The “distracting factor”

This refers to an improvement in terms of symptoms (a reduction in frequency and intensity of obsessive thoughts, as well as in compulsive acts proper) as a consequence of living life periods of special stimulation, pleasure, intensity, or novelty. A clear example is the betterment experienced by people who travel abroad with student scholarships, or on student exchanges. Another one is moving from an old city to a new one. Yet another is a simple trip (abroad or not) and breaking routines, and every-day repetitiveness. Becoming in love and starting a new relationship is yet another kind of these very positive distraction factors.

In these circumstances, it is very frequent for OCD to diminish greatly, or even (in a few cases) to go away entirely! Albeit, temporarily… For when the person goes back to their regular life at the end of the special experience, when these very positive emotional stimuli become scarce again, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder usually worsens or appears once again. You yourself may have experienced this “distraction factor”; it is evident when positive and diminishing changes happen to OCD after what can be referred to as episodes of special happiness and positive experiences. The exact opposite also applies: OCD is worsened after periods of stress, wariness, unusual worries, excess of work and responsibilities, etc. Why does this happen? Why does obsessive compulsive-disorder return when the individual seemed like he or she was completely healed?


distracting factor

The answer is, the positive experiences in a person’s life are a force towards distraction (as a factor in OCD). The new and positive situations of special intensity, the changes (at times radical) in day-to-day routines, the all-surrounding positive stimuli, or even being in-love, all work towards the betterment of the disorder. Their minds are busy with the generation of positive emotions and feelings, so there is no space for negative mental states that allow for obsessive thoughts to thrive, and sicken and overwhelm the sufferer. On a neurophysiological level, the fact is that positive emotions and the absence or diminishment of negative thoughts and anxiety lessen the load and stress on the amygdala, so the burden to it is relieved, resulting in a halt to its overstimulation and stressfulness.

The amygdala, located deep within the brain, is responsible for the symptoms associated with clinical anxiety. This reduction in hyper-excitement to the amygdala translates as lessened frequency in terms of negative thoughts. Not all people come to experience this distraction factor. Oftentimes these good situations and life occurrences come accompanied by preoccupation and worriment; they are linked to expectancies and inner pressure for fitting within new groups of people, for being liked by the person we like, for keeping good grades, etc. When these things happen, the negative thoughts will overload and stress-out the brain’s amygdala, so OCD becomes self-sustaining and is NOT reduced.

We can conclude that what determines if a person will or will not live the “distraction factor” is not the situation proper, not the stimuli per se, but the way the person views the new and inherently positive situation; it may be a stressful and bothersome one to some people! The reason though for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to appear again when this situation or life-period ends (of special stimulation, novelty, or pleasure), is that its causes have not been dealt with, treated, or eliminated. It becomes evident that we must seek in life situations that generate or favor the uprising of this “distraction factor”, for it can be of special aid in overcoming OCD.

Obviously most people cannot “leave their old lives behind”, go to live abroad, start over in life, go backpacking and traverse the World, find a new couple overnight, etc. What they CAN do however, is to find little improvements in their lives, little changes; they can go back to old hobbies, meet their friends more often, and even dedicate more time to entertainment and distractions (Unless they are monks and nuns or something! Although, help from Above is always a blessing). It’s all about starting to have more fun, seeing things in more positive lights (or simply being more optimistic!), or even little things here and there, such as getting more weekend getaways, catching a movie more often, or going to expositions and conferences on our favorite topics…

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