When we are stressed or dodging one of life’s many curve balls, it’s common to become obsessed with the subject matter and it can be hard to stop thinking about it. Also known as obsessive thinking or rumination, the mental merry-go-round can be difficult to get off, it’s metaphoric dizziness often interrupting sleep and inducing stress. It has also been known to lead to anxiety and depression. Similarly, those experiencing depression or anxiety, commonly ruminate and their experiences may present in what is often described as ‘catastrophic thought’.
Although it’s normal and sometimes even helpful to ‘workshop’ problems or decisions you’ve made, when there is no solution in sight and the thoughts are becoming obsessive and interrupting daily function, you’ve almost certainly tipped the scales to an unhealthy level of rumination.
Obsessive thinking has been known to lead to depression and anxiety as the negative thought increases the brain’s stress response leading to higher levels of cortisol. It also leads to dangerous physical symptoms of stress like high blood pressure and heart problems.
So how do you short-circuit obsessive thoughts?
The first step is to recognise when you are thinking this way and to know where to draw the line of healthy vs unhealthy rumination. This is the most difficult step as people prone to rumination see it as ‘workshopping problems’ rather than brooding badly! If you find yourself reacting irrationally to the present, it might be because your mind is elsewhere, perhaps dwelling on negative thought. Regularly checking in with yourself and understanding your own individual signs will help you recognise the signs of rumination.
Being mindful and present can also help you let go of past decisions and actions that cannot be changed. Practicing yoga can be a positive way to physically commit to mindfulness, as the ancient art focuses on being present and grateful for the now.
Exercise is a known distractor when negative thoughts are overwhelming you. Walking with a friend or socialising can also be helpful in shifting the focus to more positive and enjoyable experiences.
As cognitive behavioural therapy is focused on stopping negative thoughts in their tracks and replacing them with more positive, helpful ones, it’s world renowned as one of the most effective treatments for alleviating cognitive distortions. A Psychologist can help guide you through the process of breaking down these thoughts and perceptions and how these may affect your emotions and behaviour.
If you need help with obsessive thoughts or your general health and wellbeing, Psychology Consultants has a large team of experienced, male and female Clinical Psychologists committed to helping you thrive.