Asking for reassurance is a common behavior in people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders. The purpose behind this coping skill is to relieve anxiety- but does it actually work in the long term?
Unfortunately, even though reassurance may provide temporary relief, it often leads to more anxiety and compulsive behaviors in the long run. There are, however, effective treatments for OCD that can help reduce the frequency and intensity of these behaviors. These treatments, like Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), greatly reduce the burden of OCD and anxiety symptoms.
What does reassurance look like?
Reassurance seeking is typically triggered by obsessive or intrusive thoughts, or feelings of worry or anxiety. For instance, someone may repeatedly ask friends or family members to verify whether they are contaminated with germs, have locked the doors, or acted appropriately in a given situation. Google is another common way to seek reassurance! While getting that reassurance may provide temporary relief from anxiety, it reinforces the OCD/anxiety cycle by maintaining the belief that you cannot cope with the feelings of anxiety, and the cycle continues with more reassurance seeking.
What are good alternatives to dealing with anxiety?
When anxiety or intrusive thoughts come up, its totally normal to want to get rid of the uncomfortable feelings. BUT, that is actually the opposite of what we want to do! I believe its important to develop a new relationship with your anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings, thus, they have less control and power over you. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a great alternative to seeking reassurance!
How does ERP work?
ERP is the first line treatment for OCD, but is also used for reassurance seeking or avoidance in anxiety. It involves being exposed systematically and gradually to anxiety-provoking situations that trigger the obsession or anxiety, paired with refraining from engaging in behaviors that are reassuring in order to learn you are capable of handling the situation.
Implementing ERP can be a challenging process and requires a lot of courage from individuals as it requires purposely exposing oneself to anxiety-provoking situations. ERP can help over time by reducing the frequency and intensity of the anxiety-inducing symptoms, and by having a more workable relationship with the distress.
What are some examples of using ERP when wanting reassurance?
One way to manage reassurance seeking is to delay gratification. For example, when feeling the urge to ask for reassurance, delay the time between the urge and the behavior. This technique helps to gain mastery over the anxiety instead of being controlled by it. Additionally, it is encouraged to actually seek support instead of reassurance, and to use mindfulness skills learned in therapy sessions to add more flexibility into our lives.
If you feel you want to gain more skills to face your fears and stand up to your intrusive worries, reach out today for a 15 minute consult with me to learn more!