How I Finally Got a Grip on My Obsessive Thoughts
“Under the obsessive thoughts and plans, under the emotions, positive and negative, there is an ocean of peace.”– Ganaji
I come from a long line of worrywarts. So, it’s no surprise that I became one myself with obsessive thoughts showing up as a negative side-effect. I spent years letting my thoughts spiral out of control into a bottomless pit without even realizing it. I just didn’t know any other way.
While worry was just one contributing factor to my relentless, unwanted thoughts, it wasn’t the only factor.
My ongoing battle with anxiety, depression, and PTSD made matters even worse. I would spend my days obsessing and fixating on the same persistent thoughts that I made myself sick with worry. I couldn’t sleep and my days were filled with dread and anxiety.
What do I mean by obsessive thoughts?
Obsessive thoughts, or intrusive thoughts, are those thoughts that cause intense anxiety, often popping out of nowhere.
They’re thoughts that you can’t seem to shake, are repetitive, and can even be disturbing. These thoughts may be about something going on in your life, such as a relationship or trauma. Or they can be something that you’re not even experiencing or have experienced.
Personally, there have been periods in my life where I dealt with obsessive thoughts about death, simply because I was exposed to death at such a young age.
These thoughts weren’t necessarily about hurting myself or hurting anyone else, but rather being faced with the reality that we all will die someday. It was absolute torture to think about death day in and day out that it sucked the happiness right out of me.
It wasn’t that I wanted to have these thoughts. I wanted to live my life to the fullest.
But the thoughts kept showing up and I found it extremely difficult to manage them – I had no idea how to manage them. I struggled with these thoughts as it made my days dark and long.
I knew I had to figure out something, and I had to figure it out fast. Otherwise, I was going to keep going down the same rabbit hole.
Luckily, I was finally able to get a grip on those pesky, intrusive thoughts. And trust me – it wasn’t easy. I still struggle with controlling my thoughts from time to time, but thankfully they no longer control me.
You too can regulate any obsessive thoughts you may have if you’re equipped with the right tools. Read along to discover some of the techniques that helped me get a grip on my obsessive thoughts.
Going to Therapy
It’s no secret that I’m a huge advocate for therapy. If you’ve spent any time here, you know that I talk about it extensively.
Talking with a therapist has changed my life in more ways than one that I’m not even sure I can list them all. But without a doubt, one thing that therapy has helped me with the most is processing and controlling my obsessive thoughts.
Remember that dark period of my life that I was telling you about where all I could seem to think about was death?
I was finally able to move past that difficult time by talking about it with a therapist, someone who was an impartial third-party. Someone that wouldn’t bestow any judgment, but rather help me move past those intrusive thoughts and start living again.
It didn’t happen immediately. And it didn’t happen even with my first therapist. But I did notice a change in my thought patterns starting with the very first session.
I began to have hope that I can take charge of my thoughts, but also realized it would take loads of practice. My therapist helped me identify what might be causing my unwanted thoughts, as well as teaching me the coping skills that I personally needed to manage them.
If you’re struggling with obsessive thoughts, consider talking with a therapist. If you don’t have one at the moment, check out my post on easy steps to finding a therapist to help you find a therapist that works for you.
Being Aware of the Present Moment
It sounds simple enough – being present of the current moment. But a lot of us are stuck in the dramas of our past or worried about the future that we often forget where we are right now. And it’s not necessarily our fault – much of the world just doesn’t work that way and so we’re conditioned to follow the pack.
But once you realize that the present moment is all you truly have – it suddenly becomes clearer.
Being right here, right now is one secret to controlling those obsessive thoughts. It doesn’t mean that you won’t find yourself thinking about the past or hoping for the future. Instead, you’ll use both the past and the future as a guide to the here and now and to maintaining awareness of your thoughts.
Practicing awareness is one of those things that is easier said than done. Like I said at the beginning, it sounds easy, but it is often difficult in practice as we live in a world that is constantly on the go.
One of my all-time favorite guides to finding presence is the book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
The author vividly lays out what true presence looks and feels like, as well as explaining in detail how to be aware of your thoughts and letting them come and go without judgment. I highly recommend this book if you’re serious about becoming more present in your life.
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation
I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again simply because it was a true revelation for me – it all starts with the breath. Our lives begin with the breath and end with the breath. But we often don’t think about it while we live out our lives.
That’s where meditation comes in.
Meditation is a portal to the present moment that can lead to mindfulness. And mindfulness is one way to tame those unwanted thoughts. If you’re focusing on your breath, it becomes difficult to concentrate on those intrusive thoughts that are sabotaging your life.
There are many ways to describe mindfulness. But simply put, mindfulness is a mediation in which you bring your attention to the current moment, and at the same time become aware of your bodily sensations, thoughts, and most importantly, your breath.
The most important thing to remember throughout all of this is that you accept everything as it is, without judgment. If a thought pops up, simply recognize it, and let it go, bringing your awareness back to your breath.
When I began to become more aware and present, one pattern I quickly picked up on was that my obsessive thoughts showed up most often when I was doing absolutely nothing.
For me, those were the moments where intrusive thoughts were more likely to develop and spiral out of control. Those were the moments where I made myself sick with anxiety and dread over something I didn’t necessarily have control over.
I’m not saying that there aren’t times where doing nothing is not needed. It absolutely is and I highly encourage you to make time for rest on a consistent basis.
But what I am saying is that if you find yourself sitting there and ruminating in unwanted thoughts – get up and do something different. Begin a new activity or change the environment that you are in. Read a book, take a walk outside, or go on a bike ride with a partner or friend.
Sitting there and dwelling on your thoughts will not make them go away as long as you give power to them.
In fact, the opposite will happen. You will be adding fuel to the fire if you just sit there and obsess over every single thought. So, take action once you become aware of your obsessive thoughts and get yourself out of the pattern before it becomes unmanageable.
Having Compassion for Myself
Taking charge of unwanted thoughts is hard stuff. There will be days where it all seems pointless, and you just want to give up. This is the time where you need to have compassion and empathy for yourself.
It’s not an easy trek to tackle the thoughts that have taken over the space in your mind for most of your life. It takes patience and empathy with yourself to overcome the challenging journey that is ahead. You may easily fall into your old way of thinking without even realizing it.
If and when that happens, notice the fallback without judgment and change your thought process right then and there.
But most of all, be easy on yourself.
You’re attempting to change years of conditional thinking, which doesn’t happen overnight. I still struggle with my mind being on autopilot. Instead of shaming myself, I show myself some grace that I’m doing my very best and I try to do better the next time around.
Obsessive thoughts can truly take a toll on your life if you don’t learn how to overcome them. But once you do, you may often look back and wonder what took you so long to get to this point. Life is a journey and I whole-heartedly believe that we are where we are meant to be in any given moment.
Don’t let the delay in tackling your obsessive thoughts stop you from taking control now.
Consider the above tips and you may very well change your whole outlook on life. I know it did for me. Sure, I fall back into my old thought patterns every now and then. But what is different now is that I’m able to recognize it more quickly and change it before it gets out of hand.
Do you struggle with unwanted thoughts? If so, try out some of the helpful hints that helped me move past my obsessive thinking. I am hopeful they will help you cross the bridge into clearer thinking.