Does Mindfulness Meditation Help With OCD?

does meditation cure or help with ocd

We all double-check stuff to make sure things are right. But if you end up checking everything multiple times just to get rid of the nagging thought that you may not be safe, that’s a compulsion. Since mindfulness involves paying attention to things that otherwise happen automatically, can it help you overcome this compulsive behavior? In this article, we’ll talk about mindfulness meditation for OCD.

Meditation helps you with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) by allowing you to recognize your thoughts as just thoughts. With mindfulness, you are better able to deal with intrusive thoughts. Over time, you form a habit of handling your compulsive urges mindfully, helping you overcome OCD.

Read on to learn more about OCD and how mindfulness meditation offers relief by teaching you how to deal with your thoughts and urges mindfully. We’ll also discuss a simple breath meditation to help you get started.

Table of Contents

What is OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a specific type of anxiety disorder usually characterized by two things: obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions are recurrent and intrusive thoughts that are typically unwanted and tough to get out of your brain. These unwanted thoughts like “my house is unsafe” cause anxiety and lead to compulsions.

Compulsions are actions that might be performed to reduce the anxiety associated with obsessions.  As you might imagine, these thoughts and rituals can have a serious impact on someone’s daily life.

Although obsessive-compulsive includes both obsessions and compulsions, one doesn’t need both of them for a diagnosis. Some people might have just obsessions or just compulsions, but most patients have both, often where the compulsion is performed to ease an obsession.

Personally, I don’t have OCD, but I’ve seen people with OCD, and the term seems to be used lightly too often. Many of us don’t realize how serious it can be. Lightheartedly saying, “I’m so OCD” because you like to keep your desk very tidy is like saying, “I’m so leukemia” because your nose is runny.

Related: 4 Simple Meditations to Stop Overthinking Immediately

Dealing with OCD

UCLA research psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, in his book Brain Lock, describes a very effective behavioral therapy for OCD.

To understand it, consider hand washing–a common OCD obsession. In behavioral therapy, when an OCD patient has the urge to wash their hands again, even though they’re already clean, there are two things he or she needs to do.

First, they have to mindfully acknowledge that the urge to do this results from a failed circuit in their brain. Nothing bad will happen if they don’t wash their hands again.

Then, they should do some other constructive activity for as long as they can. The urge to give in to compulsion is usually overwhelming, so Dr. Schwartz recommends starting by waiting at least 15 minutes before giving in to it. Then you can expand that time day by day.

With consistent practice, it becomes an automatic habit. Soon, when the urge to do some compulsive behavior arises, their immediate reaction is to identify the compulsion as simply the result of a brain lock and move on to another activity.

Brain scans of OCD patients who use this behavioral therapy show that after a while of practice, the problem-causing hyperactive region in the brain had become less active.

How meditation can help with OCD

Meditation is an effective tool to reduce the mind’s chattering and calm it down. When you sit down to meditate, you’re training to stay in the present moment and focus on what’s actually going on rather than daydreaming in your head. Only three days of mindfulness practice can make you calmer and happier by reducing mind-wandering.(1)

It trains you to see your thoughts for what they are: empty clouds in the ocean of the mind. When you practice meditation regularly, you realize that thoughts don’t have any value in themselves. It’s your attention that gives them power.

For example, when you’re focusing on your breath or mantra, and a thought pops up about what happened the other day when you were with your friends. Now, it’s up to you to pursue that thought or drop it. You have a brief period to either start brooding over it or get back to your breath.

Mindfulness is the ability to recognize thoughts as thoughts. It equips you with the power to choose by helping you to see that your thoughts have no power without your participation.

Meditation makes you less likely to make impulsive choices. When your mind drifts off into negativity or fear of security, you’ll be able to tell yourself that it’s just a thought and nothing more.

Meditation helps you understand that the mind is like a child. Sometimes, it’ll throw a tantrum because it’s not getting candy from the store. Other times, it’ll make a mess for no reason. Instead of trying to control the mind by force, meditation teaches you to befriend it. You learn to guide, please, and most importantly, ignore the mind as necessary.

Related: Do Meditation Apps Work?

How to meditate

There are many ways to practice meditation. Usually, people recite a mantra, watch their breath, or notice their physical sensations. You need not spend too much time learning the ins and outs of posture or concentration. Those things can come later. For now, we’ll discuss a simple practice to help you start meditating.

Breath-focused meditation is easy to learn and has many benefits. Here’s how you do it:

  • Use an alarm clock or your phone to set aside 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Spread a mat or place a cushion on the floor and sit cross-legged on it. Sitting cross-legged is considered the best posture for meditation. But if you can’t do that, then sit on a chair.
  • Make yourself comfortable and try to sit in a quiet room. There’s already a lot of noise in the head, you don’t want more of it.
  • Keep your back and neck straight. Don’t slouch or overarch. Just hold a natural and upright posture.
  • Rest your hands in your lap, one on top of the other, palms facing upward.
  • Close your eyes or keep them slightly open. If they’re open, direct your gaze at about four fingers away from your nose and don’t focus on anything.
  • Take a few deep breaths from your belly to calm your mind and relax.
  • Breathe in through your nose and notice the sensations at your nostrils. Alternatively, you can watch the rise and fall of your belly button.
  • Stay with your breath and don’t chase any thoughts. Keep breathing and focus your mind on your nostrils or stomach.

Many thoughts and emotions will come up, and your mind will wander off. It’s perfectly normal. Take it as a given that you’ll only meditate about 2-3% of the time. The rest of the time, your mind will keep thinking about your ex, job, money, market, etc. The effort of meditation lies in repeatedly bringing the mind back to your breath.

Takeaway

Mindfulness meditation can reduce the chattering of the mind and help you detach from it. It teaches you to handle intrusive thoughts mindfully and ignore or guide them in another direction.

Even psychotherapists suggest meditation as a way to learn to befriend your mind and make peace with it. Like it or not, both of you will stay in the same body till death do you apart. So it’s a good idea to invest your time learning to manage the voice in the head.

I hope you found this article useful. Good luck. 😊

References [+]
1. Rahl, H. A., Lindsay, E. K., Pacilio, L. E., Brown, K. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Brief mindfulness meditation training reduces mind wandering: The critical role of acceptance. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 17(2), 224–230.
About the author

I was introduced to spiritual practice at the age of 12. I didn't find it intriguing back then, but my curiosity about life has brought me to spirituality again, and I've been reading others' insights and learning from life for over three years. You can read more about me here.

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