Have you ever found yourself unable to stop thinking about a mistake you’ve made? An ex-boyfriend you can’t get over? Have you ever asked yourself how to stop thinking about something that makes you feel bad?
Don’t worry — you’re not the only one. We all have obsessive thoughts sometimes. However, whether you are expecting something to go wrong or dwelling on your past transgressions, you must start fighting these negative thoughts.
Obsessive Thinking Can Go Out of Control
I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago. My daughter was playing with her friends in the backyard, and I was having my morning coffee on the balcony. Suddenly, I looked down to check on them, and they weren’t there!
You can’t imagine the thoughts running through my head. What if she went out on the street and got hit by a car? What if someone had kidnapped her or something even worse?
I ran down the stairs, fearing the worst, but then I heard laughter coming from the basement. She and her friends were safe and sound, playing with some old toys. However, that wasn’t the end of my worries.
In the days to come, I was frightened to let her out of my sight and kept obsessively thinking about all those “what ifs.” Finally, one day, my husband told me, “Honey, that’s enough!” That’s when I realized that obsessing about what might go wrong was bad for both my daughter and me.
If my story sounds familiar, you might also have a problem with obsessive thinking. Luckily, there is a way to fix that!
The Problem with Obsessive Thoughts
The main issue with obsessive thinking is “the white bear” problem. This means that when you tell yourself to stop thinking about something, your mind will focus on it even more. If I told you to think about a white bear, and then to stop, could you do it?
The answer is probably no. Obsessive thoughts are incredibly hard to control. However, if you want to know how to stop thinking about something, follow this guide, and you’ll surely feel better.
How to Stop Thinking About Something Right Now
#1. Accept your thoughts are out of control
Everyone asks themselves from time to time how to stop thinking about something. However, we don’t usually know where to start. Unfortunately, our brains don’t have an “off” button.
First of all, you must accept that you can’t control obsessive thinking. Admitting it’s a problem is the first step to recovery.
Acceptance is not important only because it will be easier for you to solve the problem. Avoiding your thoughts and suppressing them will make things much worse, and you may end up with serious mental issues.
Moreover, remind yourself that it’s just your thoughts, nothing else. The mistake you’ve made is probably not that bad as it seems. The things you’re afraid will happen in the future might never happen.
#2. Identify the pattern
To begin with, you must recognize the thoughts and the patterns in order to change them. Examine them and find out what the triggers are. Once you know what causes these thoughts to happen, it’ll be easier to beat them.
Moreover, you should try to gain some deeper perspective. There is usually a bigger worry that’s reflected by these thoughts. Once you determine what the issue is, you can work on solving it.
For example, if you can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made at work, even a minor one, you probably don’t feel that your position is safe, and you’ve most likely had a feeling that you’ll get fired for a while. You can solve this by improving your overall performance or talking to your boss.
#3. Focus on problem-solving
Obsessive thinking is not always a bad thing. Many people have obsessive thoughts when trying to find a solution to a problem. On the other hand, if you focus more on the problem than on finding the solution, you must work on overcoming them.
When it comes to obsessive thinking, it’s crucial that you are aware of what you can control and what you can’t. We all sometimes obsess about things that we can’t do a thing about. In that case, you must accept that nothing depends on you and that you’ll have to go with the flow.
However, if the situation that floods your thoughts is possible or likely to happen, you should employ your problem-solving skills. Here are some questions that might help you with that:
- Is the scenario in my head likely to happen?
- How do I want this situation to unfold in the future?
- What can I do to bring that about?
Once you answer these questions, you will be able to create a strategy to achieve the desired outcome. Create a guide or a to-do list while working on it — you’ll forget about those negative thoughts.
#4. Turn to meditation and mindfulness
There is a strong connection between our thoughts and feelings. When your thoughts are negative, you will certainly start feeling sad or even depressed. This is why obsessive thinking is detrimental to your mental health.
A good way to deal with obsessive thoughts is through meditation and mindfulness. Practicing them will help you decrease the negativity, relax, and think more clearly.
The best thing about these two methods is that you can practice them anywhere and anytime.
For example, here is a short breathing exercise that will help you take your mind off of the obsessive thoughts:
- Exhale completely through your mouth
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose slowly for four seconds
- Hold your breath for seven seconds
- Exhale completely through your mouth for eight seconds
- Repeat for a few minutes.
If you want to devote more time to meditation, there are many online videos and courses available, so you’ll easily find something that works for you. Alternatively, look up meditation group classes in your neighborhood and sign up for one.
#5. Distract yourself
If you’re wondering how to stop thinking about something, you should find yourself a pleasant distraction. This can be any activity that you enjoy, and that’ll generate positive feelings.
For instance, meet up with your friends and do something fun together. If you have an engaging hobby, now is the time to devote to it. Alternatively, just turn on the music, dance around your apartment, and sing out loud (at least until your neighbors start complaining).
Another option is to pick up a task that may not be so fun, but that needs your complete attention. Challenge yourself to clean up your home in under 30 minutes, or plan your summer vacation in detail. Any activity that will stop you from worrying will do.
Finally, if it doesn’t work at first, don’t give up. Experiment with different activities until you find the one that will make you forget all your worries.
#6. Stay away from negative company
When you can’t get rid of obsessive thoughts, hanging out with your friends is a good distraction. However, if the people you spend time with are also negative and experience negative thoughts, that will reflect on you.
Rumination about negative things is like a disease — it spreads easily. Since it usually includes worrying and thinking out loud, it affects other people fast and can be picked up as a habit.
Therefore, stick to more optimistic people for the time being. If you do decide to hang out with your friends that also have negative thoughts, be aware that it’ll slow down your recovery process.
#7. Say goodbye to your worries in every way
Distractions, problem-solving, and acceptance might work, but for some dealing with this issue in their heads, that’s not enough. Still, there is a way to say goodbye to obsessive thoughts in a physical way, as well as mentally.
Take a piece of paper and write down all your worries — what you think might happen, why that is so bad, and finally how it affects you. Then, tear the paper into pieces and throw it away. Physically tossing the problems away will help you get rid of the thoughts in your head as well.
#8. Consider the worst-case scenario
Sometimes, the problems are not as bad in reality as they seem to be in our heads. Yes, I know that, right now, it seems that if the worst-case scenario happens, you’ll never be happy again. But, is that really true?
Identifying the worst thing that could happen might calm you down. You’ll probably realize that it’s not that terrible as it seems.
Even if bad things do happen, you never know what the future holds for you. Perhaps something even better will come out as a result. Additionally, you will learn something from it, and that’s always a plus.
#9. Find professional help
If you’ve tried all these tips and are still wondering how to stop thinking about something, the problem might be serious. While obsessive thinking is usually just a bad habit, it can also be a symptom of some serious mental diseases such as the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or severe anxiety.
In that case, reaching out to a professional is the step you must take. It may seem hard at first, but your mental well-being needs it.
Whether you are obsessively thinking about past situations, problems that the future might hold, or just everyday situations, like the usual “Did I turn off the oven before leaving the house?”, you have an issue that needs to be addressed.
Now that you know how to stop thinking about something negative, go ahead and give it a try. You’ll be much happier once you are rid of those ugly thoughts.