I’ve written before about my own battle with Maternal OCD (which you can read here) it was something which escalated over time and affected how I lived my day to day life.
I was diagnosed with “regular” (?!) OCD in my late teens, however by the time I fell pregnant it was largely under control and didn’t really impact my life. When I became unwell after the birth of my first baby I was battling a number of mental issues, I was very confused and didn’t know what was wrong with me. However one thing I did recognise was intrusive thoughts and knew my OCD was rearing it’s ugly head again.
Gaining control of these thoughts, obsessions and compulsions wasn’t quick or easy but it is achievable. As with most of my anxiety based issues, exposure therapy was the most affective at combating it. I’m going to share a few different things which can help when trying to battle maternal OCD. *Please do speak to your own health care professionals for support and advice, these are just a few exercises which I found useful.*
What is Maternal OCD?
Many people who struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder will feel responsible for preventing a terrible thing happening. Maternal OCD can occur during pregnancy or postnatally, and very often thoughts can be centred around baby & keeping them safe.
Some people may not have “worse case scenario” thoughts (obsessions). They will feel increasing anxiety if they don’t do what their thoughts are telling them to do.
To prevent the worst happening a person will carry out a ritual (compulsion). A person will do this until it feels “right” or they have a sense of relief from the anxious feelings. This then reinforces the idea that their action (compulsion) has prevented the worrying event (obsession) happening.
Compulsions can be things such as touching, cleaning and checking, they can also be hidden things such as counting & repeating.
There are a whole number of therapies which can be tried to tackle OCD. It will usually be a case of trying them out until you find what works for you. It’s important you visit your own doctor or therapist to work through and find which therapies suit your needs.
These are just a few of the helpful exercises and techniques I tried out. These techniques help break the thought cycle. This can be by challenging thoughts (obsession) or resisting the urge (compulsion).
Challenging the thoughts – It’s important to remember that thoughts are not facts. We may believe something will happen if we don’t do X, Y or Z but the reality is that it won’t.
When speaking to a therapist about why I do my compulsions, she said “I’m sorry to break this to you, but you don’t have that much power” she was right, and by her pointing this out to me, helped me look at things differently.
Take The Thought To Court – this is an exercise I’ve shared before, it was really helpful to me. It allowed me to stop and think about the thought, to rationalise it and feel more comfortable with attempting to resist the urge to carry out my compulsion.
You can read more about it here or watch a video of me explaining how I used this technique for health anxiety here.
The Mind Bully – this is an exercise where the intrusive thought or obsession is the bully. If you ignore a bully, walk away and switch to do something else, they’re likely to not continue to bother you. If you give in to ‘the bully’ they’re likely to continue to pick on you. It’s the same with your thoughts. The idea of this exercise is to treat the thought like a bully, acknowledge it, let it go, move on to do something else. You can read a more in-depth description of this here.
STOPP – I’ve shared this exercise many times, I think it can be very helpful for anxiety. This can help you to challenge and stop the automatic response to your thoughts. Again, it takes practice but can really help. You can read more about it here.
Mindful Breathing – this can be really useful when you have those panicky feelings, it’s something I used a lot and still do now if I feel a panic attack might be brewing. I particularly find one shared by Anna Williamson in her book “Breaking Mad – The Insiders Guide To Conquering Anxiety” helpful. Breathe in for 7 seconds (through your nose), pause, and then slowly breathe out for 11 seconds. This is a good one to use when you feel panicky. I find the counting helpful and distracting.
Another is imagining you have a balloon in your tummy. Each time you breathe in imagine the balloon inflating, and on the out breath imagine it deflating. Notice your tummy rising and falling with each breath. You can also use the same technique imagining you’re blowing bubbles instead. Whichever you prefer. It just takes away your focus from body part you’re thinking about.
However, the most effective (and challenging) treatment I had was exposure therapy. It isn’t easy, in fact you’ll probably curse your therapist for suggesting it but it really did help me overcome my anxieties. Exposure therapy is used for many anxiety disorders but with OCD it means exposing yourself to the fear without the compulsion. So for example,
You feel you need to switch on the light so many times before walking away, otherwise something terrible may happen to your loved one. Usually you would do this until you feel some relief. Your loved one is safe, this reinforces the idea that your act kept them safe.
Exposure therapy would mean you have the urge to flick the switch more than once but you don’t. You would walk away having only done it the once needed.
As it can feel incredibly uncomfortable, so start exposure therapy by trying the least distressing thing.
Try to restrict yourself from carrying out the compulsion, and if you feel able to, avoid it all together. It can be helpful to distract your attention, so once you’ve walked away, continue and do something else. You’ve acknowledged the thought and now you’re going to let it pass.
Try to work up gradually, it’s small steps which lead to progression.
Remember to praise yourself! You are amazing, and you are so brave challenging these thoughts.
If you don’t manage to get to do the task you set yourself, thats ok. Don’t beat yourself up about it, you’re not failure, each time you try you are a step closer to gaining some control. Be kind to yourself, practice self care and try again when you are ready, if it’s too big of a task, break it down even further and build up slowly.
Take any support your healthcare professional can offer, this is just one exercise which helped me, but there’s other techniques out there.
Give it time. You will get there. Keep trying and remember to practice self care. You deserve it, and you can do this.