What is Blinking OCD?
If you find that you can’t stop focusing on or noticing your blinking, you count the times you blink on a regular basis, or you frequently can’t stop paying attention to sensations in your eyes, you may be suffering from fear of blinking Sensorimotor OCD.
Sensorimotor obsessions involve either a focus on or hyper-awareness of an automatic bodily process or sensation. Hyperawareness OCD often refers to the excessive attention paid to external stimuli. Someone who experiences Hyperawareness OCD feels as if whatever their brain has fixated on is louder, brighter, closer, constant or frequent, and is extremely distracting to them compared to the average person. Their brain has latched onto very specific stimuli and it feels impossible for them to break free.
OCD is characterized by obsessions that cause distress and compulsions done to relieve the distress. An obsession is an unwanted intrusive thought, image, feeling, urge, or sensation that causes a significant amount of distress. With OCD, intrusive thoughts are like false alarms in your brain. They set off the “danger signal” even when there is no danger. Responding with compulsions reinforces the brain to treat false alarms as real, and to believe that compulsions resolved an actual threat. This causes the same false threat and distress to arise whenever intrusive thoughts or sensations arise again, and does nothing to prevent them from coming back. By resisting the urge to do compulsions and practicing non-engagement, or response prevention, you teach your brain that those false alarms are just that: false.
Blinking OCD is a subtype that falls under sensorimotor obsessions and involves fears about the frequency or intensity of the sound or feeling of oneself or other people blinking, or a repeated urge to blink or fixate on blinking. They may also fear that they will never be unaware of their blinking. This will most likely become very distressing for the person struggling to live their lives. The distress may arise as anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, or doubt. Fear of blinking distress often begins to affect their functioning in areas such as school, work, sleep, social life, relationships, and home life.
When managing symptoms of Sensorimotor OCD (like excessive blinking), it is helpful to understand the difference between awareness and attention. Although the hyperawareness that comes with this manifestation of OCD may feel automatic or uncontrollable, once the person is aware of the fact that they are fixated on something, they can then teach themselves that they can control where they direct their attention.
The challenge when treating sensorimotor subtypes in OCD is to redirect one’s attention without engaging in compulsive avoidance. Distraction is one of the compulsions individuals will use to push such unwanted thoughts out of their awareness. This is the trap created by OCD: the harder someone tries to push something out of their mind, the more likely it is to return with greater frequency and intensity.
Blinking OCD – Common obsessions
- How often am I blinking?
- Am I blinking the normal amount of times?
- Am I blinking more or less than other people?
- Am I blinking normally?
- Will I ever be able to stop paying attention to my blinking?
- What will happen if I stop blinking?
- Will I go blind?
Individuals with fear of blinking may be triggered by situations that induce anxiety or call attention to their blinking, but these situations are usually different for everyone. Triggers can involve anything that reminds one of blinking, including thinking about blinking and the act of blinking itself.
Triggers for people with blinking OCD include:
- Becoming aware of their blinking
- Looking in the mirror
- Paying attention to it which can lead to rumination and analysis
- Nighttime routines and trying to sleep
How can I tell if it’s fear of blinking in sensorimotor OCD and not anxiety or stress?
For something to be OCD and not anxiety or stress, a number of criteria have to be met:
- An unwanted persistent thought, image, urge, or sensation
- Distress, anxiety, or discomfort resulting from the unwanted thought, image, urge, or sensation
- Compulsive or safety-seeking behaviors done in an attempt to resolve the distress, anxiety, or discomfort.
A compulsion is something done in response to obsessions in an attempt to reduce anxiety or distress. Compulsions prevent the brain from learning that obsessions present no real danger. Each time a person performs a compulsion, the temporary relief they feel reinforces the misconception that the obsession posed a real threat or danger. For example, in an individual’s effort to push blinking out of their awareness through distraction or avoidance, they are actually continuing to bring attention to it over time.
Common fear of blinking compulsions performed mentally or physically include:
- Asking others for reassurance
- Analyzing or rumination
- Excessive mental analysis of the act/sensation, trying to “figure it all out”
- Counting blinks and monitoring sensations to make sure they feel “normal”
How to treat fear of blinking
|Excessive Blinking themes in Sensorimotor OCD can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable by doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained licensed mental health professional, preferably one who specializes in treating OCD. |
Some ways to reduce excessive blinking involve reducing the compulsive mental analysis which often occurs during rumination, and resisting urges to try and figure out exactly why it continues to occur or what it “means.” This is a gradual process which takes time and practice through guided ERP therapy.
In order to help someone learn to reduce or resist compulsive behaviors, an OCD specialist will design exposures, or exercises where a person’s obsessions and resulting distress are carefully, intentionally triggered.
Examples of blinking OCD treatment exposures
Put a reminder on a phone or on a piece of paper to bring their blinking into awareness so the individual can practice not directing attention to the blinking. It is okay to be aware—they simply acknowledge the presence of their obsessions and direct their attention to their day-to-day tasks as usual.
Do anything that they generally avoid in an attempt to keep obsessions at bay. This could involve looking in the mirror, going into public places, reading, or any situation that the person has avoided doing as a result of their triggers and anxieties.
All in all, ERP has to be practiced day in and day out—it’s a lifestyle change. Practice, practice practice. With the help of a trained professional with experience treating OCD, you can recover from Sensorimotor OCD.