OCD can create many dilemmas without offering a true resolution. When the dilemma arises, you feel compelled to constantly try and resolve the source of your anxiety. This pulls you into an endless loop of circular thoughts, or ruminations, that are hard to stop.
For instance, imagine you have an intrusive fear of hitting someone with your car, which is a common OCD anxiety. Let’s say you’re driving along one day, and you run over a pothole. The bump in the road triggers feelings of panic, and racing thoughts start to bubble up and overwhelm you.
The rational part of your brain knows that it was only a pothole. Regardless, your anxiety continues to increase, and you then misinterpret this anxiety as a signal that something terrible has happened.
To ease your anxiety, you feel compelled to drive back just to “check.” And even when you get home, the intrusive thoughts continue — your brain tells you that you didn’t look hard enough and that the police will be at your door any minute.
Why is your brain doing this?
Research tells us that when you have OCD, there’s too much brain activity in the area that detects errors — and too little activity in the areas that tell us to stop compulsive behaviors.
So the next time your OCD presents a dilemma that makes you anxious, see if you can try to resist the temptation to ruminate for too long or try to “solve” the problem by engaging in compulsions. The longer you sit with the feelings of uncertainty, the less power they will have over your behaviors. Your anxiety will reduce over time, a process known as habituation.
Obsessions and compulsions are difficult to overcome, and it takes practice. It can be very helpful to practice with the help of a trained mental health professional’s guidance.