Obsessive thoughts are a massive part of what makes up anxiety disorders.
From obsessive compulsive disorder to panic disorder to agoraphobia, obsessive thinking is a common symptom.
I don’t just consider it a minor symptom part of anxiety. It’s so much more than that!
Obsessive thoughts are devastating and lead to a range of other issues that makes anyone’s life horrible.
They are combination of reoccurring thoughts and negative self-judgements.
But how do you go about stopping obsessive thinking once it starts?
It’s difficult to do and takes practice over time, however, it can be done!
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Think of obsessive thinking like a slow burning bonfire. Obsessive thoughts start with a tiny spark.
A fleeting negative thought… A change in routine… A minor life setback… Negative criticism said by someone else.
All these types of very small events start a spark for a fire.
That spark eventually builds when you begin thinking more negative and catastrophic thoughts based off that one tiny spark.
The negative thinking then begins to spiral out of control with constant thoughts like “I’m such a failure…” “I can’t do anything right…” “I screw up everything…” and so much more!
As those negative thoughts continue, they build a slow burning fire that cannot be controlled or even extinguished.
At this point obsessive thoughts are dominating your overall thought process, actions, behaviors, and mood.
That slow burning fire is now a huge bonfire that you don’t know how to put out.
I know because this happens frequently to me. A tiny event sets off a chain of negative thinking becoming completely out of control.
The obsessive thoughts become so bad sometimes I literally say out loud, “STOP IT.”
Of course, it doesn’t work. The thoughts continue on and eventually I feel like the obsessive thoughts are weighting me down so much that I just want to crawl into a ball on the floor and cry.
And trust me, I’ve been there a few times.
If you’re like me and have been in this type of situation with obsessive thinking, then know first off, you’re not alone! It’s hard to admit what I just did to you.
It’s hard to put into writing of how out of control my obsessive thoughts get.
But what do we do about stopping obsessive thinking in its tracks before it gets worse?
First thing’s first… You need to know what types of obsessive thoughts you’re experiencing.
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Types of Obsessive Thoughts
According to MedCircle obsessive thoughts are the result of “faulty thinking patterns.” But the good news is that these thinking patterns can be reframed and changed.
Here are 7 cognitive distortions you might experience:
“Should have” thinking- Agonizing over what you should have done better or done differently in a particular situation.
Fortune telling- Trying to envision events that have yet to take place. This plays into anxiety disorders because you care trying to control a future event by imagining every possible scenario so you’re prepared for it.
Personalizing- Turning thoughts around to believe a situation or other people’s behavior is about you.
Catastrophizing- Imagining the worst-case scenario of a given situation
Magical thinking- Thinking you can “read” people’s motives or situations
Control fallacies-Trying to gain control over a situation, person or the outcomes
Dichotomous thinking-Thinking of everything in an extreme form. In other words, your thoughts make it seem like everything is “black and white” with no grey area. For example, everything is perfect or a complete failure.
To be honest, I really struggle with the cognitive distortions of “should have” thinking, fortune telling, catastrophizing, control fallacies, and dichotomous thinking. Yes, it is a lot!
All these distortions get wrapped around in my mind with regular thinking on a daily basis and (if you’re like me) they interfere and even change your behavior and reactions to situations.
Now that you know all the terrifying ways your thoughts can be turned into obsessive distortions, what do you do to reframe and change these thoughts?
No one deserves to live with these types of thoughts day in and day out… So now is the time to start changing them!
How To Stop Obsessive Thoughts
Grounding is a calming exercise practice that’s normally used to help stop panic attacks.
But I’ve found grounding also works for stopping obsessive thinking.
Here’s how it works:
Name 5 things you see around you
Name 4 things you can touch (close by without moving)
Name 3 things you can hear
Name 2 things can smell
Name 1 thing you can taste (yes, this does include a leftover taste of what you just ate)
I’ve found this grounding technique helps me to focus my mind on something other than the negative repeated thoughts in my head.
Find The Trigger
This is a tough one, but super important! Sometimes obsessive thoughts seem to come out of nowhere.
Before you know it, your thoughts are leading you down the road of a panic attack.
The next time you find yourself full of non-stop negative thoughts about yourself and life, stop and ask yourself “What provoked these thoughts?”
It’s a difficult question to answer and it may require some time because you will need to backtrack your thoughts to before they became out of control.
Once you’re able to identify a trigger that provokes obsessive thoughts you may find there is a pattern of triggers.
Let me offer you an example: I was having an hours long battle with obsessive thoughts and constantly repeating in my head how I was a failure at basically everything in life.
I stopped and asked myself “Why am I thinking this way?” Then, it dawned on me.
I had been calculating and paying bills before the obsessive thoughts.
And guess what? That was my trigger that provokes negative thinking!
Anything related to money gives me anxiety. Honestly, for me money is a control issue.
I can control the amount of money going in and out and it’s one of the very few things I have control of in my life.
So, if I receive unexcepted bills it can throw me into a panic attack.
Although I just stop paying bills to avoid obsessive thoughts and eventual panic attacks, I have at least identified the trigger so I can mentally prepare myself before dealing with any type of money situation.
From there, I can move on to reframing the repetitive negative thoughts through…
Positive affirmations are simply “I statements” of positive thoughts.
You can create a million different affirmations for literally every aspect of your life.
But for the sake of this article, the positive affirmations are geared toward reframing and stopping obsessive thoughts and cognitive distortions.
While you can always create your own, here are some to help you start thinking “happy thoughts”:)
“I am not who my thoughts say I am”
“I am able to change the way I think about myself”
“I cannot control every event in my life”
Positive affirmations like these help you form an acceptance about the existence of your obsessive thinking, thereby “calling them out.”
Behavioral habitation is a therapy technique similar to exposure therapy and follows the concept of causing your own anxiety.
Over time, exposing yourself to the anxiety trigger will eventually (and hopefully) lessen the impact and obsessive thoughts caused by the trigger.
For instance, if a messy house tends to give you anxiety you may want to start leaving a dish or two in the sink. Not picking up your dirty clothes. Skip vacuuming or sweeping your floor for a day.
While it’s a good concept, the therapy technique may not be for everyone and may not be applied to every obsessive thought trigger you have.
Allow Yourself To Get Angry
A research study published in the journal Emotion found when participants were faced with a confrontational situation choose angry music to listen to before the confrontation compared to music invoking feelings of happiness.
The participants “who choose to feel angry in the moment showed greater psychological health.”
So, what does this study mean for stopping obsessive thoughts?
Well, it tells us that trying to always ignore an issue and simply “get happy” doesn’t work!
Sometimes we need to feel anger to help make ourselves feel better.
Although you don’t want to unleash or project your angry feelings about your obsessive thoughts onto others, anger is a perfectly healthy emotion to have in response to persistent obsessive thoughts.
Here are 3 healthy ways to feel or let out your anger:
-Scream into a pillow
-Listen to angry music
-Work out (using a slamball or hitting a sledgehammer against a tire does wonders for releasing pent up anger)
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Distraction is simply that- Distracting yourself in some way to help your mind focus on anything else other than the same repetitive negative thinking.
Choose something you love to do and start doing it! If that doesn’t work, move on to another activity.
I debated about whether to add distraction to this list.
While I do feel distraction works sometimes for some people, it doesn’t work every time and may not work for you at all.
I actually find that trying to distract myself rarely works and the reason why is because I have an anxiety disorder.
But for those of you who have occasional obsessive thoughts without an anxiety disorder, this might work for you and be your first line of defense for stopping obsessive thinking in its tracks.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
If all else fails and obsessive thoughts keep happening to the point that it’s interfering with your life and you’re beginning to feel like a prisoner in your own mind… It’s time for a more drastic change!
It’s time to seek help from a quality mental health professional.
There’s no shame in seeking extra help, especially when you’ve tried everything you can to stop obsessive thinking and it’s not going away.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT is specific type of therapy focusing on changing repetitive thought patterns by:
-Changing beliefs and assumptions aiding to obsessive thinking
-Practicing accepting the thoughts
-Reframing and redirecting thoughts
This type of therapy is literally built for changing and stopping destructive thought patterns!
Obsessive thinking ranges from occasional thought patterns to overwhelming and consuming thoughts that interrupt daily life.
While these thoughts happen to almost everyone sometimes, it doesn’t mean you are dealing with an anxiety disorder.
Only when the obsessive thoughts impact your life in a negative way and are uncontrollable then you may need to discuss with your doctor about eh possibility of an anxiety disorder.
To be perfectly honest with you, these types of thoughts can completely destroy my day and they are hard to control.
I tend to have an all-or-nothing distortion where is something doesn’t go as planned in life then I start thinking horrible negative thoughts about myself.
If you experience obsessive thoughts like me, I implore you to take action and say to yourself “enough is enough!” Try some of above ways to stop the thoughts in their tracks!
But if all else fails, do not be afraid to seek help from a qualified professional to help you accept, challenge, and reframe your obsessive thoughts.