(Click here to listen to the full episode.)
Why No One is “So OCD!”
In this inspiring episode of the Essential Oil Revolution, Cristina Chua, MSW joins me to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart, because it has to do with mental health. As many of you know, I’m on a mission to transform the stigma of mental health as being perceived as a character flaw or solely a biochemical imbalance. Rather it should be viewed as a brain health disorder stemming from a variety of causes that can benefit from integrative and wholistic support.
Now, you’ve probably heard someone in the past few months utter “I’m so OCD!” Usually, it refers to someone being overly tidy or wanting things in a certain order. To someone who truly struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, this term is triggering. It can minimize the pain one experiences from having this crippling psychiatric diagnosis.
OCD is not cute. It’s not about a preference for organizing, cleaning, perfectionism, and it’s NOT a personality flaw or a willpower issue. Approximately 2-3% of the national population is diagnosed with OCD in their lifetime. Of the adults who struggle with OCD, 50% are believed to have serious impairment in everyday functioning.
This is why I am so excited that Cristina is on the show. She is one of the most compassionate, kind-hearted, and knowledgeable therapists and coaches that I know. She is an expert in helping people reclaim their life from OCD and anxiety. Her technique is grounded in trauma and neuroscience informed care, emotional regulation, and mindful self-compassion. Cristina also loves incorporating aromatherapy into her work with her clients and personal wellness practice.
In this post, I’ll provide a summary of what Cristina and I discussed on the show, but please listen to the whole episode and share it with those who would benefit.
We need to have more accessible, integrative tools for mental health, so people don’t feel like a treatment failure when conventional approaches don’t work for them. Cristina offers one such method to us.
The Problem with the “Gold Standard” Treatment
Cristina shares with us her incredible journey of what led her to be an OCD therapist and coach. Cristina wasn’t even aware of what OCD was and like many people, her OCD was missed. In fact in a 2021 systemic review article on the misdiagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder, lack of knowledge about the condition resulted in OCD sufferers often being undiagnosed for ten or more years.
According to the National Institute of Health, OCD is “a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (“obsessions”) and/or behaviors (“compulsions”) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” These thoughts and patterns are marked by distress, anxiety, and interfere with one’s ability to function.
OCD is a brain disorder, just like any other disorder of any other organ, so it can manifest in many different forms. There are various themes one can have including those that center on health, religion, sexual thoughts, gender identity, and harm. There is also “Pure O”, a type of obsessive thought pattern around a certain theme and the rituals are completed in one’s head vs. outwardly.
OCD can also show up in the form of “doubt.” Cristina explains this is when someone gets locked in feeling uncertainty and constant checking as a result. This pattern reinforces to the brain that one is unsafe and perpetuates the cycle. Not being able to determine what is real and what is not adds another level of distress on top of the OCD.
The gold standard treatment for OCD, exposure response prevention (ERP), a form of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), can be very effective for some. However, it’s efficacy is only around 50% for those who complete treatment (and it has a 20-30% dropout rate).
Cristina struggled for seven years with OCD before she found effective treatment, as the “gold standard” failed to help her. This is when she found the Havening Technique.
The Difference Between Tolerating Anxiety and Uncertainty and Healing the Brain from Trauma
Cristina feels that OCD is based on the amygdala hijacking the brain and this puts it in a constant state of surveillance and not able to shut down. This prevents one from being able to see the reality of a situation, because when the amygdala is running the show it’s flooding someone with physiological chemicals for survival. Her feeling is that we must calm down the amygdala which would allow people to heal the brain by creating new neural pathways that allow one to feel safe.
The most important part to understand to recover from OCD, according to Cristina, is respecting that the brain is frightened. Then, one can discover the root cause of the fear response, whether it’s from stress, genetics, or trauma.
Cristina explains that in ERP, someone is asked to change their behavior in hopes that “the brain will come along for the ride.” The goal is to build up tolerance for uncomfortable emotions. With her technique, one does not need to tolerate being uncomfortable to deal with a triggering situation. Rather, one can learn how to cope with it more effectively.
Cristina and I also agree that it is of vital importance for someone to find what works for them rather than trying to fit into a treatment that isn’t addressing their brain’s needs. We also discussed the importance of a wholistic approach to healing the brain vs. focusing on one technique and the importance of patient/client empowerment.
The Havening Technique for Calming the Hijacked Amygdala
Essential oil users are very familiar with the amygdala, as they directly impact this part of our brain. This is what is associated with their calming effects.
Cristina describes the Havening Process which also calms the amygdala. It is a relatively new technique, starting in 2001. It was originally created as a treatment for trauma, but has been expanded to address many other issues and also enhance brain resiliency.
There are two parts of this technique:
1. Soothing touch
Our sense of touch, similarly to our sense of smell, creates changes in the brain. One study demonstrated this by exhibiting that massage changed the EEG, brain waves, and cortisol levels of the trial participants.
In Havening, one uses touch on the palms, across the arms, over the brows, and underneath the eyes. This process changes the brain’s fast wave state to a slow wave, delta state. Delta waves are what we experience in deep sleep. This signals the brain to calm down and release serotonin, GABA, and oxytocin. This results in one feeling more relaxed and connected to relationships.
Distraction helps to serve to tame the amygdala as well. It interrupts the fear response with the association of a calming touch. One can form their own list of distractions and use them as needed.
To summarize, the Havening technique puts someone into the parasympathetic state. By incorporating touch the brain produces nourishing brain signals and delta waves which calm the mind-body. Adding this with distraction displaces the fear response to the stimuli. (R) The end result is that the triggering event pathway becomes “unplugged” and the traumatic response is released. (R, R) It is based on the concept of neuroplasticity, similarly to the Aroma Freedom technique discussed in episode 380.
Cristina uses this process to help make someone feel safe vs. cope with feeling anxious. It heals the brain and allows one to get to the root of the brain imbalance, rather than put up with it.
Aromatherapy and the Havening Technique to Accentuate Feeling Safe and Calm the Mind-Body
Cristina discusses how she uses aromatherapy and integrates it into the distraction part of the Havening Technique. One can smell an essential oil while envisioning themselves in a peaceful place. For example, lavender essential oil can be inhaled during the process, as it is often associated with healing and soothing. One can also diffuse essential oils to enhance calm during the experience of Havening.
She also uses aromatherapy as an anchor to create new neural pathways. Smelling the oil can help the brain to connect to calmness, resiliency, and confidence in situations where one may feel triggered.
It is a beautiful episode and I really hope you give yourself the opportunity to benefit from listening to Cristina. Everyone deserves to experience her compassion and passion for supporting people with mental health disorders to navigate through life with more joy and freedom.
Here’s an overview of what you will learn in the full episode:
- What inspired Cristina to start working as a therapist and coach for people with OCD?
- The problems with “gold standard” treatments, especially when they don’t work.
- What is OCD and how it manifests?
- The different types of OCD and some of its themes.
- What goes on in the brain of someone with OCD and how the amygdala hijacks one’s executive functioning.
- What are the Havening Techniques and how Cristina uses them in her work with OCD.
- How Cristina incorporates aromatherapy into her work with OCD clients.
- The difference between training the brain to tolerate uncertainty and using coping strategies to live life with less fear.
- How Cristina’s approach is different from the “gold standard” treatment for OCD, ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) and how her approach with this new tool is viewed by conventional psychiatry.
- The importance of the emerging science on the Havening Technique and essential oils.
- Closing questions: What Cristina does for daily self-care and what she feels we should ditch and replace with instead to have a more nourishing or healthier life.
- Essential Oil Hacks: How Cristina incorporates essential oils in her personal life and for everyday use.
Click here to listen in on the latest episode and access the show notes.
Bio of Cristina Chua, MSW
In addition to being a coach, Cristina is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who earned her MSW from Silberman School of Social Work and a BA in International Relations from Brown University. She has worked in family counseling, as a trauma therapist, as a social worker in a youth empowerment program for immigrant youth, and as a trainer.
Cristina brings her knowledge of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) into her coaching work. She is also a Certified Havening Techniques® Practitioner. This is a gentle, neuroscience-based approach that helps people heal from trauma, anxiety, and stressful life circumstances. Furthermore, Cristina is a mindfulness and yin yoga practitioner who has been inspired by the teachings of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Thich Nhat Hahn, and Jon Kabit-Zinn (the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction-MBSR).
As a dancer, Cristina has continued to be interested in how the creative process can be used for transformation and healing. She studied voice, breathing and the Alexander Technique with the wonderful Jean McClelland. She enjoys combining her knowledge of mindfulness techniques and the creative process to support her clients in getting unblocked and into the flow of their lives.
Links to learn more about Cristina, her offerings, and the Havening Technique:
More Information and the Science of the Havening Technique
- My Post on the Science of the Havening Technique
- An Introduction to the Havening Technique
- Havening website
- CPR for the Amygdala Handout
- Healing in Your Hands Book
Videos on the Havening Technique
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Hormonal, Mood, and Digestive Support
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- Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
- Learn about my community membership program that provides full access to my essential oils database, essential oils course, Q&As, and exclusive content.
- Tools for coping with isolation and separation.
- The Essential Oil Revolution Podcast
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.