Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Meditation May Help
There is no single approach to treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but many people find relief through meditation.
If you haven’t tried meditating to help manage your obsessive thoughts and actions, now is a great time to familiarize yourself with the basic technique. Although meditation has been around for thousands of years, it has recently received a resurgence of mainstream attention thanks to popular apps like Headspace and Calm.
The holistic treatment is recommended by medical professionals, touted by meditation experts, and praised by people with OCD.
Dorothy Grice, MD, director of the Tics, OCD and Related Disorders Program in the Department of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, believes that meditation (along with other therapies and / or medications) may be an effective way to manage thoughts or impulses OCD and the distress that accompanies them.
Indeed, meditation is said to help you relax and relieve stress, among other benefits.
Adam Delfiner started having symptoms of OCD as a teenager. He says Transcendental Meditation (TM) has helped him overcome what he calls “what ifs”. He even wrote his thesis on the subject.
This unique type of meditation involves a twice daily practice where you repeat mantras. Mantras are meaningless words. They exist to channel a “silent, stable, and tranquil realm,” says Kelly McKay, a certified transcendental meditation instructor based in Brooklyn, NY.
As a TM meditator, you are allowed to focus on nothing. McKay says the practice turns your brain from a state of stress to a state of relaxation.
Unlike transcendental meditation, a mindfulness meditation practice does not require mantras, although you can use them if you wish. You can meditate while sitting, lying flat or walking, standing or walking.
Carla Stangenberg has been meditating and taking students on the meditation mat for over 20 years at the Jaya Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. She describes meditation as “training the mind.”
It’s about anchoring your attention on something, she says. By focusing on the breath and using it as an anchor, you can bring your attention to the present.
Although Stangenberg primarily practices mindful meditation rooted in Buddhism, she has tried other types and believes they can all help. The focus of mindful meditation on the breath calms you down and slows down your busy mind. This appeals to Stangenberg, who turns to breathing through meditation when she feels stressed or anxious.
The calming or centering effect of meditation works for Laura Fortune. Diagnosed with OCD at age 12, Fortune says she experiences OCD “like something that exists in a disconnect or a gap.”
Space separates her from her “ground, center, body, breath, self, inner witness,” she says, but meditation centers her once again.
This is called anchoring. It means no longer thinking about what it’s set on, whether you’re always worrying about a friend or family member, or feeling the urge to count things over and over. It draws attention to your breath, mantra, or images through guided meditation. When you focus on something else, you may be able to let go of obsessive thoughts and compulsive tendencies.
Instead of worrying if you lock the door, you could focus on your breathing. Where do you feel it? In your belly? Chest? Your throat?
Marriage and Family Therapist Jon Hershfield, who specializes in the treatment of OCD and associated disorders, explains the process as follows: Being able to recognize when you are lost in your thoughts and come back to the present without having to commit can help you break the cycle of obsession. and coercion.
Hershfield, who is co-author of two books on mindfulness – The Mindfulness Manual for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Daily mindfulness for OCD, says the practice can help relieve symptoms of OCD.
It also emphasizes the importance of the anchor. Pay attention to your breathing and notice when your mind changes, he says. Then come back to the anchor – to the feeling of breathing.
Over time, he says, you’ll notice better when you’re triggered so you can reset your attention.
Part of a treatment plan
Meditation and other activities that promote well-being and a sense of calm can help manage your symptoms of OCD. But doctors and therapists say they are only part of the treatment for the disease.
Hershfield loves the ability of meditation to turn into spooky tales and bring your attention back to the present. It may enhance the effects of other treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you recognize and change bad thought patterns, or exposure and response therapy (ERP), where you recognize thoughts that bother you without responding to them.
Likewise, Grice believes in using CBT and ERP along with other activities that can promote health, relaxation, and a positive sense of well-being. The key is to find “a sense of positive engagement”.
Meditation is one of these activities. And anyone can do it.
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