Selfhelp for obsessive thinking that isn't typical OCD
August 25, 2015 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Hi everyone, You've all been so helpful with giving me advice and support through my various anxieties and life stressors. I've reluctantly acknowledged today that I haven't cracked my problems with obsessive thinking. I'd love to try working through a self-help workbook, but need one that doesn't focus on a stereotypical idea of what OCD is. Can you help?

A lot of books and worksheets etc seem to address the kind of OCD where you have random concerns about cleanliness or unwanted sexual thoughts etc. Mine are more that I have a real-life anxiety, but that I am exhibiting signs of obsessive thinking like reassurance-seeking.

I'm checking social media and newspapers all the time to see if there are updates on a policy/situation that massively affects my family and life. The amount of information I can get from a newspaper is never going to give me any certainty, we're doing all we can to address the situation and are getting professional help and advice, so all I am doing with this obsessive checking is making my anxiety worse. I hope that makes sense. Does anyone know of a book/podcast/lecture/website that could help me address this?

It's made me really disappointed in myself to know that this behaviour and these thought processes have returned :-( I had a wonderful Cognitive Analytic Therapist but I can't afford to see her unfortunately. I have previously found CAT more helpful than CBT.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I guess my big question to you is if you are always checking for updates on things all the time or if this is linked to this one issue. That may give some guidance.

When you're trying to get rid of an unwanted behavior, the best thing to do is to substitute another behavior. Can you try doing other things, like maybe just sitting and breathing when you feel the urge for updates?

You can also use software to block certain websites or even the whole Internet if that would help.

Good luck!
posted by mermaidcafe at 2:25 PM on August 25, 2015

I really like the Feeling Good handbook - definitely addresses the use case of obsessing over an eventuality you can't control.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:37 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks :-) Just to clarify in case others are wondering. In this case it is checking for update, but I pretty much face any issue in my life by doing an awful lot of internet reading on it. In the past it has been 'cyberchondria' and this is also resurfacing. So it's my means of reacting to the situation that I'm specifically concerned about. I know I can't change the stressful situation but I want to be as mentally strong as I can in my response to it, and not drive my partner mad with reassurance-seeking when he is facing the problems too. Hope that makes sense.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 2:39 PM on August 25, 2015

Margaret Werenberg's book The ten best anxiety management techniques has lots of good information especially about seeking reassurance and how that creates a vicious circle of needing more reassurance. Very brain based and practical.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:24 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does the checking behaviour relieve your worry, even temporarily? You refer to it as reassurance seeking, but you also mention it is making your anxiety worse. I am wondering if your checking of social media etc. is more like a manifestation of rumination/worrying than like an OCD checking ritual. If that's the case you might want to check out resources more related to worry/generalised anxiety. One example is this workbook on worry - particularly focussing on challenging your beliefs about the uncontrollability of your worry, and increasing your ability to focus on something else. It's not clear from your post how reasonable your worries are (how likely is the feared outcome, and how disasterous the feared outcome is) but if you have reasonable fears you might also benefit from more general stress reduction techniques.
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:36 PM on August 25, 2015

I look at it this way: the obsessive
Checking is your way of "doing something about" the problem. You cant ACTUALLY do anything but searching FEELS like something. Maybe look into ACT -acceptance and
Commitment therapy. It has been helpful for me with addressing certain anxieties.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 4:44 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

A big part of it is learning to tolerate the discomfort of not-checking long enough to get past that discomfort and doing it often enough to train your brain that you'll be okay without that behaviour. I've used the Self-Control app to help get me off various websites when I've needed to. But I still wrestle with a variety of anxiety-related issues. I wish I had better advice. And I can really offer is my heart-felt hope that you find one or more tools that help you learn to tolerate the discomfort until it's no longer such a big burden. And then be sure and share 'em with us. :-) Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:49 PM on August 25, 2015

OCD used to be categorized as a kind of anxiety disorder, but in the latest version of the diagnostic manual psychologists use (DSM5), it is treated as a separate disorder.

While the stereotype of a person with OCD might be someone who washes his hands or endlessly flips light switches, the description the the disorder in the DSM makes *no* reference to the content of the obsessions.

To summarize, someone with OCD experiences persistent and intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety and attempts to control these thoughts by engaging in repetitive behaviors that the person feels compelled to perform. These compulsions are excessive or unrelated to the anxious thought.

So understood, what you describe may be a form of OCD: you have obsession with Issue, and your excessive internet searching about Issue is your compulsion. Of course, I'm not attempting to diagnose you here; I'm just pointing out that you could have OCD without satisfying some stereotype you might have about the disorder.

Take away: you will probably benefit from any of the standard books about treating OCD.

One common way of treating your specific problem would be to encourage you to indulge your obsession., i.e., experience anxious thoughts about Issue without allowing yourself to try and mitigate that anxiety with your compulsion, i.e., internet searching. Instead, you would sit with the anxiety until it no longer has a hold on you.
posted by girl flaneur at 7:04 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding that you check out ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy).

It's made me really disappointed in myself to know that this behaviour and these thought processes have returned :-(

Also perhaps something emphasizing self-acceptance (which, actually, is part of ACT). Other than the basic anxiety you've got anxiety about the anxiety so to speak. This goes nowhere good fast and you end up flailing around anxiously trying to fix a problem (the anxiety/OCD/whatever) that is maybe best dealt with differently (sitting with the anxiety rather than trying to fix it through treatment or alleviating it through compulsively checking the internet).
posted by the lake is above, the water below at 9:38 PM on August 25, 2015

I would strongly, strongly urge meditation. People here have mentioned self-acceptance, indulging the obsession (or, at any rate, allowing it to be without intervening -- indulging seems to imply buying into it), "learning to tolerate," "acceptance and committment" etc. These are all great ideas, and truly effective. But ideas won't solve your problem, which is a habitual pattern of behavior. More books or podcasts won't solve your problem. Only some kind of practice will. How do you "tolerate?" How do you "accept and commit?" How do you get space around your pattern? Meditation is a practice that offers those kinds of results.

A daily practice of mindfulness meditation -- 10 minutes, morning and evening -- is a great way to establish the kind of foundational "view" that permits anxiety patterns -- even powerful and deeply-ingrained anxiety behaviors -- to arise and dissipate on their own, without your active intervention. I know this from my own experience -- not only in dealing with my anxiety -- but in seeing clearly how this mechanism would be effective in addressing any non-psychotic situation of anxiety. That's why I can recommend it without claiming to have any specific insight into you or your situation.

There are good resources online for how to do it, but the important thing is to do it every day without fail (perfect for OCD!) -- not, say, once a week at "group meditation" (although group meditation is also great). However, it's also important to do it correctly. It's not about breathing to calm down. It's not about getting rid of your thoughts. Meditation is about penetrating the cloud of anxiety -- thought and sensation -- and actually experiencing its insubstantiality by seeing it clearly, nonjudgementally, and with acceptance. As you start to see more clearly, the anxiety will naturally lessen in intensity, and you will naturally strengthen in your ability to remain undisturbed by its emergence when it does appear, and less prone to reactively pursue the behaviors it seems to compel (checking the internet for disasters or whatever it may be). The basic orientation is one of a scientist -- welcoming the pattern of thought and sensation, observing its arising and its passing, taking an interest in it, but not engaging it or "believing" it. But even in the very early stages of meditation, before this type of investigation becomes possible (because the OCD is still too powerful), the meditation will work subtly to undermine the system, and offer some relief and freedom around it.

If it seems odd that a practice of sitting still and, say, counting the breath (one popular method) would have this kind of effect, all I can say is, it seemed odd to me, too, when I started. But now it seems completely obvious. I wish I'd started earlier in my life. Feel free to message me if you'd like more info on my own practice, but the basic practice is very simple and there are excellent resources online for getting started. Good luck!
posted by haricotvert at 8:27 AM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

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