Meditation and OCD
Welcome to episode 54 of the Purely OCD Podcast. Today Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, discuss the ins and outs of meditation as a helpful tool in OCD recovery.
They discuss what mediation actually means, the different types available, and the core takeaways for using meditation effectively.
Below are the highlights from today’s episode!
What do we mean by ‘meditation’
Lauren: Transcendental meditation, I don’t know too much about it. It goes by TM. And the idea is that you’re given a mantra that is specific to you, and that the focus of your meditation is this mantra. Right? And in that respect, it’s not dissimilar from the kind of mindfulness meditation that Kelley or I might teach somebody to support their OCD recovery, which is that anchor isn’t necessarily a phrase or a mantra, but the breath or the sounds in one’s environment.
There are also people that might think of visualizations, which often exist as a form but is different again. We might teach there’s also Meta or Maitri.
There are gratitude practices, they’re all sorts of things. But when we’re talking about meditation in the context of OCD recovery, all of these things could, in theory, have a place in your life or in your recovery. But mindfulness-focused attention and mindfulness-based meditation are usually good starting points.
Lauren: The idea is to just be aware of what you’re aware of. So noticing with mindfulness, this nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. “Oh, I’m noticing my breath. Oh, I’m noticing the sound that I just heard.”
Grounding yourself in feeling
Kelley: Instead of grounding in the breath, maybe it’s grounding in the feeling…whatever’s coming up for that person. If their obsession is around sadness, right, we’re gonna ground ourselves in the feeling of sadness. So when your mind drifts, we’re going to come back.
Remember, we’re thinking about sadness, we’re feeling sadness, and come back to that.
Anxiety related to awareness of the breath (see also, Sensorimotor OCD)
Lauren: If you have anxiety related to your awareness of the breath. You might start by holding your attention or resting your attention on the felt experience of sitting, right? What does it feel like? I can feel my seat, touching the cushion, I can feel my back against the chair, etc.
Book Recommendation – The OCD Workbook by Bruce Hyman.
Kelley: This practice is about shifting your mind with a noise in the room.
That’s the most important awareness you have right now so ground yourself in that noise, and then quickly shift to how you feel physically in the context of your body to the seat, like what Lauren was just talking about, and then shift your emotion quickly to another sound in the room.
The point that’s being proved is that you can shift your attention to where you want to put it.
So I have a sound machine in here, which I loathe but I have it because I work from home. And it’s going it’s all the time going and I hate it the most when I’m noticing it the most. And I’m giving it so much attention, versus coming back to the present moment with writing notes or speaking with a client.
The importance of attention training for OCD
Lauren: I did a training with Dr. Jason, I think his name is Jason Goodman. And he was talking about attentional training. And I’ll kind of explain a little bit of what he was doing. It’s not dissimilar to what Bruce Hyman was describing. So I wonder if they’re of the same ilk. But I actually did this exercise with him and it’s basically this; there are a number of sounds that are introduced at the same time, and you’re trying to train your attention on one of the sounds.
And that doesn’t mean that you can’t shut out the other sounds. You’re just trying to prioritize the focus of this one thing, and that allows for your ability to shift your attention.
There are a lot of ways this helps for OCD, but one of the ways is that if you have a propensity toward rumination, or some sort of mental compulsion, the ability to say, let me disengage from that, and bring my attention back to the present moment. And that’s not going to be necessarily the breath. But diving into the sensory experience of what’s going on right now.
Book recommendation – Everyday Mindfulness for OCD by John Hershfield
Meditation is a practice and a skill to learn
Kelley: Meditation is it’s a practice and it’s a skill that you have to learn. And I do think that so often people try it and they go, “Oh, that was useless.” Number one, because it did nothing for me.
And then number two, I hated it because it was uncomfortable, or number three, which is I was terrible at it.
It’s hard and it’s going to take time, like delayed gratification.Kelley Franke, LMFT
Practicing without an end goal
Lauren: At the same token, you’re not practicing it with any sort of end goal in mind. You’re just practicing, you’re trying to get better at the skill of noticing when you’ve wandered so that you can come back because most people with OCD live their lives lost in their minds.
And so the more we can bring you back into your lived experience, the better. And also, just to notice that you’re not in your lived experience, which is that one of the other true benefits of meditation is the ability to see, “Oh, I’m just thinking.”
Delayed gratification of meditation
Kelley: What I mean by delayed gratification, is that when we’re talking about meditation practice, when we’re integrating it daily, that’s where we build this foundation of now into your everyday life. You’re walking around the block, and all of a sudden you realize that you’re naturally being present now.
Lauren: It’s kind of like going to the gym. Right? You’re building a muscle? And it’s not each individual workout. I mean, if you’re anything like me, it’s going to be a pain in the tuckus.
What’s the best time to meditate
Lauren: I don’t think that there’s a correct answer. I think whenever you’re going to make time is the best time and the duration can be short. Again, if it’s something that you’re willing to do consistently.
Do you all have a recommendation on whether or not it’s most helpful to use your mindfulness anchor as your response prevention for ERP work?
Lauren: The mindfulness meditation anchor is a proxy for the present moment in everyday life. I think saying, “Oh, this is going to be my anchor so that I don’t compose” could get rigid, and it could be problematic and could almost become compulsive…. Versus, I’m gonna just bring myself back to the present moment.
The benefit of mindfulness for OCD
Lauren: One of the largest benefits for mindfulness is this component of being able to refocus on the present.
Kelley: I was just thinking this weekend, I was watching my husband and my daughter playing on the beach, in the sand and the waves and I felt really anxious because I didn’t have any thoughts. And then I had this pleasant thought, there’ll never be another moment like this, and I’m really enjoying it.
Lauren: It’s an important anecdote because it just demonstrates how anxiety can attack freaking anything. It’s like are you being present? Are you being mindful enough? And I think really trying to wear mindfulness like a loose garment.
That’s kind of the slogan of OCD recovery, right? Loosen the grip with everything. Don’t hold too tighlty.Kelley Franke, LMFT