How To Break the Cycle of Obsessive Thoughts

Strange or unwanted thoughts occur to everyone from time to time. In contrast, obsessive thoughts are much more persistent and burdensome than daily mental clutter.

There are many different levels of obsession, ranging from somewhat distracting to totally consuming. Often, they are unsuitable and overpowering, resulting in discomfort for the person experiencing them. 

It is common for obsessive thoughts to be accompanied by intense anxiety. Those with anxiety may use unhealthy coping techniques such as withdrawing from others, displaying aggression, or engaging in compulsive behaviors to cope.

Following these few tips can help restore a person’s sense of confidence in their life and rid them of obsessive thoughts.

1. Understanding Obsessive Thoughts

A brain never stops thinking. Even when you’re consciously not thinking anything, your unconscious mind sends thoughts to your brain, resulting in a stream of consciousness (or dreams when you sleep). It is not surprising to experience a weirdness during this time and dwell on it. Our brains are wired in a way that the more we will try to get rid of a thought, the more it will reoccur, soon resulting in obsessive thoughts.

Obsessive thoughts aren’t always the problem. They cause problems because of adverse reactions. When someone is unable to control their thinking, when they find themselves acting out with extreme distress, obsessive thoughts almost take on a life of their own.

Often, an obsession involves scary or intrusive thoughts or images that are not always accompanied by compulsions. The symptom of anxiety, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), can be difficult to overcome. Therefore, it is important to seek OCD treatment right away to prevent further harm. 

2. Develop self-awareness

After understanding the problem, the next step is to change behavior and become aware of it when it occurs. Before we can change our patterns, we must recognize them. 

It is common to engage in a long-established habit when we become entrapped in cognitive loops. The behavior is much like biting your nails or checking your social media every few minutes — it occurs unconsciously. 

In the future, whenever you catch yourself thinking obsessively, say, “Stop!” As a way to break the cycle, say it aloud or in your head. 

Another way is to practice visualization. Imagine that you are putting negative thoughts in a trashcan. You can create a safe word or routine to distract yourself from negative thoughts when you notice yourself obsessing over them.

3. Name the fears

Rumination or obsessive thinking is generally accompanied by a sense of impending doom. 

There are many reasons for obsessing, such as a blunder at work, a disagreement with your partner, an argument with a friend, or not living up to the expectations that you envision for yourself. In whatever situation, focus on one single sentence that sums up your negative thinking, such as “I’m scared of losing my job” or “I’m angry at my friend for how she treated me.” You gain control by being able to deal with what really needs to be dealt with. 

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I identify my greatest worry, fear, or anxiety? Am I able to handle this?” In most cases, the answer is yes. 

Like any hardship, you’ll handle it as it comes. Hopefully, this trick will help remove some of the anxiety.

4. Practice mindfulness

The present moment rarely enters our minds because we spend so much time dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about the future. 

Mindfulness allows us to reduce our thinking and increase our senses. For example, spend time with yourself when you’re in “autopilot” mode, such as eating lunch at your desk or browsing Instagram while waiting for an elevator. Keep your attention focused on what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. This will help you stay grounded in the present moment. 

Try gently guiding yourself back to the present when you find yourself wandering into the past or the future. You will eventually realize that your obsessive thoughts are a result of worries about the future or the past, and they are not based on reality.

5. Acceptance

Let’s pause for a moment to identify the source of our worries. It is likely that they are related to expectations for the future or to past traumas, failures, or mistakes. 

Don’t try to change the situation. Accept it as it is. The way we perceive pain and suffering affects the way we feel about them, no matter how hard it can be. Accept where you are at this moment. 

Try asking yourself these questions when you’re obsessing over the past or fretting about the future: “Am I able to do anything about this right now?” Accept the answer if it’s no. Do something that makes you happy and take a deep breath.

6. Plan a worry break

It is very difficult to fall asleep with constant worrying and thinking. At bedtime, thoughts flood your mind: love, career, relationships, finances, body weight, the future, and what you will eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The experience is exhausting and keeps you awake and anxious. 

Eventually, set aside some time for worrying as it will help to develop better boundaries. During the “worry time,” write down what’s on your mind. In the middle of the night, when your thoughts keep you awake, say to yourself, “Nothing’s going to get solved right now. It’s time to sleep. It can wait until tomorrow.”

A new skill requires practice, repetition, and self-love. Don’t feel like you’ve failed if you have a fearful or anxious thought. Be compassionate with yourself, and remember that you don’t have to do it all at once.

7. Seeking Professional Treatment and psychotherapy

Managing obsessive thoughts may not be possible with self-help techniques. Sometimes you may need professional help. In many cases, obsessive thinking patterns can be reduced or eliminated by psychotherapy or medication.

The goal of individual psychotherapy is to foster the ability to process feelings and find new ways to cope with life’s stressors in a supportive and compassionate environment. In order to achieve sustainable growth, therapists work with clients to develop treatment plans.

Final Thoughts

Obsessive thoughts can be debilitating and defeating. Some people experience shame and fear in response to these thoughts. While others attempt to suppress or change them by wasting their time, efforts, and even resources.

Keeping this in mind, obsessive thoughts are not what defines a person. When it comes to managing and controlling them, a little practice and intention can make all the difference.