What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on present moments in a non-judgemental way. It is an exercise in self-awareness and self-acceptance. Being mindful means that you notice what’s going on around and within you, and learn to accept it. Rather than fighting to suppress or rationalize your anxiety, it teaches you come to terms with it.

Mindfulness practices can be particularly beneficial for OCD sufferers. They are often paired with Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and/or medication to improve OCD treatment.

How does it help with OCD?

Mindfulness helps address all the fear and anxiety caused by OCD. It trains our minds and bodies to be more flexible and less affected by our thoughts and what we think they mean. It’s a useful technique for decreasing anxiety because of its emphasis on acceptance. It tells us that when an intrusive thought pops up, we should let it exist without providing it any weight. Experience the thought, but don’t judge it, change it or try to make it go away. Wait until it passes instead of thinking it should or shouldn’t be there.

For many sufferers, this might sound impossible. OCD is rooted in self-judgement and self-doubt. How can someone learn to ignore those urges and move past them?

Well, it takes time and practice. Implementing mindfulness can be done through mindful activities as well as by adopting mindful thinking patterns. For example, you may engage in yoga or meditation to help slow down your mind and teach you to live in the moment. That’s an example of a mindful activity. In addition, you might make an effort to recognize problematic thinking patterns when they arise, and correct them. For example, having an upsetting intrusive thought and choosing to ignore it rather than dwell on its meaning. This requires self-reflection and discipline, but if you make it a habit, you’re likely to see a positive shift in how you approach and understand your OCD.

Mindfulness is an effective partner with CBT-based therapies (like ERP and ACT) because they are rooted in much of the same thinking — embracing our anxieties rather than trying to control them.

What are some mindful activities?

Mindfulness exercises come in different forms. And what works for one person might not work for another. The key to implementing mindfulness in the longterm, is finding activities that work with your lifestyle. Don’t force yourself to do yoga or meditation if you don’t like it. Find an alternative.

Some common mindfulness activities and techniques include:

Yoga: The relaxation techniques incorporated into yoga can lessen physical pain and lower blood pressure. It also helps calm your central nervous system which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response that’s activated by anxiety.

Meditation: Mindful meditation is all about calming down your mind and connecting with the present moment. It helps slow your breathing and heart rate. Many anxiety sufferers think they’re incapable of meditating. That’s not the case. Anyone can practice meditation if they dedicate themselves to it.

Breathing exercises: When we’re stressed, we breathe rapidly and shallowly, rather than deeply. Breathing exercises help reverse these symptoms and calm your mind. Take time throughout your day to stop what you’re doing, go into a quiet room, and focus on your breath. It can as simple as a 5 minute break.

Grounding techniques: These exercises help us focus on the here and now when we feel anxiety coming on. They’re often short and can be done in most settings. Common examples include focusing on objects around you and studying their nature, reminding yourself who you are by repeating your name/age/height/interests/etc. back to yourself, wearing an elastic on your wrist and flicking it when you’re spiking, and stretching.

Art therapy: The process of creation can help sufferers become more intune with their mind. Art therapy is a common supplement to CBT that helps calm the mind and facilitate self-reflection. Patients use the creative process as a means of unpacking certain anxieties and triggers, and evaluating aspects of their OCD that might not arise verbally or through exposures.

Coping Language: The way we speak to ourselves is indicative of how we approach our disorders and allow them to impact our lives. Making conscious efforts to change the way we react to our anxiety can help minimize it. Go from thinking “This is awful, I can’t stand it. My life is terrible.” to more temperate language like “This is difficult, This is more challenging but I can get through it.” Coping language can naturally train your brain to avoid those anxiety places.

In addition to the above, exercise, clean eating, getting enough sleep, cutting out drugs and alcohol, surrounding yourself with supportive people, and finding a balance between work and home life are all important facilitators of a healthy mindset. Many physical exercises can be considered mindfulness boosters, including running, pilates, surfing and dance, amongst others.

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Are there other activities I can explore?

Of course! They above recommendations are common activities. Below, you can explore more specific techniques.

Are there tools or tips for staying on track with mindful exercises?

The best tip for sustainable mindfulness is being realistic with yourself. What activities can you stick to? What does your schedule allow? What activities do you like to do, or will be empowered to do with others? Find what works for you and your lifestyle, and then dedicate time and energy into making it a habit.

Certain apps can also help with incorporating mindfulness. A few are:

Is mindfulness enough on its own?

Generally speaking, no. If you’re suffering with a severe anxiety disorder, you’ll likely need a treatment plan that extends beyond mindfulness. But that’s not to say it doesn’t play a huge role in recovery for many anxiety sufferers.

The gold standard for OCD treatment is a combination of ERP therapy and mindful living. Some sufferers might also use medication. Anxiety management is all about balance. Every sufferer needs to find the combination of techniques and therapies that help them cope. For most people, mindfulness is a part of this balance, whether they rely on yoga, meditation, digital apps, art therapy and beyond.