Best Meditation For Intrusive Thoughts & OCD

Meditation can do wonders to help you control intrusive thoughts, and could potentially even help with OCD.

As you might know, OCD is a mental health condition afflicting 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children according to the Anxiety And Depression Association of America [1]. It causes recurring thoughts and compulsive behaviours. 

Thankfully, no matter what type of OCD you have, whether you’re a Washer, Checker, Doubter, Counter and Arranger, Hoarder, or if youre simply consumed by instrusive thoughts, meditation could help.

Trust me, I know what it’s like constantly having to double-check everything, clean, follow routines, and check in with loved ones. And I also know how depressing it can be. [READ: Meditation For Depression].

So let’s look at how meditation can help.

Meditation For OCD Thoughts  

Guided Meditation

Guided Meditation For OCD & Intrusive Thoughts

Script

  1. Sit somewhere quiet and relaxing. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Roll your shoulders then let them relax. Lightly press your tongue against your hard palate. Keep your spine straight but relaxed. Slightly lower your neck to elongate your spine.
  2. Focus on the sensation of your breathing entering through your mouth. Notice how your breath flows throughout your body. 
  3. Focus on breathing as you take 108 breaths
  4. During this process, if obsessive thoughts arise, remember Dr Schwartz’ advice. Use the 4 R’s: Relabel, Reattribute, Refocus, and Revalue. I will explain these 4 R’s…
  5. Relabel: Notice when you are having obsessive thoughts and label them. For instance, say to yourself, “This is an obsessive thought.” 
  6. Reattribute: Tell yourself that it is your condition that is creating the obsessive thought. 
  7. Refocus: Focus on something else. 
  8. Revalue: Stop reacting to thoughts in such an extreme way. Pay them less credence.
  9. Continue for 20 minutes.

Alternatives:


Other treatments: 

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

How To Meditate With OCD & Intrusive Thoughts

It can be challenging for people with OCD to meditate. 

For starters, many people have a negative view of the practice. Many do not believe it can help with OCD. And it can be hard to focus on meditating when you suffer from OCD.

Here on some tips to help you.


1: Just gently return the mind to the breath

One of the many problems when meditating with OCD is that it is hard to focus the mind on the breath. In fact, this isn’t just people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s beginner meditators in general.

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to be perfect. It is natural for your mind to wander. It’s normal to experience thoughts and feelings during meditation.

You can’t be mindful one hundred percent of the time. That’s okay. All you need to do is gently return your awareness to your breath. Just notice when your mind is wandering and return your mind to the breath when you can.  Perfection is not important.


2: Dealing with thoughts

Many people think that thoughts are failures in meditation.

In fact, lots of my students come to me with this belief. They think that when they meditate the mind should be completely quiet. This simply is not the nature of the mind. Mental activity is normal.

All you need to do is know you are experiencing thoughts. Simply observe and label your thoughts, which is a method used in Buddhist Vipassana. And then return to focusing on the breath. Do not be self-critical.


3: Accept that thoughts will occur

We all have an ideal state that we want to get into when we meditate. We want the mind to be quiet so that we can feel tranquil. But this is usually not what happens when a person with OCD meditates. Usually, their condition tries to bully them.

You’re sitting there focusing your mind on your breath when suddenly your OCD tells you that you need to get up and perform your ritual. That’s fine. Just notice it. Accept it.

Observe the nature of your condition and do your best to continue focusing on your breath. If you need to perform your ritual, that’s fine. It’s not ideal. But it’s fine. Just be mindful of what is happening.


4: Peace is not the objective

Everyone thinks that when they meditate, they will automatically feel peaceful. However, this oftentimes is not the case. Furthermore, peace is not the goal.

The goal of mindfulness is to simply observe the mind. If you’re meditating and you feel anxious, that’s okay. Just label the emotion and return to the breath.


5:  There are no grades in meditation

You have an idea of what a good and a bad meditation looks like. But there really is no good or bad in meditation.

The entire nature of mindfulness is acceptance. Don’t judge your practice and do not be self-critical. Simply observe your mind.

How Meditation Stops Intrusive Thoughts

Scientific research shows that there are many benefits of mindfulness meditation for obsessive thoughts

Let’s take a look at some of those benefits.


Helps Your Brain

For starters, there’s the effect that meditation has on the Frontal Lobe and the Basal Ganglia.

Research shows that, in people with OCD, an overactive basal ganglion (a group of structures found deep within the cerebral hemispheres) stops communicating with the frontal lobe (orbitofrontal cortex & anterior cingulate gyrus).

OCD also causes an underactive “nucleus accumbens”. This is a region of the brain involved in the cognitive processing of motor function. According to researchers (Figee et al) from Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center, this leads to a continual need for dopamine. [citation: National Institute of Health]. And this contributes to OCD.

So, what does that have to do with mindfulness? 

Research shows that meditation reduces the activity of the basal ganglia. Meanwhile, it increases activity in the frontal lobe and nucleus accumbens. This reduces the need for dopamine hits.

Plus, meditation increases communication between the basal ganglia and frontal lobe. Hence how it helps with OCD. 


Meditation also helps with the 4 R’s

Meditation helps with the popular treatment option called the “4 R’s“, created by American psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz.

Dr. Schwartz has been treating OCD for decades. And his number one method has remained the same. 

“One evening, while out of the office, Schwartz realized his patients needed more to do, something to focus on besides the intrusive thoughts,” says Steve Volk, writing for Discover Magazine.

“He thought back over the practice of mindfulness and found an analogy he liked. In meditation, if he became emotionally invested in a particular train of thought, he sought to refocus himself by drawing his attention back to his breathing.”

Using that same concept, he recommended that his patients replace monitoring their breath with monitoring whatever behavior they found most compelling.

He instructed his patients to replace their OCD behavior with one healthy alternative. Each time a patient had an episode, they would replace it with an alternative. For instance, going for a walk.


The 4 R’s: Relabel, Reattribute, Refocus, Revalue

According to Harley Therapy, Schwartz’s treatment uses four steps:  — relabel, reattribute, refocus, and revalue [4].

The fourth step is crucial and can take time to learn. Schwartz called this step Revaluing. The obsessive thoughts that patients once considered so necessary were to be systematically deconstructed, understood, and revalued.

Schwartz recommended that his patients revalue obsessive thoughts as “trash … not worth the grey matter they rode in on.” Conversely, Schwartz’s patients learned to place a high value on performing different actions that were not based on their OCD.

Schwartz’s four steps worked, but it wasn’t easy. It took what Schwartz described as “a tremendous force of will.” It was hard for people with OCD to follow the 4Rs.

To help, Schwartz prescribed mindfulness meditation. And subsequently, more scientific research has confirmed that there are indeed big benefits of this practice.

With mindfulness, patients are given a healthy, empowering, and natural way of treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. Plus, it is quite easy, especially if you work with a professional such as myself.


Summary

In many ways, dealing with OCD is like dealing with other negative thoughts. The problem is that we allow our thoughts to dictate our actions. Therefore, when someone experiences an OCD thought, they soon act on it.

By using a combination of mindfulness and the 4Rs, we can learn to change the way we process those thoughts. In so doing, we can prevent those thoughts from directing our actions.  Ultimately, this gives us power over OCD.   Hence why the method above is the best meditation for intrusive thoughts.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.

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