Have you ever had a song get stuck in your head and no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to make it go away? I think most of you could answer “yes” to that question.
It is the same with thoughts for a lot of people. No matter how hard they try, they cannot seem to push thoughts away and it drives them bonkers. I know, because I have been one of those people.
We call these unwanted, looping thoughts obsessive thinking patterns.
They can keep us distracted at work, make it difficult or impossible to sleep, and challenge our ability to being fully present with people. It may seem like this is just a definition of worrying – but I like to make a distinction. Worrying can usually be put “on hold” for a later time, but obsessive thoughts demand attention. They always want to be “front and center”.
Dealing with this can be arduous, because trying to not think about something just makes us think more about it. So what can we do to change this? Most clinicians would recommend a behavioral approach. We call it “stop think” or “thought shifting”. Every time our mind wanders into this unwanted territory we must intentionally refocus on something else. This means being prepared with an alternate mental place to go.
Things that challenge me the most are usually related to family. When someone in the family is not doing well, it is troublesome. Often I can’t fix the problem no matter how much I focus on it. It is at that point that I must shift my thoughts to something else. I “capture” these thoughts and give them to God, knowing that he has the person or situation under His care.
I use prayer, meditation, books, physical changes in my environment, conversations with others and additional changes in my behavior to distract myself. Often the worst thing I can do is go to the Internet to try to find a solution to the problem. People often drive themselves deeper into anxiety by researching a medical or other problem online, and then discovering multiple new things to worry about. Medical symptoms often point in many directions.
When the obsessive thinking becomes so prevalent or severe, then an intervention may be necessary. This might include both counseling and medication. The decision to do so should be based on the level of relational and life disruption that it is causing.
The good news is that there is always help available.