My wife and I just celebrated the birth of our third child, and first daughter. The birth of our child came with all the love and joy that we knew she would bring, and also introduced the newest tornado into our lives. Our nice daily schedule with the boys, eating and exercise routines, bed time routines, everything was completely upended in one day. Since she was born most of my self-care has gone by the wayside. I lost 10 pounds during the beginning of quarantine and may have gained all of it back. My sons and I had started some worksheets to help them learn letters and numbers and that has been replaced by who knows how many cartoons. My sleep is...inconsistent at best.
During the upheaval I have noticed a lot of my personal poor mental health habits return. Personally, I turn inward. I ruminate, keep things to myself, let them build, and let them out at inappropriate times and places. I lose my connection with the present moment and instead fall into the abyss of my mind. It is frustrating when this happens. I have worked for a long time on my mental health and do not like when that is undermined! When this happens to me I remind myself to take control of what I can am able. I make a conscious effort to say my thoughts out loud so they do not swim in my head. I track my calorie intake so it does not get out of control. I remind myself to stay present with my children, even if I have to remind myself of that 10 times in a 5 minute game of hide-and-seek.
I am writing about this part of my life today because I am struck by my frustration at my mental health and a how similar it is to questions I get from patients very often. Questions such was: "What are the things I can do, outside of ERP, to help my OCD?" People want to know if increasing sleep or exercise will help their OCD. If dieting or cutting out gluten or GMO's will help their OCD. If there is a magic bullet that is more palatable than exposure therapy. The answer, generally, is no. ERP is the single most effective thing you can do to help your OCD. However, your self-care will make doing your ERP and making other good mental health choices easier.
Although there is disagreement in the field, many believe that self-control is a limited resource. And the field generally agrees that good physical health choices: eating well, getting enough sleep, exercise, all help to give you the energy and willpower to make good and healthy choices. And living with OCD is all about making a huge number of small, healthy choices. Touch the doorknob though it may be dirty, engage with people and stimuli that make you anxious, get into your life, tolerate unwanted feelings and move forward.
So, no matter what stressors you do or do not have in your life, see if you can arrange your days around making the small, healthy choice, physically or psychologically, that gives you the energy, confidence, and drive to keep building towards the life you want to live. Live healthy because it helps you with exposure therapy, and do exposure therapy because it gives you the life you want. It will all be worth it in the end! If you have any concern about finding the right ERP therapist for you please contact me!