Little Positive Things: Coping with Regular OCd Obsessions

I struggle with contamination OCD/germaphobia, as you may know from previous posts. Thanks to a lot of intervention (including NOCD, where I’ve received therapy for close to a year now) I’m much more functional now than I was for the past few years. COVID, obviously, was a major trigger for me, and I’ve found a lot of new triggers now that I live on my own, such as cleaning.

A few months back I designed a few simple helpful OCD worksheets based on methods I use to cope with my obsessions and avoid compulsions. You can see and download those here, if you’re interested! But just today I encountered a trigger I regularly encounter, every few weeks – the ever-foreboding deep cleaning of my cats’ litterboxes. It’s something I dread doing, that sits on my to-do list for a week usually before I step into the fire. It’s because I worry that I’ve missed a spot when cleaning, or that I didn’t clean well enough, and often feel the compulsion to over-clean, clean “perfectly”, or shower immediately after the litter boxes are done without touching anything else in the apartment. Over time and with intervention this has become a lot less stressful for me – I’d say from a full 10 down to maybe a 5 each time litter box cleaning rolls around – but it’s still something that can hold me laying in bed dreading doing the chore. So today I thought, Why don’t I put on some Schitt’s Creek in the background? Or my karaoke playlist? Just some little happy things – positive stimuli – to make the chore not so miserable.

This idea popped into my head thanks to the Fear Free certification I’m currently working on so that I can volunteer in animal shelters. One module in the course talks about conditioning, something I hadn’t thought much about since my AP Psychology days. Basically, animals learn emotionally, and constantly – we pair stimuli with other stimuli. So why not try pairing a stimuli that’s very positive to me – the voices of the good ol’ Schitt’s Creek characters – with something not-so positive – cleaning a dirty cat box – to make it just that much less unpleasant?

And this inspired a new worksheet that I’m dubbing Triggers and Little Positive Things! The idea is to think about some triggers you might be regularly exposed to – maybe a daily bus ride, or a specific piece of gum stuck to the sidewalk you walk down every morning. (Ideally, things you’ve already mostly tackled the compulsions for – I find that’s where this technique helps me the most.) How can you add a little happy to your experience of that stimulus? For example, maybe have your favorite song playing in your headphones when you have to walk past the piece of gum, or count the number of things out the window that are your favorite color during your stressful bus ride.

This technique really did help me out today. I’m lucky enough to have had the help getting the stress lowered so that I don’t feel as much need to perform my compulsions around this trigger – now, it’s just a matter of helping to keep my stress levels at a minimum. I can’t avoid the trigger – and I don’t want to! I can (and do!) avoid performing compulsions, and take steps to manage my upset.

You can, too.

Download the sheet:

Best of luck & support to all my fellow OCD-ers! I hope this helps.

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