Rewire Your OCD Brain by Catherine M. Pittman and William H. Youngs explains how your brain works and how you can take advantage of that to manage OCD.
The book focuses on the two main areas in the brain that are relevant to OCD, the cortex and amygdala. It explains the role of each, how they communicate with each other, and how that contributes to symptoms. Key points that are emphasized repeatedly are that thoughts are just thoughts, but the amygdala assumes they represent truth and generates the fight/flight/freeze response, which is misinterpreted as being a signal that there’s actual danger.
The authors also explain that the feeling like you’re going crazy sometimes actually makes a lot of sense when you know how the brain works, because the cortex (and therefore your conscious thought) isn’t in control of the vehicle when the amygdala is getting you ready to run away from the tiger that only exists in your thoughts. The authors aren’t dismissive with any of this, and reassure the reader that your amygdala is reacting the same way whether the tiger is in your thoughts or in front of you. There’s a lot of normalizing in a good way, as in, your brain does [x], so for you to experience [y] is to be expected, and it doesn’t mean you’re a freak.
The authors say that people with OCD underestimate how commonly people have random intrusive thoughts (it actually happens all the time), and a key difference is that in OCD, people get fused to their thoughts, thinking they represent absolute truth. These intrusive thoughts may come from the left hemisphere, which uses words, or the right hemisphere, which uses visuals and other sensory material.
After explaining all the background information on how things work, the book shifts into strategies for rewiring both the cortex and the amygdala. These strategies are all tied back into brain functioning, and the authors acknowledge that they may sound too simple to work, but they actually do. Exercise can help in the moment when you’re experiencing distress because the amygdala is preparing you to run away from the tiger, so exercising helps burn off some of that adrenaline rush. Slow, deep breathing recommended as the best anti-anxiety strategy there is, as it’s the most effective way to calm the amygdala. Exposure and response prevention is also discussed, and framed as the only way for the amygdala to learn what’s not dangerous.
I love the biology focus, because I’m really into that kind of thing in general. Even if it’s not generally your thing, though, knowing the underlying processes really helps to make it clear why OCD does what it does. Although it’s very brain-focused, the authors used clear, simple language without relying on a lot of jargon, and it doesn’t go into unnecessary detail. Everything is clearly related to how the brain stuff impacts the way people are feeling.
I think this book makes a great choice for anyone wanting to gain a greater understanding of the nuts and bolts behind OCD.
Rewire Your OCD Brain is available on Amazon.
I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.
You can find my other book reviews here.
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