Episode 39: OCD and the New Year


Episode 39

OCD and the New Year


On this Episode of Purely OCD Lauren and Kelley talk about how OCD can impact people at this time of year. 

But first, Lauren and Kelley have a big announcement about Purely OCD. 

“We have become an official Podcast!” The Purely OCD podcast can be found on Podbean, Spotify, Google podcasts, and iTunes.  This has been two years in the making, and all 38 episodes are up and live. They also have a website, Purelyocd.com.  Wow, what a great way to start 2022!

They share their excitement about the podcast:

“We are grateful to be able to reach more people and help spread awareness about OCD”.    

Their topic for this week is OCD, the New Year and all of the anxiety it brings.  

Existential OCD makes a lot of guest appearances in this episode. With a brand new year comes existential pressure too: “I have to make it right, and I have to do it perfectly”

Lauren explains:

Existential OCD tends to get kicked up around any sort of milestone of life, so here we are, “Ah it’s a new year”, and all this rhetoric around, “You need to do better this year, and you need to make sure you make resolutions.” 

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

Lauren and Kelley discuss the pros and cons of making New Year’s resolutions.

There can be a whole lot of anxiety and pressure around resolutions:

– Everybody is asking, “Oh, what’s your New Year’s resolution? 

– The diet industry likes to come in this time of year and say, “You need to get       back in shape!”

– People might worry –

– “What if my New Year’s resolution isn’t right?”

– “Maybe I should pick another New Year’s resolution?”

– “What is the right intention setting for the New Year?”

Lauren mentions that she doesn’t mind making new year resolutions.  “I kind of like them, but only if they are held really gently.”

Kelley responds with, “Yes, I love that you can navigate resolutions, because I know you can, and you do it well.  I cannot.  I’m still learning how to hold things lightly.  So, I’ve learned that it just gives me so much more anxiety.  I do it for a week and then I don’t do it and shame comes in and says, ‘YOU LOSER!! How could you do that?’.  But I am a therapist and have gone to therapy most of my life so I take self-compassion for the win!”

Lauren shares a story of her own about the pressure around intention setting.

 “I was on a meditation retreat a few years back, and we had to set our intentions.  Ugh, there are too many intentions to be set, “I don’t know.” I had 3 of them, and we had to announce them.  It was a real “thing” for sure.  I think having OCD or anxiety makes that much more challenging to navigate. 

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

Kelley emphasizes that any contemplation as deep as setting New Year’s resolution is going to likely get us into trouble.  Kelley also notes that having too many resolutions can be problematic.

We want smart goals.  Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time boundgoals.  If it’s not realistic, you can’t do all of the things.  “Oh, I’m going to meditate 7 days a week, twice a day”.  NO! We’re going to start out once a week, maybe, or once a day for 2 minutes.

Kelley Franke, LMFT

Lauren agrees:

 “You know what?  That was my New Year’s resolution last year, full disclosure. I’m a therapist who loves mindfulness and meditation, but I just wasn’t committing to a meditation practice. So my New Year’s resolution was to meditate for at least 3 minutes a day.  I did pretty well and missed just 3-4 days.

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

Kelley interjected “and you got married” and among all of that, you did it.  Kelley asks “Those days you didn’t meditate, those 3 days, did you find room for self-compassion?

I did!  In fact I remember most of the time it was, because I forgot. Then I woke up the next morning, and I was, “Oh, I didn’t mediate yesterday.  Oh.  Okay. Well I’ll simply begin again.”  One time I consciously made the decision to not.  One was on my wedding night.  I said, “I’ve been so mindful and present all day, and I don’t need that tonight.  It’s fine.”

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

 Kelley jokes, “you were meditating on the dance floor.” 

Actual footage of said dance floor meditation:

A dance floor meditation!

So I think having that flexibility, and not getting stuck in that “all or none” thinking, or what they call the ‘Abstinence Violation Effect,’ which is where if you’re trying to do something, in this case abstain from a substance, and you drink.  Then there’s this ethic mentality that sets in, ‘Oh, I’ve already blown it so I might as well really go to town.’ It’s the same idea.  ‘Oh well I missed my one day of meditation so screw it, it’s not for me, so I might as well just give up.’”

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

“I think a lot of people get anxious just that it’s a new year and that a whole year has already passed and time’s going really quickly. It’s not just me.   I’ve heard quite a few people have that over the years.  They’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, it’s another year. I’m getting older.” And they reflect on their life. 

You’re missing the whole point of the ball dropping.  Just enjoy the moment instead of being lost in this gap of where you are and where you’d like to be.”

Kelley Franke, LMFT

Instead of being lost in self-analysis, there’s this opportunity to celebrate that we are continuing on.

When we talk about OCD and about contamination, this need for a sense of a clean slate that comes with the new year is totally arbitrary. 

Have things really changed?  There’s a tendency to want to keep it clean somehow and do everything correctly and the pressure is there to just keep everything right.  

“I don’t think this just happens around the new year though; this idea that there’s a new beginning. We see this when it comes to dieting too.    “Its a brand new fresh slate tomorrow.  Tomorrow I’m going to start this resolution.

I talk about living a contaminated life with my clients emotionally or thought wise.  You are going to have a life that is impacted by OCD. Let that happen instead of trying to resist it.  Likewise the answer and antidote when it comes to eating disorders is to allow for all foods to be on the table.  And so in some ways that’s contaminating, because we often put things into clean vs unhealthy “bad” food.”

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

Kelley adds:  I think in the mental disorder realm it’s going to hit that population the hardest. 

Like with substance use.  “We’re going to start fresh”, but you can start fresh any day or any moment. 

Kelley brings values into the discussion:

I think that using values as a way to guide how you want to do it is important. Generally people sometimes say things like, “I just want to do this.” Maybe that’s not really lined up with what I truly value and that’s the most important thing in my life. 

For me practicing gratitude has always been a huge part of my life and has helped me in a lot of ways become more mindful.  But that’s kind of where my head’s at.  It’s always there.  It’s not today or on the first.  When I fall off and I see myself kind of going off of the rails of gratitude practice, I go “Ah let’s come back to gratitude and let’s do THIS to make sure that we are actually implementing it.  Let’s take measurable steps to do it.  So you do see it though.” 

Kelley Franke, LMFT

Lauren agrees with Kelley. 

That’s such a good point. Instead of making it an edict of “Ok, well NOW, I’m going to be grateful forever”, that we see it as a practice, we see it as “How can we implement our values ongoing?” So whether that’s gratitude, self compassion, being more mindful, etc., if we look at them as practices that we will invariably do imperfectly, then we won’t necessarily fall victim to the problem of “all or none” thinking. 

Kelley Franke, LMFT

It’s important to look at what the new year does in the Existential realm.

While it goes beyond people with OCD, for those with this sub-type of OCD, it’s even more pernicious. It’s just a vortex of demons and anxiety. 

– “Who am I?

– “What am I doing with my life?

– “How do I want to spend my time? 

Because you think you have to figure out perfectly and absolutely what you’re supposed to be doing with your life, and it has to be the right thing.  It’s that feeling of the ground falling beneath you. 

“If we go back to this question of Existential OCD, and this sort of existential dread.  When we recognize that we are finite and that this process of life that we’re in is moving forward constantly. Then we feel the ground fall out from under us.  This is felt with all sorts of sub-types of OCD, and just making space for the falling out feeling is the goal.”

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

Kelley continues on the theme of Existential OCD.

“I do think the last two years have been especially difficult for people with Existential type OCD and with people without OCD.  This idea that two years have passed, and we’re, and I hate bringing it up because I’m so over covid, but, “here it is”. Two years have gone by and a lot of people’s lives have frozen.  I think about my clients and their first year of college was 2020.  They haven’t been on campus for more than a couple of months, and now they’re sophomores and potentially going back to online again.  Whooo that’s going to bring up some anxiety, a lot of grieving and sadness too. 

Same with parenting.  When the pandemic started my daughter was four years old.  Now she’s 6.  That’s a big age jump and talk about an existential mind screw. 

The way I accepted it is when we started this I thought, “Hey this is a good way to spend time doing things I value. Spending time with my friend even though I can’t see her face to face and helping other people.”  This came out of that – talk about having a gratitude moment. That I can find these kernels of joy and gratefulness through the pandemic.  but

I do think that there are some people who struggle desperately in finding acceptance in all of it.  But being resentful and spinning them out more is proof that if you don’t find acceptance, you will make yourself suffer so much.  There’s so much suffering there. 

Kelley Franke, LMFT

Lauren touches on the Serenity Prayer and how it helps with acceptance.

I just posted something yesterday that spoke a little bit about the Serenity Prayer, which, for anyone that’s not familiar with it, you don’t have to be of any sort of religious faith in order to benefit from the idea. “May I find the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” And so I bring that into this discussion to speak to what Kelley is saying of acceptance being so critical.  Because fighting things we cannot change is bound to make us miserable. 

In the realm of OCD and thoughts and feelings, trying to change thoughts and feelings  is a losing battle. At the same token, we have so many things we can control.  So in terms of resolution, I wonder if we can talk communally about a loose intention for the year.  Gently, like a loose clothing.  I love loose clothing; it’s very comfortable.  Of being a little bit more accepting of the things we cannot change.  Here we are.  It’s 2022.  We’ve been in a pandemic for 2 years.  There are going to be times when we can’t necessarily do all of the things that we want to do.  Accepting what we can’t change and trying to focus on what we can.”

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

In responding to a listener’s comment:  “You can’t force acceptance.  Any ways to feel it internally”?

Lauren initially responds.

Acceptance is both. People talk about it as an emotional experience. I think I can appreciate the emotional experience that comes with acceptance, but acceptance is behavioral.  The good news is we have total control over whether or not we chose to accept something in any given moment. Chose to surrender instead of continue to fight.”

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

I mean conceptually the acceptance is very easily understood.  We get the concept, and we can easily explain it pretty quickly to people, but to then implement it.  It’s the willingness.  Am I willing to accept this thing?  Am I willing to? And usually if you are, it’s followed by a lot of feelings of not having control.

Spoiler alert, you didn’t have any control to begin with.  You can’t un-see what you know to be true, which is you don’t have control so we might as well find acceptance in it and really find peace.

Making choices and being deliberate and deciding that your thoughts and feelings are not going to control your life, that’s taking control. “

Kelley Franke, LMFT

Lauren shares a tool that helps her with the emotional experience of acceptance. 

It’s helpful from my vantage point, to think of images or words that elicit this emotional experience of acceptance.  So for instance, there’s this beautiful sculpture by Paige Bradley, and it’s a woman who’s actually nude and sitting in the lotus position.  The statue has been broken and then pieced back together, and there’s a light emanating from inside her.  For me, that’s acceptance. That feeling of just “ah” and watching it pour out of you and sort of key into the “OK!  Here I am, I surrender, I accept that this is what it is, I’m not going to try and fight it anymore.” 

Even the words like: RELEASE or SOFTEN or RELAX INTO or SURRENDER.  Keying into the experience of acceptance from some sort of an emotional side can be helpful.  It’s not always going to be accessible to you, but it’s certainly one way in. 

Lauren Rosen, LMFT
Expansion by Paige Bradley embodies the concept of acceptance and opening to present moment experiences.
Expansion by Paige Bradley

Kelley talks about how posturing your body can support acceptance:

 “Yes… there’s research that shows that if you put your shoulders back, and you open your body up, it’s actually proven that those things can help facilitate acceptance. 

They can physically send messages to your brain saying, “Ok.  This is okay.  We’re ok.  This is probably a false alarm.”

And meditating too, with hands open, palms up embracing whatever emotion and thought comes your way, whether they’re uncomfortable or not, willing to stay there in that position.” 

Kelley Franke, LMFT

Adding to what Kelley said, Lauren says that this idea is reflected in the book  “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach.  This idea of  “And this too.” Whenever something comes up, it’s just “Oh.  And this too.” It’s not that you even have to like it or that you’re saying it’s going to be like this forever this is just another way in…”And this too”. 

Check out this meditation by Tara Brach featuring this idea: https://www.tarabrach.com/meditation-everything-belongs/.

Someone asks about Existential OCD.  Kelley and Lauren answer with, yes, Existential OCD can cover the fear of death or what happens after we die. 

Lauren shares,

The existential question of what happens after we die was actually how my OCD first introduced itself to me when I was 6. Maybe it’s dark, or maybe it’s not, and you don’t like that. 

Existential OCD is also about the nature of reality, for instance, “What if we are living in the Matrix?  Am I living my life right?”

Lauren Rosen, LMFT

On that note, they ask their listeners to “Be kind to yourself”.  It’s important; it’s everything.  

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