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3 Brain Exercises to Fight OCD Impulses

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s characterized by recurring, unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses (obsessions) that often lead to repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) in an effort to reduce anxiety. 

OCD can be a debilitating condition that interferes with a person’s daily life and relationships. Fortunately, there are various treatments available, including medication and therapy. In addition to these treatments, certain brain exercises have been shown to be effective in managing OCD symptoms and getting to the “root” of the neurological problems causing these thoughts and behaviors. In this article, we will explore three brain exercises that can help retrain the brain and reduce OCD impulses.

cognitive behavioral therapy

How Can Brain Exercises Help OCD Impulses?

Brain exercises can help fight obsessive-compulsive disorder impulses by altering the way the brain processes information and responds to anxiety-provoking stimuli. Research has shown that individuals with OCD have hyperactivity in certain areas of the brain, such as the basal ganglia, which is involved in habit formation, and the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and self-regulation. This hyperactivity can lead to repetitive, intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that help individuals with OCD attempt to reduce anxiety and regain a sense of control.

Brain exercises can help combat these OCD impulses by altering brain function and structure in the following ways:

  1. Increasing Prefrontal Cortex Activation: Mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy exercises, such as ERP, have been shown to increase prefrontal cortex activation. This increased activation can improve cognitive control, reduce impulsive behaviors, and enhance emotional regulation, all of which are areas of difficulty for individuals with OCD.
  2. Reducing Amygdala Activation: Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to reduce amygdala activation, which can lead to a decrease in anxiety and fear responses. This reduction in amygdala activation can help individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder tolerate the discomfort associated with their obsessive thoughts, and ultimately reduce the frequency and intensity of their compulsive behaviors.
  3. Strengthening Working Memory: Brain training exercises, such as those that focus on working memory and attention, can strengthen cognitive functioning and improve the ability to resist compulsive behaviors. These exercises challenge the brain to focus and sustain attention, process information quickly, and inhibit distracting thoughts or impulses, all of which can be helpful in managing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.

Overall, brain exercises can help fight OCD impulses by changing brain function and structure in ways that reduce anxiety, improve cognitive control, and increase emotional regulation. These changes can lead to a decrease in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, and ultimately improve the quality of life for individuals with OCD.

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obsessive thoughts

Three Brain Exercises to Try

Here are three brain exercises that individuals with OCD can try to help manage their symptoms:

  1. Exercise: Physical exercise has been hailed by some of the leading scientists as the greatest medication on the planet. In his groundbreaking book Spark, Dr. John Ratey of Harvard Medical School discusses the impact of certain types of exercise on specific brain chemicals. Exercise also helps to strengthen nerve connections, create new nerve cells, and improve fuel delivery to the brain. All of these factors are essential for improving brain function and can be beneficial for individuals with OCD. Exercise can also help to reduce anxiety and depression, which are commonly associated with OCD.
  2. Meditation/Relaxation: Mindful meditation, breathing techniques, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and other relaxation techniques can empower individuals with the ability to take the focus off of their problem thoughts and behaviors. This can have a profound impact on brain chemicals and body systems, as with exercise. These techniques can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.
  3. Interactive Metronome: Interactive Metronome is a bit more on the hi-tech end, but it can be effective in training the brain’s internal timing mechanisms through repetitive body movements made in concert with sound commands. By improving the timing and synchronization of brain systems, individuals with OCD can begin to dramatically improve their focus, attention, and cognitive control, critical brain “wiring” factors that need to be addressed when dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Improvement in chemical regulation and brain “wiring” can occur safely and quite cost-effectively through a number of approaches. These brain exercises can often be more effective than the standard interventions for OCD. While there are many well-known interventions for OCD and its associated disorders, including medications, exposure and response prevention, and psychological counseling, it is important to address the underlying chemical imbalances and brain “wiring” issues that contribute to OCD symptoms.

It’s important to note that while these brain exercises can be helpful for managing OCD symptoms, they should be used in conjunction with other treatments, such as therapy and medication, as appropriate. It’s also important to work with a certified mental health professional to develop an individualized treatment plan; preferably one that will collaborate with your functional neurologist in a team-based approach.

brain exercises to fight ocd impulses

Tips for Incorporating Brain Exercises into Your Daily Routine

Incorporating brain exercises into your daily routine can be an effective way to manage OCD symptoms. Here are some tips for making brain exercises a regular part of your routine:

  1. Set aside time each day: Set aside a specific time each day to practice your chosen brain exercise. This can be in the morning, during a lunch break, or in the evening before bed. Consistency is key, so try to practice at the same time each day.
  2. Start small and build up: If you’re new to brain exercises, start with a short amount of time each day and gradually increase as you become more comfortable. For example, start with 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation and gradually increase to 20 minutes. Or start with a simple level of dual n-back training and gradually increase the difficulty.
  3. Be patient with yourself: Brain exercises can be challenging, especially at first. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle or if you don’t see results right away. Remember that progress takes time, and be patient with yourself as you work to strengthen your brain.
  4. Make it fun: Brain exercises don’t have to be boring. Find ways to make your chosen exercise more enjoyable. For example, listen to calming music (with no lyrics) while practicing mindfulness meditation, or challenge a friend to a game of dual n-back training.
  5. Incorporate it into daily activities: You don’t always have to set aside a specific time each day to practice brain exercises. Try incorporating it into daily activities, such as taking a mindful walk or doing a brain training exercise during your commute.
  6. Track your progress: Keep track of your progress by journaling or using an app to track your mindfulness meditation or brain training progress. This can help motivate you to continue practicing and can also help you see how far you’ve come.
other ocd treatments

Other Strategies for Managing OCD Symptoms

In addition to brain exercises, there are many other strategies that can be helpful for managing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. Here are a few:

  • Medication: In some severe cases, medication can be helpful for managing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are a type of antidepressant that work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and anxiety.
  • Therapy: Therapy can be a highly effective treatment for OCD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), in particular, has been shown to be effective for managing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. In CBT, individuals work with a therapist to identify and challenge negative patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to OCD symptoms.
  • Support groups: Joining a support group can be helpful for individuals with OCD, as it can provide a sense of community and support. Support groups can also be a place to share strategies for managing symptoms and to learn from others who have experienced similar struggles.
  • Lifestyle changes: Making lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep, can be helpful for managing OCD symptoms. These changes can help reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being.
  • Mindfulness practices: In addition to mindfulness meditation, other mindfulness practices, such as yoga and tai chi, can be helpful for managing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. These practices can help reduce anxiety and improve emotional regulation.
  • Exposure and response prevention (ERP): ERP is a type of CBT that involves exposing individuals to their obsessive thoughts and preventing them from engaging in compulsive behaviors. This helps weaken the connection between obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, leading to a reduction in symptoms.

Remember that managing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms is a journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to work collaboratively with a mental health professional and your functional neurologist to develop an individualized treatment plan that takes into account your unique needs and circumstances.

ocd sufferer

In conclusion, OCD is a debilitating condition that interferes with daily life and relationships. Although there are various treatments available, brain exercises have also been shown to be effective in managing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms and giving an individual a greater sense of confidence in keeping these symptoms at bay. These exercises can help retrain the brain and reduce OCD impulses by altering brain function and structure in ways that reduce anxiety, improve cognitive control, and increase emotional regulation.

It’s important to note that while these brain exercises can be helpful, they should be used in conjunction with other treatments and with the guidance of a mental health professional. By incorporating brain exercises into your daily routine, you can improve your ability to manage OCD symptoms and improve the quality of your life.

overcome ocd

Dr. Michael S. Trayford is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Neurofeedback Specialist with over 20 years of experience in the practice of advanced functional neurology. He is one of the most highly sought-after brain rehabilitation specialists because of the life-changing outcomes his patients consistently experience. After over a decade in private practice and working alongside other pioneers in the field, Dr. Trayford developed his multimodal intensive brain training and rehabilitation program built around the science of Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to learn and grow dependent upon the stimulation it receives from its environment. He later founded APEX Brain Centers to combine his ground-breaking rehabilitation approach with a unique patient and caretaker-centered care model. Under Dr. Trayford’s leadership, APEX Brain Centers has successfully treated thousands of patients and earned the reputation of a world-renowned brain training and rehabilitation practice. Since its inception, Dr. Trayford has been a leader of the Brain Training revolution treating patients worldwide. In addition, he is a published journal contributor and international lecturer. His experience with various patients of all ages and neurological conditions has given him a unique perspective on brain health and human performance. He is also well-versed in collaborating with other health care professionals, making him an invaluable asset to any care team. Dr. Trayford was awarded the Functional Neurologist of the Year distinction by the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation, where he is a proud member and conference lecturer. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Council for the Dementia Society of America and the Board of Directors for the International Society for Neuroregulation and Research. He is also a servant leader who has dedicated his adult life to serving multiple communities through Rotary International and other notable causes. When he’s not treating patients, Dr. Trayford usually reads or researches anything related to the brain, human performance, and leadership. He also loves spending time outdoors with his wife Denise, their two daughters, and dogs in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. https://www.linkedin.com/in/drmichaeltrayford/

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