You cannot control what comes into your mind, but you can control how long you dwell on it.”
Obsessive thinking is like a negative spiral. The longer you spend time with it, the deeper into it you get. It may also be viewed as a type of trance. The more you induce it by repetition, the more entranced you get, and the more difficult it may be to “break the spell.”
It takes a deliberate act of will to stop it. You will need to make a deliberate effort to move away from the circular mental activity and get out of your head by shifting gears to another experience such as physical exercise, expressing your emotions, talking with a friend, watching movies, or engaging in a favorite hobby.
Below you will find some examples of alternative activities and experiences that will help you shift out of your mind and away from obsessive worry.
1. Do physical exercise. This can be your favorite outdoor or indoor exercise. It might even include household chores such as cleaning and landscaping.
2. Do deep breathing and body scans.
- Counting your Breath. (my personal favorite): Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair, lie down, or take a walk. As you inhale, be aware that “I am inhaling, ONE.” When you exhale, be aware that “I am exhaling, ONE.” Remember to breathe from the stomach. When beginning the second inhalation, be aware that “I am inhaling, TWO.” And, slowly exhaling, be aware that “I am exhaling, TWO.” Continue up through 10. After you have reached 10, return to ONE. Whenever you lose count, return to ONE.
- Body Scan: One simple body scan that you can easily do is to “scan” your hands and feet. Sit or lay down. Close your eyes and see if you can sense the energy, heat or any sensation in your hands and feet. You might start with trying to sense your feet, which can be a bit easier, and then try to sense your hands.
3. Use evocative music to release repressed feelings. Feelings such as sadness and anger may underlie and drive the obsessive worry.
4. Talk to someone. Talk about something other than the worry, unless you want to express your feelings about it.
5. Use visual distractions. This can be TV, movies, video games, your computer, or uplifting reading.
6. Use sensory-motor distractions. Try arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, or repairing something.
7. Find an alternative positive obsession. You will need to find an activity that you absolutely love! Over the past 20 years, all of my clients who engaged in an alternative obsession successfully stopped obsessive worry. Think of a hobby or activity you always wanted to try but never had time and go do it!
8. Practice healthy rituals. Combine deep breathing with positive affirmations that have personal significance. Keep this up for 5 – 10 minutes or until you’re fully relaxed. This is actually a positive trance induction to overcome the negative trance enforced by the obsessive worry.
Examples of positive affirmations include:
- “Let it go.”
- “These are just thoughts, they are fading away.”
- “I am relaxed and worry free.”
- “I will not live in fear.”
- “The past has no power over the present moment.”
*Article recommendations are from the “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook,” by Edmond Bourne, PhD.