How to control anxiety
Stop moving the cup. Let me tell you what I mean by this.
So when I say stop moving the cup, this is what I mean. A few years back I was at my brothers house. We are all seated around the dinner table talking and laughing. Their dinner table is located right next to their white carpet. My three-year-old periodically would run up to the table grabbed her cup of juice, grape juice of all things, take a drink and put it back on the table.
What I noticed is that when she placed her cup back on the table it would be close to the edge. I would continuously move the cup back to the middle of the table. Just as I was done, she would run back, grab the cup and follow the same routine. Slamming that cup back on the edge of the table. I found myself moving this cup over and over and over again. I didn’t wanted to fall, I didn’t want to hit their white carpet. I felt like I could prevent this.
Little did I know, the more time I spent moving this cup, the more ingrained I got into the perceived threat that this cup was going to fall. So ingrained that I missed out on the conversations happening right in front of me. By the end of the night, I probably move that cup 20 times if not more. Guess what ended up happening, nothing. Nothing happened. Her cup did not fall. The catastrophe I was trying to avoid did not happen. And my brain said, good job…. You did really well preventing this threat from happening. My brain didn’t know any different, it really thinks I did a good job. But what if me moving the cup had nothing to do with the catastrophe not happening.
It seemed like such a silly thing, but it got me thinking. How many times in our life do we have a perceived threat, something more completely guessing that could happen we are doing behaviors to prevent it. Even if the catastrophe actually did happen, we would be able to problem solve it. Think about this for yourself, how many times a day, a week, an hour are you trying to prevent something bad from happening. How much of life do you feel like you’re missing?
Life is meant to be lived. We are meant to make mistakes. We are meant to fail. We are meant to let the chips fall where they may. We do not need to solve the problem if there is not an actual problem. The cup on the edge of the table is not a problem. It could potentially be a problem, but at this moment it is not a problem. When we focus more on living life and enjoying the things around us, it is worth more to risk the perceived threat happening then to continually problem solve it and prevent it from happening.
When it comes to anxiety and OCD symptoms, the perceived threat happens day after day after day after day. The brain thinks that the only reason it hasn’t happened is because you may have done a compulsion or followed its rules. When we are doing treatment we have to retrain the brain to say that it is completely lying to you. When we don’t do the compulsion, and in my case it would be moving the cup. We allow ourselves to see what ends up happening. When we find that the catastrophe doesn’t happen the brain learns that the threat it gave you must’ve been false. Thus reducing the amount of threats you make it in the future.
But if the catastrophe actually does happen, we can problem solve it.
So when I say stop moving the cup, what I really mean is stop doing the compulsion. Stop trying to prevent the bad thing from happening unless you see immediate danger. Meaning there is no doubt in your mind that you are in danger, you don’t even have to question it. If you do have to question you already know it’s a perceived threat.
And I know what you’re thinking. Yeah Nate, your examples about grape juice falling on white carpet. Mine is so much more serious than that. Do not fall into the trap that your perceived threat is more important or is different than someone else’s. It doesn’t matter what intrusive thought comes your way, we treat it the same.
Stop moving the cup. Risk the threat. Is worth living life, than to live life to problem solve.
My question for you is what is going to be the thing that you are going to stop doing today? What cup will you stop moving?
Thank you so much and I will see you next time…
How to stop anxiety
Tricks to slow anxiety
Past thoughts and OCD
Think about your OCD and anxiety symptoms for a moment. Whenever you are feeling anxious or are ruminating. Is it about things that are happening right now in this moment? Typically we are feeling anxious about things from our past or things in our future. Really think about it. A thought like, did I leave the stove on? That lives in the past. Will I do this thing my brain says I’m going to do? This is in the future.
So, real anxiety that is meant to be felt is for the present moment. Meaning, we need to see the threat. It can’t be a guess of what the threat is going to be it has to be something we actually can see right now. Something like that car that is coming my direction and I need to jump out of the way. I am at somebody’s house and I threw up. My child fell in the swimming pool and they can swim. Here’s the thing. When real moments of anxiety actually happen we can fix it and problem solve it.
OCD and anxiety hate living in the present moment. Because in the present moment it knows there is not an actual threat. The only power it has is to warn you of a perceived threat even if it is so untrue and so unfounded. The only power thinks it has is to remind you of the past. To remind you of all those things that you did that you can’t believe you did. But the thing it forgets is that your brain back then is not the same brain you have now. Just like when you are five years old, the behaviors, the decisions you made, the tantrums you threw do not define who you are right now in this moment. Your brain is different now. We learn, we adapt, we look back at experiences and say wow, I can’t believe I actually did that. And the only way we got there is because we learned new things, we grew up.
OCD loves to attach to the past. We give it zero attention. We don’t even need to use logic with it. Life is what it is. We learn through experiences and we move forward. When the brain comes up with memories from the past we can answer them with, oh yeah! I remember when that happened. Sweet glad I made those decisions. With these answers do they allow your brain to stop going to the past because you simply are teaching it that you don’t care. You’re not answering it the way that you normally would.
When it comes to the future, we treated the same way. It comes up with any what if’s and we need to learn to answer it with yes, that may or may not happen. I don’t know, I don’t have a Time Machine to know for sure it is not my job to know right now. We will cross that bridge when I get there. Because more hours of ruminating and problem solving about possible threats does not prevent it from actually happening. Because we often find that there was no threat to begin with. Even when anxiety tells you so strongly that is true. We are not falling for it.
So your job is to keep your anxiety and OCD symptoms in the present moment. Staying in the present means you’re not trying to problem solve future. Staying in the present moment means you are not revisiting the past. Staying in the present means you are actually being present. You’re going out and doing things even if you don’t feel up for it. You are allowing yourself to enjoy life and continually answering these past or future thoughts with uncertainty.
So for you to gain the upper hand, we already know staying in the present moment is one of the best things you can do. Feel empowered when you do not engage in the past or the future. Allow life to be lived right now. Start by answering any threat with and maybe maybe not.
This is how you will gain control over your OCD and anxiety.
Here’s my question for you, let me know in the comments. Does your anxiety or OCD threaten you about the past or your future?
Thank you so much for watching, and I will see you next time.
Future thoughts OCD
Nathan Peterson, LCSW
OCD can be tricky! I want to provide useful information for your OCD, anxiety, tics, tourette's, BFRBs, and many other anxiety related disorders.