There are multiple ways to address obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. Among these, mindfulness meditation is a very effective way that can enhance any other approach of your choosing. Both conditions respond well to positive lifestyle changes, and certainly, mindfulness meditation is a positive lifestyle change.
The research connecting mindfulness meditation with anxiety and OCD is plenty. I wouldn’t know where to begin to reference different studies because there are so many that show positive outcomes on this topic. A lot of the research comes from Jon Kabat Zinn’s 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. It is being taught all over the world and is present in practically all healthcare settings. To date, there are over 2,500 studies published worldwide. Those of interested in an in-depth read can do a specific Internet research.
For the sake of brevity, here I will summarize the factors connecting OCD/anxiety, stress, and mindfulness. I will do this by explaining how mindfulness meditation is used as a stress reduction program.
The Problem Of Unresolved Stress
To begin with, we have discovered that in our stressful every day lives, we are not processing stress like we should. The big news in research is that stress reaction (fight, flight, or freeze) doesn’t resolve itself in many situations. The result is that acute stress remains, sometimes for years, and becomes chronic stress. During fight, flight, or freeze, many physical, mental, and emotional changes take place. Imagine if those changes hung around for years and were pushed below the surface to keep them out of the way. It would create a host of issues.
One of the characteristics of fight or fight is fear. Fear in the short run is a very positive response. Fight or flight is our survival mechanism and without fear, we wouldn’t be as effective at surviving. The problem comes when the fight or flight doesn’t resolve itself and the fear becomes chronic, producing many iterations/expressions of itself over time. Anxiety and OCD are simply such expressions of fear that hasn’t been resolved. Anxiety is generalized fear and OCD is a behavior that is designed to create the feeling of control. The need for control is driven by fear.
How Does Mindfulness Help?
Mindfulness reverses chronic stress and fear, thereby addressing the root driver to OCD and anxiety. When we go into fight or flight, our main coping mechanism is our ability to disconnect from the present moment. It is very common to feel disconnected from our bodies, thoughts, and emotions in such situations. In a short-term situation, this response works well. In a long-term situation, it perpetuates the phenomena of being stuck in the fear/fight or flight mode. It’ s as if the body senses that because we are disconnected, there is still danger, and so it retains us in a fight or flight mode.
Mindfulness meditation is the process of paying attention to our bodies, thoughts, and emotions in the present moment. We actually reconnect to those same things that we disconnected from in fight or flight. At this point, it is as if the body senses that because we are reconnecting, the danger is no longer present. Here, the body shifts the nervous system to come out of fear/fight or flight. The system gradually normalizes and fear goes away. Fear, the potent driver of anxiety and OCD, resolves itself and no longer energizes the anxiety and OCD. It is at this point that many mindfulness meditation practitioners discover the connection between fear, anxiety, and OCD. As the fear from being stuck in fight or flight subsides, so does anxiety and OCD.