Obsessive thoughts can keep you anchored in the past, preventing you from adequately processing your experiences and moving forward. Whether you can’t stop imagining a painful betrayal, find yourself constantly deconstructing a breakup, or spend the day fixating on possible disasters, try the following six techniques.
1. Work With Your Feelings
Think about the dominant feelings associated with your obsessive thoughts. For example, people most commonly find themselves stuck in anger, jealousy, fear, shame or loneliness. Once you’ve isolated the main feelings linked to obsessing, consider new ways to work with these feelings. For example, if you tend to talk or shout about your emotions, you might want to try writing instead. Externalize some of your troubling feelings by making a list of all the reasons why you’re resentful, furious or sad. Some individuals find it useful to tear up or burn what is written, symbolically destroying it. Others prefer to paint or draw.
For those who struggle with such creative exercises, physical activity can be an excellent way of working with the strong emotions behind obsessive thoughts. Whether you go to a boxing class, pound the pavements or take part in a team sport, expending bodily energy can clear your mind and drain some of your pent-up frustration.
2. Try “Thought Stopping”
When you feel intrusive thoughts entering your mind, try closing your eyes and saying “stop!” to yourself. Feel free to play with the language, replacing “stop” with another word like “enough” or even a phrase like “get out of my head.” If you’re a visual person, you might prefer to use an image of a red light or stop sign. Alternatively, you can try associating a physical act with thought stopping by throwing cold water on your face or putting your hand out in front of you in a “stop” gesture.
However, it’s important to note that while thought stopping can be powerful, it is a controversial technique. If you find that it simply increases your stress instead of calming you down, focus on other suggestions on this list.
3. Limit Your Obsession
Try striking a deal with yourself about the amount of time you spend on your obsessive thoughts. For example, you might decide to allow your mind to dwell on the subject during your commute to work, but forbid focusing on it on your journey home (thereby reducing its ability to infiltrate your home or social life). You don’t need to choose a rigid time window—you might simply decide on half an hour twice a week, and let those time slots arrive naturally.
The key idea is that this strategy will contain your obsession, robbing it of some of its power without banning you from exploring your thoughts and feelings.
4. Be Kind To Your Body
If you think about how your body feels when those horrible words and images are racing through your mind, you’ll probably realize that all of your muscles feel tense. Regularly spending time on activities that calm and relax you can help you find some respite from the destructive nature of obsession. A more relaxed body often leads to a calmer mind, so consider working on mindfulness exercises that focus on your breathing, going to yoga classes or constructing a visualization of mental “safe place” that you can visit any time you need shelter from painful experiences.
5. Challenge Your Beliefs About How To Use Your Feelings
If your obsessive thoughts are associated with anger, you might belief that ranting to a receptive friend or yelling at your spouse will help to purge you of that negativity. However, the fascinating truth is that some studies show an increase in the strength of anger after it is aired. This means that constantly verbalizing your rage may well keep it burning instead of making it disappear. Focus on finding a middle path between (i) expressing anger in an unproductively violent way, and (ii) passively accepting poor treatment.
It’s also worth thinking about what happens between you and another person if you’re shouting about your emotions. If you’re working through problems with your partner, for example, this person may respond with knee-jerk defense mechanisms and retaliations if you’re screaming at the top of your lungs. In contrast, if you calmly and clearly present your emotions, you might actually make progress. Reflect on how you might more effectively use your anger or sadness to reach your goals.
Also Read: 8 Signs You Are More Stressed Than You Think
6. Consider Therapy
In many cases, being stuck on one subject or feeling is a sign that you need a bit of extra help to explore the roots of your obsession. A therapist can assist you in unpacking some of the hitherto unnoticed connections between your past and present, helping you to develop more effective coping strategies for the future.
Finally, be aware that using techniques to combat obsessive thoughts will not get rid of a preoccupation overnight. It takes practice to move past a self-destructive mental loop. However, if you staunchly commit to limiting your obsession’s power, you will gradually see a difference in your mental and physical well-being.