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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Coping with Obsessive Thoughts

mindsunderconstructionObsessive, recurring thoughts usually indicate an anxiety condition.

Realize that just having recurring or obsessive thoughts – or any thoughts for that matter – does not mean that you must act on them.  Nonetheless, they are annoying at best.

Obsessive thoughts are embedded in an intricate system of feelings, thoughts, and sensations. Part of the obsession is attempting to stop the obsession by trying to figure out the thoughts and believing that they have power.  Obsessive thinking is akin to riding a merry-go-round: While other people jump on and off the playground equipment, you remain in a fixed position of inertia, going round and round.

Maybe you cannot totally eliminate obsessive thinking, but you can definitely reduce its intensity. Remember, the key to all serenity is acceptance.

Here are some helpful strategies you can use whenever you find yourself obsessing over anything:

  • Realize your thoughts do not possess power in and of themselves, rather they contain useless content. Tell yourself you do not need to “heed their call.”
  • When an intrusive thought comes to mind, take slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm.
  • Accept rather than resist the thoughts, allowing them to simply float through your mind.
  • “Act as if…” Pretend the thoughts aren’t there and continue on with your day. This takes away their power over you.
  • Think about your anxiety level. Give yourself a rating between 1 and 10 in order to evaluate your level of anxiety; watch it rise and fall with curiosity.
  • Tell yourself statements that encourage rather than disparage:  “Everything is fine.”  “This too shall pass.”
  • Sometimes it is helpful to just “give” yourself the concept that your negative thought may actually come to pass, and then you can talk to yourself about how you will cope from that point. For instance, imagine how you would actually handle your biggest fears if they were to happen. If you are afraid of spiders, imagine how you could calmly respond to the occurrence of a spider bite. You could go to the hospital, call poison control, etc.
  • Using the analogy of being on a merry-go-round with your thoughts, imagine yourself jumping off and getting on another piece of playground equipment, like a slide…
  • Give yourself a new obsessive thought, such as working through the alphabet, thinking of something you are grateful for, starting with each letter in order.

Things to Avoid:

  • Do not try to push the thoughts away, nor should you engage the thoughts in anyway.
  • Do not analyze your thoughts or try to figure them out.
  • Do not “horrible-ize” your thoughts. That is, don’t tell yourself, “This is awful.” Awful means nothing and is a tool people with anxiety use to keep themselves on the merry-go-round of negativity.
Coping with Obsessive Thoughts

APA Reference
Stines, S. (2016). Coping with Obsessive Thoughts. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2016/02/coping-with-obsessive-thoughts/