It’s sneaky, huh.

Kimberley: And so, I’d love to hear what you’re-- and maybe bring it from an ACT perspective or however you would. It’s like you’re chugging away. “I’m doing good. Look at me go.” But OCD can be so persistent.

Lisa: It’s so tricky. 

Kimberley: And so, is that the commitment piece, do you think? What is that? How would you address that? 

Lisa: So, if I’m getting your question right, you’re asking about, what do we do when OCD hijacks something that you should do and turns it into a ritual? Is that what you’re asking? 

Kimberley: Yes. Or it just is OCD turns up the volume as like, “No, no, no, no. You are going to have to tend to me or I’m not going to stop,” kind of thing.

Lisa: Yes. That is a commitment piece. And it’s funny because there’s different ways that I think about this, but it’s almost like a little child who has a tantrum. If you keep saying yes, every time they make the tantrum bigger, it’s going to end up being a pretty big tantrum. And OCD loves nothing more than a good tantrum.

Kimberley: So true.

Lisa: And so, the thing you have to do is plan for that and go, “Yeah, it’s going to get loud. Yeah, it’s going to say whatever it needs to say, and it’s going to say the worst thing I can think of.” And I have had my clients call this all sorts of different things like first-order thoughts, second-order thoughts, just different variations on the theme where it’s going to ramp up to hook you in. And so, really staying very mindful of that and making a promise to yourself. 

One of my clients who helped us a lot in teaching but also in writing stuff that’s loud, Ethan, I think said it in this really elegant way. He said, make a promise to yourself. That really matters, even if it’s small. It doesn’t matter how big it is. But one of his first ones was, under no circumstances, am I going to do X the compulsion? And keep that promise to yourself because if you-- anybody who ever woke up and didn’t want to get out of the bed in the morning because, “Ah, too tired, it’s too early. I don’t really want to go to the gym.” If you know you’re in that conversation with yourself about, “Well, maybe just one more minute,” you’ve already lost. And so, this is a good place again for that ACT piece of diffusion. Noticing your mind or your OCD or your anxiety is pulling you into, “Ah, let’s just see if we can string you along here.” And so, what needs to happen is just move your feet and put them on the floor. Don’t get into that conversation with yourself. And having that commitment piece, that promise to myself with the added value piece, that really matters.

And one other thing that’s sometimes helpful that I have-- I’ll use this myself, but I also teach my clients, remembering this question: If this is a step towards whatever it is that’s really important, am I willing to allow myself to feel these things? Am I willing? And remembering that as a cue. We’re not here. It’s never about this one exposure. It’s about, this is a step towards this other life that you are fighting for. And every single step is an investment in that other life where you’re getting closer and you’re making it more possible, and just remembering that. I think that that’s a really important piece.

A Values Tool YOU NEED! 

Kimberley: Yeah. It actually perfectly answered the question I had, which is, you’re making a commitment, but what to? And it is that long-term version of you that you’re moving towards or the value that you want to be living by. Would you suggest-- and I’ve done a little bit of work on the podcast about values. Maybe one day we can have you back on and you can share more about that, but would you suggest people pick one value, three values? How might someone-- of course, we all have these values and sometimes OCD can take things from us, or anxiety can take those things from us. How would you encourage someone to move in that direction?

Lisa: Well, actually, do you want to do a fun thing?

Kimberley: I do.

Lisa: Okay. So, let’s do--

Kimberley: I never would say no to that. I would love to. I’m really curious about this fun thing.

Lisa: All right. So, do you like coffee or are you a tea person or neither?

Kimberley: Let’s go tea. I’m an Australian. If I didn’t say tea, I would be a terrible Aussie. 

Lisa: They’ll kick you off. All right. So, Kim, think about in your life a perfect cup of tea, not just a taste, but a moment with someone maybe you cared about or somewhere that was beautiful or after something big or before something big, or just think about what was a really, really amazing important cup of tea that you’ve had in your life.

Kimberley: Oh, it’s so easy. Do I tell you out loud? 

Lisa: Yeah. If you want to, that’d be great. 

Kimberley: I’ll paint you guys a picture. So, I live in America, but my parents live in Australia and they have this beautiful house on a huge ranch. I grew up on a farm. And we’re sitting at their bay window and you’re overlooking green. It’s just rolling hills. And my mom is on my left and my dad is on my right. And it’s like milky and there’s cookies. Well, they call them biscuits. So, yeah. That’s my happy place right there.

Lisa: And I could see it in your face when you’re talking about it. So, where do you-- does that tell you something about what’s really important to you? 

Kimberley: Yes.

Lisa: What does it tell you?

Kimberley: Family and pleasure and just savoring goodness, just slowing down. It’s not about winning a race, it’s just about this savoring. And I think there’s a lot-- maybe something there that I think is important is the green, the nature, the calm of that.

Lisa: Yeah. So, as you talk about that, what are you noticing feeling?

Kimberley: Oh my God, my heart just exploded 12 times. My heart is filled. That was the funnest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. Funnest is not a word.

Lisa: What if you could build your life around moments like that? Would that be a well of life for you?

Kimberley: I think about that nearly every time I make tea, actually.

Lisa: That’s how you would help your clients, and that’s one way to think about values.

Kimberley: Wow. That is so cool. I feel like you just did a spell on me or something.

Lisa: You just connected with the stuff that’s really important. So, when you think about if I had a hard thing to do, what if it was a step towards more of that in your life?

Kimberley: Yeah.

Lisa: You see? 

Kimberley: It’s so powerful. I’ve never thought that. Oh my God, that was gold. And so, that’s the example. Everyone would use that, coffee or tea.

Lisa: There you go. Just think about it. And it’s funny because we came up with this in our team, maybe three months ago. We keep piloting just new little values exercise, but it’s so funny how compelling it is. just thinking about-- gosh. Anyway, I could tell you about mine, but you get the point. 

Kimberley: And you know what’s so funny too and I will say, and this is completely off topic, there’s a social media person that I follow on Instagram. And every time she does a live-- and for some reason, it’s so funny that you mentioned this, I love what she talks about, but to be honest, I’m not there to watch her talk. The thing that I love the most is that she starts every live with a new tea and she’ll pause the water in front of you. It’s like a mindfulness exercise for me. To be honest, I find myself watching to see whether she’s making tea. Not that this is about tea, but I think there’s something very mindful about those things that where we slow down-- and the water example, she’s pouring it and she’s watching the tea. And for some reason, it’s like a little mini-break in the day for me. 

Lisa: I totally agree. It’s like the whole sky, the cloud, and the tea and the--

Kimberley: Like Thich Nhat Hanh.

Lisa: Yes. I can’t remember the quote, but exactly. 

Kimberley: Yeah. Oh my gosh, I love that example. So good. Well actually, if you don’t mind, can you tell us your tea? Because I just would love to see if there’s a variation. So, what would yours be?

Lisa: It was funny because I think I did coffee the first time I did this, but then recently I just did a workshop in Virginia and I was like, “Oh my gosh, tea.” And what came to mind was, when I took my 17-year-old daughter tracking in the Himalayas to Nepal, because I wanted her. She was graduating from high school and I wanted to show her that you could do anything and she really wanted to go. We both really wanted to go to Ever Space Camp. And every morning after trekking nine, 10, 11 hours a day where you’re freezing cold, you’re exhausted, everything’s hurting, and it’s also amazing and beautiful, the guides would knock at our door and there would be two of them. And one of them would have a tray of little metal cups. And then the other one would say, “Tea? Sugar? Would you like sugar?” And they would make you, they would bring you, and this was how you woke up every morning, a steaming cup of tea. Sometimes the rooms were 20 below zero. And you’d get out of bed and you’d be so grateful for that warm cup of tea. And that was the tea I remembered.

Kimberley: Right. And then the values you pulled from that would be what?

Lisa: That moment, it was about being with my daughter and it was about showing her, modeling courage and modeling willingness and just adventure and this love of being in nature and taking a journey and seeing, “Could we do this? And what would it be like?” And just sharing the experience with her. It’s just beautiful. And the tea is right in the center of that. So, it’s almost not even about the tea, but it’s that moment. It’s that time and that experience. So amazing.

Kimberley: So amazing. Thank you. I’m deeply grateful. That just filled my heart. 

Lisa: I’m so glad. I feel so honored that you have had experience. I love that so much.

Kimberley: I did. I always tell my clients or my kids or whoever is at-- when I was a kid, my mom, every afternoon when I came home from school, she’d say, “What’s the one thing you learn at school today?” And so still, there’s always one thing I learn and I always note it like that’s the one thing I learned today and that was it. What an amazing moment. 

Lisa: I’m so glad. 

Kimberley: Okay. I love this. So, we’ve talked about mindfulness and we’ve talked about commitment. We’ve talked about values and we have talked about the acceptance piece, but if we could have just one more question around the acceptance piece. How does that fit into this model? I’m wondering. 

Lisa: It’s funny because I always feel like that acceptance piece, the word, it means to so many people, I think, tolerance or coping or let’s just make this okay. And it doesn’t mean any of those things. And so, I’ve moved more into thinking of it and describing it as, it’s like a willingness. What is under the hood of acceptance and am I willing? Because you cannot like something and not want something and also be willing to allow it. And it’s almost like this-- again, it involves curiosity about it. It involves squeeze the horse with all the stuff. Get the feet on the floor, even though you’re having an argument that’s in your head. And so, sometimes people think about it as a feeling and sometimes it is, but a lot of times, it’s willingness with your feet. When you think about moms and infants in the middle of the night, I don’t think there was ever a moment when I was like, “Oh yeah, the baby’s crying at 4:00 in the morning. I’m so excited to get up.” I’m feeling in my heart, no. It’s like you’re exhausted and it’s like the last thing you want to do and 100% you’re willing to do it. You choose. And so, that’s the difference. And so, I think people get tangled up, not just thinking of it as tolerance, but also waiting for a feeling of willingness to happen. And that’s not it. It’s a choice.

Kimberley: It’s gold.

Lisa: Yeah, seriously. I mean, it’s the same thing. I learn it every day. Trust me, when I fall out of my gym routine or my running routine and I’m off the willingness, and then I’m like, “Yeah, that’s not it.” And I have to come back to it. So, it’s something we all struggle with. And I think that’s really important to know too, but ultimately, it’s a choice, not a feeling.

Kimberley: Okay. That was perfect. And I’m so happy. Thank you, number one. This is just beautiful for me and I’m sure the gifts just keep going and flowing from this conversation. So, thank you. 

Lisa: Thank you for having me.

Kimberley: Tell me where people can hear more about you and know your work?

Lisa: Well, we’re at the New England Center for OCD and Anxiety in Boston. We have recently opened in New York City and in Ireland. So, if anybody is in Ireland, call us, look us up.

Kimberley: Wow.

Lisa: Yeah. That’s been really fun. And there’s a few books we have. There’s Stuff That’s Loud written by Ben Sedley and myself. There’s our newest book called Stop Avoiding Stuff with Matt Boone and Jen Gregg. And that’s a fun little book. If anybody’s interested in learning about ACT, it’s really written-- the chapters are each standalone and they’re written so that you could read them in about two minutes, and that was on purpose. We wanted something that was really pocket-sized and really simple with actionable skills that you could use right away. And then I have a new book coming out actually really soon. And no one knows this. Actually, I’m announcing this on your show. And I am writing it with my colleague, Sarah Cassidy-O’Connor in Ireland. We are just doing the art for it now and it’s a book on ACT for kids with anxiety and OCD. 

Kimberley: When is this out?

Lisa: Good question. I want to say within the year, but I don’t remember when.

Kimberley: That’s okay. 

Lisa: But look for it and check out our website and check out Stuff That’s Loud website. We’ll post it there and let folks know. But yeah, we’re really excited about it. And it’ll be published by a UK publisher. So, it’s really cute. So, I think the language will be much more like Australia, UK, Ireland for the US, which is really fun because I have a connection to Ireland too. But anyway, there you go. 

Kimberley: It’s so exciting. Congratulations. So needed. It’s funny because I just had a consultation with one of my staff and we were talking about books for kids. And there are some great ones, but this ACT work, I think as I keep saying, there’s skills for life. 

Lisa: It really is.

Kimberley: So important. How many times I’ve taught my child, even not related to anxiety, just the ACT skill, it’s been so important.

Lisa: Yeah. Mine too. I think they’re so helpful. They were just really helpful with flexibility in so many different areas.

Kimberley: Right. I agree. Okay. This is wonderful. Thank you for being on. Like I said, you brought it home. 

Lisa: We’ll have our cups of tea now.

Kimberley: We will

Lisa: So nice to talk to you, Kim. 

Kimberley: Thank you.

Lisa: Thank you.

May 27, 2022

SUMMARY:

In this week's podcast, we talk with Dr. Reid Wilson.  Reid discussed how to get the theme out of the way and play the moment-by moment game.  Reid shares his specific strategies for managing mental compulsion. You are not going to want to miss one minute of this episode.

Covered in This Episode:

  • Getting your Theme out of the way
  • The importance of shifting your additude
  • Balancing “being aggressive” and implementing mindfulness and acceptance
  • How to play the “moment by moment” game
  • Using strategy to achieve success in recovery
  • OCD and the 6-moment Game
  • Other tactics for Mental compulsions

Links To Things I Talk About:

Reid’s Website anxieties.com
https://www.youtube.com/user/ReidWilsonPhD?app=desktop
DOWNLOAD REID’s WORKBOOK HERE 

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

Managing Mental Compulsions (With Dr. Reid Wilson) Your anxiety toolkit

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 286.

Welcome back, everybody. I am so excited. You guys, we are on number five of this six-part series, and this six-part series on Managing Mental Compulsions literally has been one of the highlights of my career. I am not just saying that. I’m just flooded with honor and pride and appreciation and excitement for you. All the feedback has been incredible. So many of you have emailed me or reached out to me on social media just to let me know that this is helping you. And to be honest with you, I can’t thank you enough because this has been something I’ve wanted to do for so long and I’ve really felt that it’s so needed. And it’s just been so wonderful to get that feedback from you. So, thank you so much.

The other plus people I want to be so grateful for are the guests. Each person has brought their special magic to how to manage mental compulsions. And you guys, the thing to remember here is managing mental compulsions is hard work, like the hardest of hard work. And I want to just honor that it is so hard and it is so confusing and it’s such a difficult thing to navigate. And so, to have Jon talking about mental compulsions and mindfulness and Shala talking about her lived experience and flooding, and Dr. Jonathan Grayson talking about acceptance last week. And now, we have the amazing Reid Wilson coming on and sharing his amazing strategies and tools that he uses with his patients with mental rumination, mental compulsions, mental rituals. Literally, I can’t even explain it. It’s just joy. It’s just pure joy that I get to do this with you and be on this journey with you.

I’m going to do this quick. So, I’ll just do a quick introduction. We do have Dr. Reid Wilson here. Now we’ve had Reid on before. Every single guest here, I just consider such a dear friend. You’re going to love this episode. He brings the mic drops. I’m not going to lie. And so, I do hope that you squeeze every little bit of juice out of this episode. Bring your notepad, get your pen, you’re going to need it, and enjoy. Again, have a beautiful day. As I always say, it is a beautiful day to do hard things. Let’s get onto the show.

Kimberley: I am thrilled to have you, Dr. Reid Wilson.

Reid: Thanks. Glad to be here.

Kimberley: Oh my goodness. Okay. I have been so excited to ask you these questions. I am just jumping out of my skin. I’m so really quite interested to hear your approach to mental compulsions. Before we get started, do you call them mental compulsions, mental rituals, mental rumination? How do you--

Reid: Sure. All of the above doesn’t matter to me. I just don’t call it “pure obsessions, pure obsessionals” because I think that’s a misnomer, but we can’t seem to get away from that.

Kimberley: Can you maybe quickly share why you don’t think we can get away from that? Do you want to maybe-- we’d love to hear your thoughts on that. We haven’t addressed that yet in the podcast.

Reid: Well, typically, we would call-- people write to me all the time and probably do that too, say, “I’m a pure obsessional.” Well, that’s ridiculous. Nobody’s a pure obsessional. What it really is, is I have obsessions and then I have mental compulsions. And so, it’s such a misnomer to be using that term. But what I mean is, how we can’t get away from it is it’s just gotten so completely in the lexicon that it would take a lot of effort to try to expel the term.

Getting the theme out of the way

Kimberley: Okay. Thank you for clearing that up, because that’s like not something we’ve actually addressed up until this time. So, I’m so grateful you brought that up. So, I have read a bunch of your staff. I’ve had you on the show already and you’re a very dear friend. I really want to get to all of the main points of your particular work. So, let’s talk first about when we’re managing mental compulsions. We’ll always be talking about that as the main goal, but tell me a little bit about why the theme, we’ve got to get out of the way of that.

Reid: Right. And my opinion is this is one of the most important things for us to do and the most difficult thing to accomplish. It’s really the first thing that needs to be accomplished, which is we have to understand. And you’re going to hear me say this again. This is a mental health disorder and it’s a significant disorder. And if we don’t get our minds straight about what’s required to handle it, we’re going to get beaten down left and right. So, of course, the disorder comes into the mind as something very specific. Focusing on the specific keeps us in the territory of the disorders control. So, we need to understand this is a disorder of uncertainty. This is a disorder of uncertainty that brings distress. So, we have that combination of two things. If we’re going to treat the disorder, we cannot bring our focus on our theme. But the theme is very ingrained in everyone. 

I talk about signal versus noise, and this is how I want to help people make that transition, which is of course, for all of us in all humanity, every worry comes into the prefrontal cortex as a signal. And we very quickly go, “Oh yeah, well, that’s not important. I don’t need to pay attention to that.” And we turn it over to noise and let go of it and keep going. With OCD, the theme, the topic, the checking, and all the mental rituals that we do are perceived and locked down as signals. And if we don’t convert them into noise, we are stuck. 

What I want the client to do is to treat the theme as nothing, and that is a big ask. And not only do we have to treat the theme as nothing, we have to treat it as nothing while we are uncertain, whether it’s nothing or not. So, in advance of an obsession popping up, we really need to dig down during a no problem time and get clear about this. And then we do want to figure out a way to lock that down, which includes “I’m going to act as though this is nothing,” and it has to be accomplished like that. Go ahead.

Kimberley: No. And would you do the same for people, let’s say if they had social anxiety or health anxiety, generalized anxiety? Would you also take the theme out of it?

Reid: Absolutely. But if the theme is in the way, then we need to problem-solve that. So, if we go to health anxiety, okay, I’ve got a new symptom, some pain in the back of my head that I’ve never had before. I have to decide, am I going to go into the physician and have it checked out or am I not? Or am I going to wait a few days and then do it? With that kind of anxiety and fear around health, we have to get closure around “I don’t need to do anything about this.” Sometimes I use something called “postponing.” So, with social anxiety, it can-- I mean, with health anxiety, it can work really well to go, “Well, I’m having this new symptom, do I have to immediately go in and see the physician and get it checked out? Can I wait 24 hours? Yes, I can. I’ve already been diagnosed with health anxiety. So, I know I get confused about this stuff. So, I’m going to wait 24 hours.” So, what does that give us then? Now I have 24 hours to treat the obsession as nothing because I don’t need to focus on it. I’ve already decided, if I’m still worried tomorrow, I’m making an appointment, we’re going in. That gives me the opportunity to work on this worry as an obsession because I’ve already figured it out. The reason we want to do that so diligently is we have to go up one level of abstraction up to the disorder itself. And that’s why we have to get off of this to come up here and work on this.

Kimberley: This is so good. And you would postpone, use that same skill for all the themes as well? I’m just wanting to make sure so people clarify.

Reid: Well, sure. I mean, postponing is a tactic. I wouldn’t say we can do postponing across the board because some people have-- it really depends on what the obsession is and what the thinking ritual is as to whether we can use it. But it’s one of them that can be used.

Shifting your attitude 

Kimberley: Amazing. Tell me about-- I mean, that requires a massive shift in attitude. Can you share a little bit about that?

Reid: Yeah. And if you think about-- I use that term a lot around attitude, but we’ve got some synonyms in attitude. What is my disposition toward this? Have I mentioned mental health disorder? What do I want my orientation to be? How do I want to focus on it? And we want to think about really attitude as technique, as skill set. So, what we know is the disorder wants some very specific things from us. It wants us to be frightened by that topic. It wants us to have that urge to get rid of it and have that urge to get rid of it right now. And so, that begins to give us a sense of what is required to get better. And that again is up here. 

So, why do you do mental counting? Why do you do rehearsal mentally? Why do you try to neutralize through praying? When you look at some of those, the functions of some of those or compulsions and urge to do the compulsions, it is to fill my mind so I don’t get distracted again, it is to reassure myself, it is to make sure everything is going to be okay. It is to get certain. And so, when we know that that is the drive of the disorder, we begin to see, what do we need to do broadly in general? And that is, I need to actually operate paradoxically. If it needs me to do this, feel this, think this, I’m going to do everything I can to manipulate that pattern and do the opposite. It wants me to take this theme seriously, I’m going to work on-- and really it has to be said like that. I’m going to work on not taking it seriously. So, that’s the shift. If we can get a sense of the attitude and the principles that go along with all of that, then moment by moment, we’ll know what to do in those moments.

Do you need to be aggressive with OCD and intrusive thoughts? 

Kimberley: We’ve had guests talking about mindfulness and we will have Lisa Coyne talking about act and Jon Grayson talking about acceptance, and you really talk more about being aggressive. How do you feel about all of those and where do they come together, or where are they separate? How would you apply these different tools for someone with mental compulsions?

Reid: Yeah, sure. Mindfulness is absolutely a skill set that we need to have. Absolutely. We are trying to get perspective. We’re trying to get some distance. We would like to detach. That’s what we’re trying to do. But what are we trying to be mindful of? We’re trying to be mindful of the belief that this topic is important. We’re trying to be mindful of the need to ritualize that is created by the theme. So, the end game is mindfulness and detachment. That’s where we’re going. My opinion is, the opening gambits, the opening moves, it’s very difficult to go from a frightened, terrified, scared, and slide over to neutral and detached. It’s just difficult. 

And so, I think initially, we need to be thinking about a more aggressive approach, which is I’m going to go swing in this pendulum from, “I can’t stand this, this is awful.” I’m going to swing over right past mindfulness over to this more aggressive stance of, “I want this, let’s get going. I’m taking this theme on.” The aggressiveness is a determination of my commitment to do the work. 

And here’s the paradox of it. I’m going to address on the disorder by sitting back. My action is to go, “I’m okay. This is all right.” And that’s a mindful place to get to. But you have to know we’re going after this big, aggressive bully, and it requires an intense amount of determination and you have to access your determination over and over and over again. You don’t just get determined and it’s steady. So, we just got to keep getting back to that. “No, no, I want to do this work. I want to get my outcome picture. I want to have my mind back. I want to go back to school. I want to be able to connect with my family in a loving way, with having one-third of my mind distracted. I want that back very strongly. And therefore, If I have to go through this work to get there, I want to go through this work.” We can maybe talk more about what that whole message of “I want this” means, but here it is, which is, “I want this” is a kind of determination that’s going to help drive the work.

Kimberley: Yeah. Let’s go there because that is so important. So, tell me about “I want this.” Tell me about why that is so important. So, you’ve talked about “I want to get better and I want to overcome this,” and so forth. Tell me more about the “I want this comfort.”

Reid: Well, let’s think about-- you really only have two choices in terms of your reaction to any present moment, either I want this moment, so I’m present to this moment, or I don’t want this moment. It’s very simple in that way. When I don’t want this moment, I’m now resisting this present moment. And what that means practically speaking is, now I’ve taken part of my consciousness, part of my mind that is available for the treatment and I’ve parked it. I’ve taken it offline and actually provoking myself, sticking myself with, “Are you sure you want to do this? Is this really safe? Don’t you think-- maybe we could do this later and not now.” So, there’s a big drive to resist that we need to be aware of. Have I mentioned this yet? This is a mental health disorder that is very tough to treat. I want 100% of my mental capacities available to do the treatment. I’ll never have all of that because I’m always going to have some form of resistance, but I need to get that resistant part of me on the sideline not messing with me, and then let me go forward all like that. 

One of the confusions sometimes people get around this work when I talk about it is it’s not, “Oh, I want to have another obsession right now,” or “I want to have an urge to do my compulsion right now. I want that.” No. What we’re talking about is a present moment. So, if my obsession pops up, if it pops up, I want it. If I’m having that urge to do my compulsion, I want it. And why is that? Because we have to go through it to get to the other side. I have to be present to both the obsessions and the urges to do the compulsions in order to do the treatment. So, that’s the aggressive piece. “Come on, bring it on. Let’s get going. I’m scared of this.” Of course, I don’t want--

Kimberley: I’m just going to ask.

Reid: I don’t want to feel it. I don’t want to, but I’m clear that to do the treatment, it requires me to go through the eye of the needle. If you’re like I am, there’s plenty of days when you don’t want to go to the gym. You don’t really want to work out or sometimes you don’t even want to go to bed as early as you should, but if we want the outcome of that good rest, that workout, then we manifest that in the moment and get moving.

We’re disrupting a pattern. When I talked about postponing, it’s a disruption of this major pattern. If we insert postponing into these obsessions and mental compulsions are impulsive, I have that obsession and I pretty immediately have that urge to do the compulsion. And then I begin doing my mental compulsion. If we slide something in there, that’s what mindfulness does go, “Oh, there it is again. Oh, I’m doing it.” Even if you can’t sustain that, you’ve just modified for a few moments, the pattern that you’ve had no control over. So, that’s where we want to be going. And you know how I sometimes say it is, my job is to-- as the client is to purposely choose voluntarily to go toward what scares the bejesus out of me. I don’t know if you have bejesus over there in California, but in North Carolina, we got bejesus, and you got to go after it.

Kimberley: I think in California, it’s more of a non-kind word.

Reid: Ah, yes. Okay. Well, we won’t even spell it.

The Moment By Moment Game 

Kimberley: That’s okay. So, I have questions. I have so many. When you’re talking about this moment, are you talking about your way of saying the moment-by-moment game? Is that what you’re talking about? Tell me about the moment-to-moment game.

Reid: Sure. I’m sure people hearing this the first time would go, “Well, don’t be-- you’ve lost rapport with me now because you called it a game.” But I’ve been doing this for 35 years, so it’s not like I am not aware of the suffering that goes on here. The only reason to call it a game is simply to help structure our treatment approach.

Kimberley: That’s interesting, because I think of a game as like you’re out to win. There’s a score. That’s what I think of when I--

Reid: That’s what this is. That is actually what this is. 

OCD and the 6 Moment Game 

Kimberley: I don’t think of it as a game like Ring A Rosie kind of stuff. I think of it as like let’s pull our socks up kind of stuff. Is that what you’re referring to?

Reid: We’ve got this mental game that we are-- we’ve been playing this game and always losing. So, we’re already engaged in it. We’re just one down and on the losing end, on the victim end. So, when I talk about it as moment by moment, I want to have, like we’ve been talking about, this understanding of these sets of principles about what needs to happen. It wants me to do this, I’m going to do the opposite, this is paradoxical and so forth. And then we need to manifest it moment by moment. So, how do we do this? I will really talk about six moments and I’ll quickly go through the first three because the first three moments are none of our business. We can’t do anything about them. 

So, moment #1 is just an unconscious stimulus of the obsession, and that’s all. That’s all it is. Moment #2 is that obsession popping up. And moment #3 is my fear reaction to the obsession because obsessions are frightening by their construct. And so, now I’ve got those three moments. As I’m saying, we can’t do anything about those three moments. These three moments are unconsciously mediated. They are built right on into the neurology. 

Now we’ve got in my view three more moments. So, moment #4 is really the foundation of what we do now, what we do next, which is a mindful response. And it is just stepping back in the moment. Suddenly the obsession comes up and I’m anxious and I’m worried about it and I’m having the urge to do the compulsion. And what I want to train myself to do, which can take a little time sometimes, is when I hear my obsession pop up. The way I just described it right there is already a stepping back. When I recognize that I’ve started to obsess and sometimes it takes a while to even recognize it, I want to step back in that moment and just name it. They have that expression, “Name it to tame it.” So, it’s the start of that. So, I’m stepping back in that moment going, “Oh, I’m doing it again,” or, “Oh, there it is.”

Now, the way I think about it, if I can do that and just step back and name it, I just won that moment because I just inserted myself. I insinuated myself into the pattern. OCD doesn’t want you anywhere near this at this moment. It doesn’t want you to be labeling the obsession an obsession. It wants you to be naming the fearful topic of it. So, I’m going to step back in that moment. And if I can accomplish that, great, I’ve won that moment. 

If I can go further in that moment, of course, in the end, we want to be able to do that, moment #5 is taking the position of, “I’m treating this as nothing. There is my obsession. I’m treating it as nothing.” And there’s all kinds of things you can say to yourself that represent that. “This is none of my business. Oh, there it is trying to go after me. Not playing. I’m not playing this game.” Because it really is a game that the disorder has created. And what we’re saying is, “Look, I’m not playing your game anymore. I’m playing my game. And this is what my game looks like.” I’m going to notice it when it pops up, the obsession and the urge to do my compulsion, and I’m going to go, “Not playing,” whatever way I say it. 

And then moment #6, and this is a controversial moment for others. Moment #6, I’m going to turn away from it. I’m going to just redirect my attention, because this is nothing, but it’s drawing my attention. I’m going to treat it as nothing by engaging in some other thought or action that I can find. And even if I can refocus my attention for eight seconds, even if it pops right back up again like, “Where are you going? This is important. You need to pay attention to it,” even if I turn away for eight seconds, I’ve won that moment because I’m no longer responding to this over here. 

Now, why I say this is controversial for some folks is it sounds like distraction. It sounds like, “Oh, you’re not doing exposure. You’re just telling the person to distract themselves. And that’s opposite of what we want to be doing.” I don’t see it that way. 

Kimberley: No, I don’t either. I think it’s healthy to engage in life. 

Reid: And if we think about, what we’re really trying to do is to sit with a generic sense of uncertainty, then this allows us to do it because, in essence, the obsession is a kind of question that is urging you to answer. And when you turn away, engage in something else, you are leaving that question on the table. And that is exposure to pure uncertainty. I just feel like in our field, in exposure, we’re doing so much to ask people to expose themselves to the specifics and drill down about that as a way to change neurology. And we know that’s really the gold standard based on all the research that has been done. But I think it really adds a degree of distress focusing on that specific that maybe we can circumvent. 

Kimberley: Do you see a place for the exposure in some settings? I mean, you’re talking about being aggressive with it. Does that ever involve, like you said, staring your fear in the face purposely?

Reid: Well, yeah. And how do you do that? Well, what you do is you either structure or spontaneously step into circumstances that would tend to provoke the obsession. So, do something that I’ve been avoiding for fear that thought is going to come up or anything that I have been blocking or avoiding out of fear of having the obsession or anything that tends to provoke the obsession. I want to step into those scenes. So, step into the scene, but the next move isn’t like, “Okay, come on obsessions. I need to have an obsession now.” No. If you step into the scene that typically you have an obsession with and you don’t have the obsession, well, that’s cool. That’s fine. That’s progress. That’s great. Now you got to find something else to step into it with. However, most people with thinking rituals, it goes on most of the day anyway. So, we’re going to have a naturalistic exposure just living the day. 

Kimberley: The day is the exposure.

Reid: And for people who are structuring it and you know you’re about to step into a scene where you have the obsession, you can, in that way, be prepared to remind yourself, cue yourself ahead of time what your intention is. The more difficult practice is moving through your day and then getting caught by it. So, you get caught by it and then you start digging to fix the content and it takes a little more time to go, “Oh, I’m doing it again.” We’re doing exposure. This is exposure. You have to do exposure. I’m just saying that there’s a different way to do it instead of sitting down and conjuring up the obsession in order to sit with the distress of the specific.

Kimberley: I’m going to ask you a question that I haven’t asked the others, just because it’s coming up specifically for me. Some clients or some of my therapist clients have reported, “Okay, we’re doing good. We’re doing good. We’re not doing the mental compulsion.” And the obsession keeps popping up. “Come on, just a little. Come on, let’s just work it out.” And they go, “No, no, no, not engaging in you.” And then it comes back up. “No, no, no, not engaging in you.” And much of the time is spent saying, “Not today, not today,” or whatever terminology. And then they become concerned that instead of doing mental compulsions, they’re just spending the whole time saying, “Not today, not today.” And they’re getting concerned. That’s becoming compulsive as well. So, what would you say? Are you feeling like that’s a great technique? Where would you intervene if not?

Reid: Well, I think it’s fine if it is working like we’re describing it, which is not today, turning away, engaging in something else. So, we’ve got to be careful around this “not today” thing if you forget to do--

Kimberley: The thing

Reid: Moment #6, which is find something else to be engaged in. Then you’re going to be-- it’s almost, again, you’re trying to neutralize, “Oh, this is nothing.” So, we want to make sure that we really complete the whole process around that. And the other way that we-- again, mindfulness and acceptance, the way we can get to it is we have the expression of front burner and back burner. So, we want to take the obsessiveness and the urges and just move them to the back burner, which means they can sit there, they can try to distract you, they can try to pull your attention. So, here you are at work and you’re really trying to do right by the disorder, but you’re trying to work, and it’s still coming over here trying to get to you. You’re going to be a little distracted. You’re not going to be performing your work quite as well as you would if your mind were clear. And that is the risk that you need to take. That is the price that you need to pay. And that’s why you need to have that determination and that perspective to be able to say, “Geez, this is hard. This is what I need to be doing.” You have to talk to yourself. You have to. We talk to ourselves all day long. This is thinking, thinking, thinking. So, we know people with thinking rituals are talking about the urges and so forth. And we’ve got to redirect how we talk about it in the moment.

Kimberley: Okay. So good. What I really want to hear about is your ideas around rules. 

Reid: Sure. And again, nobody seems to talk about rules. I’m a very big component or a proponent of rules. And here’s one reason. What are thinking rituals all about? It’s all about thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking. What do we need to do in the treatment strategy? Well, first off, the disorder is compelling me to fill my mind with thoughts in order to feel safe. I need to come up with a strategy and tactics that reduce my thinking. Then if I don’t reduce my thinking, I’m not going to get stronger. One of the ways to reduce my thinking is to say, “I don’t need to think about this anymore. I’ve already figured out what I need to do.” So, during no problem times, during therapeutic times, whether you’re sitting with your therapist or figuring this out on your own, you come up with literally what we’ve been talking about, “What I need to do when an obsession takes place? And then here’s what I’m going to do next.”

Kimberley: So, you’re making decision--

Reid: I’m going to turn my attention. I’m sorry, go ahead.

Make Decisions Ahead of Time

Kimberley: Sorry. You’re making decisions ahead of time. Is that what you mean?

Reid: Absolutely. You’re making decisions. This is rules of engagement. So, we’re not talking about having to get really specific moment by moment. We’re talking about thinking rituals. So, it’s rules of engagement. Well, simply put, initially, the rule of engagement has to do with those six moments we talked about, which is, okay, when this pops up, this is how I’m going to respond to it. So, we want to have that. All that we’ve talked about decide that ahead of time. And then as I would say, lock it down, lock it down. And now the part of you who is victim to the disorder, when the obsessiveness starts again, when the urge to do the compulsion starts again, I want to have all of me stand behind the rules, because if we don’t have predetermined rules, what is going to run the day? What’s going to win the day? What’s going to win the day in the moment is the disorder shows up. The victim side, the victim to the disorder is also going to show up and it’s going to say, those rules that I was talking about before, “This seems like a bad idea. I don’t think in this circumstance that’s the right thing to do.” So, if we don’t lock it down and we don’t have a hierarchy, which is, what I was saying, we’re not killing off the side of us that gets obsessive and is being controlled by the disorder. But we are elevating the therapeutic voice, “I’ll do that again with my hands.” 

This is a zero-sum game. So, if I bring my attention to what I’ve declared what I need to do now, then by default, my attention toward that messages of my threatened self are going to diminish. And this is what I’ve been talking about with you around determination. You have to be so determined, because it’s so tantalizing. Even if they say this isn’t going to take me very long to complete this mental ritual, and then it’ll be off my plate, and I won’t have to be scared about the outcome of not doing this, why wouldn’t I do that? So, that’s what we’re really competing against in those moments of engagement.

Thinking Strategically

Kimberley: Right. So good. I’m so grateful for what you’re sharing. Okay. I want to really quickly touch on, and I think you have, but I want to make sure I’m really clear in terms of thinking strategically. It sounds like everything you just said is a part of that thinking strategic model. I love the idea that you come into the day, having made your decisions upfront with the rules. You’ve got a plan, you know the steps in the moment. Thinking strategically, tell me if that’s what that is or if there’s something we’ve got to add to it.

Reid: Yeah. So, yes, all that you just said is that, that we’re understanding the principles of treatment based on the principles of what the disorder has intended for us. And then we’re trying to manifest those principles in, how do we act in the moment? How do we engage in that in the moment? The other thing we want to think about in terms of how I think about strategic treatment is we’re looking for the pattern and messing with the pattern. So, I talked earlier about postponing. We insert postponing into the pattern. It’s much easier to add something to a pattern than to try to pull something away. So, if we add postponing or add that beat where I go, “Oh, there’s my obsession,” now we’re starting to mess with the pattern. I’ll give you a couple of-- these are really tactics. Let me tell you about a couple of others and these seem surprisingly ridiculous. Okay, maybe not surprisingly ridiculous. 

Kimberley: Appropriately ridiculous. 

Reid: I’m sure you experience this. I experience a lot where people go, “Look, I’d love to do what you’re saying, but these obsessions are just pounding away at me all day long. I can’t interrupt them. I can’t do it.” What I would like people to be focused on is, what can we do to make keeping the ritual, keeping the obsession more difficult than letting it go? So, we talked about postponing. That doesn’t quite do what I’m saying right now. One of the things I’ll have people do is to sing it. I know, and I’m not going to demonstrate.

Kimberley: Please. I will. 

Reid: And here’s what you do. If I can’t stop my obsessions, I can’t park them, then when I notice – there’s moment #4 – when I notice my obsessions-- and we can do this in a time-limited-- I’m a cognitive therapist, so we do behavioral experiment. So, we can just do an experiment. We can go, “Okay, for the next three days, three weeks, three hours, whatever we decide, anytime I notice the obsession coming up, instead of saying it urgently and anxiously in my mind, I must sing it.” It just means lilting my voice. “Oh my gosh, how am I ever going to get through this? I don’t count the tiles on the ceiling. I’m not sure I can really handle what’s going to happen next. Oh my gosh, I feel so anxious about--” you see why I don’t demonstrate.

Kimberley: Encore, encore.

Reid: SO, it’s just lilting the voice like that. A couple of things are going on. One is obviously we’re disrupting the pattern. But just as important, who in their right mind, having a thought that is threatening, would sing it? So, simply by singing my obsession instead of stating it, I’m degrading the content, I’m degrading the topic. And so, that’s why I would do it. And again, that’s what we were saying. You got to lock it down. You got to go signal versus noise. This is noise. It’s acceptable to me to be doing this. This is very difficult. With such a short period of time, I don’t drill that home as much as I might. This is really, really hard, but it is an intervention.

So, singing it is one thing that I will sometimes have some people do. And the other one is to write it down. And this means literally carrying a notepad with you and a pen throughout your day. And anytime your obsession starts to pop up, you pull that notepad out and you start writing your obsession. And I’m not saying put it in an organized paragraph fashion or a bulleted list or anything like that. We’re talking about stenographer in the courtroom. I want to, in that moment, when I start obsessing, to step back, pull out my notepad, because I said for the next three days, I’m going to do this, and then I’m going to write every single thing that’s popping up in my mind. 

Kimberley: So, it’d be like, “What if you want to kill her? You might want to kill her. There’s a knife. I noticed a knife. Do I want to kill her with a knife? Am I a bad person?”

Reid: Oh, it’s harder than that. It’s harder than that, Kimberley, because you’re not only saying, “Do I want to kill her? There’s the knife. Oh, what did I just say?” Now I got to write, “Oh, what did I just say? Oh, the knife. Oh, the knife. Do I want to kill her with the knife?” So, every utterance, we’re not saying every utterance. And so, there’s going to be a message of, “Did I just say that right? Now I can’t remember what I said. Damn it, damn it.” All of that. Now, again, a couple of things are happening. I’m changing modes of communication. The disorder wants me to do this by thinking. You and I know, you can have an obsessive thought a thousand times in a day. You can’t write it a thousand times. So, now we’re switching from the mode of communication that serves the disorder to a mode of communication that disrupts it. And if I really commit myself to writing this, after a while, now I’m at a choice point. Now when obsession pops up later and I go, “Oh, I’m obsessing again. Well, I can either start writing it,” or “Maybe I can just let it go right now because I don’t want to write it. It’s just so much work. Okay, let me go distract myself.” So, all of a sudden, we’ve done exposure and response prevention without the struggle, because I don’t want to do what I have agreed to do locked down, which is write this. 

So, it empowers. Writing it, just like singing it, empowers me to release it, especially people with thinking rituals. The whole idea of using postponing around the rituals, singing the obsession if I need to, writing down the obsession as tactics to help break things up, and then just keep coming back to what’s our intention here. This is a mental health disorder. I keep getting sucked into the topic. I don’t think I can-- here’s I guess the last thing I would say on my end is, this is it, which is, I don’t know if this is going to work. I don’t know how painful whatever is coming next is going to be by not doing my ritual. I am going to have faith. I mean, this is what happens. You have to have faith and a belief in something and someone outside of your mind, because your mind is contaminated and controlled by the disorder. You can’t keep going up into your thinking and try to figure out how to get out of this wet paper bag. You’re just not-- you can’t. So, you got to have faith and trust. And that’s a giant leap too. Because initially, when we do treatment with people, however we do it, they’ve got to be doing something they don’t know is going to be helpful. 

When people start doing the singing thing or the writing down thing, for instance, after a while, they go, “Wow, that really worked. Okay, I’m going to do that some more.” And that’s what we need. Initially, you just have to have faith and experiment. That’s why we like to do short experiments. I don’t say, “Hey, do this over the next 12 weeks and you’ll get better.” I go, “Look, I know you think this over here, I’m thinking it’s this over here. How about we structure something for the next X number of minutes, hours, days, and just see what you notice if you can feel like you can afford to do that.” 

Kimberley: So good. I’ve just got one question and then I’m going to let you go. I’m going to first ask my question and then I want you to explain, tell us about your course. When you sing the song, I usually have my staff sing it to a song they know, like Happy Birthday or Auld Lang Syne, whatever it may be. You are saying just up and down, “No, no, no,” that kind of thing. Is there a reason for that?

Reid: Well, I don’t want people to have to make a rhyme. I don’t want them to have to--

Kimberley: It’s just for the sake of it.

Reid: I’m totally fine with what you’re saying. Okay, I’m going to-- you can figure it out. It’s like going, “Okay, anytime I hear my obsession come up, I’m going to make my obsession the voice of Minnie Mouse. So, I’m going to degrade it by having to be a little mouse on my shoulder, anything to degrade it.” If you’ve got to set little songs or you ask your client what they would put it to, then yeah. And then in the session, we’re talking about the therapist, demonstrate it and have them practice it with you in order to get it.

Kimberley: Right. I’ve even had clients who are good at accents, like do it in different accents. They bring out--

Reid: You’ve got a good one. You’re really practicing that Australian accent.

Kimberley: Very. I practiced for many years to get this one. All right. You talk about the six-moment game. I’ve had the joy of having taken that course. Can you tell us if that’s what you want to tell us about, about where people can hear about you and all the good stuff you’ve got?

Reid: Sure. Well, I would start with just saying anxieties.com. It’s anxieties, plural, .com. And that’s my website, a free website. It’s got every anxiety disorder and OCD. You’ve got written instruction around how to do some of the work that we’re talking about. And then I’ve got tons of free video clips that people can watch and learn a bunch of stuff. I laid out, in the last two years, a four-hour course, and I filmed it. And so, it is online now. I take people all the way through what I call OCD & the 6-Moment Game: Strategies and Tactics, because I want to empower people in that way. So, I talk about all the stuff that you and I are rushing over right now. It’s got a full written transcript as an eBook, a PDF eBook. I’ve got a workbook that lets people figure out how to do these practices on their own. All of that. In fact, you can get-- I can’t say how to get it at this moment. Maybe you can post something, I don’t know. But I will give anybody the workbook, that’s 37 pages, and it takes you through a bunch of stuff. No cost to you, send it to anybody else you want. 

So, I feel like that, first off, we don’t have enough mental health professionals to treat the people with mental health disorders in this world today. And so, we need to find delivery systems. That will help reach more people. And I believe in Stepped Care. And Stepped Care is a protocol, both in physical medicine and in mental health, which says that first step of Stepped Care and treatment is self-help. And I call it self-help treatment, because the first step is relatively inexpensive, empowering the patient or the client, and giving them directions about how to get stronger. And a certain percentage of people, that will be enough for them. And so, all of us who have written self-help books and so forth, that’s our intention. And now, I’m trying to go one step beyond self-help books to be able to have video that gives people more in-depth. 

What I want is for that first step, the principles that are in that first step, go up to the next step. So, if a self-help course or a book or whatever is not sufficient to finish the work, then you go up one level to maybe a self-help group or a therapeutic group and work further there. And if you can’t complete your work, then go up the next step, which is individual treatment, the next step, which is intensive outpatient treatment, the next step, mixture medications, and so forth. And so, if we can carry a set of principles up, then everybody’s on the same page and you’re not starting all over again. So, I focus on step one. I’m a simple guy.

Kimberley: I’m focused on step one too, which is what you’re doing with me right now, which makes me so happy. I’m so grateful for you for so many reasons.

Reid: Well, I’m happy to be doing this, spending time with you. It’s great. And trying to figure out how to deliver the information concisely. It’s still a work in progress. Thank you for giving me an opportunity.

Kimberley: No, thank you. I’ve loved hearing about all of these major points of your work. I’m so grateful for you. So, thank you so much for coming on again. I didn’t have a coughing fit during this episode like I did the last one.

Reid: Nothing to make fun of you about.

Kimberley: Thank you so much, Reid. You’re just the best.

Reid: Well, great constructing this whole thing. This is what I’m talking about too, is to have a series of us that eventually everybody will see and work their way down and get all these different positions and opinions from people who already do this work. And so, that’s great. You have a choice, so that’s great.

Kimberley: Love it. Thank you.

Reid: Okay. Talk again sometime.

May 20, 2022

SUMMARY:
In this weeks podcast, we talk with Dr Jon Grayson about managing mental compulsions. Jon talks about how to use Acceptance to manage strong intrusive thoughts and other obsessions. Jon addressed how to use acceptance with OCD, GAD and other Anxiety disorders.

Covered in This Episode:

  • What is a Mental Compulsion?
  • What is the difference between Mental Rumination and Mental Compulsions?
  • How to use Acceptance for Mental Compulsions
  • How to practice acceptance when the intrusive thoughts are so strong.

Links To Things I Talk About:

Jon’s Book Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty
Jon’s Website https://www.laocdtreatment.com/
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:
This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com. CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...
If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit Episode - 285.

Welcome back, everybody. We are on episode three of the six-part series. And if you have listened to the previous episodes, I am sure you are just full of information, but hopefully ready to hear some more.

Today, we have Dr. Jonathan Grayson. He’s here to talk about his specific way of managing mental compulsions. As you may know, if you’ve listened before, I strongly urge you to start and go in order. So, first, we started with Mental Compulsions 101. That was with yours truly, myself. Then Jon Hershfield came in. He talked about mindfulness and really went in, gave some incredible tools. Shala Nicely, again, gave some lived experience and really the tools that worked for her. And I have just been mind-blown with both of their expertise. And it doesn’t stop there. We have amazing Dr. Jonathan Grayson today talking about all of the ways that he manages mental compulsions and how he brings specific concepts to help a client be motivated and lean into that response prevention and to reduce those mental compulsions. I am again blown away with how amazing and respectful and kind and knowledgeable these experts are. I just am overwhelmed with joy to share this with you.

Again, please remember this should not replace professional mental health care. We are here at CBT School, who is the host of this series. We’re here to provide you skills and tools, and resources specifically if you don’t have access to those resources. That is a huge part of our mission. So, even though we have ERP School – and that is an online course, you can take it from your home – we wanted to offer this freely because so many people are seeming to be misunderstanding mental compulsions, and it’s an area I really have been excited to share with you in this free series.

So, I’m not going to yammer on anymore. I’m going to let you hear the amazing wisdom of Jonathan Grayson. Have a wonderful day.

Kimberley: Welcome. I am so honored to have you here, Jon Grayson.

Jonathan: It is always a pleasure.

Kimberley: Okay. So, I actually am really, really interested to hear your point of view. As we go through a different episode, I actually am learning things. I thought I knew it all, but I’m learning and learning. So, I’m so excited to get your view on managing mental compulsions or how you address them. My first question is, do you call them mental compulsions, mental rituals, rumination? How do you frame it?

Jonathan: I’m never really too big on jargony, but mental compulsions are mental rituals. And I think that’s trying to-- and I think the thing about mental rituals is some people don’t know they have them. I mean, some people know, but some people will describe it as, “I just obsess, I don’t have rituals.” but then when you listen, they do. And the ritual part is trying to reassure themselves or convince themselves that whatever it is they’re worrying about isn’t. So, they have both the fear part like, “Oh my God, what if this is true? But wait, here’s why it’s not true. Now I know that’s not really true. But what if it is true?” So, that is what I would call mental compulsion or rituals.

Kimberley: Right. How do you-- let’s say you’re sitting across from a patient or a client they are doing either predominantly mental compulsions or that’s a huge part of the symptoms that they have. How would you address in your own way, teaching somebody how to manage mental compulsions?

Jonathan: I think there’s two answers to the question because I never have, and one has to do with what is the content, because I believe every set of mental rituals – I believe it for all forms of OCD, whether there’s a very strong behavioral component or it’s all mental – it has its own set of arguments that we’re going to use. Of course, when I talk about arguments, I know this will be a shock to you, but to me, it always has to do with coping with uncertainty, because I think the purpose of mental compulsions is to deny reality. That is, there is something I don’t want to be true and I keep trying to convince myself it’s not true. 

Now often it’s a low probability. But low probability is not no probability. Sometimes I have clients a little confused, saying like, “I tell myself it’s low probability,” and they actually feel better. Is that okay? And the answer is, it depends. If I’m trying to convince myself, I don’t have to worry about it because it’s a low probability, no, that’s a ritual. If I’m just saying it’s a low probability, I mean, way actually with OCD, it’s very easy because people don’t mind saying it’s low prob they. They like saying it’s low probability, but they don’t want the last sentence to be “But it might happen.” So, it’s like, as long as you’re answering “It might happen,” then you’re dealing with reality because everything is a low probability, even if it’s really small. 

So, one part has to do with the content. And I think for every set of obsessions, there is, what is the content they’re doing? I think in a more general way, the goal of treatment is basically accepting that low probability things might happen. I was recently saying to people that I hope the probability of nuclear war is no worse than that. It was as bad as likely as a worldwide pandemic. Some people would freak out like, “You think there’s going to be a war?” First of all, I know anything, but they were missing the point. It’s like, no, I really mean it’s as likely as a pandemic, which means it’s not likely. However, the thing about the pandemic, low probability things can happen. So yeah, we’re probably okay.

And so, the thing about acceptance that everyone hates is acceptance is second best. We spend so much time talking about how great acceptance is and I really think it’s a disservice in some respects to not point out what acceptance means because it almost always is. Here’s something you don’t want that you might have to live with. If I lose a loved one, we start in denial. And for me, denial is defined as I’m comparing life to a fantasy. I have a woman in a bad relationship and she thinks he really loves the guy, but it’s like, he’d be so good if only he would change X, Y, and Z. And of course, if he changed X, Y, and Z, he would be someone else. So, they’re in love with a fantasy. And when somebody dies, the fantasy is life would be better if they were here. It’s a fantasy because that’s never happening again. So, we have to get them to the point. 

And of course, the thing, the reason I mentioned death is it points out a really important thing about acceptance. You don’t get to just decide, “I’m going to accept.” I lose a loved one. I don’t care how or where you are. You’re starting in denial because you’re missing them and you want them there. And after about a year, if you’ve gone through mourning, you accept it. It’s not like you don’t care they’re gone. You can still cry. You can still miss them. But when you’re doing something you’re enjoying and in the present not comparing to what it would be with that person. 

So, acceptance, I’m pretty sure, always sucks. However, it’s better than fantasy because the fantasies never happen. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s likely or unlikely. It’s just a matter that this is your fear and the thing that’s hard for people to deal with fear is to cope with it. You’re going to say, “How would I try to live with the worst happening?” And people’s initial response to something is, “Yeah, but I don’t want that.” There are multiple reasons that we need to do acceptance. If I’m correct about denial, that’s comparing reality to fantasy. Well, not acceptance means what I want will never happen. So, for me to want that there’s no possibility something will occur is probably not true. I don’t care if it means that maybe this reality doesn’t exist and I’m going to wake up, and some of the things that discover I’ve created all of reality, there’s nothing. I don’t know that that’s likely, but I can’t prove it’s not likely. 

So, I think people go in circles. And you can hear it. The thing about the pandemic, you could hear the regular population denial. Because when I say it’s comparing reality to fantasy, a lot of times that sounds cool. And people don’t quite get what it means, but here are statements of denial early in the pandemic, “Well, this can’t go on more than a few weeks.” Honestly, at the beginning, I was like, “Of course, it’s going on for a few weeks. They have to have a vaccination. They’re telling us that’s two years down the road. This is going on for a long time.”

Kimberley: I was in team two weeks.

Jonathan: Yeah. “It can’t last. I can’t take it.” Saying “I can’t take it,” although you’re expressing the feeling like “I really hate this,” but including in the words “I can’t take it” is a fantasy as if you have a choice. And in a way, luckily, most people who say they can’t take it didn’t kill themselves. It’s proved that they can’t take it. They took it. They kept going on. It’s like, they didn’t want to imagine continuing to live that way. So, acceptance is like, “Yeah, this is going to happen. Yes, it can keep going.” How will you try to cope with the worst? And go on, I’ll shut up. You look like you want to say something.

Kimberley: No, no. I’m following you. I’m really enjoying this. I actually wrote down the word “cope” right at the beginning because I think that that’s such a keyword here. To stay out of the fantasy, would you say that’s true?

Jonathan: Well, yes. The worst might-- I mean, I always feel like if I’m doing therapy and if somebody has intolerance of uncertainty, they don’t like uncertainty, I have to treat that problem. And what I mean by that is we have a lot of therapists who impose their own feelings on the client. If I have a therapist that I have somebody who’s socially anxious and saying, “I’m afraid if I go in a room, some people won’t like me.” Almost every therapist is going to say, “Oh, well, that’s the fact, they might not like you.” But that same patient is like, “I’m afraid if I touch the doorknob, I’m going to get sick.” “Oh no, that won’t happen.” Well, that’s not the issue. Now therapist is-- if I have a problem of threat estimation, that’s fine, but that’s not it. I don’t want to know that it’s a low probability, I want no probability. So, we have to deal with the fact that this is what the person’s afraid of. This is what they fear. 

Somebody will say, “Well, but they don’t have cancer issue. Why should they worry about it?” But let’s face it. If they did have cancer, the focus would be coping with the fact they’re dying. And if they’re afraid of having cancer, I’d say the treatment is the same. Now, the only great thing is they probably won’t have cancer, so it’s not a fear they will have to probably deal with. They want to have the second part of it like, “And I’m dying.” But to be more prepared-- and I think what you’ve done wisely, like hearing that, yes, what you’ve done wisely is you’re talking about the fact that this is not just a nosy problem. This is a problem for everyone, coping with uncertainty. 

I hate to do a plug. It’s okay. It’s a while away. Actually, Liz McIngvale and I, we’re working on a book, talking about-- well, the book is partially-- and we’ll be doing some talks on it. We’re saying that ERP is not the gold standard of treatment for OCD. And we’re going to say that it’s not the gold standard because it’s lacking the gold. It really needs to be ERP plus gold. But that’s awkward because I like to be calling these initials. So, we want to use initials. Do you happen to know the chemical symbol for gold?

Kimberley: F-- no. FE is copper. 

Jonathan: No, that’s iron. 

Kimberley: Iron. 

Jonathan: Yeah. AU.

Kimberley: AU.

Jonathan: The gold standard of treatment--

Kimberley: Like Australia.

Jonathan: Well, no. ERP plus AU. AU as in Accepting Uncertainty.

Kimberley: Oh, my trap.

Jonathan: Yeah. It took me a while to work that around. 

Kimberley: Now you sure it’s not Australia. 

Jonathan: But our point is what we want to write. We want to write a book that’s not only about helping therapists deal with every presentation of OCD and how you deal with the uncertainty problem, but we’re also arguing that it’s a book for everyone that people can learn from OCD, a disorder that intolerance uncertainty is like the core. Because I always feel that our clients who get better, they’re not normal. They are better than normal because they’re coping with uncertainty, because the average person really doesn’t do that. Well, I mean, in the pandemic, you got to see how bad non-sufferers are. So, I think the core of coping with mental obsessions is this. Well, what if the worst happens? And so many people, “I don’t want to think it,” and that leaves us stuck because we’re not stupid. If you say to somebody-- if you get a phone call from police and they say your spouse has died, your first response is you’re just in this shock and you’re just like frozen. And for a lot of things that are bad, that’s the way people stop thinking. It’s like, “I don’t want to think about it.” The thing is, if the police make that call, something happens next. And life goes on. 

And back for clients, I often ask that in a sneaky way. What if this did happen? What would be next? What if he did have-- the doctor says, “Yeah, it can,” so I freak out. What does that look like? “I’d be screaming.” You’re in the doctor’s office, screaming. How long are you going to do that? And then you’re going to go home and you need dinner. What do you do the next day? And even though we’re going through something that sounds terribly scary, people oddly feel better after that. Now, this is first session. It’s not like they’ve done treatment, but they feel better because a statement that is true, you can’t do what you won’t imagine. And I don’t mean this as you would say, in the flowers and unicorns kind of way that you can do anything you can imagine. I do not mean that. But if you won’t even imagine it, you can’t do it. So, what would you do in X situation where it’s like, no. Well, it’s like the world is ending. When we imagine it, it’s not like it’s good. But it’s like, oh, because the feeling that accompanies acceptance is a down, depressing feeling like, “Oh, that could happen.” However, it’s not frantic. Denial is frantic. “That can’t happen. No, no.” Again, everything at least has some low probability. Some things are higher. You could have cancer, yes. Your family could die. Those things are like, they’re there. So, it’s not like I get the choice.

So, the statement of denial is frantic. The statement of acceptance is depressing, but it’s not frantic. And so, I don’t care how bad the disaster is. How would you try to cope? Because in most realities, that’s what you’re going to do. And I could pause at this moment because I don’t know if this would be the point where I would then be shifting to, well, what are the mental compulsives we’re talking about here? Because I think again, each one has its own set of arguments. You’ve heard my general thing. In some ways I think I’m reasonably good at applying it to myself. I think there’s some areas I haven’t been tested in. So, that’s nice. I hope I could be-- I know what I want is possible because I’ve seen people do it. Would I be one of those good people? I can only hope. But at least because I know people have done it, I know it’s possible. I like to believe-- go on, you. Yes.

Kimberley: What does that look like? Can you paint me a picture of a client who does well using this strategy at managing mental compulsions?

Jonathan: A client that I-- there’s a podcast on that, the OC stories, he was afraid of going crazy. And he had had this from age 19 to his late forties. And he had ERP, but ERP was always focused likely and we’re going to focus on going crazy and all this stuff. Know whatever explicit just said to him, the goal of treatment is for you to risk going crazy. I told him that the first session and he began to cry because he’s been spending more than 30 years trying to avoid this. And I’m saying, “Oh yeah, this might happen.” And many people really are able to accept. And I never talk about accepting uncertainty. I talk about learning to accept uncertainty. Because really, if I can talk to you-- if it’s just a decision, we’re done the first session. But most people are convinced of recession. It took about three months to help convince him. And he kept going back and forth. And so, convincing him, we went through a number of things to work on it. 

So, I’m describing it quickly, so it sounds simple. But remember, three months. The first reason, and this is true of almost all rituals, mental compulsions, regardless, you don’t have a choice. All your rituals do not prevent you from going crazy. He’s avoiding places because you’ve got an anxiety attack there, so I’m not going to go there. It’s like, sorry, it’s a biological process that you’re going crazy. That’s doing nothing. So, one is, your rituals don’t work. Two, for pretty much anything, you don’t have a choice. Uncertainty is the fact of life. We talked about what it would look like and he went crazy. And we were going-- and we talked about, well, what’s going to happen? Where are you going to go? He went through all these things. And because he’s logical, at some point it’s like, it could happen. 

And at that point, he’s then able to spend the other work, which is not fun, which is then imagining going crazy and looking at all the things that scare the heck out of him so he could begin to function again. We wanted to treat going crazy, the way most people do this is not their problem. Treat, getting main paralyzed and disfigured in a car crash. We all know it’s possible. Our brilliant plan is generally, I hope it doesn’t happen. I’m not dealing with it until I’m bleeding out, crushed under the metal. To say, “I’m not going to be in a car accident today,” it’s like, really? I can’t say that. So, our goal is to get whatever uncertainties in life there are to be like that. And it doesn’t matter whether I’m afraid of going crazy. I’m afraid that I’m going to be a pedophile. I’m going to slice and dice my wife tonight. I’m going to flunk the test. These people don’t like me. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s still always the same. I mean, we can talk about odds, but not as simply reassurance because, again, it’s reassurance if I want to know it’s low odds, but if I want it to not be possible, it’s not reassuring. It’s like, it’s probably not this, but it might be how we deal with it is that way. 

The other thing that we look at is, how does it work for you to fight against this uncertainty? What are you losing? And of course, the more pathological the problem is, the worse it is. So, if I have OCD, it could be destroying my life. I’m not only hurting myself, I’m hurting my family. Let’s go how you’re really torturing everybody. And sometimes I think, in that case, we’re looking for reasons to get better. I always like people to look at all the harm they’re doing to themselves and their family. And I think in a brilliant way, just to plug you, I think your book, your new book really partially addresses that because the self-compassion part isn’t just like, okay, be nice to yourself, stop suffering. It’s like, if you’re going to love yourself, what kind of life do you want to make for yourself? What are your values going to be? Because I think we transform this process of coping into something more than simply confronting fear. It becomes something for myself. And secondarily, not as preferable, but sometimes easier to get to – it becomes not only confronting a fear, it becomes an act of love. Because you know what, I’m going to stop being a pain in the ass to my family. I’m now going to put all of us first. 

And so, we’re really going to have-- what are my values, and how does this interfere with my values? And again, it doesn’t have to be as major as I’m dysfunctional, torturing my family with something OCD for any worry. Everybody’s going to be happier if I can cope with my worries better. I mean, my family’s going to be happier because they love me. It’s really nice to see me not freaking out because they don’t have-- because you want to help and there’s no way to help. So, for me to be better and calmer and coping is nice for them. It’s certainly nice for me, and isn’t that what I would prefer in life? And so, when, when my life depends on me having a worry that’s not allowed to happen, I don’t get to enjoy things. 

Another coping thing I do that’s smaller is I will ask people to notice what they’re enjoying, no matter how, whatever level, even 5%. I think many times people will say, “Everything sucks, I don’t enjoy anything because of this problem.” Now that’s not entirely true because in the course of interviewing them, there are a few times I’ll get them to laugh for three seconds. And I admit if laughing three seconds were the goal, wow, that’d be great. But three seconds of laughter isn’t much compared to a life of misery. But the thing is, they don’t even notice that ever. The entire experience has been horrible and it’s like-- and to get them to notice not what it should be, but what it was. 

I once did this with a guy. I sent him to the movies and I said, “Watch the movie, just tell me whatever you enjoyed. I don’t care how little.” And he came back and he said, “It didn’t work. Everything was horrible.” I’m like, “Okay, now tell me about the movie.” So, he was describing the movie to me, it was a war movie, and it is clear, this guy liked the climax. So, I’m like--

Kimberley: Isn’t that funny? The way our brain works?

Jonathan: Yeah. And I said, “That was pretty cool, that climax. Are you sorry you saw that?” “No.” I said, “Okay, you didn’t do my assignment. Notice whatever you enjoyed. I don’t care that it’s not as good as it should have been. You clearly like that.” And it makes a difference because it means a two-hour experience that he comes away believing he had nothing. It would be a slight change to go like, “I enjoyed a little bit of that.” I try to tell people, think of it as like a little while of enjoyment that you don’t notice exists, and we want to expand those. And most people would recognize that in a way, what we’re talking about is a little bit of mindfulness. Like, okay, it sucks. I’m not arguing it doesn’t suck, but a lot of mindfulness. It isn’t like, I’m going to put you in a happy land. It’s like, we were trying to do AND, not OR.

The beginning of the pandemic, Kathy and I, we’re out on our pandemic walk. And she said to me, “This would be such a great day if all this wasn’t going on.” I said, “You’re wrong, Kathy.” We should let you and your listeners know. You don’t know this, but your husband does. Being married to a psychologist is not necessarily fun.

Kimberley: So true.

Jonathan: It is a beautiful day. We’re walking together, it’s beautiful. We’re together, it is beautiful. It is a beautiful day AND it sucks that there’s a pandemic. 

Kimberley: So true. 

Jonathan: Not OR, it’s AND. In a sense, mindfulness is teaching us to live in that world of AND. This is awful AND I can still enjoy stuff, as opposed to it’s either or. And again, some people go like, “Well, that’s awful.” And that’s perfectly true, because we’re going back to what is acceptance. Acceptance sucks. It’s the second-best life. However, what’s really great about the second-best life, the first best doesn’t exist. So, it’s like, yeah, it’s second-best, but it’s this or nothing. So, I think those are a lot of the principles of doing it and I think to do it, it’s like, why would I take this risk? It’s not a risk, but essentially, it’s like, why would I accept living like this, whatever this is? And I don’t have a choice. What am I losing by not living like this? Am I hurting my family? What would life be like if I could be okay with this? Depending who you are, that’s an incredibly amazing change or it’s a minor change. I mean, if I’m a very competent worrier and very successful, we’re talking about way more peace. But if I’m competent, I’m interfering with my life and taking up a lot of time, we’re now making major changes in the quality of life. And as you know, I can obsess or worry about anything from like, “I need to be the best.” And I always ask people, what is so good about best? Because God forbid, you should be mediocre. God forbid, you should be a happy mediocre person than the best person. And so, for some--

Kimberley: Well, that’s still a piece of denial, isn’t it? They have this idea that the best is no pain.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Kimberley: There’s no pain at the top.

Jonathan: Yeah. Right. And generally, there’s some other assumption that-- I don’t know. Somehow, I’m deficient of, I’m not best. So, it’s like the only way I can know. It’s another set of issues. What is it that I fear that I have to cope with? Not being best. Okay, I get you want to be best. Why? Well, best is best. I mean, it’s nice, I guess. When I think about being well-known, I generally think of being well-known as icing. That is, what makes my life great? For me, I love what I’m doing, and what I’m doing is, besides talking a lot because I love talking, but I like working with people, and I just really enjoy it. I have no plans on retiring because I like this too much. That’s almost all year round. Being famous and well-known, that’s about six days a year when I go to conventions. And I say, it’s like icing to indicate I am weak enough. I’ll admit I’m weak enough to really enjoy it. But I also recognize it is nothing. It doesn’t have any substance. And the thing about fame, you’re always going to lose it. You’re never famous enough. And there’s a poem by Shelly that I think really characterizes it. It describes a traveler in an ancient land. It’s come across a huge fallen monument and it’s describing the magnificence of what this had been. And he comes to the base of the statue where these words are written: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” That’s fame. It’s empty I can gorge, but it doesn’t mean anything because what I enjoy is what I actually do. It’d be sad if my life was like, it’s good six days a year when I can feel it.

Kimberley: Right. And I think what’s important, particularly for the sufferer, is you still have uncertainty in your life.

Jonathan: I don’t know any way to be certain, so I know nothing.

Kimberley: Right. You know what I was reflecting on, and this is just me reflecting, is last year, maybe it was the beginning of this year, I gave myself the exercise to catch the mini toddler tantrums that showed up in my mind.

Jonathan: I love that term. Great. Did you make that up?

Kimberley: I think I did because it--

Jonathan: Take credit. It’s great. Love it.

Kimberley: It feels like a toddler tantrum in my mind.

Jonathan: It’s perfect. It’s that “But I don’t want that.” I love it. Oh, I love it. Go on.

Kimberley: Yeah. I did a whole podcast about it last year because I was just noticing toddler tantrum after toddler tantrum, and I regulate myself really well. But it was showing up. And then as you’re talking, I’m thinking about how that was me resisting acceptance. That toddler tantrum is probably where I have the option to pull out of rumination and be present when I can catch it and be like, “Okay, you’re totally in denial. You’re in a fantasy land.” And so, that really speaks to me as a way to catch when you’re up in that place of rumination.

Jonathan: That’s perfect.

Kimberley: Yeah. For me, that was really powerful. I love that you brought that up because I think that is the bridge. I’m totally out of acceptance when I’m in a toddler tantrum.

Jonathan: Right. Because when you get better, as you’re describing, you can deal that pull of like, “This is what it is. No, no, no.” You can feel that pull back and forth because you don’t get completely lost and it’s like, ah.

Kimberley: Yeah. It was such a visual. I could see it tantruming out. “No, no, no.” And so, I love that you brought that in particularly in this way, like I said, of catching the compulsion. So, thank you. That actually consolidated--

Jonathan: I’m just now obsessing about how I’m going to work this in. We’ll give you credit.

Kimberley: You do. The Kimberly Quinlan “toddler tantrum,” I’m very well-known for it now. No, I am so thankful for you for bringing all this up. Is there-- because I want to be respectful of your time, is there anything else that you want to address when it comes to conceptualizing or managing mental compulsions?

Jonathan: I think that I’m afraid I have to be patient. Again, thinking about death, I don’t get to accept just because I want to. You have some people who try to accept like, “I’m accepting and I’m accepting it.” It’s like, yeah, sorry. I can be working towards learning it. I think sometimes people have an insight. An insight is not like you suddenly know some new piece of information. Insight is something that you basically knew, suddenly it’s true. I had somebody have that the other day when that’s hurting and they felt like it was trivial trying to explain to me what happened, but I already had this concept. I said, “I know. It’s like, you’ve always known you feel like going wrong.” “No, you don’t get it. It’s really true.” So, it was very cool. 

And so, I think it’s a gradual process where I get better at it. And because life is completely uncertain in every which way, there’s always opportunities to practice it, better personal. And you may scare other people. And one client who was very scared of a lot of things, especially of one of their pets dying. As they got uncertain and told, and then they could talk about it pretty calmly with people, “Oh yeah, I think she’s going to die at some point.” And people would be horrified. She could sound so calm, but she was like, not that she likes it and she really doesn’t want it to happen, but she could also think about it and think about life after that. And I think some people mistakenly will say something like, “Oh my God, you’re making life complete miserable. All you’re thinking about is all these nightmares that can happen all the time. That’s terrible.” That’s crazy because-- I thought I’d use a clinical term. Because what happens when I accept uncertainty? 

Somebody else has said this. Unfortunately, I haven’t made it up. I become, in a positive way, hopeless future. And what I mean by hopeless is the way most people who aren’t scared of the car crash, or it’s not like, I’m okay with a car crash. It’s like, what can I do? And when I become hopeless about control, that is when I get to live in the present because I’m no longer in the past or the future. Let’s face it. The truth is that’s all we have. The past of great memories or terrible memories, the future’s hopes, all we have is the present, this moment, my entire life and your entire life with each other. Everything else we like might not be there at this moment. So, I get to have the only thing there is, which is the present. And again, I can’t just decide because you see people do this, “I’m going to live in the present. I’m going to enjoy the present now. Enjoy the present.” It’s like, I have to learn to give things up. 

To steal from this woman who wrote this book of compassion: “To be kind to myself, to let myself learn, to not expect it all at once.” Again, if we were talking OCD, I don’t know why we were talking about that. If we were talking about OCD, every particular variation has its own uncertainties to cope with. Scrupulosity, how do I learn to believe in a God and simultaneously admit I might be wrong? How do I live in a world where probably I’m not going to slice and dice Kathy tonight? But if I do, how would I try to-- what would I do the next step?

When my son was 16 and going out on dates. And of course, he would never be home on time. And Kathy always wanted to call him. And I wouldn’t let her call him not to be nice to him, but I knew as she knew, his cell phone would be on. So, calling somebody you’re worried about in their cell phone on is not going to be comforting. So, she’d go like, “Well, when can I call him?” So, I’d make this mental calculation. Okay, he should be home now. I think he’ll be home in these many minutes. And let me add another half hour and say, you can call him dead. And she could for some reason, which is unusual, she would then go to sleep. And I would go there and I think, “Huh, he’s probably okay. He’s probably not doing anything terrible. Probably nothing terrible is happening to him. But tonight could be the night that our lives change and everything is screwed up forever.” And then I would go to sleep. That’s just the truth.

Kimberley: Yeah. It’s powerful. I’ll be calling you, and my kids are teenagers, saying “Coach me, coach me.”

Jonathan: Yeah. And I will give you the following advice. It gets so much easier when they’re 23. 

Kimberley: Yes, I know.

Jonathan: Until your acceptance is, “Oh yeah,” you’re screwed till then.

Kimberley: It’s true. I’m so grateful for you and your time and all your wisdom. I feel like I’m sitting and just absorbing it all for myself, which I’m loving. 

Jonathan: Thank you.

Kimberley: Tell us, I know you’ve been on the podcast before, but tell us where people can hear more about you and your work. You obviously have a new book, which I did not know about.

Jonathan: Well, we are working on it and we’re at the stage of working it, not procrastinating. We’re at the stage of doing a bunch of presentations on the idea, because I’ve just seen so many treatments fail because it didn’t address uncertainty. Although I always focus on certainty, it really is-- the bottom part of dealing with that is coping with life. It transcends OCD. So, I don’t know. What would you like to know about me?

Kimberley: Where can people find you?

Jonathan: Where can people find me? Easily on the internet. Website is a laocdtreatment.com. But I think my name plus OCD tends to come up a lot. 

Kimberley: Your book?

Jonathan: I have a book. It’s Freedom From OCD. I think there are a lot of good OCD books. Of course, I like mine because I agree with it most. But it’s a little scary when people read it before they see me because it is almost my entire repertoire minus maybe about 40 minutes. I feel like I’m going to be repeating myself, but somehow that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Apparently, hearing it out loud is different than reading it. 

Kimberley: Well, and that’s the whole point, right? I have the same situation as people need to hear it more than once too, in some cases. Not as a form of reassurance, but I think we all need to hear it. Even me today having a little light bulb moment I think is really cool, even though I’ve heard that before. So, I will have your website and your work in the show notes.

Jonathan: Very kind.

Kimberley: Thank you so much for being here and sharing.

Jonathan: I don’t know if you figured it out yet. I know I’ve told you this, but I’ll just repeat it. Probably if you asked me to come on, the answer will always be yes. So, thank you.

Kimberley: I’m so happy. No, I remember you saying that last time. Like I said to you, before we started recording, I have wanted to do this series for quite a while. And I had you right there going. I already put you on the list because I already knew. You told me you would say yes.

Jonathan: And so, apparently, I’m not dishonest or not that dishonest.

Kimberley: Not at all. When I texted to ask you, I actually already had you on the list and scheduled you in.

Jonathan: It was a confidence that you could well have.

Kimberley: Yeah. I’m so grateful. And yes, we will definitely have you on. It’s always a pleasure.

Jonathan: All right. Okay. Take care. Thank you very much.

May 13, 2022

SUMMARY: 

In this weeks podcast, we have my dearest friend Shala Nicely talking about how she manages mental compulsions.  In this episode, Shala shares her lived experience with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how she overcomes mental rituals.

In This Episode:

  • How to reduce mental compulsions for OCD and GAD.
  • How to use Flooding Techniques with Mental Compulsions
  • Magical Thinking and Mental Compulsions
  • BDD and Mental Compulsions

Links To Things I Talk About:

Shalanicely.com
Book: Is Fred in the Refridgerator?
Book: Everyday Mindfulness for OCD
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 284.

Welcome back, everybody. We are on the third video or the third part of this six-part series on how to manage mental compulsions. Last week’s episode with Jon Hershfield was bomb, like so good. And I will say that we, this week, have Shala Nicely, and she goes for it as well. So, I am so honored to have these amazing experts talking about mental compulsions, talking about what specific tools they use. 

So, I’m not going to take too much time of the intro this time, because I know you just want to get to the content. Again, I just want to put a disclaimer. This should not replace professional mental health care. This series is for educational purposes only. My job at CBT School is to give you as much education as I can, knowing that you may or may not have access to care or treatment in your own home. So, I’m hoping that this fills in a gap that maybe we’ve missed in the past in terms of we have ERP School, that’s an online course teaching you everything about ERP to get you started if you’re doing that on your own. But this is a bigger topic. This is an area that I’d need to make a complete new course. But instead of making a course, I’m bringing these experts to you for free, hopefully giving you the tools that you need. 

If you’re wanting additional information about ERP School, please go to CBTSchool.com. With that being said, let’s go straight over to this episode with Shala Nicely. 

Managing Mental Compulsions (With Shala Nicely) Your anxiety toolkit

Kimberley: Welcome, Shala. I am so happy to have you here.

Shala: I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Kimberley: Okay. So, I have heard a little bit of your views on this, but I am actually so excited now to get into the juicy details of how you address mental compulsions or mental rituals. First, I want to check in with you, do you call them mental compulsions, rituals, rumination? How do you address them?

Shala: Yeah. All those things. I also sometimes call it mental gymnastics up in your head, it’s all sorts of things you’re doing in your head to try to get some relief from anxiety.

Kimberley: Right. So, if you had a patient or a client who really was struggling with mental compulsions, whether or not they were doing other compulsions as well, how might you address that particular part of their symptomology?

Shala: So, let me answer that by stepping back a little bit and telling you about my own experience with this, because a lot of the way I do it is based on what I learned, trying to manage my own mental rituals. I’ve had OCD probably since I was five or six, untreated until I was 39. Stumbled upon the right treatment when I went to the IOCDF Conference and started doing exposure mostly on my own. I went to Reid Wilson’s two-day group, where I learned how to do it. But the rest of the time, I was implementing on my own. And even though I had quite a few physical compulsions, I would’ve considered myself a primary mental ritualizer, meaning if we look at the majority, my compulsions were up in my head. And the way I think about this is I think that sometimes if you have OCD for long enough, and you’ve got to go out and keep functioning in the world and you can’t do all these rituals so that people could see, because then people will be like, “What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” you take them inward. And some mental compulsions can take the place of physical compulsions that you’re not able to do for whatever reason because you’re trying to function. And I’d had untreated OCD for so long that most of my rituals were up in my head, not all, but the great majority of them. 

Exposure & Response Prevention for Mental Compulsions

So, when I started to do exposure, what I found was I could do exposure therapy, straight up going and facing my fears, like going and being around things that might be triggering all I wanted, but I wasn’t necessarily getting better because I wasn’t addressing the mental rituals. So, basically, I’m doing exposure without response prevention or exposure with partial response prevention, which can make things either worse or just neutralize your efforts. So, what I did was I figured out how to be in the presence of triggers and not be up in my head, trying to do analyzing, justifying, figuring it out, replaying the situation with a different ending, all the sorts of things that I would do over and over in my head. And the way I did this was I took something I learned from Jonathan Grayson and his book, Freedom From OCD. I know you’re having him on for this series too. And he talked about doing all this ERP scripting, where you basically write out the worst-case scenario, what you think your OCD thinks is going to happen and you write it in either a worst-case way or an uncertainty-focused way. And what I did was after reading his book, I took that concept and I just shortened it down, and anything that my OCD was afraid of, I would just wrap may or may not surround it. 

So, for instance, an example that I use in Is Fred in the Refrigerator?, my memoir, Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life was that I used to-- when I was walking through stores like Target, if I saw one of those little plastic price tags that had fallen on the ground, if I didn’t pick it up and put it out of harm’s way, I was afraid somebody was going to slip and fall and break their neck. And it would be on some security camera that I just walked on past it and didn’t do anything. So, a typical scrupulosity obsession. And so, going shopping was really hard because I’m cleaning up the store as I’m shopping. And so, what I would do is I would either go to Target, walk past the price tag. And then as I’m just passing the price tag, I would say things. And in Target, I obviously couldn’t do this really out loud, mumble it out loud as best, but I may or may not cause somebody to kill themselves by they’re going to slip and fall on that price tag because I didn’t pick it up. I may or may not be an awful, terrible rotten human being. They may or may not catch me and throw me into jail. I may or may not rot in prison. People may or may not find out what a really bad person I really am. This may or may not be OCD, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. 

And that would allow me to be present with the obsessions, all the what-ifs – those are basically what-ifs turned into ‘may or may nots’ – without compulsing with them, without doing anything that would artificially lower my anxiety. So, it allowed me to be in the presence of those obsessive thoughts while interrupting the pattern of the mental rituals. And that’s really how I use ‘may or may nots’ and how I teach my clients to use ‘may or may nots’ today is using them to really be mindfully present of what the OCD is worried about while not interacting with that content in a way that’s going to make things worse. So, that’s how I developed it for myself. And I think that-- and that is a tool that I would say is an intermediary tool. So, I use that now in my own recovery. I don’t have to use ’may or may nots’. It’s very often at all. If I get super triggered, which doesn’t happen too terribly often, but if I get super triggered and I cannot get out of my head, I’ll use ’may or may nots’. 

But I think the continuum is that you try to do something to interrupt the mental rituals, which for me is the ’may or may nots’. You can also-- people can write down the scripts, they can do a worst-case scenario. But eventually, what you’re trying to get to is you’re trying to be able to hear the OCD, what-ifs in your head and completely ignore it. And I call that my shoulders back, the way of thinking about things. Just put your shoulders back and you move on with your day. You don’t acknowledge it. 

What I’ll do with clients, I’ll say, “If you had the thought of Blue Martian is going to land on my head, I mean, you wouldn’t even do anything with that thought. That thought would just go in and go out and wouldn’t get any of your attention.” That’s the way we want to treat OCD, is just thoughts can be there. I’m not going to say, “Oh, that’s my OCD.” I’m not going to say, “OCD, I’m not talking to you.” I’m not going to acknowledge it at all. I’m just going to treat it like any other weird thought that we have during the day and move on. 

Your question was, how would you help somebody who comes in with mental rituals? Well, first, I want to understand where are they in their OCD recovery? How long have they been doing these mental rituals? What percentage of their compulsions are mental versus physical? What are the kind of things that their OCD is afraid of? Basically, make a list or a hierarchy of everything they’re afraid of. And then we start working on exposure therapy. And when I have them do exposures, the first exposure I do with people, we’ll find something that’s-- I start in the middle of the hierarchy. You don’t have to, but I try. And I will have them face the fear. But then I’ll immediately ask them, what is your OCD saying right now? And they’ll tell me, and I’ll say, “I want you to repeat after me.” I have them do this, and everyone that I see hates this, but I have them do it. Standing up with their shoulders back like Wonder Woman, because this type of power pose helps them. It changes the chemistry of your body and helps you feel more powerful. 

OCD thinks it’s very powerful. So, I want my clients to feel as powerful as they can. So, I have them stand like Wonder Woman and they repeat after me. Somebody could-- let’s just say we are standing near something red on the floor. And I’ll say, “Well, what is your OCD saying right now?” And they’ll say, “Well, that’s blood and it could have AIDS in it, and I’m going to get sick.” I’ll say, “Well, that may or may not be a spot of blood on the floor. I may or may not get sick and I may or may not get AIDS, but I want to do this. I’m going to stay here. OCD, I want to be anxious, so bring it on.” 

And that’s how we do the exposure, is I ask them what’s in their head. I have them repeat it to me until they understand what the process is. And then I’m having them be in the presence of this and just script, script, script away. That’s what I call it scripting, so that they are in the presence of whatever’s bothering them, but they’re not up in their head. And anytime something comes in their head, I teach them to pull it down into the script. Never let something be circulating in your head without saying it out loud and pulling it into the script. 

I will work on this technique with clients as we’re working on exposures, because eventually what we’ll want to do is instead of going all over the place, “That may or may not be blood, I may or may not get AIDS, I may or may not get sick,” I’ll say, “Okay, of all the things you’ve just said, what does your OCD-- what is your OCD scared of the most? Let’s focus on that.” And so, “I may or may not get AIDS. I may or may not get AIDS. I may or may not have HIV. I may or may not get AIDS,” over again until people start to say, “Oh, okay. I guess I don’t have any control over this,” because what we’re trying to do is help the OCD habituate to the uncertainty. Habituate, I know that’d be a confusing word. You don’t have to habituate in order for exposure to work due to the theory of inhibitory learning, but we’re trying to help your brain get used to the uncertainty here.

Kimberley: And break into a different cycle instead of doing the old rumination cycle. 

Shala: Yes. And so then, I’ll teach people to just find their scariest fear. They say that over and over and over again. Then let’s hit the next one. “Well, my family may or may not survive if I die because if I get a fatal disease and I die and my family may or may not be left destitute,” and then over and over. “My family may or may not be left destitute. My family may or may not be left destitute, whatever,” until we’re hitting all the things that could be circulating in your head. 

Now, some people really don’t need to do that scripting because they’re not up in their head that much. But that’s the minority of people. I think most people with OCD are doing something in their head. And a lot of people aren’t aware of what they’re doing because these mental rituals are incredibly subtle at times. And so, as people, as my clients go out and work on these exposures, I’ll have them tell me how it’s going. I have people fill out forms on my website each day as they’re doing exposures so I can see what’s going on. And if they’re not really up in their head and they don’t really need to do the ‘may or may nots’, great. That’s better. In fact, just go do the exposure and go on with your life. If they’re up in their head, then I have them do the ’may or may nots’. And so, that’s how I would start with somebody. 

And so, what I’m trying to do is I’m giving them what I call a bridge tool. Because people who have been mental ritualizing for a long time, I have found it’s virtually impossible to just stop because that’s what your mind is used to doing. And so, what I’m doing is I’m giving them a competing response. And I’m saying here, instead of mental ritualizing, I’d like you to say a bunch of ’may or may nots’ statements while standing up and say them out loud while looking like Wonder Woman. Everybody rolls their eyes like, “Really?” But that’s what we do as a bridge tool. And so, they’ve lifted enough mental weights, so to speak, with this technique that they can hear the OCD and start to disengage and not interact with it at all. Then we move to that technique.

Flooding Techniques for Mental Rumination

Kimberley: Is there a reason why-- and for some of the listeners, they may have learned this before, but is there a reason why you use ’may or may nots’ instead of worst-case scenarios?

Shala: For me, for my personal OCD recovery journey, what I found with worst-case scenario is I got too lost in the content. I remember doing-- I had had a mammogram, it had come back with some abnormal findings. I spent the whole weekend trying to do scripting about what could happen, and I was using worst-case scenario. Well, I end up in the hospital, I end up with breast cancer, I end up dead. And by the end of the weekend, I was completely demoralized. And I’m like, “Well, I don’t bother because I’m going to be dead, because I have breast cancer.” That’s where my mind took it because I’ve had OCD long enough that if I get a really scary and I start and I play around in the content, I’m going to start losing insight and I’m going to start doing depression as a compulsion, which is the blog we did talk about, where you start acting depressed because you’re believing what the OCD says like, “Oh, well, I might as well just give up, I have breast cancer,” and then becoming depressed, and then acting like it’s true. And then that’s reinforcing the whole cycle. 

So, for me, worst-case scenario scripting made things worse. So, when I stayed in the uncertainty realm, the ‘may or may nots’ that helped because I was trying to help my brain understand, “Well, I may or may not have breast cancer. And if I do, I mean, I’ll go to the doctor, I’ll do what I need to do, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now in my head other than what I’m doing.”

Some people like worst-case scenario and it works fine for them. And I think that works too. I mostly use ’may or may nots’ with clients unless they are unable through numbing that they might be doing. If they’re unable to actually feel what they’re saying, because they’re used to turning it over in their head and pulling the anxiety down officially, and so I can’t get a rise out of the OCD because there’s a lot of really little subtle mental compulsions going on, then I’ll insert some worst-case scenario to get the anxiety level up, to help them really feel the fear, and then pull back into ’may or may nots’. But there’s nothing wrong with worst-case scenario. But for me, that was what happened. And I think if you are prone to depression, if you’re prone to losing insight into your OCD when you’ve got a really big one, I think that’s a risk factor for using that particular type of scripting. 

Magical Thinking and Mental Compulsions 

Kimberley: Right. And I found that they may or may not have worked just as well, except the one thing, and I’m actually curious on your opinion on this and I have not had this conversation, is I find that people who have a lot of magical thinking benefit by worst-case scenario, like their jinxing compulsions and so forth, like the fear of saying it means it will happen. So, saying the worst-case is the best exposure. Is that true for you?

Shala: I have not had to use it much on my own magically. I certainly had a lot of magical thinking. Like, if I don’t hit this green light, then somebody’s going to die. But I think the worst-case scenario, I could actually work well in that, because if you use the worst-case scenario, it can make it seem so ridiculous that it helps people let go of it more easily. And I think you can do that with ’may or may nots’ too. I’ll try to encourage people to use the creativity that they have because everybody with OCD has a ton of creativity. And we know that because the OCD shares your brain and it’s certainly the creative stuff

And to one-up the OCD, you use the scripting to be like, “Gosh, I may or may not get some drug-disease and give it to my entire neighborhood. I may or may not kill off an entire section of my county. We may or may not infect the entire state of Georgia. The entire United States may or may not blow up because I got this one disease. So, they may or may not have to eject me off the earth and make me live on Mars because I’m such a bad person.” This ‘may or may not’ is in all this crazy stuff too, because that’s how to win, is to one up the OCD. It thinks that’s scary, let’s go even scarier. But the scary you get, it also gets a little bit ridiculous after a while. And then the whole thing seems to be a little bit ridiculous. So, I think you can still use that worst-case stuff with may or may not.

Kimberley: Right. Okay. So, I mean, I will always sort of-- I know you really well. I’ve always held you so high in my mind in just how resilient and strong you are in doing this. How might you, or how do you help people who feel completely powerless at even addressing this? For you to say it, it sounds very like you’re just doing it and it’s so powerful. But for those who are really struggling with this idea of like, you said, coming out of your head, can you speak to how you address that in session if someone’s really struggling to engage in ’may or may nots’ and so forth?

Shala: Yeah. Well, thank you for the kind words, first off. I think that it’s really common for people with OCD by the time they get to a therapist to feel completely demoralized, especially if they’ve been to multiple therapists before they get to somebody who does ERP. And so, they feel like they’re the victim at the hands of a very cruel abuser that they can’t get away from. And so, they feel beaten down and they don’t know how to get out of their heads. They feel like they’re trapped in this mental prison. They can’t get out. And if somebody is struggling like that, and they’re doing the ’may or may nots’ and the OCD is reacting, which of course, it will, and coming back at them stronger, which I always warn people, this is going to happen. When you start poking at this, the OCD is going to poke back and poke back even harder, because it wants to get you back in line so it can keep you prisoner. 

So, what I’ll often do in those situations, if I see somebody is really feeling like they have been so victimized, that they’re never going to be able to get over this, is the type of script I have them do is more of an empowerment script, which could sound like this: “OCD, I’m not listening to you anymore. I’m not doing what you want. I am strong. I can do this.” And I might add some ’may or may nots’ in there. “And I want to be anxious. Come on, bring it on. You think that’s scary? Give me something else.” 

I know you’re having Reid Wilson on as part of this too. I learned all that “bring it on” type stuff and pushing for the anxiety from him. And I think helping people say that out loud can be really transformative. I’ve seen people just completely break down in tears of sort of, “Oh my gosh, I could do this,” like tears of empowerment from standing up and yelling at their OCD. 

If people like swearing, I also just have them swear at it, like they would really swear at somebody who had been abusing them if they had a chance, because swearing actually can make you feel more powerful too, and I want to use all the tools we can. So, I think scripting comes in a number of forms. It’s all about really taking what’s in your head, turning it into a helpful self-talk and saying it out loud. And the reason out loud is important for any type of scripting is that if you’re saying it in your head, it’s going to get mixed up with all the jumble of mental ruminating that’s going on. And saying it out loud makes it hard for you to ruminate. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard because you’re saying it. Your brain really is only processing one thing at a time. And so, if you’re talking and really paying attention to what you’re saying, it’s much harder to be up in your head spinning this around. 

And so, adding these empowerment scripts in with the ’may or may nots’ helps people both accept the uncertainty and feel like they can do this, feel like they can stand up to the OCD and say, “You’ve beaten me enough. No more. This is my life. I’m not letting you ruin it anymore. I am taking this back. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care what I have to do. I’m going to do this.” And that builds people up enough where they can feel like they can start approaching these exposures.

Kimberley: I love that. I think that is such-- I’ve had that same experience of how powerful empowerment can be in switching that behavior. It’s so important. Now, one thing I really want to ask you is, do you switch this method when you’re dealing with other anxiety disorders – health anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder? What is your approach? Is there a difference or would you say the tools are the same?

Shala: There’s a slight difference between disorders. I think health anxiety, I treat exactly like OCD. Even some of the examples I gave here were really health anxiety statements. With panic disorder-- and again, I learned this from Reid and you can ask him more about this when you interview him. But with pain disorder, it’s all about, I want to feel more shorter breath, more like their elephant standing on my chest. I want my heart to be faster. But I’m doing this while I’m having people do exercises that would actually create those feelings, like breathing through a little bit of cocktail straw, jogging, turning up a space heater, and blowing it on themselves. So, we’re trying to create those symptoms and then talk out loud and say, “Come on, I want more of this. I want to feel more anxious. Give me the worst panic attack you’ve ever had.” So, it’s all about amping up the symptoms. 

With social anxiety, it’s a little bit different because with social anxiety, I would work on the cognitions first. Whereas with OCD, we don’t work on the cognitions at all, other than I want you to have a different cognitive relationship with your disorder and your anxiety. I want you to want the anxiety. I want you to want the OCD to come and bother you because that gives you an opportunity to practice. That’s the cognitive work with OCD. I do not work on the cognitive work on the content. I’m not going to say to somebody, “Well, the chance you’re going to get AIDS from that little spot of blood is very small.” That’s not going to be helpful 

With social anxiety, we’re actually working on those distorted cognitions at the beginning. And so, a lot of the work with social anxiety is going to be going out and testing those new cognitions, which really turns the exposures into what we call behavioral experiments. It’s more of a cognitive method. We’re going out and saying, “Gosh, my new belief, instead of everybody’s judging me, is, well, everybody is probably thinking about themselves and I’m going to go do some things that my social anxiety wouldn’t want me to do and test out that new belief.” I might have them use that new belief, but also if their anxiety gets really high and they’re having a hard time saying, “Well, that person may or may not be judging me. They may or may not be looking at me funny. They may or may not go home and tell people about me.” But really, we’re trying to do something a little bit different with social anxiety.

Kimberley: And what about with generalized anxiety? With the mental, a lot of rumination there, do you have a little shift in how you respond?

Shala: Yeah. So, it’s funny that the talk that Michelle Massi and others gave at IOCDF-- I think it was at IOCDF this year about what’s the difference between OCD and GAD is they’re really aligned there. I mean, I treat GAD very similarly the way I treat OCD in that people are up in their heads trying to do things. They’re also doing other types of safety behaviors, compulsive safety behaviors, but a lot of people GAD are just up in their head. They’re just worried about more “real-life” things. But again, a lot of OCD stuff can be real-life things. I mean, look at COVID. That was real life. And people’s OCD could wrap itself around that. So, I treat GAD and OCD quite similarly. There are some differences, but in terms of scripting, we call it “worry time” in GAD. It’s got a different name, but it’s basically the same thing.

Kimberley: Right. Okay. Thank you for answering that because I know some folks here listening will be not having OCD and will be curious to see how it affects them. So, is that the practice for you or is there anything else you feel like people need to know going in, in terms of like, “Here is my strategy, here is my plan to target mental rituals”? What would you say?

Shala: So, as I mentioned, I think the ’may or may nots’ are bridge tool that are always available to you throughout your entire recovery. My goal with anybody that I’m working with is to help them get to the point where they can just use shoulders back. And the way that I think about this is what I call my “man in the park” metaphor. So, we’ve all probably been in a park where somebody is yelling typically about the end of the world and all that stuff. And even if you were to agree with some of the things that the person might say from a spiritual or religious standpoint, you don’t run home and go, “Oh my gosh, we got to pack all our things up because it’s the end of the world. We have to get with all of our relatives and be together because we’re all going to die.” We don’t do that. We hear what this guy’s saying, and then we go on with our days, again, even if you might agree with some of the content.

Now, why do we do that? We do that because it’s not relevant in our life. We realize that person probably, unfortunately, has some problems. But it doesn’t affect us. We hear it just like when we might hear birds in the background or a car honking, and we just go on with our day. That’s how we want to treat OCD. What we do when we have untreated OCD is we run up to the man in the park and we say, “Oh my gosh, can I have a pamphlet? Let me read the pamphlet. Oh my gosh, you’re right. Tell me more, tell me more.” And we’re interacting with him, trying to get some reassurance that maybe he’s wrong, that maybe he does really mean the end of the world is coming soon. Maybe it’s going to be like in a hundred years. Eventually, we get to the point where we’re handing out pamphlets for him. “Here, everybody, take one of these.”

What we’re doing with ’may or may nots’ is we’re learning how to walk by the man in the park and go, “The world may or may not be ending. The world may or may not be ending. I’m not taking a pamphlet. The world may or may not be ending.” So, we’re trying to not interact with him. We’re trying to take what he’s saying and hold it in our heads without doing something compulsive that’s going to make our anxiety higher. What we’re trying to do is practice that enough till we can get to the point where we can be in the park with the guy and just go on with our day. We hear him speaking, but we’re really-- it’s just not relevant. It’s just not part of our life. So, we just move on. And we’re not trying to shove him away. It’s just like any other noise or sound or activity that you would just-- it doesn’t even register in your consciousness. That’s what we’re trying to do. 

Now I think another way to think about this is if you think-- say you’re in an art gallery. Art galleries are quiet and there are lots of people standing around, and there’s somebody in there that you don’t like or who doesn’t like you or whatever. You’re not going to walk up to that person and tap on their shoulder and say, “Excuse me, I’m going to ignore you.” You’re just going to be like, “I know that person is there. I’m just going to do what I’m doing.” And I think that’s-- I use that to help people understand this transition, because we’re basically going from ’may or may nots’ where we’re saying, “OCD, I’m not letting you do this to me anymore,” so we are being really aggressive with it, to this being able to be in the same space with it, but we’re not talking to it at all because we don’t need to, because we can be in the presence with the intrusive thoughts that the OCD is reacting to, just like the presence of all the other thousands of thoughts we have each day without interacting with them.

Kimberley: That’s so interesting. I’ve never thought of it that way. 

Shala: And so, that’s where I’m trying to get people because that is the strongest, strongest recovery, is if you can go do the things that you want to do, be in the presence of the anxiety and not do compulsions physical or mental, you don’t give anything for OCD to work with. I have a whole chapter in my memoir about this after I heard Reid say at one of the conferences, “We need to act as though what OCD is saying doesn’t matter.” And that was revolutionary to me to hear that. And that’s what we’re trying to do both physically and mentally. Because if you can have an obsession and focus on what you want to focus on, do what you want to do, you’re not giving OCD anything to work with. And typically, it’ll just drain away. But this takes time. I mean, it has taken me years to learn how to do this, but I went untreated for 35 years too. It may not take you years, but it may. And that’s okay. It’s a process. And I think if you have trouble trying to do shoulders back, man in the park, use ’may or may nots’. You can use the combination. But I think we’re trying to get to the point where you can just be with the OCD and hear it flipping out and just go on with your day.

OCD, BDD, and Mental Rituals 

Kimberley: In your book, you talk about the different voices. There is a BDD voice and an OCD voice. Was it harder or easier depending on the voice? Was that a component for you in that-- because the words and the voice sound a little different. I know in your memoir you give them different names and so forth, which if anyone hasn’t read your memoir, they need to go right now and read it. Do you have any thoughts on that in terms of the different voices or the different ways in which the disorders interact?

Shala: That’s a really great question because yes, I think OCD does shift its voice and shift its persona based on how scared it is. So, if it’s a little bit scared, it’s probably going to speak to you. It’s still going to be not a very nice voice. It might be urgent and pleading. But if it’s super scared, I talk about mine being like the triad of hell, how my OCD will personify into different things based on how scared it is. And if it’s super scared and it’s going to get super big and it’s going to get super loud in your head because it’s trying desperately to help you understand you’ve got to save it because it thinks it’s in danger. That’s all its content. Then I think-- and if you have trouble ignoring it because it’s screaming in your head, like the man in the park comes over with his megaphone, puts it right up against your ear and starts talking, that’s hard to ignore. That’s hard to act like that’s not relevant because it hurts. There’s so much noise. 

That’s when you might have to use a may or may not type approach because it’s just so loud, you can’t ignore it, because it’s so scared. And that’s okay. And again, sometimes I’ll have to use that. Not too terribly often just because I’ve spent a long time working on how to use the shoulder’s back, man in the park, but if I have to use it, I use it. And so, I think your thought about how do I interact with the OCD based on how aggressive it’s being also plays into this.

Kimberley: I love all this. I think this is really helpful in terms of being able to be flexible. I know sometimes we want just the one rule that’s going to work in all situations, but I think you’re right. I think that there needs to be different approaches. And would you say it depends on the person? Do you give them some autonomy over finding what works for them, or what would you say? 

Shala: Absolutely. If people are up in their heads and they don’t want to use ’may or may nots’, I’ll try to use some other things. If I really, really think that that’s what we need right now, is we need scripting, I’ll try to sell them on why. But at the end of the day, it’s always my client’s choice and I do it differently based on every client. For some clients, it might be just more empowering statements. For some clients where it’s more panicky focused, it might be more about bringing on your anxiety. Sometimes it might be pulling self-compassion in and just saying the self-compassion statements out loud. So, it really does vary by person. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but I think, I feel that people need to have something to replace the mental ritualizing with at the beginning that they’ve been doing it for a long time, just because otherwise, it’s like, I’m giving them a bicycle, they’ve never ridden a bicycle before and I won’t give them any training wheels. And that’s really, really hard. Some people can do it. I mean, some people can just be like, “Oh, I’m to stop doing that in my head? Okay, well, I’ll stop doing that in my head.” But most people need something to help them bridge that gap to get to the point where they can just be in the presence with it and not be talking to it in their heads.

Kimberley: Amazing. All right. Any final statements from you as we get close to the end?

Shala: I think that it’s important to, as you’re working on this, really think about what you’re doing in your head that might be subtle, that could be making the OCD worse. And I think talking and being willing to talk about this to therapists about putting it all out there, “Hey, I’m saying this to myself in my head, is that helpful or harmful?” Because OCD therapy can be pretty straightforward. I mean, ERP, go out and face your fears, don’t do rituals. It sounds pretty straightforward. But there is a lot of subtlety to this. And the more that you can root out these subtle mental rituals, the better that your recovery is going to be. 

And know too that if you’ve had untreated OCD for a long time, you can uncover mental rituals, little bitty ones, for years after you get out of therapy. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not in recovery. It just means that you are getting more and more insightful and educated about what OCD is. And the more that you can pick those little things out, just the better your recovery will be. But we also don’t want to be perfectionistic about that like, “I must eliminate every single mental ritual that I have or I’m not going to be in a good recovery.” That’s approaching your ERP like OCD would do. And we don’t want to do that. But we do want to be mindful about the subtleties and make sure to try to pull out as many of those subtle things that we might be doing in our heads as possible. 

Kimberley: Amazing. Thank you. Tell us-- again, first, let me just say, such helpful information. And your personal experience, I think, is really validating and helpful to hear on those little nuances. Tell us where people can hear about you and the amazing projects you’ve got going on.

Shala: You can go to ShalaNicely.com and I have lots of free blog posts I’ve written on this. So, there are two blog posts, two pretty extensive blog posts on ’may or may nots’. So, if you go on my website and just search may or may not, it’ll bring up two blog posts about that. If you search on shoulders back or man in the park, you’ll find two blog posts on how to do that technique. I also have a blog post I wrote in the last year or so called Shower Scripting, which is how to do ERP, like just some touch-up scripting in the shower, use that time. So, I would say go to my website and you can find all sorts of free resources. I’ve got two books. You can find on Amazon, Everyday Mindfulness for OCD, Jon Hershfield and I co-wrote. And we talk about ‘may or may nots’ and shoulders back and some of the things in there just briefly. And then my memoir, Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life, is also on Amazon or bookstores, Audible, and that kind of thing. 

Kimberley: I wonder too, if we could-- I’m going to put links to all these in the show note. I remember you having a word with your OCD, a video?

Shala: Oh yes, that’s true.

Kimberley: Can we link that too?

Shala: Yes. And that one I have under my COVID resources, because I’m so glad you brought that up. When the pandemic started, my OCD did not like it, as many people who have contamination OCD can relate to. And it was pretty scary all the time. And it was making me scared all the time. And eventually, I just wrote it a letter and I’m like, “Dude, we’re not doing this anymore.” And I read it out loud and I recorded it out loud so that people could hear how I was talking to it. 

Kimberley: It was so powerful.

Shala: Well, thank you. And it’s fun to do. I think the more that you can personify your OCD, the more you can think of it as an entity that is within you but is not you, and to recognize that your relationship with it will change over time. Sometimes you’re going to be compassionate with it. “Gosh, OCD, I’m so sorry,” You’re scared we’re doing this anyway. Sometimes you’re going to be aggressive with it. Sometimes you just ignore it. And that changes as you go through therapy, it changes through your life. And I think that recognizing that it’s okay to have OCD and to have this little thing, I think of like an orange ball with big feet and sunglasses is how I think about it when it’s behaving – it makes it less of an adversarial relationship over time and more like I have an annoying little sibling that, gosh, it’s just not going to ever not be there, but it’s fine. We can live together and live in this uncertainty and be happy anyway.

Kimberley: I just love it. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your experience and your knowledge. It’s so wonderful.

Shala: Thank you so much for having me.

May 13, 2022

SUMMARY: 

In this weeks podcast, we have my dearest friend Shala Nicely talking about how she manages mental compulsions.  In this episode, Shala shares her lived experience with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how she overcomes mental rituals.

In This Episode:

  • How to reduce mental compulsions for OCD and GAD.
  • How to use Flooding Techniques with Mental Compulsions
  • Magical Thinking and Mental Compulsions
  • BDD and Mental Compulsions

Links To Things I Talk About:

Shalanicely.com
Book: Is Fred in the Refridgerator?
Book: Everyday Mindfulness for OCD
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 284.

Welcome back, everybody. We are on the third video or the third part of this six-part series on how to manage mental compulsions. Last week’s episode with Jon Hershfield was bomb, like so good. And I will say that we, this week, have Shala Nicely, and she goes for it as well. So, I am so honored to have these amazing experts talking about mental compulsions, talking about what specific tools they use. 

So, I’m not going to take too much time of the intro this time, because I know you just want to get to the content. Again, I just want to put a disclaimer. This should not replace professional mental health care. This series is for educational purposes only. My job at CBT School is to give you as much education as I can, knowing that you may or may not have access to care or treatment in your own home. So, I’m hoping that this fills in a gap that maybe we’ve missed in the past in terms of we have ERP School, that’s an online course teaching you everything about ERP to get you started if you’re doing that on your own. But this is a bigger topic. This is an area that I’d need to make a complete new course. But instead of making a course, I’m bringing these experts to you for free, hopefully giving you the tools that you need. 

If you’re wanting additional information about ERP School, please go to CBTSchool.com. With that being said, let’s go straight over to this episode with Shala Nicely. 

Managing Mental Compulsions (With Shala Nicely) Your anxiety toolkit

Kimberley: Welcome, Shala. I am so happy to have you here.

Shala: I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Kimberley: Okay. So, I have heard a little bit of your views on this, but I am actually so excited now to get into the juicy details of how you address mental compulsions or mental rituals. First, I want to check in with you, do you call them mental compulsions, rituals, rumination? How do you address them?

Shala: Yeah. All those things. I also sometimes call it mental gymnastics up in your head, it’s all sorts of things you’re doing in your head to try to get some relief from anxiety.

Kimberley: Right. So, if you had a patient or a client who really was struggling with mental compulsions, whether or not they were doing other compulsions as well, how might you address that particular part of their symptomology?

Shala: So, let me answer that by stepping back a little bit and telling you about my own experience with this, because a lot of the way I do it is based on what I learned, trying to manage my own mental rituals. I’ve had OCD probably since I was five or six, untreated until I was 39. Stumbled upon the right treatment when I went to the IOCDF Conference and started doing exposure mostly on my own. I went to Reid Wilson’s two-day group, where I learned how to do it. But the rest of the time, I was implementing on my own. And even though I had quite a few physical compulsions, I would’ve considered myself a primary mental ritualizer, meaning if we look at the majority, my compulsions were up in my head. And the way I think about this is I think that sometimes if you have OCD for long enough, and you’ve got to go out and keep functioning in the world and you can’t do all these rituals so that people could see, because then people will be like, “What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” you take them inward. And some mental compulsions can take the place of physical compulsions that you’re not able to do for whatever reason because you’re trying to function. And I’d had untreated OCD for so long that most of my rituals were up in my head, not all, but the great majority of them. 

Exposure & Response Prevention for Mental Compulsions

So, when I started to do exposure, what I found was I could do exposure therapy, straight up going and facing my fears, like going and being around things that might be triggering all I wanted, but I wasn’t necessarily getting better because I wasn’t addressing the mental rituals. So, basically, I’m doing exposure without response prevention or exposure with partial response prevention, which can make things either worse or just neutralize your efforts. So, what I did was I figured out how to be in the presence of triggers and not be up in my head, trying to do analyzing, justifying, figuring it out, replaying the situation with a different ending, all the sorts of things that I would do over and over in my head. And the way I did this was I took something I learned from Jonathan Grayson and his book, Freedom From OCD. I know you’re having him on for this series too. And he talked about doing all this ERP scripting, where you basically write out the worst-case scenario, what you think your OCD thinks is going to happen and you write it in either a worst-case way or an uncertainty-focused way. And what I did was after reading his book, I took that concept and I just shortened it down, and anything that my OCD was afraid of, I would just wrap may or may not surround it. 

So, for instance, an example that I use in Is Fred in the Refrigerator?, my memoir, Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life was that I used to-- when I was walking through stores like Target, if I saw one of those little plastic price tags that had fallen on the ground, if I didn’t pick it up and put it out of harm’s way, I was afraid somebody was going to slip and fall and break their neck. And it would be on some security camera that I just walked on past it and didn’t do anything. So, a typical scrupulosity obsession. And so, going shopping was really hard because I’m cleaning up the store as I’m shopping. And so, what I would do is I would either go to Target, walk past the price tag. And then as I’m just passing the price tag, I would say things. And in Target, I obviously couldn’t do this really out loud, mumble it out loud as best, but I may or may not cause somebody to kill themselves by they’re going to slip and fall on that price tag because I didn’t pick it up. I may or may not be an awful, terrible rotten human being. They may or may not catch me and throw me into jail. I may or may not rot in prison. People may or may not find out what a really bad person I really am. This may or may not be OCD, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. 

And that would allow me to be present with the obsessions, all the what-ifs – those are basically what-ifs turned into ‘may or may nots’ – without compulsing with them, without doing anything that would artificially lower my anxiety. So, it allowed me to be in the presence of those obsessive thoughts while interrupting the pattern of the mental rituals. And that’s really how I use ‘may or may nots’ and how I teach my clients to use ‘may or may nots’ today is using them to really be mindfully present of what the OCD is worried about while not interacting with that content in a way that’s going to make things worse. So, that’s how I developed it for myself. And I think that-- and that is a tool that I would say is an intermediary tool. So, I use that now in my own recovery. I don’t have to use ’may or may nots’. It’s very often at all. If I get super triggered, which doesn’t happen too terribly often, but if I get super triggered and I cannot get out of my head, I’ll use ’may or may nots’. 

But I think the continuum is that you try to do something to interrupt the mental rituals, which for me is the ’may or may nots’. You can also-- people can write down the scripts, they can do a worst-case scenario. But eventually, what you’re trying to get to is you’re trying to be able to hear the OCD, what-ifs in your head and completely ignore it. And I call that my shoulders back, the way of thinking about things. Just put your shoulders back and you move on with your day. You don’t acknowledge it. 

What I’ll do with clients, I’ll say, “If you had the thought of Blue Martian is going to land on my head, I mean, you wouldn’t even do anything with that thought. That thought would just go in and go out and wouldn’t get any of your attention.” That’s the way we want to treat OCD, is just thoughts can be there. I’m not going to say, “Oh, that’s my OCD.” I’m not going to say, “OCD, I’m not talking to you.” I’m not going to acknowledge it at all. I’m just going to treat it like any other weird thought that we have during the day and move on. 

Your question was, how would you help somebody who comes in with mental rituals? Well, first, I want to understand where are they in their OCD recovery? How long have they been doing these mental rituals? What percentage of their compulsions are mental versus physical? What are the kind of things that their OCD is afraid of? Basically, make a list or a hierarchy of everything they’re afraid of. And then we start working on exposure therapy. And when I have them do exposures, the first exposure I do with people, we’ll find something that’s-- I start in the middle of the hierarchy. You don’t have to, but I try. And I will have them face the fear. But then I’ll immediately ask them, what is your OCD saying right now? And they’ll tell me, and I’ll say, “I want you to repeat after me.” I have them do this, and everyone that I see hates this, but I have them do it. Standing up with their shoulders back like Wonder Woman, because this type of power pose helps them. It changes the chemistry of your body and helps you feel more powerful. 

OCD thinks it’s very powerful. So, I want my clients to feel as powerful as they can. So, I have them stand like Wonder Woman and they repeat after me. Somebody could-- let’s just say we are standing near something red on the floor. And I’ll say, “Well, what is your OCD saying right now?” And they’ll say, “Well, that’s blood and it could have AIDS in it, and I’m going to get sick.” I’ll say, “Well, that may or may not be a spot of blood on the floor. I may or may not get sick and I may or may not get AIDS, but I want to do this. I’m going to stay here. OCD, I want to be anxious, so bring it on.” 

And that’s how we do the exposure, is I ask them what’s in their head. I have them repeat it to me until they understand what the process is. And then I’m having them be in the presence of this and just script, script, script away. That’s what I call it scripting, so that they are in the presence of whatever’s bothering them, but they’re not up in their head. And anytime something comes in their head, I teach them to pull it down into the script. Never let something be circulating in your head without saying it out loud and pulling it into the script. 

I will work on this technique with clients as we’re working on exposures, because eventually what we’ll want to do is instead of going all over the place, “That may or may not be blood, I may or may not get AIDS, I may or may not get sick,” I’ll say, “Okay, of all the things you’ve just said, what does your OCD-- what is your OCD scared of the most? Let’s focus on that.” And so, “I may or may not get AIDS. I may or may not get AIDS. I may or may not have HIV. I may or may not get AIDS,” over again until people start to say, “Oh, okay. I guess I don’t have any control over this,” because what we’re trying to do is help the OCD habituate to the uncertainty. Habituate, I know that’d be a confusing word. You don’t have to habituate in order for exposure to work due to the theory of inhibitory learning, but we’re trying to help your brain get used to the uncertainty here.

Kimberley: And break into a different cycle instead of doing the old rumination cycle. 

Shala: Yes. And so then, I’ll teach people to just find their scariest fear. They say that over and over and over again. Then let’s hit the next one. “Well, my family may or may not survive if I die because if I get a fatal disease and I die and my family may or may not be left destitute,” and then over and over. “My family may or may not be left destitute. My family may or may not be left destitute, whatever,” until we’re hitting all the things that could be circulating in your head. 

Now, some people really don’t need to do that scripting because they’re not up in their head that much. But that’s the minority of people. I think most people with OCD are doing something in their head. And a lot of people aren’t aware of what they’re doing because these mental rituals are incredibly subtle at times. And so, as people, as my clients go out and work on these exposures, I’ll have them tell me how it’s going. I have people fill out forms on my website each day as they’re doing exposures so I can see what’s going on. And if they’re not really up in their head and they don’t really need to do the ‘may or may nots’, great. That’s better. In fact, just go do the exposure and go on with your life. If they’re up in their head, then I have them do the ’may or may nots’. And so, that’s how I would start with somebody. 

And so, what I’m trying to do is I’m giving them what I call a bridge tool. Because people who have been mental ritualizing for a long time, I have found it’s virtually impossible to just stop because that’s what your mind is used to doing. And so, what I’m doing is I’m giving them a competing response. And I’m saying here, instead of mental ritualizing, I’d like you to say a bunch of ’may or may nots’ statements while standing up and say them out loud while looking like Wonder Woman. Everybody rolls their eyes like, “Really?” But that’s what we do as a bridge tool. And so, they’ve lifted enough mental weights, so to speak, with this technique that they can hear the OCD and start to disengage and not interact with it at all. Then we move to that technique.

Flooding Techniques for Mental Rumination

Kimberley: Is there a reason why-- and for some of the listeners, they may have learned this before, but is there a reason why you use ’may or may nots’ instead of worst-case scenarios?

Shala: For me, for my personal OCD recovery journey, what I found with worst-case scenario is I got too lost in the content. I remember doing-- I had had a mammogram, it had come back with some abnormal findings. I spent the whole weekend trying to do scripting about what could happen, and I was using worst-case scenario. Well, I end up in the hospital, I end up with breast cancer, I end up dead. And by the end of the weekend, I was completely demoralized. And I’m like, “Well, I don’t bother because I’m going to be dead, because I have breast cancer.” That’s where my mind took it because I’ve had OCD long enough that if I get a really scary and I start and I play around in the content, I’m going to start losing insight and I’m going to start doing depression as a compulsion, which is the blog we did talk about, where you start acting depressed because you’re believing what the OCD says like, “Oh, well, I might as well just give up, I have breast cancer,” and then becoming depressed, and then acting like it’s true. And then that’s reinforcing the whole cycle. 

So, for me, worst-case scenario scripting made things worse. So, when I stayed in the uncertainty realm, the ‘may or may nots’ that helped because I was trying to help my brain understand, “Well, I may or may not have breast cancer. And if I do, I mean, I’ll go to the doctor, I’ll do what I need to do, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now in my head other than what I’m doing.”

Some people like worst-case scenario and it works fine for them. And I think that works too. I mostly use ’may or may nots’ with clients unless they are unable through numbing that they might be doing. If they’re unable to actually feel what they’re saying, because they’re used to turning it over in their head and pulling the anxiety down officially, and so I can’t get a rise out of the OCD because there’s a lot of really little subtle mental compulsions going on, then I’ll insert some worst-case scenario to get the anxiety level up, to help them really feel the fear, and then pull back into ’may or may nots’. But there’s nothing wrong with worst-case scenario. But for me, that was what happened. And I think if you are prone to depression, if you’re prone to losing insight into your OCD when you’ve got a really big one, I think that’s a risk factor for using that particular type of scripting. 

Magical Thinking and Mental Compulsions 

Kimberley: Right. And I found that they may or may not have worked just as well, except the one thing, and I’m actually curious on your opinion on this and I have not had this conversation, is I find that people who have a lot of magical thinking benefit by worst-case scenario, like their jinxing compulsions and so forth, like the fear of saying it means it will happen. So, saying the worst-case is the best exposure. Is that true for you?

Shala: I have not had to use it much on my own magically. I certainly had a lot of magical thinking. Like, if I don’t hit this green light, then somebody’s going to die. But I think the worst-case scenario, I could actually work well in that, because if you use the worst-case scenario, it can make it seem so ridiculous that it helps people let go of it more easily. And I think you can do that with ’may or may nots’ too. I’ll try to encourage people to use the creativity that they have because everybody with OCD has a ton of creativity. And we know that because the OCD shares your brain and it’s certainly the creative stuff

And to one-up the OCD, you use the scripting to be like, “Gosh, I may or may not get some drug-disease and give it to my entire neighborhood. I may or may not kill off an entire section of my county. We may or may not infect the entire state of Georgia. The entire United States may or may not blow up because I got this one disease. So, they may or may not have to eject me off the earth and make me live on Mars because I’m such a bad person.” This ‘may or may not’ is in all this crazy stuff too, because that’s how to win, is to one up the OCD. It thinks that’s scary, let’s go even scarier. But the scary you get, it also gets a little bit ridiculous after a while. And then the whole thing seems to be a little bit ridiculous. So, I think you can still use that worst-case stuff with may or may not.

Kimberley: Right. Okay. So, I mean, I will always sort of-- I know you really well. I’ve always held you so high in my mind in just how resilient and strong you are in doing this. How might you, or how do you help people who feel completely powerless at even addressing this? For you to say it, it sounds very like you’re just doing it and it’s so powerful. But for those who are really struggling with this idea of like, you said, coming out of your head, can you speak to how you address that in session if someone’s really struggling to engage in ’may or may nots’ and so forth?

Shala: Yeah. Well, thank you for the kind words, first off. I think that it’s really common for people with OCD by the time they get to a therapist to feel completely demoralized, especially if they’ve been to multiple therapists before they get to somebody who does ERP. And so, they feel like they’re the victim at the hands of a very cruel abuser that they can’t get away from. And so, they feel beaten down and they don’t know how to get out of their heads. They feel like they’re trapped in this mental prison. They can’t get out. And if somebody is struggling like that, and they’re doing the ’may or may nots’ and the OCD is reacting, which of course, it will, and coming back at them stronger, which I always warn people, this is going to happen. When you start poking at this, the OCD is going to poke back and poke back even harder, because it wants to get you back in line so it can keep you prisoner. 

So, what I’ll often do in those situations, if I see somebody is really feeling like they have been so victimized, that they’re never going to be able to get over this, is the type of script I have them do is more of an empowerment script, which could sound like this: “OCD, I’m not listening to you anymore. I’m not doing what you want. I am strong. I can do this.” And I might add some ’may or may nots’ in there. “And I want to be anxious. Come on, bring it on. You think that’s scary? Give me something else.” 

I know you’re having Reid Wilson on as part of this too. I learned all that “bring it on” type stuff and pushing for the anxiety from him. And I think helping people say that out loud can be really transformative. I’ve seen people just completely break down in tears of sort of, “Oh my gosh, I could do this,” like tears of empowerment from standing up and yelling at their OCD. 

If people like swearing, I also just have them swear at it, like they would really swear at somebody who had been abusing them if they had a chance, because swearing actually can make you feel more powerful too, and I want to use all the tools we can. So, I think scripting comes in a number of forms. It’s all about really taking what’s in your head, turning it into a helpful self-talk and saying it out loud. And the reason out loud is important for any type of scripting is that if you’re saying it in your head, it’s going to get mixed up with all the jumble of mental ruminating that’s going on. And saying it out loud makes it hard for you to ruminate. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard because you’re saying it. Your brain really is only processing one thing at a time. And so, if you’re talking and really paying attention to what you’re saying, it’s much harder to be up in your head spinning this around. 

And so, adding these empowerment scripts in with the ’may or may nots’ helps people both accept the uncertainty and feel like they can do this, feel like they can stand up to the OCD and say, “You’ve beaten me enough. No more. This is my life. I’m not letting you ruin it anymore. I am taking this back. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care what I have to do. I’m going to do this.” And that builds people up enough where they can feel like they can start approaching these exposures.

Kimberley: I love that. I think that is such-- I’ve had that same experience of how powerful empowerment can be in switching that behavior. It’s so important. Now, one thing I really want to ask you is, do you switch this method when you’re dealing with other anxiety disorders – health anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder? What is your approach? Is there a difference or would you say the tools are the same?

Shala: There’s a slight difference between disorders. I think health anxiety, I treat exactly like OCD. Even some of the examples I gave here were really health anxiety statements. With panic disorder-- and again, I learned this from Reid and you can ask him more about this when you interview him. But with pain disorder, it’s all about, I want to feel more shorter breath, more like their elephant standing on my chest. I want my heart to be faster. But I’m doing this while I’m having people do exercises that would actually create those feelings, like breathing through a little bit of cocktail straw, jogging, turning up a space heater, and blowing it on themselves. So, we’re trying to create those symptoms and then talk out loud and say, “Come on, I want more of this. I want to feel more anxious. Give me the worst panic attack you’ve ever had.” So, it’s all about amping up the symptoms. 

With social anxiety, it’s a little bit different because with social anxiety, I would work on the cognitions first. Whereas with OCD, we don’t work on the cognitions at all, other than I want you to have a different cognitive relationship with your disorder and your anxiety. I want you to want the anxiety. I want you to want the OCD to come and bother you because that gives you an opportunity to practice. That’s the cognitive work with OCD. I do not work on the cognitive work on the content. I’m not going to say to somebody, “Well, the chance you’re going to get AIDS from that little spot of blood is very small.” That’s not going to be helpful 

With social anxiety, we’re actually working on those distorted cognitions at the beginning. And so, a lot of the work with social anxiety is going to be going out and testing those new cognitions, which really turns the exposures into what we call behavioral experiments. It’s more of a cognitive method. We’re going out and saying, “Gosh, my new belief, instead of everybody’s judging me, is, well, everybody is probably thinking about themselves and I’m going to go do some things that my social anxiety wouldn’t want me to do and test out that new belief.” I might have them use that new belief, but also if their anxiety gets really high and they’re having a hard time saying, “Well, that person may or may not be judging me. They may or may not be looking at me funny. They may or may not go home and tell people about me.” But really, we’re trying to do something a little bit different with social anxiety.

Kimberley: And what about with generalized anxiety? With the mental, a lot of rumination there, do you have a little shift in how you respond?

Shala: Yeah. So, it’s funny that the talk that Michelle Massi and others gave at IOCDF-- I think it was at IOCDF this year about what’s the difference between OCD and GAD is they’re really aligned there. I mean, I treat GAD very similarly the way I treat OCD in that people are up in their heads trying to do things. They’re also doing other types of safety behaviors, compulsive safety behaviors, but a lot of people GAD are just up in their head. They’re just worried about more “real-life” things. But again, a lot of OCD stuff can be real-life things. I mean, look at COVID. That was real life. And people’s OCD could wrap itself around that. So, I treat GAD and OCD quite similarly. There are some differences, but in terms of scripting, we call it “worry time” in GAD. It’s got a different name, but it’s basically the same thing.

Kimberley: Right. Okay. Thank you for answering that because I know some folks here listening will be not having OCD and will be curious to see how it affects them. So, is that the practice for you or is there anything else you feel like people need to know going in, in terms of like, “Here is my strategy, here is my plan to target mental rituals”? What would you say?

Shala: So, as I mentioned, I think the ’may or may nots’ are bridge tool that are always available to you throughout your entire recovery. My goal with anybody that I’m working with is to help them get to the point where they can just use shoulders back. And the way that I think about this is what I call my “man in the park” metaphor. So, we’ve all probably been in a park where somebody is yelling typically about the end of the world and all that stuff. And even if you were to agree with some of the things that the person might say from a spiritual or religious standpoint, you don’t run home and go, “Oh my gosh, we got to pack all our things up because it’s the end of the world. We have to get with all of our relatives and be together because we’re all going to die.” We don’t do that. We hear what this guy’s saying, and then we go on with our days, again, even if you might agree with some of the content.

Now, why do we do that? We do that because it’s not relevant in our life. We realize that person probably, unfortunately, has some problems. But it doesn’t affect us. We hear it just like when we might hear birds in the background or a car honking, and we just go on with our day. That’s how we want to treat OCD. What we do when we have untreated OCD is we run up to the man in the park and we say, “Oh my gosh, can I have a pamphlet? Let me read the pamphlet. Oh my gosh, you’re right. Tell me more, tell me more.” And we’re interacting with him, trying to get some reassurance that maybe he’s wrong, that maybe he does really mean the end of the world is coming soon. Maybe it’s going to be like in a hundred years. Eventually, we get to the point where we’re handing out pamphlets for him. “Here, everybody, take one of these.”

What we’re doing with ’may or may nots’ is we’re learning how to walk by the man in the park and go, “The world may or may not be ending. The world may or may not be ending. I’m not taking a pamphlet. The world may or may not be ending.” So, we’re trying to not interact with him. We’re trying to take what he’s saying and hold it in our heads without doing something compulsive that’s going to make our anxiety higher. What we’re trying to do is practice that enough till we can get to the point where we can be in the park with the guy and just go on with our day. We hear him speaking, but we’re really-- it’s just not relevant. It’s just not part of our life. So, we just move on. And we’re not trying to shove him away. It’s just like any other noise or sound or activity that you would just-- it doesn’t even register in your consciousness. That’s what we’re trying to do. 

Now I think another way to think about this is if you think-- say you’re in an art gallery. Art galleries are quiet and there are lots of people standing around, and there’s somebody in there that you don’t like or who doesn’t like you or whatever. You’re not going to walk up to that person and tap on their shoulder and say, “Excuse me, I’m going to ignore you.” You’re just going to be like, “I know that person is there. I’m just going to do what I’m doing.” And I think that’s-- I use that to help people understand this transition, because we’re basically going from ’may or may nots’ where we’re saying, “OCD, I’m not letting you do this to me anymore,” so we are being really aggressive with it, to this being able to be in the same space with it, but we’re not talking to it at all because we don’t need to, because we can be in the presence with the intrusive thoughts that the OCD is reacting to, just like the presence of all the other thousands of thoughts we have each day without interacting with them.

Kimberley: That’s so interesting. I’ve never thought of it that way. 

Shala: And so, that’s where I’m trying to get people because that is the strongest, strongest recovery, is if you can go do the things that you want to do, be in the presence of the anxiety and not do compulsions physical or mental, you don’t give anything for OCD to work with. I have a whole chapter in my memoir about this after I heard Reid say at one of the conferences, “We need to act as though what OCD is saying doesn’t matter.” And that was revolutionary to me to hear that. And that’s what we’re trying to do both physically and mentally. Because if you can have an obsession and focus on what you want to focus on, do what you want to do, you’re not giving OCD anything to work with. And typically, it’ll just drain away. But this takes time. I mean, it has taken me years to learn how to do this, but I went untreated for 35 years too. It may not take you years, but it may. And that’s okay. It’s a process. And I think if you have trouble trying to do shoulders back, man in the park, use ’may or may nots’. You can use the combination. But I think we’re trying to get to the point where you can just be with the OCD and hear it flipping out and just go on with your day.

OCD, BDD, and Mental Rituals 

Kimberley: In your book, you talk about the different voices. There is a BDD voice and an OCD voice. Was it harder or easier depending on the voice? Was that a component for you in that-- because the words and the voice sound a little different. I know in your memoir you give them different names and so forth, which if anyone hasn’t read your memoir, they need to go right now and read it. Do you have any thoughts on that in terms of the different voices or the different ways in which the disorders interact?

Shala: That’s a really great question because yes, I think OCD does shift its voice and shift its persona based on how scared it is. So, if it’s a little bit scared, it’s probably going to speak to you. It’s still going to be not a very nice voice. It might be urgent and pleading. But if it’s super scared, I talk about mine being like the triad of hell, how my OCD will personify into different things based on how scared it is. And if it’s super scared and it’s going to get super big and it’s going to get super loud in your head because it’s trying desperately to help you understand you’ve got to save it because it thinks it’s in danger. That’s all its content. Then I think-- and if you have trouble ignoring it because it’s screaming in your head, like the man in the park comes over with his megaphone, puts it right up against your ear and starts talking, that’s hard to ignore. That’s hard to act like that’s not relevant because it hurts. There’s so much noise. 

That’s when you might have to use a may or may not type approach because it’s just so loud, you can’t ignore it, because it’s so scared. And that’s okay. And again, sometimes I’ll have to use that. Not too terribly often just because I’ve spent a long time working on how to use the shoulder’s back, man in the park, but if I have to use it, I use it. And so, I think your thought about how do I interact with the OCD based on how aggressive it’s being also plays into this.

Kimberley: I love all this. I think this is really helpful in terms of being able to be flexible. I know sometimes we want just the one rule that’s going to work in all situations, but I think you’re right. I think that there needs to be different approaches. And would you say it depends on the person? Do you give them some autonomy over finding what works for them, or what would you say? 

Shala: Absolutely. If people are up in their heads and they don’t want to use ’may or may nots’, I’ll try to use some other things. If I really, really think that that’s what we need right now, is we need scripting, I’ll try to sell them on why. But at the end of the day, it’s always my client’s choice and I do it differently based on every client. For some clients, it might be just more empowering statements. For some clients where it’s more panicky focused, it might be more about bringing on your anxiety. Sometimes it might be pulling self-compassion in and just saying the self-compassion statements out loud. So, it really does vary by person. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but I think, I feel that people need to have something to replace the mental ritualizing with at the beginning that they’ve been doing it for a long time, just because otherwise, it’s like, I’m giving them a bicycle, they’ve never ridden a bicycle before and I won’t give them any training wheels. And that’s really, really hard. Some people can do it. I mean, some people can just be like, “Oh, I’m to stop doing that in my head? Okay, well, I’ll stop doing that in my head.” But most people need something to help them bridge that gap to get to the point where they can just be in the presence with it and not be talking to it in their heads.

Kimberley: Amazing. All right. Any final statements from you as we get close to the end?

Shala: I think that it’s important to, as you’re working on this, really think about what you’re doing in your head that might be subtle, that could be making the OCD worse. And I think talking and being willing to talk about this to therapists about putting it all out there, “Hey, I’m saying this to myself in my head, is that helpful or harmful?” Because OCD therapy can be pretty straightforward. I mean, ERP, go out and face your fears, don’t do rituals. It sounds pretty straightforward. But there is a lot of subtlety to this. And the more that you can root out these subtle mental rituals, the better that your recovery is going to be. 

And know too that if you’ve had untreated OCD for a long time, you can uncover mental rituals, little bitty ones, for years after you get out of therapy. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not in recovery. It just means that you are getting more and more insightful and educated about what OCD is. And the more that you can pick those little things out, just the better your recovery will be. But we also don’t want to be perfectionistic about that like, “I must eliminate every single mental ritual that I have or I’m not going to be in a good recovery.” That’s approaching your ERP like OCD would do. And we don’t want to do that. But we do want to be mindful about the subtleties and make sure to try to pull out as many of those subtle things that we might be doing in our heads as possible. 

Kimberley: Amazing. Thank you. Tell us-- again, first, let me just say, such helpful information. And your personal experience, I think, is really validating and helpful to hear on those little nuances. Tell us where people can hear about you and the amazing projects you’ve got going on.

Shala: You can go to ShalaNicely.com and I have lots of free blog posts I’ve written on this. So, there are two blog posts, two pretty extensive blog posts on ’may or may nots’. So, if you go on my website and just search may or may not, it’ll bring up two blog posts about that. If you search on shoulders back or man in the park, you’ll find two blog posts on how to do that technique. I also have a blog post I wrote in the last year or so called Shower Scripting, which is how to do ERP, like just some touch-up scripting in the shower, use that time. So, I would say go to my website and you can find all sorts of free resources. I’ve got two books. You can find on Amazon, Everyday Mindfulness for OCD, Jon Hershfield and I co-wrote. And we talk about ‘may or may nots’ and shoulders back and some of the things in there just briefly. And then my memoir, Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life, is also on Amazon or bookstores, Audible, and that kind of thing. 

Kimberley: I wonder too, if we could-- I’m going to put links to all these in the show note. I remember you having a word with your OCD, a video?

Shala: Oh yes, that’s true.

Kimberley: Can we link that too?

Shala: Yes. And that one I have under my COVID resources, because I’m so glad you brought that up. When the pandemic started, my OCD did not like it, as many people who have contamination OCD can relate to. And it was pretty scary all the time. And it was making me scared all the time. And eventually, I just wrote it a letter and I’m like, “Dude, we’re not doing this anymore.” And I read it out loud and I recorded it out loud so that people could hear how I was talking to it. 

Kimberley: It was so powerful.

Shala: Well, thank you. And it’s fun to do. I think the more that you can personify your OCD, the more you can think of it as an entity that is within you but is not you, and to recognize that your relationship with it will change over time. Sometimes you’re going to be compassionate with it. “Gosh, OCD, I’m so sorry,” You’re scared we’re doing this anyway. Sometimes you’re going to be aggressive with it. Sometimes you just ignore it. And that changes as you go through therapy, it changes through your life. And I think that recognizing that it’s okay to have OCD and to have this little thing, I think of like an orange ball with big feet and sunglasses is how I think about it when it’s behaving – it makes it less of an adversarial relationship over time and more like I have an annoying little sibling that, gosh, it’s just not going to ever not be there, but it’s fine. We can live together and live in this uncertainty and be happy anyway.

Kimberley: I just love it. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your experience and your knowledge. It’s so wonderful.

Shala: Thank you so much for having me.

May 13, 2022

SUMMARY: 

In this weeks podcast, we have my dearest friend Shala Nicely talking about how she manages mental compulsions.  In this episode, Shala shares her lived experience with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how she overcomes mental rituals.

In This Episode:

  • How to reduce mental compulsions for OCD and GAD.
  • How to use Flooding Techniques with Mental Compulsions
  • Magical Thinking and Mental Compulsions
  • BDD and Mental Compulsions

Links To Things I Talk About:

Shalanicely.com
Book: Is Fred in the Refridgerator?
Book: Everyday Mindfulness for OCD
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 284.

Welcome back, everybody. We are on the third video or the third part of this six-part series on how to manage mental compulsions. Last week’s episode with Jon Hershfield was bomb, like so good. And I will say that we, this week, have Shala Nicely, and she goes for it as well. So, I am so honored to have these amazing experts talking about mental compulsions, talking about what specific tools they use. 

So, I’m not going to take too much time of the intro this time, because I know you just want to get to the content. Again, I just want to put a disclaimer. This should not replace professional mental health care. This series is for educational purposes only. My job at CBT School is to give you as much education as I can, knowing that you may or may not have access to care or treatment in your own home. So, I’m hoping that this fills in a gap that maybe we’ve missed in the past in terms of we have ERP School, that’s an online course teaching you everything about ERP to get you started if you’re doing that on your own. But this is a bigger topic. This is an area that I’d need to make a complete new course. But instead of making a course, I’m bringing these experts to you for free, hopefully giving you the tools that you need. 

If you’re wanting additional information about ERP School, please go to CBTSchool.com. With that being said, let’s go straight over to this episode with Shala Nicely. 

Managing Mental Compulsions (With Shala Nicely) Your anxiety toolkit

Kimberley: Welcome, Shala. I am so happy to have you here.

Shala: I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Kimberley: Okay. So, I have heard a little bit of your views on this, but I am actually so excited now to get into the juicy details of how you address mental compulsions or mental rituals. First, I want to check in with you, do you call them mental compulsions, rituals, rumination? How do you address them?

Shala: Yeah. All those things. I also sometimes call it mental gymnastics up in your head, it’s all sorts of things you’re doing in your head to try to get some relief from anxiety.

Kimberley: Right. So, if you had a patient or a client who really was struggling with mental compulsions, whether or not they were doing other compulsions as well, how might you address that particular part of their symptomology?

Shala: So, let me answer that by stepping back a little bit and telling you about my own experience with this, because a lot of the way I do it is based on what I learned, trying to manage my own mental rituals. I’ve had OCD probably since I was five or six, untreated until I was 39. Stumbled upon the right treatment when I went to the IOCDF Conference and started doing exposure mostly on my own. I went to Reid Wilson’s two-day group, where I learned how to do it. But the rest of the time, I was implementing on my own. And even though I had quite a few physical compulsions, I would’ve considered myself a primary mental ritualizer, meaning if we look at the majority, my compulsions were up in my head. And the way I think about this is I think that sometimes if you have OCD for long enough, and you’ve got to go out and keep functioning in the world and you can’t do all these rituals so that people could see, because then people will be like, “What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” you take them inward. And some mental compulsions can take the place of physical compulsions that you’re not able to do for whatever reason because you’re trying to function. And I’d had untreated OCD for so long that most of my rituals were up in my head, not all, but the great majority of them. 

 

Exposure & Response Prevention for Mental Compulsions

So, when I started to do exposure, what I found was I could do exposure therapy, straight up going and facing my fears, like going and being around things that might be triggering all I wanted, but I wasn’t necessarily getting better because I wasn’t addressing the mental rituals. So, basically, I’m doing exposure without response prevention or exposure with partial response prevention, which can make things either worse or just neutralize your efforts. So, what I did was I figured out how to be in the presence of triggers and not be up in my head, trying to do analyzing, justifying, figuring it out, replaying the situation with a different ending, all the sorts of things that I would do over and over in my head. And the way I did this was I took something I learned from Jonathan Grayson and his book, Freedom From OCD. I know you’re having him on for this series too. And he talked about doing all this ERP scripting, where you basically write out the worst-case scenario, what you think your OCD thinks is going to happen and you write it in either a worst-case way or an uncertainty-focused way. And what I did was after reading his book, I took that concept and I just shortened it down, and anything that my OCD was afraid of, I would just wrap may or may not surround it. 

So, for instance, an example that I use in Is Fred in the Refrigerator?, my memoir, Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life was that I used to-- when I was walking through stores like Target, if I saw one of those little plastic price tags that had fallen on the ground, if I didn’t pick it up and put it out of harm’s way, I was afraid somebody was going to slip and fall and break their neck. And it would be on some security camera that I just walked on past it and didn’t do anything. So, a typical scrupulosity obsession. And so, going shopping was really hard because I’m cleaning up the store as I’m shopping. And so, what I would do is I would either go to Target, walk past the price tag. And then as I’m just passing the price tag, I would say things. And in Target, I obviously couldn’t do this really out loud, mumble it out loud as best, but I may or may not cause somebody to kill themselves by they’re going to slip and fall on that price tag because I didn’t pick it up. I may or may not be an awful, terrible rotten human being. They may or may not catch me and throw me into jail. I may or may not rot in prison. People may or may not find out what a really bad person I really am. This may or may not be OCD, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. 

And that would allow me to be present with the obsessions, all the what-ifs – those are basically what-ifs turned into ‘may or may nots’ – without compulsing with them, without doing anything that would artificially lower my anxiety. So, it allowed me to be in the presence of those obsessive thoughts while interrupting the pattern of the mental rituals. And that’s really how I use ‘may or may nots’ and how I teach my clients to use ‘may or may nots’ today is using them to really be mindfully present of what the OCD is worried about while not interacting with that content in a way that’s going to make things worse. So, that’s how I developed it for myself. And I think that-- and that is a tool that I would say is an intermediary tool. So, I use that now in my own recovery. I don’t have to use ’may or may nots’. It’s very often at all. If I get super triggered, which doesn’t happen too terribly often, but if I get super triggered and I cannot get out of my head, I’ll use ’may or may nots’. 

But I think the continuum is that you try to do something to interrupt the mental rituals, which for me is the ’may or may nots’. You can also-- people can write down the scripts, they can do a worst-case scenario. But eventually, what you’re trying to get to is you’re trying to be able to hear the OCD, what-ifs in your head and completely ignore it. And I call that my shoulders back, the way of thinking about things. Just put your shoulders back and you move on with your day. You don’t acknowledge it. 

What I’ll do with clients, I’ll say, “If you had the thought of Blue Martian is going to land on my head, I mean, you wouldn’t even do anything with that thought. That thought would just go in and go out and wouldn’t get any of your attention.” That’s the way we want to treat OCD, is just thoughts can be there. I’m not going to say, “Oh, that’s my OCD.” I’m not going to say, “OCD, I’m not talking to you.” I’m not going to acknowledge it at all. I’m just going to treat it like any other weird thought that we have during the day and move on. 

Your question was, how would you help somebody who comes in with mental rituals? Well, first, I want to understand where are they in their OCD recovery? How long have they been doing these mental rituals? What percentage of their compulsions are mental versus physical? What are the kind of things that their OCD is afraid of? Basically, make a list or a hierarchy of everything they’re afraid of. And then we start working on exposure therapy. And when I have them do exposures, the first exposure I do with people, we’ll find something that’s-- I start in the middle of the hierarchy. You don’t have to, but I try. And I will have them face the fear. But then I’ll immediately ask them, what is your OCD saying right now? And they’ll tell me, and I’ll say, “I want you to repeat after me.” I have them do this, and everyone that I see hates this, but I have them do it. Standing up with their shoulders back like Wonder Woman, because this type of power pose helps them. It changes the chemistry of your body and helps you feel more powerful. 

OCD thinks it’s very powerful. So, I want my clients to feel as powerful as they can. So, I have them stand like Wonder Woman and they repeat after me. Somebody could-- let’s just say we are standing near something red on the floor. And I’ll say, “Well, what is your OCD saying right now?” And they’ll say, “Well, that’s blood and it could have AIDS in it, and I’m going to get sick.” I’ll say, “Well, that may or may not be a spot of blood on the floor. I may or may not get sick and I may or may not get AIDS, but I want to do this. I’m going to stay here. OCD, I want to be anxious, so bring it on.” 

And that’s how we do the exposure, is I ask them what’s in their head. I have them repeat it to me until they understand what the process is. And then I’m having them be in the presence of this and just script, script, script away. That’s what I call it scripting, so that they are in the presence of whatever’s bothering them, but they’re not up in their head. And anytime something comes in their head, I teach them to pull it down into the script. Never let something be circulating in your head without saying it out loud and pulling it into the script. 

I will work on this technique with clients as we’re working on exposures, because eventually what we’ll want to do is instead of going all over the place, “That may or may not be blood, I may or may not get AIDS, I may or may not get sick,” I’ll say, “Okay, of all the things you’ve just said, what does your OCD-- what is your OCD scared of the most? Let’s focus on that.” And so, “I may or may not get AIDS. I may or may not get AIDS. I may or may not have HIV. I may or may not get AIDS,” over again until people start to say, “Oh, okay. I guess I don’t have any control over this,” because what we’re trying to do is help the OCD habituate to the uncertainty. Habituate, I know that’d be a confusing word. You don’t have to habituate in order for exposure to work due to the theory of inhibitory learning, but we’re trying to help your brain get used to the uncertainty here.

Kimberley: And break into a different cycle instead of doing the old rumination cycle. 

Shala: Yes. And so then, I’ll teach people to just find their scariest fear. They say that over and over and over again. Then let’s hit the next one. “Well, my family may or may not survive if I die because if I get a fatal disease and I die and my family may or may not be left destitute,” and then over and over. “My family may or may not be left destitute. My family may or may not be left destitute, whatever,” until we’re hitting all the things that could be circulating in your head. 

Now, some people really don’t need to do that scripting because they’re not up in their head that much. But that’s the minority of people. I think most people with OCD are doing something in their head. And a lot of people aren’t aware of what they’re doing because these mental rituals are incredibly subtle at times. And so, as people, as my clients go out and work on these exposures, I’ll have them tell me how it’s going. I have people fill out forms on my website each day as they’re doing exposures so I can see what’s going on. And if they’re not really up in their head and they don’t really need to do the ‘may or may nots’, great. That’s better. In fact, just go do the exposure and go on with your life. If they’re up in their head, then I have them do the ’may or may nots’. And so, that’s how I would start with somebody. 

And so, what I’m trying to do is I’m giving them what I call a bridge tool. Because people who have been mental ritualizing for a long time, I have found it’s virtually impossible to just stop because that’s what your mind is used to doing. And so, what I’m doing is I’m giving them a competing response. And I’m saying here, instead of mental ritualizing, I’d like you to say a bunch of ’may or may nots’ statements while standing up and say them out loud while looking like Wonder Woman. Everybody rolls their eyes like, “Really?” But that’s what we do as a bridge tool. And so, they’ve lifted enough mental weights, so to speak, with this technique that they can hear the OCD and start to disengage and not interact with it at all. Then we move to that technique.

Flooding Techniques for Mental Rumination

Kimberley: Is there a reason why-- and for some of the listeners, they may have learned this before, but is there a reason why you use ’may or may nots’ instead of worst-case scenarios?

Shala: For me, for my personal OCD recovery journey, what I found with worst-case scenario is I got too lost in the content. I remember doing-- I had had a mammogram, it had come back with some abnormal findings. I spent the whole weekend trying to do scripting about what could happen, and I was using worst-case scenario. Well, I end up in the hospital, I end up with breast cancer, I end up dead. And by the end of the weekend, I was completely demoralized. And I’m like, “Well, I don’t bother because I’m going to be dead, because I have breast cancer.” That’s where my mind took it because I’ve had OCD long enough that if I get a really scary and I start and I play around in the content, I’m going to start losing insight and I’m going to start doing depression as a compulsion, which is the blog we did talk about, where you start acting depressed because you’re believing what the OCD says like, “Oh, well, I might as well just give up, I have breast cancer,” and then becoming depressed, and then acting like it’s true. And then that’s reinforcing the whole cycle. 

So, for me, worst-case scenario scripting made things worse. So, when I stayed in the uncertainty realm, the ‘may or may nots’ that helped because I was trying to help my brain understand, “Well, I may or may not have breast cancer. And if I do, I mean, I’ll go to the doctor, I’ll do what I need to do, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now in my head other than what I’m doing.”

Some people like worst-case scenario and it works fine for them. And I think that works too. I mostly use ’may or may nots’ with clients unless they are unable through numbing that they might be doing. If they’re unable to actually feel what they’re saying, because they’re used to turning it over in their head and pulling the anxiety down officially, and so I can’t get a rise out of the OCD because there’s a lot of really little subtle mental compulsions going on, then I’ll insert some worst-case scenario to get the anxiety level up, to help them really feel the fear, and then pull back into ’may or may nots’. But there’s nothing wrong with worst-case scenario. But for me, that was what happened. And I think if you are prone to depression, if you’re prone to losing insight into your OCD when you’ve got a really big one, I think that’s a risk factor for using that particular type of scripting. 

Magical Thinking and Mental Compulsions 

Kimberley: Right. And I found that they may or may not have worked just as well, except the one thing, and I’m actually curious on your opinion on this and I have not had this conversation, is I find that people who have a lot of magical thinking benefit by worst-case scenario, like their jinxing compulsions and so forth, like the fear of saying it means it will happen. So, saying the worst-case is the best exposure. Is that true for you?

Shala: I have not had to use it much on my own magically. I certainly had a lot of magical thinking. Like, if I don’t hit this green light, then somebody’s going to die. But I think the worst-case scenario, I could actually work well in that, because if you use the worst-case scenario, it can make it seem so ridiculous that it helps people let go of it more easily. And I think you can do that with ’may or may nots’ too. I’ll try to encourage people to use the creativity that they have because everybody with OCD has a ton of creativity. And we know that because the OCD shares your brain and it’s certainly the creative stuff

And to one-up the OCD, you use the scripting to be like, “Gosh, I may or may not get some drug-disease and give it to my entire neighborhood. I may or may not kill off an entire section of my county. We may or may not infect the entire state of Georgia. The entire United States may or may not blow up because I got this one disease. So, they may or may not have to eject me off the earth and make me live on Mars because I’m such a bad person.” This ‘may or may not’ is in all this crazy stuff too, because that’s how to win, is to one up the OCD. It thinks that’s scary, let’s go even scarier. But the scary you get, it also gets a little bit ridiculous after a while. And then the whole thing seems to be a little bit ridiculous. So, I think you can still use that worst-case stuff with may or may not.

Kimberley: Right. Okay. So, I mean, I will always sort of-- I know you really well. I’ve always held you so high in my mind in just how resilient and strong you are in doing this. How might you, or how do you help people who feel completely powerless at even addressing this? For you to say it, it sounds very like you’re just doing it and it’s so powerful. But for those who are really struggling with this idea of like, you said, coming out of your head, can you speak to how you address that in session if someone’s really struggling to engage in ’may or may nots’ and so forth?

Shala: Yeah. Well, thank you for the kind words, first off. I think that it’s really common for people with OCD by the time they get to a therapist to feel completely demoralized, especially if they’ve been to multiple therapists before they get to somebody who does ERP. And so, they feel like they’re the victim at the hands of a very cruel abuser that they can’t get away from. And so, they feel beaten down and they don’t know how to get out of their heads. They feel like they’re trapped in this mental prison. They can’t get out. And if somebody is struggling like that, and they’re doing the ’may or may nots’ and the OCD is reacting, which of course, it will, and coming back at them stronger, which I always warn people, this is going to happen. When you start poking at this, the OCD is going to poke back and poke back even harder, because it wants to get you back in line so it can keep you prisoner. 

So, what I’ll often do in those situations, if I see somebody is really feeling like they have been so victimized, that they’re never going to be able to get over this, is the type of script I have them do is more of an empowerment script, which could sound like this: “OCD, I’m not listening to you anymore. I’m not doing what you want. I am strong. I can do this.” And I might add some ’may or may nots’ in there. “And I want to be anxious. Come on, bring it on. You think that’s scary? Give me something else.” 

I know you’re having Reid Wilson on as part of this too. I learned all that “bring it on” type stuff and pushing for the anxiety from him. And I think helping people say that out loud can be really transformative. I’ve seen people just completely break down in tears of sort of, “Oh my gosh, I could do this,” like tears of empowerment from standing up and yelling at their OCD. 

If people like swearing, I also just have them swear at it, like they would really swear at somebody who had been abusing them if they had a chance, because swearing actually can make you feel more powerful too, and I want to use all the tools we can. So, I think scripting comes in a number of forms. It’s all about really taking what’s in your head, turning it into a helpful self-talk and saying it out loud. And the reason out loud is important for any type of scripting is that if you’re saying it in your head, it’s going to get mixed up with all the jumble of mental ruminating that’s going on. And saying it out loud makes it hard for you to ruminate. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard because you’re saying it. Your brain really is only processing one thing at a time. And so, if you’re talking and really paying attention to what you’re saying, it’s much harder to be up in your head spinning this around. 

And so, adding these empowerment scripts in with the ’may or may nots’ helps people both accept the uncertainty and feel like they can do this, feel like they can stand up to the OCD and say, “You’ve beaten me enough. No more. This is my life. I’m not letting you ruin it anymore. I am taking this back. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care what I have to do. I’m going to do this.” And that builds people up enough where they can feel like they can start approaching these exposures.

Kimberley: I love that. I think that is such-- I’ve had that same experience of how powerful empowerment can be in switching that behavior. It’s so important. Now, one thing I really want to ask you is, do you switch this method when you’re dealing with other anxiety disorders – health anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder? What is your approach? Is there a difference or would you say the tools are the same?

Shala: There’s a slight difference between disorders. I think health anxiety, I treat exactly like OCD. Even some of the examples I gave here were really health anxiety statements. With panic disorder-- and again, I learned this from Reid and you can ask him more about this when you interview him. But with pain disorder, it’s all about, I want to feel more shorter breath, more like their elephant standing on my chest. I want my heart to be faster. But I’m doing this while I’m having people do exercises that would actually create those feelings, like breathing through a little bit of cocktail straw, jogging, turning up a space heater, and blowing it on themselves. So, we’re trying to create those symptoms and then talk out loud and say, “Come on, I want more of this. I want to feel more anxious. Give me the worst panic attack you’ve ever had.” So, it’s all about amping up the symptoms. 

With social anxiety, it’s a little bit different because with social anxiety, I would work on the cognitions first. Whereas with OCD, we don’t work on the cognitions at all, other than I want you to have a different cognitive relationship with your disorder and your anxiety. I want you to want the anxiety. I want you to want the OCD to come and bother you because that gives you an opportunity to practice. That’s the cognitive work with OCD. I do not work on the cognitive work on the content. I’m not going to say to somebody, “Well, the chance you’re going to get AIDS from that little spot of blood is very small.” That’s not going to be helpful 

With social anxiety, we’re actually working on those distorted cognitions at the beginning. And so, a lot of the work with social anxiety is going to be going out and testing those new cognitions, which really turns the exposures into what we call behavioral experiments. It’s more of a cognitive method. We’re going out and saying, “Gosh, my new belief, instead of everybody’s judging me, is, well, everybody is probably thinking about themselves and I’m going to go do some things that my social anxiety wouldn’t want me to do and test out that new belief.” I might have them use that new belief, but also if their anxiety gets really high and they’re having a hard time saying, “Well, that person may or may not be judging me. They may or may not be looking at me funny. They may or may not go home and tell people about me.” But really, we’re trying to do something a little bit different with social anxiety.

Kimberley: And what about with generalized anxiety? With the mental, a lot of rumination there, do you have a little shift in how you respond?

Shala: Yeah. So, it’s funny that the talk that Michelle Massi and others gave at IOCDF-- I think it was at IOCDF this year about what’s the difference between OCD and GAD is they’re really aligned there. I mean, I treat GAD very similarly the way I treat OCD in that people are up in their heads trying to do things. They’re also doing other types of safety behaviors, compulsive safety behaviors, but a lot of people GAD are just up in their head. They’re just worried about more “real-life” things. But again, a lot of OCD stuff can be real-life things. I mean, look at COVID. That was real life. And people’s OCD could wrap itself around that. So, I treat GAD and OCD quite similarly. There are some differences, but in terms of scripting, we call it “worry time” in GAD. It’s got a different name, but it’s basically the same thing.

Kimberley: Right. Okay. Thank you for answering that because I know some folks here listening will be not having OCD and will be curious to see how it affects them. So, is that the practice for you or is there anything else you feel like people need to know going in, in terms of like, “Here is my strategy, here is my plan to target mental rituals”? What would you say?

Shala: So, as I mentioned, I think the ’may or may nots’ are bridge tool that are always available to you throughout your entire recovery. My goal with anybody that I’m working with is to help them get to the point where they can just use shoulders back. And the way that I think about this is what I call my “man in the park” metaphor. So, we’ve all probably been in a park where somebody is yelling typically about the end of the world and all that stuff. And even if you were to agree with some of the things that the person might say from a spiritual or religious standpoint, you don’t run home and go, “Oh my gosh, we got to pack all our things up because it’s the end of the world. We have to get with all of our relatives and be together because we’re all going to die.” We don’t do that. We hear what this guy’s saying, and then we go on with our days, again, even if you might agree with some of the content.

Now, why do we do that? We do that because it’s not relevant in our life. We realize that person probably, unfortunately, has some problems. But it doesn’t affect us. We hear it just like when we might hear birds in the background or a car honking, and we just go on with our day. That’s how we want to treat OCD. What we do when we have untreated OCD is we run up to the man in the park and we say, “Oh my gosh, can I have a pamphlet? Let me read the pamphlet. Oh my gosh, you’re right. Tell me more, tell me more.” And we’re interacting with him, trying to get some reassurance that maybe he’s wrong, that maybe he does really mean the end of the world is coming soon. Maybe it’s going to be like in a hundred years. Eventually, we get to the point where we’re handing out pamphlets for him. “Here, everybody, take one of these.”

What we’re doing with ’may or may nots’ is we’re learning how to walk by the man in the park and go, “The world may or may not be ending. The world may or may not be ending. I’m not taking a pamphlet. The world may or may not be ending.” So, we’re trying to not interact with him. We’re trying to take what he’s saying and hold it in our heads without doing something compulsive that’s going to make our anxiety higher. What we’re trying to do is practice that enough till we can get to the point where we can be in the park with the guy and just go on with our day. We hear him speaking, but we’re really-- it’s just not relevant. It’s just not part of our life. So, we just move on. And we’re not trying to shove him away. It’s just like any other noise or sound or activity that you would just-- it doesn’t even register in your consciousness. That’s what we’re trying to do. 

Now I think another way to think about this is if you think-- say you’re in an art gallery. Art galleries are quiet and there are lots of people standing around, and there’s somebody in there that you don’t like or who doesn’t like you or whatever. You’re not going to walk up to that person and tap on their shoulder and say, “Excuse me, I’m going to ignore you.” You’re just going to be like, “I know that person is there. I’m just going to do what I’m doing.” And I think that’s-- I use that to help people understand this transition, because we’re basically going from ’may or may nots’ where we’re saying, “OCD, I’m not letting you do this to me anymore,” so we are being really aggressive with it, to this being able to be in the same space with it, but we’re not talking to it at all because we don’t need to, because we can be in the presence with the intrusive thoughts that the OCD is reacting to, just like the presence of all the other thousands of thoughts we have each day without interacting with them.

Kimberley: That’s so interesting. I’ve never thought of it that way. 

Shala: And so, that’s where I’m trying to get people because that is the strongest, strongest recovery, is if you can go do the things that you want to do, be in the presence of the anxiety and not do compulsions physical or mental, you don’t give anything for OCD to work with. I have a whole chapter in my memoir about this after I heard Reid say at one of the conferences, “We need to act as though what OCD is saying doesn’t matter.” And that was revolutionary to me to hear that. And that’s what we’re trying to do both physically and mentally. Because if you can have an obsession and focus on what you want to focus on, do what you want to do, you’re not giving OCD anything to work with. And typically, it’ll just drain away. But this takes time. I mean, it has taken me years to learn how to do this, but I went untreated for 35 years too. It may not take you years, but it may. And that’s okay. It’s a process. And I think if you have trouble trying to do shoulders back, man in the park, use ’may or may nots’. You can use the combination. But I think we’re trying to get to the point where you can just be with the OCD and hear it flipping out and just go on with your day.

OCD, BDD, and Mental Rituals 

Kimberley: In your book, you talk about the different voices. There is a BDD voice and an OCD voice. Was it harder or easier depending on the voice? Was that a component for you in that-- because the words and the voice sound a little different. I know in your memoir you give them different names and so forth, which if anyone hasn’t read your memoir, they need to go right now and read it. Do you have any thoughts on that in terms of the different voices or the different ways in which the disorders interact?

Shala: That’s a really great question because yes, I think OCD does shift its voice and shift its persona based on how scared it is. So, if it’s a little bit scared, it’s probably going to speak to you. It’s still going to be not a very nice voice. It might be urgent and pleading. But if it’s super scared, I talk about mine being like the triad of hell, how my OCD will personify into different things based on how scared it is. And if it’s super scared and it’s going to get super big and it’s going to get super loud in your head because it’s trying desperately to help you understand you’ve got to save it because it thinks it’s in danger. That’s all its content. Then I think-- and if you have trouble ignoring it because it’s screaming in your head, like the man in the park comes over with his megaphone, puts it right up against your ear and starts talking, that’s hard to ignore. That’s hard to act like that’s not relevant because it hurts. There’s so much noise. 

That’s when you might have to use a may or may not type approach because it’s just so loud, you can’t ignore it, because it’s so scared. And that’s okay. And again, sometimes I’ll have to use that. Not too terribly often just because I’ve spent a long time working on how to use the shoulder’s back, man in the park, but if I have to use it, I use it. And so, I think your thought about how do I interact with the OCD based on how aggressive it’s being also plays into this.

Kimberley: I love all this. I think this is really helpful in terms of being able to be flexible. I know sometimes we want just the one rule that’s going to work in all situations, but I think you’re right. I think that there needs to be different approaches. And would you say it depends on the person? Do you give them some autonomy over finding what works for them, or what would you say? 

Shala: Absolutely. If people are up in their heads and they don’t want to use ’may or may nots’, I’ll try to use some other things. If I really, really think that that’s what we need right now, is we need scripting, I’ll try to sell them on why. But at the end of the day, it’s always my client’s choice and I do it differently based on every client. For some clients, it might be just more empowering statements. For some clients where it’s more panicky focused, it might be more about bringing on your anxiety. Sometimes it might be pulling self-compassion in and just saying the self-compassion statements out loud. So, it really does vary by person. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but I think, I feel that people need to have something to replace the mental ritualizing with at the beginning that they’ve been doing it for a long time, just because otherwise, it’s like, I’m giving them a bicycle, they’ve never ridden a bicycle before and I won’t give them any training wheels. And that’s really, really hard. Some people can do it. I mean, some people can just be like, “Oh, I’m to stop doing that in my head? Okay, well, I’ll stop doing that in my head.” But most people need something to help them bridge that gap to get to the point where they can just be in the presence with it and not be talking to it in their heads.

Kimberley: Amazing. All right. Any final statements from you as we get close to the end?

Shala: I think that it’s important to, as you’re working on this, really think about what you’re doing in your head that might be subtle, that could be making the OCD worse. And I think talking and being willing to talk about this to therapists about putting it all out there, “Hey, I’m saying this to myself in my head, is that helpful or harmful?” Because OCD therapy can be pretty straightforward. I mean, ERP, go out and face your fears, don’t do rituals. It sounds pretty straightforward. But there is a lot of subtlety to this. And the more that you can root out these subtle mental rituals, the better that your recovery is going to be. 

And know too that if you’ve had untreated OCD for a long time, you can uncover mental rituals, little bitty ones, for years after you get out of therapy. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not in recovery. It just means that you are getting more and more insightful and educated about what OCD is. And the more that you can pick those little things out, just the better your recovery will be. But we also don’t want to be perfectionistic about that like, “I must eliminate every single mental ritual that I have or I’m not going to be in a good recovery.” That’s approaching your ERP like OCD would do. And we don’t want to do that. But we do want to be mindful about the subtleties and make sure to try to pull out as many of those subtle things that we might be doing in our heads as possible. 

Kimberley: Amazing. Thank you. Tell us-- again, first, let me just say, such helpful information. And your personal experience, I think, is really validating and helpful to hear on those little nuances. Tell us where people can hear about you and the amazing projects you’ve got going on.

Shala: You can go to ShalaNicely.com and I have lots of free blog posts I’ve written on this. So, there are two blog posts, two pretty extensive blog posts on ’may or may nots’. So, if you go on my website and just search may or may not, it’ll bring up two blog posts about that. If you search on shoulders back or man in the park, you’ll find two blog posts on how to do that technique. I also have a blog post I wrote in the last year or so called Shower Scripting, which is how to do ERP, like just some touch-up scripting in the shower, use that time. So, I would say go to my website and you can find all sorts of free resources. I’ve got two books. You can find on Amazon, Everyday Mindfulness for OCD, Jon Hershfield and I co-wrote. And we talk about ‘may or may nots’ and shoulders back and some of the things in there just briefly. And then my memoir, Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life, is also on Amazon or bookstores, Audible, and that kind of thing. 

Kimberley: I wonder too, if we could-- I’m going to put links to all these in the show note. I remember you having a word with your OCD, a video?

Shala: Oh yes, that’s true.

Kimberley: Can we link that too?

Shala: Yes. And that one I have under my COVID resources, because I’m so glad you brought that up. When the pandemic started, my OCD did not like it, as many people who have contamination OCD can relate to. And it was pretty scary all the time. And it was making me scared all the time. And eventually, I just wrote it a letter and I’m like, “Dude, we’re not doing this anymore.” And I read it out loud and I recorded it out loud so that people could hear how I was talking to it. 

Kimberley: It was so powerful.

Shala: Well, thank you. And it’s fun to do. I think the more that you can personify your OCD, the more you can think of it as an entity that is within you but is not you, and to recognize that your relationship with it will change over time. Sometimes you’re going to be compassionate with it. “Gosh, OCD, I’m so sorry,” You’re scared we’re doing this anyway. Sometimes you’re going to be aggressive with it. Sometimes you just ignore it. And that changes as you go through therapy, it changes through your life. And I think that recognizing that it’s okay to have OCD and to have this little thing, I think of like an orange ball with big feet and sunglasses is how I think about it when it’s behaving – it makes it less of an adversarial relationship over time and more like I have an annoying little sibling that, gosh, it’s just not going to ever not be there, but it’s fine. We can live together and live in this uncertainty and be happy anyway.

Kimberley: I just love it. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your experience and your knowledge. It’s so wonderful.

Shala: Thank you so much for having me.

May 13, 2022

SUMMARY: 

In this weeks podcast, we have my dearest friend Shala Nicely talking about how she manages mental compulsions.  In this episode, Shala shares her lived experience with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how she overcomes mental rituals.

In This Episode:

  • How to reduce mental compulsions for OCD and GAD.
  • How to use Flooding Techniques with Mental Compulsions
  • Magical Thinking and Mental Compulsions
  • BDD and Mental Compulsions

Links To Things I Talk About:

Shalanicely.com
Book: Is Fred in the Refridgerator?
Book: Everyday Mindfulness for OCD
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp

Episode Sponsor:

This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...

If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 284.

Welcome back, everybody. We are on the third video or the third part of this six-part series on how to manage mental compulsions. Last week’s episode with Jon Hershfield was bomb, like so good. And I will say that we, this week, have Shala Nicely, and she goes for it as well. So, I am so honored to have these amazing experts talking about mental compulsions, talking about what specific tools they use. 

So, I’m not going to take too much time of the intro this time, because I know you just want to get to the content. Again, I just want to put a disclaimer. This should not replace professional mental health care. This series is for educational purposes only. My job at CBT School is to give you as much education as I can, knowing that you may or may not have access to care or treatment in your own home. So, I’m hoping that this fills in a gap that maybe we’ve missed in the past in terms of we have ERP School, that’s an online course teaching you everything about ERP to get you started if you’re doing that on your own. But this is a bigger topic. This is an area that I’d need to make a complete new course. But instead of making a course, I’m bringing these experts to you for free, hopefully giving you the tools that you need. 

If you’re wanting additional information about ERP School, please go to CBTSchool.com. With that being said, let’s go straight over to this episode with Shala Nicely. 

Managing Mental Compulsions (With Shala Nicely) Your anxiety toolkit

Kimberley: Welcome, Shala. I am so happy to have you here.

Shala: I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Kimberley: Okay. So, I have heard a little bit of your views on this, but I am actually so excited now to get into the juicy details of how you address mental compulsions or mental rituals. First, I want to check in with you, do you call them mental compulsions, rituals, rumination? How do you address them?

Shala: Yeah. All those things. I also sometimes call it mental gymnastics up in your head, it’s all sorts of things you’re doing in your head to try to get some relief from anxiety.

Kimberley: Right. So, if you had a patient or a client who really was struggling with mental compulsions, whether or not they were doing other compulsions as well, how might you address that particular part of their symptomology?

Shala: So, let me answer that by stepping back a little bit and telling you about my own experience with this, because a lot of the way I do it is based on what I learned, trying to manage my own mental rituals. I’ve had OCD probably since I was five or six, untreated until I was 39. Stumbled upon the right treatment when I went to the IOCDF Conference and started doing exposure mostly on my own. I went to Reid Wilson’s two-day group, where I learned how to do it. But the rest of the time, I was implementing on my own. And even though I had quite a few physical compulsions, I would’ve considered myself a primary mental ritualizer, meaning if we look at the majority, my compulsions were up in my head. And the way I think about this is I think that sometimes if you have OCD for long enough, and you’ve got to go out and keep functioning in the world and you can’t do all these rituals so that people could see, because then people will be like, “What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” you take them inward. And some mental compulsions can take the place of physical compulsions that you’re not able to do for whatever reason because you’re trying to function. And I’d had untreated OCD for so long that most of my rituals were up in my head, not all, but the great majority of them. 

Exposure & Response Prevention for Mental Compulsions

So, when I started to do exposure, what I found was I could do exposure therapy, straight up going and facing my fears, like going and being around things that might be triggering all I wanted, but I wasn’t necessarily getting better because I wasn’t addressing the mental rituals. So, basically, I’m doing exposure without response prevention or exposure with partial response prevention, which can make things either worse or just neutralize your efforts. So, what I did was I figured out how to be in the presence of triggers and not be up in my head, trying to do analyzing, justifying, figuring it out, replaying the situation with a different ending, all the sorts of things that I would do over and over in my head. And the way I did this was I took something I learned from Jonathan Grayson and his book, Freedom From OCD. I know you’re having him on for this series too. And he talked about doing all this ERP scripting, where you basically write out the worst-case scenario, what you think your OCD thinks is going to happen and you write it in either a worst-case way or an uncertainty-focused way. And what I did was after reading his book, I took that concept and I just shortened it down, and anything that my OCD was afraid of, I would just wrap may or may not surround it. 

So, for instance, an example that I use in Is Fred in the Refrigerator?, my memoir, Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life was that I used to-- when I was walking through stores like Target, if I saw one of those little plastic price tags that had fallen on the ground, if I didn’t pick it up and put it out of harm’s way, I was afraid somebody was going to slip and fall and break their neck. And it would be on some security camera that I just walked on past it and didn’t do anything. So, a typical scrupulosity obsession. And so, going shopping was really hard because I’m cleaning up the store as I’m shopping. And so, what I would do is I would either go to Target, walk past the price tag. And then as I’m just passing the price tag, I would say things. And in Target, I obviously couldn’t do this really out loud, mumble it out loud as best, but I may or may not cause somebody to kill themselves by they’re going to slip and fall on that price tag because I didn’t pick it up. I may or may not be an awful, terrible rotten human being. They may or may not catch me and throw me into jail. I may or may not rot in prison. People may or may not find out what a really bad person I really am. This may or may not be OCD, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. 

And that would allow me to be present with the obsessions, all the what-ifs – those are basically what-ifs turned into ‘may or may nots’ – without compulsing with them, without doing anything that would artificially lower my anxiety. So, it allowed me to be in the presence of those obsessive thoughts while interrupting the pattern of the mental rituals. And that’s really how I use ‘may or may nots’ and how I teach my clients to use ‘may or may nots’ today is using them to really be mindfully present of what the OCD is worried about while not interacting with that content in a way that’s going to make things worse. So, that’s how I developed it for myself. And I think that-- and that is a tool that I would say is an intermediary tool. So, I use that now in my own recovery. I don’t have to use ’may or may nots’. It’s very often at all. If I get super triggered, which doesn’t happen too terribly often, but if I get super triggered and I cannot get out of my head, I’ll use ’may or may nots’. 

But I think the continuum is that you try to do something to interrupt the mental rituals, which for me is the ’may or may nots’. You can also-- people can write down the scripts, they can do a worst-case scenario. But eventually, what you’re trying to get to is you’re trying to be able to hear the OCD, what-ifs in your head and completely ignore it. And I call that my shoulders back, the way of thinking about things. Just put your shoulders back and you move on with your day. You don’t acknowledge it. 

What I’ll do with clients, I’ll say, “If you had the thought of Blue Martian is going to land on my head, I mean, you wouldn’t even do anything with that thought. That thought would just go in and go out and wouldn’t get any of your attention.” That’s the way we want to treat OCD, is just thoughts can be there. I’m not going to say, “Oh, that’s my OCD.” I’m not going to say, “OCD, I’m not talking to you.” I’m not going to acknowledge it at all. I’m just going to treat it like any other weird thought that we have during the day and move on. 

Your question was, how would you help somebody who comes in with mental rituals? Well, first, I want to understand where are they in their OCD recovery? How long have they been doing these mental rituals? What percentage of their compulsions are mental versus physical? What are the kind of things that their OCD is afraid of? Basically, make a list or a hierarchy of everything they’re afraid of. And then we start working on exposure therapy. And when I have them do exposures, the first exposure I do with people, we’ll find something that’s-- I start in the middle of the hierarchy. You don’t have to, but I try. And I will have them face the fear. But then I’ll immediately ask them, what is your OCD saying right now? And they’ll tell me, and I’ll say, “I want you to repeat after me.” I have them do this, and everyone that I see hates this, but I have them do it. Standing up with their shoulders back like Wonder Woman, because this type of power pose helps them. It changes the chemistry of your body and helps you feel more powerful. 

OCD thinks it’s very powerful. So, I want my clients to feel as powerful as they can. So, I have them stand like Wonder Woman and they repeat after me. Somebody could-- let’s just say we are standing near something red on the floor. And I’ll say, “Well, what is your OCD saying right now?” And they’ll say, “Well, that’s blood and it could have AIDS in it, and I’m going to get sick.” I’ll say, “Well, that may or may not be a spot of blood on the floor. I may or may not get sick and I may or may not get AIDS, but I want to do this. I’m going to stay here. OCD, I want to be anxious, so bring it on.” 

And that’s how we do the exposure, is I ask them what’s in their head. I have them repeat it to me until they understand what the process is. And then I’m having them be in the presence of this and just script, script, script away. That’s what I call it scripting, so that they are in the presence of whatever’s bothering them, but they’re not up in their head. And anytime something comes in their head, I teach them to pull it down into the script. Never let something be circulating in your head without saying it out loud and pulling it into the script. 

I will work on this technique with clients as we’re working on exposures, because eventually what we’ll want to do is instead of going all over the place, “That may or may not be blood, I may or may not get AIDS, I may or may not get sick,” I’ll say, “Okay, of all the things you’ve just said, what does your OCD-- what is your OCD scared of the most? Let’s focus on that.” And so, “I may or may not get AIDS. I may or may not get AIDS. I may or may not have HIV. I may or may not get AIDS,” over again until people start to say, “Oh, okay. I guess I don’t have any control over this,” because what we’re trying to do is help the OCD habituate to the uncertainty. Habituate, I know that’d be a confusing word. You don’t have to habituate in order for exposure to work due to the theory of inhibitory learning, but we’re trying to help your brain get used to the uncertainty here.

Kimberley: And break into a different cycle instead of doing the old rumination cycle. 

Shala: Yes. And so then, I’ll teach people to just find their scariest fear. They say that over and over and over again. Then let’s hit the next one. “Well, my family may or may not survive if I die because if I get a fatal disease and I die and my family may or may not be left destitute,” and then over and over. “My family may or may not be left destitute. My family may or may not be left destitute, whatever,” until we’re hitting all the things that could be circulating in your head. 

Now, some people really don’t need to do that scripting because they’re not up in their head that much. But that’s the minority of people. I think most people with OCD are doing something in their head. And a lot of people aren’t aware of what they’re doing because these mental rituals are incredibly subtle at times. And so, as people, as my clients go out and work on these exposures, I’ll have them tell me how it’s going. I have people fill out forms on my website each day as they’re doing exposures so I can see what’s going on. And if they’re not really up in their head and they don’t really need to do the ‘may or may nots’, great. That’s better. In fact, just go do the exposure and go on with your life. If they’re up in their head, then I have them do the ’may or may nots’. And so, that’s how I would start with somebody. 

And so, what I’m trying to do is I’m giving them what I call a bridge tool. Because people who have been mental ritualizing for a long time, I have found it’s virtually impossible to just stop because that’s what your mind is used to doing. And so, what I’m doing is I’m giving them a competing response. And I’m saying here, instead of mental ritualizing, I’d like you to say a bunch of ’may or may nots’ statements while standing up and say them out loud while looking like Wonder Woman. Everybody rolls their eyes like, “Really?” But that’s what we do as a bridge tool. And so, they’ve lifted enough mental weights, so to speak, with this technique that they can hear the OCD and start to disengage and not interact with it at all. Then we move to that technique.

Flooding Techniques for Mental Rumination

Kimberley: Is there a reason why-- and for some of the listeners, they may have learned this before, but is there a reason why you use ’may or may nots’ instead of worst-case scenarios?

Shala: For me, for my personal OCD recovery journey, what I found with worst-case scenario is I got too lost in the content. I remember doing-- I had had a mammogram, it had come back with some abnormal findings. I spent the whole weekend trying to do scripting about what could happen, and I was using worst-case scenario. Well, I end up in the hospital, I end up with breast cancer, I end up dead. And by the end of the weekend, I was completely demoralized. And I’m like, “Well, I don’t bother because I’m going to be dead, because I have breast cancer.” That’s where my mind took it because I’ve had OCD long enough that if I get a really scary and I start and I play around in the content, I’m going to start losing insight and I’m going to start doing depression as a compulsion, which is the blog we did talk about, where you start acting depressed because you’re believing what the OCD says like, “Oh, well, I might as well just give up, I have breast cancer,” and then becoming depressed, and then acting like it’s true. And then that’s reinforcing the whole cycle. 

So, for me, worst-case scenario scripting made things worse. So, when I stayed in the uncertainty realm, the ‘may or may nots’ that helped because I was trying to help my brain understand, “Well, I may or may not have breast cancer. And if I do, I mean, I’ll go to the doctor, I’ll do what I need to do, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now in my head other than what I’m doing.”

Some people like worst-case scenario and it works fine for them. And I think that works too. I mostly use ’may or may nots’ with clients unless they are unable through numbing that they might be doing. If they’re unable to actually feel what they’re saying, because they’re used to turning it over in their head and pulling the anxiety down officially, and so I can’t get a rise out of the OCD because there’s a lot of really little subtle mental compulsions going on, then I’ll insert some worst-case scenario to get the anxiety level up, to help them really feel the fear, and then pull back into ’may or may nots’. But there’s nothing wrong with worst-case scenario. But for me, that was what happened. And I think if you are prone to depression, if you’re prone to losing insight into your OCD when you’ve got a really big one, I think that’s a risk factor for using that particular type of scripting. 

Magical Thinking and Mental Compulsions 

Kimberley: Right. And I found that they may or may not have worked just as well, except the one thing, and I’m actually curious on your opinion on this and I have not had this conversation, is I find that people who have a lot of magical thinking benefit by worst-case scenario, like their jinxing compulsions and so forth, like the fear of saying it means it will happen. So, saying the worst-case is the best exposure. Is that true for you?

Shala: I have not had to use it much on my own magically. I certainly had a lot of magical thinking. Like, if I don’t hit this green light, then somebody’s going to die. But I think the worst-case scenario, I could actually work well in that, because if you use the worst-case scenario, it can make it seem so ridiculous that it helps people let go of it more easily. And I think you can do that with ’may or may nots’ too. I’ll try to encourage people to use the creativity that they have because everybody with OCD has a ton of creativity. And we know that because the OCD shares your brain and it’s certainly the creative stuff

And to one-up the OCD, you use the scripting to be like, “Gosh, I may or may not get some drug-disease and give it to my entire neighborhood. I may or may not kill off an entire section of my county. We may or may not infect the entire state of Georgia. The entire United States may or may not blow up because I got this one disease. So, they may or may not have to eject me off the earth and make me live on Mars because I’m such a bad person.” This ‘may or may not’ is in all this crazy stuff too, because that’s how to win, is to one up the OCD. It thinks that’s scary, let’s go even scarier. But the scary you get, it also gets a little bit ridiculous after a while. And then the whole thing seems to be a little bit ridiculous. So, I think you can still use that worst-case stuff with may or may not.

Kimberley: Right. Okay. So, I mean, I will always sort of-- I know you really well. I’ve always held you so high in my mind in just how resilient and strong you are in doing this. How might you, or how do you help people who feel completely powerless at even addressing this? For you to say it, it sounds very like you’re just doing it and it’s so powerful. But for those who are really struggling with this idea of like, you said, coming out of your head, can you speak to how you address that in session if someone’s really struggling to engage in ’may or may nots’ and so forth?

Shala: Yeah. Well, thank you for the kind words, first off. I think that it’s really common for people with OCD by the time they get to a therapist to feel completely demoralized, especially if they’ve been to multiple therapists before they get to somebody who does ERP. And so, they feel like they’re the victim at the hands of a very cruel abuser that they can’t get away from. And so, they feel beaten down and they don’t know how to get out of their heads. They feel like they’re trapped in this mental prison. They can’t get out. And if somebody is struggling like that, and they’re doing the ’may or may nots’ and the OCD is reacting, which of course, it will, and coming back at them stronger, which I always warn people, this is going to happen. When you start poking at this, the OCD is going to poke back and poke back even harder, because it wants to get you back in line so it can keep you prisoner. 

So, what I’ll often do in those situations, if I see somebody is really feeling like they have been so victimized, that they’re never going to be able to get over this, is the type of script I have them do is more of an empowerment script, which could sound like this: “OCD, I’m not listening to you anymore. I’m not doing what you want. I am strong. I can do this.” And I might add some ’may or may nots’ in there. “And I want to be anxious. Come on, bring it on. You think that’s scary? Give me something else.” 

I know you’re having Reid Wilson on as part of this too. I learned all that “bring it on” type stuff and pushing for the anxiety from him. And I think helping people say that out loud can be really transformative. I’ve seen people just completely break down in tears of sort of, “Oh my gosh, I could do this,” like tears of empowerment from standing up and yelling at their OCD. 

If people like swearing, I also just have them swear at it, like they would really swear at somebody who had been abusing them if they had a chance, because swearing actually can make you feel more powerful too, and I want to use all the tools we can. So, I think scripting comes in a number of forms. It’s all about really taking what’s in your head, turning it into a helpful self-talk and saying it out loud. And the reason out loud is important for any type of scripting is that if you’re saying it in your head, it’s going to get mixed up with all the jumble of mental ruminating that’s going on. And saying it out loud makes it hard for you to ruminate. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard because you’re saying it. Your brain really is only processing one thing at a time. And so, if you’re talking and really paying attention to what you’re saying, it’s much harder to be up in your head spinning this around. 

And so, adding these empowerment scripts in with the ’may or may nots’ helps people both accept the uncertainty and feel like they can do this, feel like they can stand up to the OCD and say, “You’ve beaten me enough. No more. This is my life. I’m not letting you ruin it anymore. I am taking this back. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care what I have to do. I’m going to do this.” And that builds people up enough where they can feel like they can start approaching these exposures.

Kimberley: I love that. I think that is such-- I’ve had that same experience of how powerful empowerment can be in switching that behavior. It’s so important. Now, one thing I really want to ask you is, do you switch this method when you’re dealing with other anxiety disorders – health anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder? What is your approach? Is there a difference or would you say the tools are the same?

Shala: There’s a slight difference between disorders. I think health anxiety, I treat exactly like OCD. Even some of the examples I gave here were really health anxiety statements. With panic disorder-- and again, I learned this from Reid and you can ask him more about this when you interview him. But with pain disorder, it’s all about, I want to feel more shorter breath, more like their elephant standing on my chest. I want my heart to be faster. But I’m doing this while I’m having people do exercises that would actually create those feelings, like breathing through a little bit of cocktail straw, jogging, turning up a space heater, and blowing it on themselves. So, we’re trying to create those symptoms and then talk out loud and say, “Come on, I want more of this. I want to feel more anxious. Give me the worst panic attack you’ve ever had.” So, it’s all about amping up the symptoms. 

With social anxiety, it’s a little bit different because with social anxiety, I would work on the cognitions first. Whereas with OCD, we don’t work on the cognitions at all, other than I want you to have a different cognitive relationship with your disorder and your anxiety. I want you to want the anxiety. I want you to want the OCD to come and bother you because that gives you an opportunity to practice. That’s the cognitive work with OCD. I do not work on the cognitive work on the content. I’m not going to say to somebody, “Well, the chance you’re going to get AIDS from that little spot of blood is very small.” That’s not going to be helpful 

With social anxiety, we’re actually working on those distorted cognitions at the beginning. And so, a lot of the work with social anxiety is going to be going out and testing those new cognitions, which really turns the exposures into what we call behavioral experiments. It’s more of a cognitive method. We’re going out and saying, “Gosh, my new belief, instead of everybody’s judging me, is, well, everybody is probably thinking about themselves and I’m going to go do some things that my social anxiety wouldn’t want me to do and test out that new belief.” I might have them use that new belief, but also if their anxiety gets really high and they’re having a hard time saying, “Well, that person may or may not be judging me. They may or may not be looking at me funny. They may or may not go home and tell people about me.” But really, we’re trying to do something a little bit different with social anxiety.

Kimberley: And what about with generalized anxiety? With the mental, a lot of rumination there, do you have a little shift in how you respond?

Shala: Yeah. So, it’s funny that the talk that Michelle Massi and others gave at IOCDF-- I think it was at IOCDF this year about what’s the difference between OCD and GAD is they’re really aligned there. I mean, I treat GAD very similarly the way I treat OCD in that people are up in their heads trying to do things. They’re also doing other types of safety behaviors, compulsive safety behaviors, but a lot of people GAD are just up in their head. They’re just worried about more “real-life” things. But again, a lot of OCD stuff can be real-life things. I mean, look at COVID. That was real life. And people’s OCD could wrap itself around that. So, I treat GAD and OCD quite similarly. There are some differences, but in terms of scripting, we call it “worry time” in GAD. It’s got a different name, but it’s basically the same thing.

Kimberley: Right. Okay. Thank you for answering that because I know some folks here listening will be not having OCD and will be curious to see how it affects them. So, is that the practice for you or is there anything else you feel like people need to know going in, in terms of like, “Here is my strategy, here is my plan to target mental rituals”? What would you say?

Shala: So, as I mentioned, I think the ’may or may nots’ are bridge tool that are always available to you throughout your entire recovery. My goal with anybody that I’m working with is to help them get to the point where they can just use shoulders back. And the way that I think about this is what I call my “man in the park” metaphor. So, we’ve all probably been in a park where somebody is yelling typically about the end of the world and all that stuff. And even if you were to agree with some of the things that the person might say from a spiritual or religious standpoint, you don’t run home and go, “Oh my gosh, we got to pack all our things up because it’s the end of the world. We have to get with all of our relatives and be together because we’re all going to die.” We don’t do that. We hear what this guy’s saying, and then we go on with our days, again, even if you might agree with some of the content.

Now, why do we do that? We do that because it’s not relevant in our life. We realize that person probably, unfortunately, has some problems. But it doesn’t affect us. We hear it just like when we might hear birds in the background or a car honking, and we just go on with our day. That’s how we want to treat OCD. What we do when we have untreated OCD is we run up to the man in the park and we say, “Oh my gosh, can I have a pamphlet? Let me read the pamphlet. Oh my gosh, you’re right. Tell me more, tell me more.” And we’re interacting with him, trying to get some reassurance that maybe he’s wrong, that maybe he does really mean the end of the world is coming soon. Maybe it’s going to be like in a hundred years. Eventually, we get to the point where we’re handing out pamphlets for him. “Here, everybody, take one of these.”

What we’re doing with ’may or may nots’ is we’re learning how to walk by the man in the park and go, “The world may or may not be ending. The world may or may not be ending. I’m not taking a pamphlet. The world may or may not be ending.” So, we’re trying to not interact with him. We’re trying to take what he’s saying and hold it in our heads without doing something compulsive that’s going to make our anxiety higher. What we’re trying to do is practice that enough till we can get to the point where we can be in the park with the guy and just go on with our day. We hear him speaking, but we’re really-- it’s just not relevant. It’s just not part of our life. So, we just move on. And we’re not trying to shove him away. It’s just like any other noise or sound or activity that you would just-- it doesn’t even register in your consciousness. That’s what we’re trying to do. 

Now I think another way to think about this is if you think-- say you’re in an art gallery. Art galleries are quiet and there are lots of people standing around, and there’s somebody in there that you don’t like or who doesn’t like you or whatever. You’re not going to walk up to that person and tap on their shoulder and say, “Excuse me, I’m going to ignore you.” You’re just going to be like, “I know that person is there. I’m just going to do what I’m doing.” And I think that’s-- I use that to help people understand this transition, because we’re basically going from ’may or may nots’ where we’re saying, “OCD, I’m not letting you do this to me anymore,” so we are being really aggressive with it, to this being able to be in the same space with it, but we’re not talking to it at all because we don’t need to, because we can be in the presence with the intrusive thoughts that the OCD is reacting to, just like the presence of all the other thousands of thoughts we have each day without interacting with them.

Kimberley: That’s so interesting. I’ve never thought of it that way. 

Shala: And so, that’s where I’m trying to get people because that is the strongest, strongest recovery, is if you can go do the things that you want to do, be in the presence of the anxiety and not do compulsions physical or mental, you don’t give anything for OCD to work with. I have a whole chapter in my memoir about this after I heard Reid say at one of the conferences, “We need to act as though what OCD is saying doesn’t matter.” And that was revolutionary to me to hear that. And that’s what we’re trying to do both physically and mentally. Because if you can have an obsession and focus on what you want to focus on, do what you want to do, you’re not giving OCD anything to work with. And typically, it’ll just drain away. But this takes time. I mean, it has taken me years to learn how to do this, but I went untreated for 35 years too. It may not take you years, but it may. And that’s okay. It’s a process. And I think if you have trouble trying to do shoulders back, man in the park, use ’may or may nots’. You can use the combination. But I think we’re trying to get to the point where you can just be with the OCD and hear it flipping out and just go on with your day.

OCD, BDD, and Mental Rituals 

Kimberley: In your book, you talk about the different voices. There is a BDD voice and an OCD voice. Was it harder or easier depending on the voice? Was that a component for you in that-- because the words and the voice sound a little different. I know in your memoir you give them different names and so forth, which if anyone hasn’t read your memoir, they need to go right now and read it. Do you have any thoughts on that in terms of the different voices or the different ways in which the disorders interact?

Shala: That’s a really great question because yes, I think OCD does shift its voice and shift its persona based on how scared it is. So, if it’s a little bit scared, it’s probably going to speak to you. It’s still going to be not a very nice voice. It might be urgent and pleading. But if it’s super scared, I talk about mine being like the triad of hell, how my OCD will personify into different things based on how scared it is. And if it’s super scared and it’s going to get super big and it’s going to get super loud in your head because it’s trying desperately to help you understand you’ve got to save it because it thinks it’s in danger. That’s all its content. Then I think-- and if you have trouble ignoring it because it’s screaming in your head, like the man in the park comes over with his megaphone, puts it right up against your ear and starts talking, that’s hard to ignore. That’s hard to act like that’s not relevant because it hurts. There’s so much noise. 

That’s when you might have to use a may or may not type approach because it’s just so loud, you can’t ignore it, because it’s so scared. And that’s okay. And again, sometimes I’ll have to use that. Not too terribly often just because I’ve spent a long time working on how to use the shoulder’s back, man in the park, but if I have to use it, I use it. And so, I think your thought about how do I interact with the OCD based on how aggressive it’s being also plays into this.

Kimberley: I love all this. I think this is really helpful in terms of being able to be flexible. I know sometimes we want just the one rule that’s going to work in all situations, but I think you’re right. I think that there needs to be different approaches. And would you say it depends on the person? Do you give them some autonomy over finding what works for them, or what would you say? 

Shala: Absolutely. If people are up in their heads and they don’t want to use ’may or may nots’, I’ll try to use some other things. If I really, really think that that’s what we need right now, is we need scripting, I’ll try to sell them on why. But at the end of the day, it’s always my client’s choice and I do it differently based on every client. For some clients, it might be just more empowering statements. For some clients where it’s more panicky focused, it might be more about bringing on your anxiety. Sometimes it might be pulling self-compassion in and just saying the self-compassion statements out loud. So, it really does vary by person. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but I think, I feel that people need to have something to replace the mental ritualizing with at the beginning that they’ve been doing it for a long time, just because otherwise, it’s like, I’m giving them a bicycle, they’ve never ridden a bicycle before and I won’t give them any training wheels. And that’s really, really hard. Some people can do it. I mean, some people can just be like, “Oh, I’m to stop doing that in my head? Okay, well, I’ll stop doing that in my head.” But most people need something to help them bridge that gap to get to the point where they can just be in the presence with it and not be talking to it in their heads.

Kimberley: Amazing. All right. Any final statements from you as we get close to the end?

Shala: I think that it’s important to, as you’re working on this, really think about what you’re doing in your head that might be subtle, that could be making the OCD worse. And I think talking and being willing to talk about this to therapists about putting it all out there, “Hey, I’m saying this to myself in my head, is that helpful or harmful?” Because OCD therapy can be pretty straightforward. I mean, ERP, go out and face your fears, don’t do rituals. It sounds pretty straightforward. But there is a lot of subtlety to this. And the more that you can root out these subtle mental rituals, the better that your recovery is going to be. 

And know too that if you’ve had untreated OCD for a long time, you can uncover mental rituals, little bitty ones, for years after you get out of therapy. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not in recovery. It just means that you are getting more and more insightful and educated about what OCD is. And the more that you can pick those little things out, just the better your recovery will be. But we also don’t want to be perfectionistic about that like, “I must eliminate every single mental ritual that I have or I’m not going to be in a good recovery.” That’s approaching your ERP like OCD would do. And we don’t want to do that. But we do want to be mindful about the subtleties and make sure to try to pull out as many of those subtle things that we might be doing in our heads as possible. 

Kimberley: Amazing. Thank you. Tell us-- again, first, let me just say, such helpful information. And your personal experience, I think, is really validating and helpful to hear on those little nuances. Tell us where people can hear about you and the amazing projects you’ve got going on.

Shala: You can go to ShalaNicely.com and I have lots of free blog posts I’ve written on this. So, there are two blog posts, two pretty extensive blog posts on ’may or may nots’. So, if you go on my website and just search may or may not, it’ll bring up two blog posts about that. If you search on shoulders back or man in the park, you’ll find two blog posts on how to do that technique. I also have a blog post I wrote in the last year or so called Shower Scripting, which is how to do ERP, like just some touch-up scripting in the shower, use that time. So, I would say go to my website and you can find all sorts of free resources. I’ve got two books. You can find on Amazon, Everyday Mindfulness for OCD, Jon Hershfield and I co-wrote. And we talk about ‘may or may nots’ and shoulders back and some of the things in there just briefly. And then my memoir, Is Fred in the Refrigerator?: Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life, is also on Amazon or bookstores, Audible, and that kind of thing. 

Kimberley: I wonder too, if we could-- I’m going to put links to all these in the show note. I remember you having a word with your OCD, a video?

Shala: Oh yes, that’s true.

Kimberley: Can we link that too?

Shala: Yes. And that one I have under my COVID resources, because I’m so glad you brought that up. When the pandemic started, my OCD did not like it, as many people who have contamination OCD can relate to. And it was pretty scary all the time. And it was making me scared all the time. And eventually, I just wrote it a letter and I’m like, “Dude, we’re not doing this anymore.” And I read it out loud and I recorded it out loud so that people could hear how I was talking to it. 

Kimberley: It was so powerful.

Shala: Well, thank you. And it’s fun to do. I think the more that you can personify your OCD, the more you can think of it as an entity that is within you but is not you, and to recognize that your relationship with it will change over time. Sometimes you’re going to be compassionate with it. “Gosh, OCD, I’m so sorry,” You’re scared we’re doing this anyway. Sometimes you’re going to be aggressive with it. Sometimes you just ignore it. And that changes as you go through therapy, it changes through your life. And I think that recognizing that it’s okay to have OCD and to have this little thing, I think of like an orange ball with big feet and sunglasses is how I think about it when it’s behaving – it makes it less of an adversarial relationship over time and more like I have an annoying little sibling that, gosh, it’s just not going to ever not be there, but it’s fine. We can live together and live in this uncertainty and be happy anyway.

Kimberley: I just love it. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your experience and your knowledge. It’s so wonderful.

Shala: Thank you so much for having me.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Next » 11