OCD and anxiety tips to stop repetitive thoughts

Do you have repetitive thoughts? Human beings are prone to having repetitive thoughts and this is especially true in regards to events or situations that provoke anxiety.

However, these thoughts can become so repetitive that they interfere with our ability to complete certain tasks. This, in turn, causes us more anxiety, which further interferes with our ability to perform at optimal levels. It becomes a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. Fortunately, human beings have a great deal of control over their thoughts and these repetitive thoughts can be reduced through a technique that is called stopping.

The basic idea behind stopping is that if anxiety-provoking thoughts are paired with relaxation, their repetitiveness can be reduced which results in anxiety reduction.

In other words, if the thoughts that make you nervous become associated with relaxation, they can be reduced.

While initially, you may have a repetitive thought that interferes with your daily thoughts 600 times a day, using this technique you can usually help cut that number in half. This means that you can reduce these recurrent thoughts to just five times a day in seven days’ time. The method by which thought stopping is achieved is quite simple.

1. When experiencing a recurring thought that causes anxiety, you should first say "Stop." This introduces the idea to yourself to stop having these thoughts. You can say it out loud or to yourself but this is a necessary first step.

2. Negate the thought that you are having on a recurrent basis. "I will not . . ." or "I can not . . ." is how this statement usually starts. The brain doesn't really recognise negatives; for example, if I ask you not to think about a pink elephant what's the first thing you think about?

3. Make a positive self-statement about a feeling which instils confidence. "I will . . ." or "I can . . ." is how this statement usually starts. So change a negative into a positive e.g. change "I can't feel good" to "how can I feel good?".

4. To further distil the thoughts, take a cleansing, relaxing breath. It's important to note that thought stopping will work best if you have mastered relaxing breathing techniques - this is key in pairing the anxiety-provoking thought with relaxation.

5. In order to achieve maximum benefit from this technique in the shortest time period possible, you should do steps one to four every time you have the recurrent thought. Failure to do this is likely to result in thought-stopping not being effective.

By incorporating this technique into your daily routine, the frequency of your reoccurring thoughts should reduce. Again, practice makes perfect. However, in this case, it's important that you use this technique each and every time that you are having an intrusive thought that you would like to get rid of. Failure to do this will reduce the effectiveness of the technique. At first, it will take effort but after just a short time it will become second nature to swap your thoughts over from negative to positive.

A note on OCD treatments from Counselling Directory

If you are struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder, there are several approaches you can take - the recommended treatments, however, are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP). You may also be recommended medication. Find out more on our OCD fact-sheet.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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