How to Stop OCD Messing with your Studies!

Do you forget information and worry there’s a fault with your memory? Do you have fears you didn’t read or write everything correctly? Do you doubt yourself and believe your academic future is in trouble?

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When OCD starts messing with your studies, it’s time to take action.

Below are 7 tips to help you get back on track!

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Tip 1 

Do the 3 A’s: (1) Acknowledge the intrusive thoughts (2) Accept they are there (3) Allow them to come and go with anxiety (it will come down by itself once it’s reached a peak, usually within the hour).

Doing the 3 A’s helps intrusive thoughts filter out more smoothly; blocking them or fighting them makes them push through more. When they push through more, it increases the strength of obsessional doubts and keeps you in a never-ending circle of what-ifs? Identifying at this point that intrusive doubts are based on nothing concrete and not worth investing your; instead, concentrate on moving away from the doubts by focusing on the present. Think about what needs to be done (studying) and without stopping to ask yourself or others why your memory seems to be “failing” you (this is a fear, not legit); no re-reading or double-checking either, this holds you back (not easy I know, but worth it… the obsession is nonsensical anyway). Choosing to study in the present guards against your falling into the trap of additional reassurance and checking compulsions, which fuels the obsession.

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Tip 2 

Be aware that your experiences are showing you otherwise.

Think about your past achievements, your tutor’s appraisals, your ongoing efforts to present good work, and the ruling out of any medical cause (memory). Next, remind yourself that your proven abilities outweigh problems with memory and recall (and other obsessional worries too). Hector Peguero quotes: “The moment you feel it creeping in, it’s time to act.” In other words, step back from ruminations, tune into your intuitive self and observe the situation. Put in some perspective and decide to shift your mental state by taking a break (grab a glass of water and breathe in some fresh air), and then go back to your studies while simultaneously practising the 3 A’s.

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Tip 3 

Be mindful. Use the STOPP method.

The STOPP method can help you self-regulate and tune back into your natural abilities. 

S — STOPP

T — TAKE A BREATH

O — OBSERVE: What am I thinking? What am I reacting to? What am I feeling?

P — PUT IN SOME PERSPECTIVE. See the bigger picture. Is this a fact or an opinion? Is it fear related? How would someone else see this? How do I move on from this? What strategies do I have? What is my new perspective?

P — PRACTICE WHAT WORKS: What’s the best thing for me to do right now? Can the 3 A’s work for me? Can I remind myself that intrusive thoughts are not worth investing in? How else can I manage this situation rationally for a more favourable outcome? What would I advise someone else to do in the same situation? Generate as many ideas as you can and use what works in the moment.

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Tip 4 

If doubts continue to plague you, use the downward arrow technique to find a deeper level belief. The one below is on memory, but you can change it to something else, like, “What’s so bad about not double-checking?” Adapt as you go along…

Ask yourself the same or similar questions until you get your answer. For example:

What’s so bad about having a memory problem?

If I cannot learn, I cannot be knowledgeable.

What’s so bad about that?

Without knowledge life would be boring.

And what’s the worst about that?

I would have no prospects and therefore no future, just a mere existence.

Finally, what’s the worst about that?

I would be seen as a failure and my life would be pointless.

Notice how this technique shows a fear-related problem. In this instance, you can eliminate the fear by tuning in to your natural ability and instead listen to your intuitive self. Bring out your strengths! Write them down on sticky notes and stick them to your computer, your door, your wall (wherever you like) and remind yourself that you’re a brainbox with a normal memory and get past the negative hurdle… jump back up to tips 1, 2 and 3 and get back into perspective!

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Tip 5 

If you find you doubt your doubts, use the yin versus yang approach!

The “Yin versus Yang” method is useful for tackling doubts and fears which can interrupt your new healthier beliefs and perceptions where you argue with the positive belief. The argument often includes “what ifs?” and “buts” which can hold you back. Therefore, using a zig-zag technique allows you the opportunity to argue the two beliefs effectively.

YIN: Healthy positive choice of belief. YANG: Belief based on doubt/worry

Yin → My learning is productive with sound memory and knowledge; I have gained and retained my learning objectives so my recall is intact.

Yang ← What if that’s not the case? It doesn’t feel like that.

Yin → The facts say so and I do recall information following my revision periods, I just doubt that I don’t.

Yang ← What if I’m kidding myself? What if this isn’t really the case?

Yin→ My experiences are showing me otherwise.

Yang ← But there’s always a chance that I could be wrong and my memory is faulty.

Yin → Well I could be wrong; yet, living with uncertainty in the face of an obsession is healthier than struggling with never-ending doubts and what-ifs, and let’s face it, OCD is a fraud anyway. It’s more likely I’m stressed due to exams coming up and worrying about what my future prospects will be.

Yang ← But how can I be sure? I mean I know I’m stressed, but this is beyond what I can bear.

Yin → I can go around this circle only to come to the same conclusion which is that my problem is one of emotional reasoning which has caused me to believe my memory is suffering. I can get past this with a rational mind. By altering my emotional responses to more logical responses, I can help myself. For example, I can decide to live with uncertainty when doubt creeps in and bear with associated anxiety until it reduces naturally; or carry on worrying and getting nowhere fast.

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Tip 6 

Exposure scripts. These scripts can help you live with uncertainty.

There has to be no reassurance statements in an exposure script, otherwise it won’t work. This is because reassurance statements are compulsions, and compulsions strengthen the obsession. 

Record your script on to a loop tape and listen to it several times each day (say 20 minutes 4 times a day). The one below is an example. Notice how there are no reassurance statements. The intention is to become bored with the OCD threat since boredom and fear cannot be experienced together (Fred Prenzil), so one usually overrides the other. Your job is to get bored with your irrational fear…

Exposure Script: “In life the truth is that I can never have 100% certainty about anything. No matter how many times I go over the doubts in my mind, it can never be ascertained that my recall has or hasn’t failed me. Neither can I be certain of ever being released from the possibility of having no prospects or future stability due to poor memory. Besides, it cannot be made certain that my re-reading, double-checking and seeking reassurance rituals will save me from having a fruitless life, all without knowledge and wisdom. Further, the more I listen to my OCD and let it determine the limiting factors of my behaviours and actions, the more my symptoms will intensify. The sooner I recognise that OCD thoughts are based on irrational fears that serve emotional rather than sensible reasoning, the sooner my recovery will start; or improve.”

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Tip 7

When in doubt jump back up and re-read tips 1-6 or whichever tip helps you most… most of all, enjoy being a student, you have everything going for you!!

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