As December comes to an end, many people turn their attention towards reflecting on the past year, considering goals for the year ahead, and making plans for New Year’s Eve celebrations. These events can be positive experiences for some, but if you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the time around New Year’s could feel different to you.
New Year’s already falls within the holiday season, a time of new variables and changes in our routines that can lead to a flare in OCD symptoms, but, while everyone’s experience is unique, there are other aspects of this holiday that may explain why it can be triggering for some people with OCD. Becoming aware of these unexpected ways OCD might try to crash the party can help you respond more effectively.
1. A heightened sense of uncertainty
Many people I’ve worked with over the years have noticed their OCD symptoms flaring up around times of significance, anticipation, and change. New Year’s meets those criteria, so it makes sense that this holiday might become a target for OCD. This condition doesn’t like the unknown, after all, and what could be more unknown than the entire year ahead?
Uncertainty surrounding New Year’s resolutions, future plans, and the general unpredictability of the year ahead can intensify obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. OCD often demands that we “know” with certainty things which we cannot possibly know, falsely promising that certainty will alleviate our fear or anxiety.
By allowing uncertainty to exist, as uncomfortable as it might feel at first, we can break the constant cycle of trying to appease OCD with compulsions, only to have our fears resurface. If you’re wondering how you can practice allowing uncertainty to exist, a good first step is to learn what it really means to accept uncertainty. Then, you can try strategies that can help you sit with uncertainty without engaging in compulsions.
2. New Year’s rituals and magical thinking
When you have OCD, uncertainty can give way to magical thinking, or the belief that one’s thoughts, words, or actions can control unrelated events. People who experience magical thinking, which can be involved in many themes of OCD, may have distressing intrusive thoughts that they will be responsible for something awful happening if they don’t perform specific rituals, or compulsions.
While magical thinking can manifest in endless ways at any time of the year, around New Year’s Eve, people with OCD may notice it as the belief that they could have done something to “ruin” the year ahead, or the belief that they need to do New Year’s Eve “correctly” in order to have a good year.
If you notice yourself struggling with magical thinking around New Year’s Eve, you’re not alone. In addition to seeking effective treatment, learning more about the hyper-responsibility that people with OCD can experience, effective ways to respond to intrusive thoughts, and strategies for resisting compulsions can be a helpful starting point in addressing this behavior.
3. Pressure to make the new year “perfect”
People with OCD have a tendency to put lots of pressure on themselves. As a society, we tend to put a lot of pressure on New Year’s Eve and the new year—take the phrase, “New Year, new you,” for example. When these two tendencies come together, it can create a great deal of stress. Those struggling with OCD might experience unrealistic expectations for the new year, thinking they have to make it “perfect.”
I’ve experienced this myself. I recall stressing out on New Year’s Eve, wanting to ensure that I started the year in a specific way. While others felt excited about their resolutions or enjoyed the comfort of a New Year’s get-together, my anxiety would build as the night progressed. When the clock struck midnight, I had to be different. I had to start praying more, I had to read the Bible more, I had to never displease God. Sometimes, my goals would focus on eating healthy, but to the excess. OCD likes to have things done in excess.
Here’s the truth about “New Year, new you”: it was never necessary or realistic for any of us to become an entirely new version of ourselves. Perfection isn’t a goal we need to set for ourselves because perfection doesn’t exist. Instead, let’s make this the year we fight back against the self-criticism of OCD and remember that we’ve always been enough. If we choose to set New Year’s resolutions, let’s approach our goals with self-compassion, aiming to pursue our values and honor our efforts along the way.
4. Concerns about another year of feeling “stuck”
For those who’ve had a difficult year—or many difficult years—in regards to OCD, the approaching new year might bring up feelings of dread. Without support and proper treatment, OCD can feel overwhelming, leaving you discouraged, exhausted, and wondering if you’re strong enough to keep fighting. But what if we flipped the script?
Instead, let’s tell ourselves, “I have survived everything OCD has thrown at me this past year. I am stronger, wiser, and more able to recognize this disorder for what it is.” This change of mindset can help us show ourselves compassion and take a more strengths-based approach—because whether or not you feel like it right now, you are strong. It takes an immense amount of strength and resilience to make it through everything you’ve faced.
Let’s also consider approaching this year with radical acceptance. What I mean by this is accepting that we cannot change what happened last year, or any year before. Additionally, we cannot control what will happen in the year to come. What we do have control over is how we respond to OCD. We have the power to focus on what we can do healthily and to take each moment, even the challenges, as an opportunity to continue moving towards our values.
Take the power back from OCD this year
With the start of a new year comes a new opportunity to let go of anything that no longer serves you. You can live life on your own terms, rather than according to OCD’s demands, and there’s no better time to start than right now. OCD is very treatable. You just have to take this initial step in your journey, and we’re here to help you do it.
If you’re ready to take the power back from OCD this year, you can book a free call with our team to learn more about starting treatment with NOCD. On the call, we can answer any questions you may have and help you get matched with a therapist. All NOCD Therapists specialize in treating OCD and receive specialty training in ERP therapy, the most effective treatment.