There are many anxiety triggers that we encounter every day. They can be external (something in our environment) or internal (our thoughts, physical sensations, images, memories, or emotions). Our initial reaction to these triggers is usually either to avoid them or to try and get rid of them.
If you’ve been dealing with anxiety or OCD long enough, you have probably discovered by now that even though it is sometimes possible to avoid the external triggers, it is impossible to get rid of our internal experiences. Even if we somehow manage to suppress them temporarily, they always come back.
What people with anxiety and OCD tend to do when they figure out that their strategy of getting rid of their distress doesn’t work is to increase their efforts in attempting to control, avoid, figure out, explain away, stop, or minimize their discomfort. If you tried it (and I bet you tried it all), you know that these methods never bring lasting results.
What if I told you that your suffering is maintained not by your intrusive thoughts, but by your constant struggle to get rid of them? By giving your internal discomfort so much meaning, you create a never-ending loop of struggle that takes over your life.
In therapy, we teach our patients to radically change their relationship with their intrusive thoughts. Not only do we encourage them to open up and allow the whole spectrum of emotions and thoughts to come and go without trying to control them, we actually introduce a playful technique of “inviting” the anxiety and observing what happens. (Spoiler alert: Nothing happens. The anxiety comes and the person continues doing what matters to them regardless – while learning that emotions do not have to dictate how they live their life).
We tell our clients to watch for the times when they have an obsessive thought and an urge to do a compulsion, or when they have anxiety and are tempted to do something to get rid of it. The clients gradually learn not to respond and to continue with their day without engaging in the futile struggle with their thoughts and emotions. If they want to take their treatment to the next level and to speed up their recovery, we give our patients the clickers that you see in the video above and encourage them to click when they voluntarily invite their obsession or anxiety to become even stronger.
Here are just some of the benefits of this technique:
- It introduces a lighter, more playful attitude to dealing with anxiety and helps not to take it so seriously.
- It teaches a very important lesson: that a person can have very high anxiety without having to do anything at all to get rid of it.
- Clients find this technique very empowering as they experientially learn that they are not controlled by their anxiety. For many people, this is a real revelation as they spent their whole life in a tug of war with their emotions.
- Instead of spending days in an attempt to decrease negative emotions, only to watch them come back again, the clickers allow to turn this on its head and clients are actively looking forward to create opportunities to click. They usually record the number of clicks per day and try to make it a competition with themselves – to increase their daily clicks.
- The person quickly transitions from being pushed around by his/her emotions to befriending the variety of emotions. It’s liberating and this newly-acquired freedom is a huge motivator for change.
Why don’t you try it at home and let us know how it worked?