What’s the right number of times to wash your hands?

I find it helpful to approach OCD as being all about trying to get rid of uncertainty and other feelings you don’t like. So trying to figure out the “right” number of times to wash your hands when you’re cutting out hand-washing compulsions isn’t something I’d recommend. If you do hear that a specific number is the right number, that’ll only create an opportunity for your brain to question whether you really washed the exact number of times you’re supposed to. Or if you read it’s a specific amount of time you need to wash, or a particular distance you need to wash up your arms, or a precise temperature you need to have the water at to effectively kill off the germs, these are all going to create opportunities for new compulsions. But the thing is, you are going to wash your hands. So what do you do?

Pick something. Just decide how you’re going to wash and stick to it. That way of washing simply becomes the way you wash, for no particular reason, it’s just what you do. Your brain can throw any uncertainty or anxiety or intrusive thought at you, and that’s fine, it doesn’t have to change how you wash because how you wash isn’t up for debate. This enables you to tackle OCD: by accepting the stuff in your head, not reacting to it with compulsions, and instead putting your time and energy into things you care about. Keep that focus on recovery. You’re picking a way to wash because it enables you to cut out compulsions. If you want to be certain about how to wash, that’s going to take you back into practicing OCD.

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