Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) impacts 1% – 2% of the general population to some degree. Some individuals will experience OCD counting, while others need to have things in order or in certain orientations. Some individuals with OCD repeat words in their heads or experience obsessive thoughts.
What causes OCD counting?
Counting in OCD is often used as a coping mechanism that a sufferer will use as a way to ease distress and stop intrusive thoughts. Over time, a person that has obsessive-compulsive disorder may designate certain numbers as good or bad.
Relying on counting rituals leads to a new obsession that the person reinforces when they have a good or bad experience. Perhaps the person stopped counting at the number 97 and went outside and had a bad experience. The person may feel that only numbers over 97 are good numbers, and if they count to 98 and then have a good experience, the obsession becomes reinforced.
We’re going to explore techniques on how to stop OCD counting so that you can find relief from this obsessive tendency.
OCD counting and its effects on daily life can happen suddenly, but they can be broken. Following the tips and strategies in this guide can help anyone suffering from counting rituals find relief and restore order in their lives.
How to Stop OCD Counting
OCD and counting can be overcome, but you need to take it seriously and work through the strategies below to break free from OCD counting rituals. Combining all of the strategies below will empower sufferers to overcome this habit that is far too easy to reinforce.
1. Seek Professional Help
Professional OCD counting treatment is available through ERP therapists. ERP stands for exposure and response prevention. Studies on ERP and OCD find 50% – 60% of people that complete their therapy session experience:
- Significant symptom improvement
- Long-term relief
ERP is also, in most cases, more effective than medications. A therapist will guide the patient on the right medication to take when necessary. Professional help will include exposing the person to their fears gradually.
The goal is to expose the person’s obsessions in an environment where they feel safe in. For example, if the individual needs to count to 100 before walking out of the door, the therapist may not allow them to count and take them outside.
Exposure will help the person start to feel comfortable exploring, not counting. ERP therapy will also demonstrate how the person should respond to the obsession in a healthy manner.
In addition to ERP, professional help may also include CBT.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
ERP is one part of CBT, but there are also other aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy that a therapist with training can help you leverage to address your counting habit. A person who is in CBT will work on their exposure ladder with their therapist and also work on:
- Triggers (imagined and in vivo)
- Exercises that start on the bottom step of the ladder
The two therapies will help a patient begin to understand their triggers and expose themselves enough that they realize counting isn’t positively impacting their lives. A lot of time in therapy is spent on overcoming compulsions and realizing that the fears are unjustified, even though they’re very real to the person in question.
3. Mindfulness Techniques
In addition to professional help, OCD counting will require a lot of diligence from the patient. A lot of work outside of a clinical setting must be performed, including mindfulness.
What does it mean to be mindful of OCD?
- Focus on your senses and what you experience before counting
- Analyze the thoughts that pop into your head and recognize that they’re just thoughts
- Be conscious of your thoughts and counting
- Distract yourself from counting to break the cycle
Being mindful of how you feel when counting or before counting will help you identify your triggers. Mindfulness will make you alert to the counting rituals you have and then can be used to break the focus. Focusing on your breath or the sound of birds outside is a form of mindfulness that can help you stay in the moment and not allow the mind to be consumed with distractions.
4. Challenge Your Counting Behaviors
OCD counting rituals are slowly integrated into a person’s compulsive tendencies and grow over time. Before a person realizes it, the counting that helped them distract their mind has now become an additional behavior that they need to overcome.
Challenging the counting behavior is one way for a person to stop their counting, and it works similarly in therapy.
A few steps to follow include:
- Recognize the counting
- Challenge yourself to break the cycle
- Choose small, less threatening triggers to challenge
Perhaps the person needs to count to 5 before picking up the phone and 100 when walking out of the bathroom. Instead, challenge the counting by answering the phone immediately or counting to 1 – 4 instead of 5.
Challenging the counting and realizing that nothing bad occurs is one of the best ways to overcome the condition. Diligence and resilience are key to realizing that counting behaviors can be broken.
5. Build a Support System
Support systems are an important part of overcoming compulsion because these systems are there when you’re at your weakest moments. You can find support in multiple ways:
- Group therapy
- Regular therapy
“System” is the key phrase in support and you want to ensure that there is little risk of the support chain breaking. For example, if you call your parent for support and the parent isn’t available, it can cause you to start counting again.
Fallbacks in the support system provide the greatest chance of successfully stopping counting rituals.
OCD counting has an impact on daily quality of life. The practice may start small and seem like a good way to overcome fear or distractions. Over time, the ritual can cause a person to perform counting rituals time and time again before leaving the house or enjoying certain activities.
Anyone who is counting can learn to face their fears and cope with counting by following a step-by-step approach, like the one outlined in the last section.
Treatment is available to cope with OCD and counting. Slowly and with persistence, you will regain your confidence, face your fears and learn positive ways to stop your obsessive-compulsive thoughts.