What if I stop breathing?
This is a pretty weird question to ask, is it not? First of all, why would you want to stop breathing? And secondly, would it actually be possible to intentionally stop breathing?
Well, at this point, you may say that these were absolutely crazy things to think about. However, if you are suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, such thoughts can easily turn your life into a living nightmare. And what does that nightmare feel like? That’s what I am trying to answer in today’s post about Body-Focused OCD.
What is Body-Focused OCD?
Body-Focused (or Somatic) OCD is a subest of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that causes intrusive thoughts which are focused on non-conscious body processes and functions, like breathing, blinking or physical sensations.
Common Obsessions & Compulsions
Now what does it actually feel like to have Body-Focused OCD? Let’s take a look at a couple of things that people with this subset with OCD may be worried about!
Most people do not pay much attention to their breathing – it is just an automatic process that they do not really worry about, but for those who are suffering from this form of OCD, it is an entirely different story.
OCD is a very creative mental disorder and it can give you a huge variety of breathing-related intrusive thoughts. Such as:
What if you stop breathing? Not because you’re planning to die but what if you just forget to breathe? Or what if you’re breathing at the wrong rate and this will damage your lungs? And finally, what if you will never be able to stop thinking about your breathing and you’ll need to live your whole life obsessing about it?
Mouth/Tongue during speech
What if my tongue does not move properly? What if I am not able to pronounce the sounds the way I should? And again, what if I will never be able to stop thinking about my mouth/tongue?
Now, I would not disagree with you if you told me that these questions sounded pretty irrational. But OCD is not a rational disorder. When I was a kid, I did not use to be able to pronounce the sound “R” – and it took me a long time to learn how to do it. So I guess this is why I was obsessed about the “R” sound in my late teens: I was terribly afraid of “forgetting” how to pronounce it and I really wanted to make sure I would never forget it – and these thoughts lead to a very unusual obsession: my OCD forced me to spend hours a day on making the “R” sound.
For most of us, blinking is something totally unconscious. But that’s not always the case for people with OCD, as blinking is another thing they can become obsessed about. And this obsession would include the fear of blinking too much or the fear of forgetting to blink and these thoughts can easily force OCD sufferers into time-consuming obsessions such as counting how many times they blinked.
Have you ever seen the floaters? The little harmless spots in your vision that are most visible when staring at the sky. Now, having floaters in your eyes is absolutely normal but if you are suffering from Body-Focused OCD, noticing them for the first time in your life can easily mean the start of a new obsession:
What I will never get rid of these floaters? And what if I will never be able to enjoy my life because of them?
Swallowing is another thing that most people do not pay much attention to. However, there are OCD sufferers who are obsessed with it: they spend exaggerated amount of time focusing on their swallowing. Why? I have not had this obsession myself but my friends who had it told me that he had started having this obsession because of the fear of choking.
What if your heart stops beating? Or what if it is beating at the wrong rate?
These are two of the many intrusive thoughts that people with somatic OCD can have. And as it’s very difficult to control your heartbeat (I am not a doctor, so I am not sure whether it’s even possible), this obsession would normally force you to check your heart rate/ pulse multiple times a day, without no rational reason.
I have not found too much information about this particular one on the internet, so I may be the only one who has it, but I am afraid of having fever – especially during the flu season, and let’s not even mention the novel coronavirus – and this fear forces me to take my temperature multiple times a day – again, without any rational reason: I do not take my temperature because I feel bad or feverish, I take it because I just feel that I have to.
A few other obsessions
I have read a very interesting article about Body-Focused Obsessions so I think it would be a shame if I did not share some of the things it had mentioned with you:
- What If I can never sleep again?
- What if toxic levels of carbon dioxide are accumulating in my lungs because I’m not exhaling enough CO2?
- I wouldn’t be paying attention to this if there wasn’t something to worry about.
- If other people find out I’m thinking about this, they’ll think I’m crazy.
Source: Stephen J. Seay
How to get rid of your obsessions?
Having Body-Focused OCD can be very challenging because you can not just run away from your obsessions: simply because you can not get out of your own body. (And let’s be honest, avoiding the situations that you’re afraid of is not a good idea anyway).
Consult a therapist
I think this is the number one piece of advice I can give to you. Not too creative, because this is what you’ll find on most of the OCD-related websites, but yes, seeking professional help is definitely the first step to take!
Do not try to stop thinking about it!
Okay, I know this may sound crazy but OCD is like a vicious cycle. The harder you try to get rid of an unpleasant thought, the more you actually think about it. So if an intrusive thought comes into your mind, just accept it. I do not want to be a hypocrite and I know this may be very difficult at the beginning, but believe me, if you learn to accept your thoughts, it will get much better!
Learn more about OCD
You must know your enemy to defeat him! The more you know about OCD, the better chances you have to fight it. Especially because it’s important to make a difference between “your real thoughts” and “the lies OCD is telling you”.
It would be next to impossible to give you every useful piece of information that comes into my mind in one single post, so please find a list of useful articles from different sources.
- Treatment for Body-Focused Obsessions & Compulsions in OCD (e.g., Swallowing, Breathing, Blinking)
- OCD Core Fears Related to Body-Focused Obsessions & Compulsions (e.g., Swallowing, Breathing, Blinking)
- When Automatic Bodily Processes Become Conscious: How to Disengage from Sensorimotor Obsessions
- OCD: Living a lie
- 12 things that will help you overcome OCD
- Set yourself free: How to break the vicious cycle?
- Demons are real: Stop Negative Self-Talk!