Obsessive thoughts and painful feelings are the curses of depression. One of the most agonizing effects this affliction brings with it is intrusive and unwanted thoughts.
If you are one of the people who suffer from both anxiety and depression, day-to-day life can feel burdensome because of compulsive thoughts. Unwanted intrusive thoughts can cause a great deal of distress. They seem to arise out of nowhere and cause a ton of anxiety.
The content of these unwanted thoughts often focuses on violent or socially unacceptable ideas. People who experience these thoughts are, more often than not, afraid that they would commit the acts they picture in their minds. They also feel that these kinds of thoughts signify something negative and unpleasant about them.
Unwanted thoughts can be very explicit, often making sufferers feel ashamed to admit their presence. This article will help you understand the right approach towards these obsessive thoughts. It will hopefully give you some tips that you can put into practice to deal with them.
Understanding What Obsessive Thoughts Are
Obsessive thinking is a chain of thoughts that are undesirable and invasive for the person. They are typically paired with negative emotions and judgments. More often than not, sufferers experience an inability to exercise any control over these persistent, upsetting thoughts.
The severity of emotions and distraction can range from mild but troublesome, to all-consuming and crippling. These intrusive thoughts can be harsh self-judgments or more serious contemplations such as physically hurting yourself or a loved one.
Obsessive thoughts can affect both your day-to-day functioning and emotional state. When unwanted thoughts first enter our mind, our instinctive reaction is some degree of discomfort, followed by desperate attempts to get rid of the nagging images.
This reaction is completely natural and illustrates the simple human nature: when something is distressing, we avoid it. But obsessive thinking is a different monstrosity altogether that requires conditioned thoughts and the right attitude to handle it.
Even when we try our best to put obsessive thoughts aside, the brain keeps reminding us about the unwanted images and we can’t seem to get rid of them. It is the same fundamental principle – when we are told not to think of something specific, our mind’s response is to do just that.
The secret is being able to understand that thoughts are just fleeting mental images that have no importance by themselves. They cannot impact our lives in any way unless we choose to give them power and influence.
Recognize the Pattern
To stop obsessive thoughts from hounding you, the first step is identifying the thoughts as intrusive. If you’ve had any experience with obsessive thinking at all, you know that this is easier said than done.
We must be able to recognize the recurring patterns in our thoughts. This way, we can have some semblance of control over them. It is quite similar to checking social media or biting nails or tapping feet – it happens unconsciously. If you ever catch yourself caught in this cognitive loop, remind yourself to stop and take a deep breath to come back to the present moment.
Here on out, you can try pinpointing the obsessive thoughts and perhaps writing them down. You can work towards analyzing these thoughts and their patterns to understand what triggers them. This simple activity can help you gauge how you are currently responding to the distressing thoughts.
Once you are focused and can scrutinize your thoughts effectively, try identifying the basic cause of this session of obsessive thoughts in particular. This will guide you towards gaining some perspective.
Seeing the cause of your worries written down in ink might encourage you to see the bigger picture and “get out of your head”. Often we tend to develop harassing thoughts that trap us like a vicious cycle. Actively looking for a way out of this spiral is definitely one of the primary measures you should take.
Accept That Obsessive Thoughts are Predominantly Out of Your Control
The next step to overcoming and conquering obsessive thinking is acceptance. Bear in mind that thoughts are nothing more than a set of neurons firing in the brain. They don’t necessarily mean or indicate anything.
Think of your obsessive thoughts as clouds in the sky.
Most of them just come and go. Some of them may carry something substantial and beneficial like rain. But other times, they may just bump around and create storms. But know that through everything, there is a clear blue sky above it all. There is peace and tranquillity right beyond the cloud cover. All you need to do is wait for the dark clouds to subside. This is when you will have clarity and confidence once again.
If we make frantic attempts to escape or suppress these thoughts, it inadvertently leads to the same thoughts being amplified and strengthened. Acceptance, rather than control, is what you should aim for.
It is important to mention here that acceptance does not mean giving up. Only when you let the thought process run its course, and not be heavily impacted by the presence of these thoughts, can you begin to experience comfort in your own mind.
A certain sense of detachment and the understanding that ‘You are not your thoughts’ can go a long way in your battle against depression or anxiety.
Think of the ‘Why Worry’ flowchart when you feel anxious about a particular task or situation. It goes something like this:
If you have a problem in your life, there are only two possible alternatives. Either you can do something about it, or it is completely out of your hands. Either way, ‘Why Worry?’.
If there is something you can do to address the problem, go full steam ahead and exert yourself. After that, and in the case that there is nothing you can possibly do to improve the situation, rest assured knowing that you have already done the best you could.
Delve Into Meditation and Mindfulness
One of the major reasons that obsessive thinking feels painful and bitter is that it is accompanied by difficult emotions and grievous images.
While you sensibly work towards challenging and naming these ruminations, using meditation and mindfulness techniques can provide you with exceptional support to conquer obsessive thoughts. Cognitively questioning and testing the unwanted thoughts and accepting their presence will surely allow you to find a deeper place of rest and stillness.
In Psychology Today, Psychologist Seth Meyers defines mindfulness as “clearing your head and focusing on how your mind and body feels in the moment.”
To achieve this calm state, mindfulness and meditation offer an array of practices to anchor us in the present moment and remind us to compose our thoughts. It soothes anxiety and alleviates stress or anger.
As soon as you recognize obsessive thoughts in your mind, try deep breathing exercises. Then focus on the sounds, odors, and sensations around you. Engage all your senses for this activity. Try inhaling slowly for a count of four, holding it for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of six.
Bring your attention to all the sounds that float to you, and smell that you might not have noticed. Concentrate on how the floor or chair support your body effortlessly. Feel the weight of your body pressing down and the sensitivity of your skin. These grounding exercises help break the cycle of painful ruminations.
There are a bunch of mediation and mindfulness activities that you can try out. Also, consider taking in-person meditation or yoga classes that have a mindfulness aspect. Learning and focusing in a supportive environment will directly impact your well-being in a positive manner.
Reach Out to a Professional if Needed and Get Support
If obsessive thoughts have been harassing you for extended periods of time, it can be indicative of serious mental disorders and illnesses. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, particularly, can cause persistent, intrusive thoughts to result in a great deal of discomfort and agony.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, or just want a little boost to manage obsessive thinking, reach out to a mental health professional. Counselors are trained to help you live the life you want to live, without the burden of unwanted thoughts, expectations, or emotions. Therapy is also a great way to learn techniques for a balanced and sound mental state.
Our minds are powerful sites. Once we truly understand the nature and essence of obsessive thinking and learn to accept and name them, we are one step closer to achieving mental balance and harmony. Practicing mindfulness and getting extra help when needed allows us to create the state we need to conquer and thrive through life.
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