In the battle for peace of mind, I’ve come up against numerous enemies of serenity. Enemy #1 is self-hatred, which I tackled in an earlier post. Obsessive thinking, worrying endlessly over something you have no power to resolve, is a serious contender.
Worry might have been the only thing that kept me sane as a young person in uncontrollable circumstances. Since I could not change my environment, I found solace in thinking that if I imagined the worst that could happen, I’d somehow be protected. Later, as an adult, the worry habit grew into obsession, becoming a monstrous trap that limited my ability to distinguish between fear and reality.
When I finally hit my limit and could not live with the worry and dread I had created, I tried something different. These are some of the techniques I discovered that can short-circuit obsessive thinking.
1. Stay in the moment
An extremely potent antidote to worry is getting present. When we notice what’s happening around us, our mind has no room for worry about the past or fear of the future. Pay attention to sights, sounds, smells, tastes and really experience them.
2. Focus on your task, take the next immediate step and no more
If at work, work. If at home, do the laundry. If making dinner, focus on cooking. It’s another angle on staying present. Try not to jump ahead – keep your mind where your body is.
3. Go to the worst possible conclusion
Ok, so I still can’t stop thinking about it. What is the worst that could happen? I’m going to get fired. My boyfriend will dump me. I’ll lose my house. Then what? Will my life end? Once I get to the worst nightmare I can imagine, I start realizing that I have much support, people who love me and whom I love, and many resources. I will be ok.
4. Look at what is in your power, and what is not
Most of what we worry about will never happen. I like this saying, “Your best hope is every bit as likely as your worst fear.” Why don’t we worry that the best things will happen to us?! It helps to parse out what in the situation we do have control over and what is out of our hands. If it’s beyond us, we are just torturing ourselves by worrying about it. Which leads to…
5. Take action where you can, and let go of what is outside your control
Get clear on the actions within our power. Taking steps to address them can bring relief. Then the challenge is letting go of the rest. If it requires someone else’s action to resolve, let it go!
6. Talk to people with experience but who won’t judge you or give advice
I found out the hard way that sharing my worries with people who didn’t understand or hadn’t gone through it did not help. I’d get their judgment or their well-meaning advice. What we need is a listening ear, acceptance, and suggestions for trying something different. Look for this kind of support in your life.
7. Try something different
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity. If obsessive thinking keeps coming up, try something new. Find a course, or a professional, books, blogs, or a support group. Ask friends for their experience and suggestions. Look for help, and be open to new ideas.
If I look back on my life, I have always found a way through my difficulties, and often the outcomes are better than I anticipated. Reminding myself of my past successes helps me trust that I will continue to find my way through my worries. Even better if I can leap-frog past the worry straight to knowing I’ll be ok.
What other weapons do you use to battle obsessive thinking?