Obsessive Thinking: Stopping Repetitive Thoughts
bpHope
November 7, 2017

Obsessive thoughts often revolve around irrational or exaggerated worries. The repetitive loops can make it difficult to focus on the tasks at hand, disrupt sleep, and affect daily behavior as you start to avoid certain activities or pursue others to an extreme. Psychologist Bruce Hubbard, PhD, offers these countermeasures.

Switch your focus. In what Hubbard calls “the premier cognitive defusion strategy,” you choose a target of attention (usually the breath) to laser in on when intrusive thoughts take over. With practice, this mindfulness technique exercises your “letting go” muscle, allowing you to release the thoughts that were absorbing you.

Look at the end game. Quiz yourself about the function of your obsessive thoughts. Do they serve some purpose? Are they helpful or harmful? Do they bring you closer to your goals or put you further away?

Label the thoughts. Describe your thoughts in simple, objective, terms. You can say something like, “I just had a thought about X,” or use the one-word shorthand, “Thinking.” Or for more of a sense of distance and passive observation, use phrases like, “A feeling of X is present,” or, “The concern X is present.”

Write it out. Getting the thoughts out of your head and onto a document (paper or electronic) may be helpful since the words then are outside your head.

Use ridicule. Give your thoughts a silly voice. Imagine them narrated by a popular media character such as Donald Duck, Big Bird or Chewbacca, or something non-threatening like a cuddly teddy bear.