8 ways to overcome fixated thoughts

March 10, 2022 | by Laura Koehler, Psy.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Ever have a worried thought or image repeat in your head? Did I turn off the stove? Are my kids safe? Will I lose my job?

The thoughts get stuck and you can’t seem to control them.

If this resonates with you, you aren’t alone. Worrying is a part of life and we all have upsetting or unwanted thoughts from time to time.

Once the problem is solved, the worry usually subsides.

But when thoughts become obsessive or all-consuming, it can be distressing and disruptive. Worrying can affect your physical and mental health. You may have headaches or stomach aches, or trouble sleeping, concentrating or completing everyday tasks.

Worriers are challenged by problems that have no clear solution. They become distressed by unwanted thoughts of disastrous outcomes that may never happen.

Unfortunately, there is no easy “off” switch for fixated thoughts and struggling against them can actually make them stronger. It’s better to identify your thought as intrusive and remind yourself that it’s not helpful or accurate. Here are eight ways to overcome fixated thoughts:

  1. Allow yourself “worry time” each day. Allot a short time to worry each day (15-20 minutes), then move on. If the unwanted thought pops into your mind later, remind yourself to put it aside until your worry time.

  2. Try deep breathing. Take several deep, careful breaths and focus on counting while inhaling and exhaling. This can force your mind to focus on nothing but breathing.

  3. Exercise. Regular exercise can promote a clearer, less worried mind and a healthier body. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout every time. A short, brisk walk each day can do the mind and body good.

  4. De-stress before bed. If your fixated thoughts happen when you’re trying to go to sleep, create a bedtime routine to help you relax, such as meditation or gentle yoga, reading a book or taking a bath.

  5. Practice mindfulness. This can help ground you in the present moment and distract from upsetting thoughts. Focus on your senses one by one. Name what you see, hear, smell, feel and taste. The idea is to redirect your thinking to the present moment.

  6. Do something that brings you joy. Call a friend, go for a walk, draw a picture, listen to music, have a good laugh.

  7. Start a gratitude journal. Gratitude is associated with a greater sense of well-being and can help you refocus. When unwanted thoughts linger in your mind, open your journal and write something for which you are grateful.

  8. Seek support. Open up to family and friends about your worries and, if needed, reach out to a professional behavioral health therapist.

Sometimes uncontrollable, recurrent thoughts are a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD can lead people to repeat specific behaviors and/or obsessively think or obsess over something. The symptoms last at least an hour a day and interfere with daily life. It is common for people with OCD to also have another mental health issue like anxiety or depression.

Only a trained professional can diagnose OCD, usually by observing and assessing a person’s symptoms. Treatment typically includes psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two.

Are fixated thoughts interfering with your daily life? Reach out to one of our clinicians at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health or call 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

Wondering if you have anxiety? Take our free, online AnxietyAware risk assessment.

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