How to Stop Obsessive Thoughts & Thinking

There’s something wrong with me,
but it’s not something you can see.
I’ve got no scar or suspect rash,
no lump or bump or missing limb,
no sudden slump or system

It’s this old ghost I’ve got, you see.
It only shows its face to me.
It plants these questions in my head
and sends them spinning round my chest.
It never settles down to sleep;
it never lets me get some rest.

And when I try to wriggle free,
this wicked ghost, it clings to me.
It whispers stories of my doom,
this effervescent thing, it looms
and fleshes out my brittle bones
while I’m out swimming in the sea.

But just as I’m about to flee,
far out into the gloom I see
a thousand faces blinking back,
all floating on the open sea.

They’re smiling as I watch them glow,
a dreamy moonlit lantern show,
all drifting through the same deep black –
I wave at them and they wave back –
one thousand hands against the sky,
one thousand souls who’ve gone awry,
all swimming through the same cold sea,
and they’ve all got old ghosts like me.

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a poem written by James Lloyd

Do you ever feel like a prisoner in your own mind? Do you constantly replay or obsess over negative situations?

Every day unwanted thoughts enter our minds; Our minds are vulnerable to negative thoughts, causing us doubt, worry, anxiety—and frequently, it’s the same negative thoughts that return over and over.

If you are plagued with obsessive thoughts, take heart. You can stop them.

Repetition is a sign that you need to change. A part of you is calling out to get your attention. Our mind generates several thousand thoughts every day and it loves to run some of them on an infinite loop. Obsessive negative thoughts can literally ruin your life but you can learn to transcend them and free yourself from suffering.

How to Stop Obsessive Thoughts & Thinking with Simple Steps

Turn Negativity into Positive Action

No matter who you are, everyone experiences negative thoughts. If an obsessive thought is a cry for help, bring the help that’s asked for.

Acknowledge that you are feeling scared, which is the real event occurring in your mind. Don’t push the anxiety away. Take a break and walk away from the immediate stress. Sit quietly and take some deep breaths. Do your best to center yourself. Once you feel calm enough to address the situation, make a plan.

Write down the possible steps you can take that will be positive, achievable actions.

Once you have your list, put the positive actions in order of which to do first, second and third. Now take the first step. Turning an emotional event inside yourself into a set of rational steps is one of the best ways to rise above the level of the problem to the level of the solution.

Get a Healthy Perspective

Remember: Your insecurities may be as simple as perspective.

Expand Your Awareness

The first step in changing any behavior is becoming conscious of it when it arises. We have to recognize our patterns before we can change them. Often when we are stuck in a cognitive loop, we engage in a well-established habit. It’s similar to biting nails or checking social media every few minutes—it happens unconsciously. The next time you catch yourself ruminating, think: “Stop!” (Say it out loud to break the loop.) I also practice visualization: imagine taking a current thought and putting it in a trashcan.

Take Full Responsibility with Acceptance

Take a moment and think about the source of your anxieties. I imagine a lot of them have to do with future projections or past hurts, mistakes, or regrets. Do your best to accept your situation as it is right now. I know how hard this can be, and I also know that pain and suffering gets worse depending on how we think about it. Try to lean into your feelings and take them for what they are. We often feel sad because we feel sad, are angry because we feel angry, and so on. Accept your current state as it is. Stop wanting things to be different. When you find yourself obsessing about the past or worrying about the future, ask yourself the following question: “Can I do anything about this right now?” If the answer is no, do your best to accept what is. Take a breath and do something that brings you joy. If the answer is yes, identify what you can do and do it.

Keep moving.

Say you’ve employed visualization technique after visualization technique, and your mind keeps going back to that spot — analyzing every angle of the issue. You can’t take it anymore. When I’ve reached my threshold, I get moving… in any way possible.

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If I’m at work, I take a bathroom break. If I’m at home, I walk around the block. If I’m in a conversation at a party, I’ll excuse myself and walk to another part of the room. I try my best to change my scenery in any (socially acceptable) way I can because the shift can sometimes distract me from my thoughts. Sometimes.

Get mad.

Some folks say anger isn’t becoming, but new research published in the journal “Emotion” indicates that anger can, at times, contribute to happiness levels and well-being. In the study, participants who chose angry music before a confrontational task showed greater psychological health than the participants who chose happy music. The first group reported greater satisfaction with life, better grades, and a stronger network of friends. It’s okay, then, to yell at your obsession, at your brain, or both. They deserve it.

Beware of old baggage.

Much of what we can’t let go — or the fact that we can’t let it go — has roots in past issues. We can’t go back and change it, but the understanding of why we are doing something sometimes offers clues as to how to break obsessive patterns. “So what do we owe our personal histories?” writes psychiatrist Gordon Livingston, M.D., in “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.” “Certainly, we are shaped by them and must learn from them if we are to avoid the repetitious mistakes that make us feel trapped in a long-running drama of our own authorship.”

Apply some humor.

Humor is your best friend. It’s the only voice that confirms that you’re not a freak, that you just are in the midst of one of your regular wigouts, and things will be just fine if you don’t take this thing you are so fixated on so seriously. Humor inserts some much-needed room between your emotional center, your brain’s limbic system, and your issue. And become optimistic.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on your present moment experience. We spend so much time dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future events that we spend very little time in the here and now. The practice of mindfulness can help us reduce our “thinking” selves and increase our “sensing” selves. A good example: any time you find yourself in “auto-pilot.” For instance, the next time you are eating lunch, try not giving into the impulse to check your emails (or other social media). Instead focus on what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. This can help ground you in the present moment. When you catch your attention wandering into the past or future, gently guide yourself back to the present moment and remember: The future does not exist anywhere but in your mind.

Schedule a Worry Break

After trial and error, I found that allowing myself a short period of time to worry (about 15 to 30 minutes) helped me have better boundaries. During the “worry time,” I write down what’s on my mind. At night when my thoughts keep me awake, I say to myself, “Nothing is going to get solved right now, it’s time to sleep. You can think about it tomorrow.”