QA reader asked me to talk about how to “slow down obsessive thoughts in the moment” that had him spinning and up all night in worry. I figure this is a relevant concern, so I wanted to share my answer with all of you. 

The situation that he told me I could share was that he felt like he overshared at a work party and was extremely anxious that he co-workers would be thinking poorly of him. This anxiety drove worry about returning to work the next day.  

Utilize that forceful energy for something more productive!

You know that you are in an obsessive or compulsive thought pattern (we call this a ‘thought loop’ in coaching) when you have a drive to do something, sometimes irrationally, in a hurry. There is forceful energy behind it. It could be checking your ex’s Facebook account, driving by someone’s house, checking your email too frequently, or spinning out in worry all night about what someone might be thinking about you.

To calm these anxieties, there is a feeling that you need to fix something , or do something immediately. You may have an instant urge to email someone, call someone, binge eat, etc. This is when you know you are in a thought loop. 

Our primitive brain is designed to look out for danger. It served us well in prehistoric times, but we no longer need our primitive brain to function in that way. It doesn’t need to protect us from mortal danger in our work environment. Instead, we need to recruit our higher -level brain, our pre-frontal cortex, to decide what we want to think instead.

When you have found yourself in the middle of a thought loop, here are some steps that can help.

1). Acknowledge it and label it as a thought error. Even if you have to say out loud to yourself “I know this feels urgent and that we have to do something about this, but we are in the midst of a thought error”

2). Remind yourself to not resist it because resisting it will make it grow and intensify. Instead, take a deep breath, shoulders back, and relax into it

3). Ask yourself: What am I really wanting here?Is it approval? Praise? Love? To fit in? 

Whatever the answer to this question is, give it to yourself.If you are checking FB or IG to see how many likes you got on a post, what you really may be wanting is some approval. Give yourself some self-approval in that moment instead.

4) Utilize that energy that you have on something productive!A thought loop creates a lot of energy that can be re-directed to an awesome workout, some de-cluttering, or business project. Use it wisely!

5). Visualize the thought loop as a child who doesn’t know better and you as the parent telling yourself that it is okay to let go of this worry, this doubt, this anxiety.

You can offer some intentional thoughts to the lower part of your brain that is freaking out “It is okay to let this go and get some sleep,” “This won’t matter in the big picture,” “I can handle any feeling that comes my way,” “You can’t control what other people think about you,” or “Worry won’t help”

Acknowledging that you are in the midst of a thought loop is an excellent first step, and then deciding on what you want to think is next. This gives you some distance from the obsession and can help release it.

Let the rest go, it is just a thought error.

If you would like some individual coaching on obsessive thinking or behaviors, reach out to schedule a call, there are only a few spots remaining.

Melanie Shmois, MSSA, LISW-S, Certified Life and Weight Loss Coach
18 years working in transformation as a mental trainer

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