8 Ways to Tame the Mind Monster and Stop Obsessing
Everyone obsesses about something from time to time. We obsess about the awesome job we just applied for or the newly sprouting greys joining the party at the top of our head. Yet sometimes, during times of stress or change, the mind monster gets hungry and greedy and decides to chow down on our inner reserves of calm and trust.
Obsessive thoughts can vary from the repetitive, “Why doesn’t he call me back?” mantra, all the way up to ruminations that classify as a full-blown OCD (Obsessive Compulsion Disorder) diagnosis.
OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted and unreasonable thoughts (obsessions) that create repetitive behaviors (compulsions) in an effort to stop the thoughts. A common example of OCD is hand washing. The individual knows their hands do not need to be washed 4 times an hour, but the thought, “My hands have germs on them,” builds and builds. Although they are aware they are ‘being irrational,’ eventually, the pressure and stress from the thought leads them to hand wash, again. Besides sore, chapped hands, the result is that everytime the thought is ‘rewarded’ with a behavior, the synapse pathway in the brain is strengthened, increasing the chance that it will all happen in the future, again. It is similar to hiking an unwalked trail in the woods-- it is difficult to create a path, and you may get covered in brambles and pricker bushes...But if you walk the path 50 times, it carves out a nice smooth trail where you have created a groove in the forest. The same goes for our brains--when we repeat a thought, we create the pathway for that thought (and emotional patterning) to happen again and again.
The solution to obsessive thoughts is to break this pattern.
Many of my clients are sensitive empaths, which comes with an intuitive advantage but also an increased susceptibility to anxiety. When we are sensitive, we need to increase self-care because we feel the emotions and problems of everyone around us so deeply.
So, whether you have a mild case of obsessing, or OCD--obsessing is always a product of anxiety.
Here are some Common obsessive thoughts:
- I think I left the stove on.
- What if I got insecticide on my hands, and I accidentally poisoned the family dinner?
- What stops me from grabbing this knife and stabbing my husband?
- What if I hit a pedestrian and didn't notice?
To overcome the obsessing, you need to change the feedback pattern. And while anxiety does often have a genetic predisposition, there are tons of ways you can help manage and heal anxiety.
Here’s some ways to turn down the inner mind-monster
1. Identify the Mind Monster
The first thing is to notice that you are having an irrational thought, even and especially when it doesn’t seem irrational. The mind monster wants you to believe his trap. When we identify the thought as 'irrational,' we call his bluff and gain our power back.
Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “Don’t believe everything you think?” Well, definitely don’t believe the mind monster. It is helpful to describe the fear in one sentence, like if we are worried that we are being misunderstood at a business meeting but keep obsessing we realize: "I am scared I will get fired from work."
While this may seem obvious, this naming or labeling, remind us of what we are actually doing.
It also is really helpful to create a little character out of your inner mind monster. Name him, draw him, and get to know his top 5 favorite phrases. This personification helps you to identify him in the future. You will get the "flavor" of your monster. You can’t fight an enemy you don’t see.
2. Categorize The Thought
Notice if the thought you are stressing over can be categorized as ‘all or nothing thinking,’ jumping to conclusions, exaggeration or discounting the positive. Dr. David Burns bestseller “Feeling Good,” gives a great overview on the type of twisted thinking we can take part in.
3. Schedule Your Stress
This may sound counter-intuitive but when you notice that your whole day is susceptible to the unexpected guest of the mind monster, it is helpful to plan a short period of time in the day and make an appointment with the beast. If you have 'stress out', written on your calendar everyday from 12:00-12:20 (keep it about 20 minutes), then when stressing the rest of the day, you can tell yourself, “I’m not going to do this now, I will save this for stress time.” When you begin to corral your thoughts into a specific time slot it allows you to begin to feel in control of your mind again.
4. Snap Out Of It
A common behavioral technique is to wear a rubber band around your wrist and give yourself a little snap everytime you hear the mind monster scream an unwanted thought at you. If snapping feels too severe, you can also try writing the mind monster thought on a piece of paper. After you get it out, crinkle it up and toss it out. This is a great ritual where you get to literally thrown away your worry.
5. Give It Up
It helps to get out of our mind and get the perspective from our Soul about what is going on. The serenity prayer is a great reminder that we can’t control everything. When we try to micromanage life, we end up stressed out of our gourds. A “Soul Box” or "God Box" is a great ritual to pass off your fears. Create a nice little box (buy one at the store or decorate an old shoe box) and put it next to your bed. When you are stressing, write the fear down and put it in the box with a little prayer of, “I'm done stressing about this. I give this to you, Universe/Soul/God to take care of.”
The Serenity Prayer:
6. Get Physical
Whenever we get in the body, we also get into the present moment. Rub your hands together, march hard--feet pounding the floor, notice the cool temperature of a swim in the pool or the warm sun on your cheeks. When you go for a jog, or walk in the woods you usually get a free pass out of mind monster-ville.
Sometimes we just need to distract ourselves to confuse the mind monster. My favorite distraction is always comedy. Laughing always lightens things up. Watch a comedy act, Americas Funniest Home Videos or make fun of yourself. Realize that this too shall pass.
8. Cut the Coffee
No one ever wants to hear this one but it’s true. Even if you are only having mild anxiety symptoms, (and yes, obsessions are anxiety symptoms)…there is no good reason why you should be injesting caffeine. It’s like throwing gas on a fire.
Cut down and replace your morning cup with something else. Even if you have to replace your coke a cola with red vines, do what you have to do to wean yourself off the caffeine beast.
Remember, the mind monster will always give you ‘good reasons’ to stress. The mind monster lies. Do not focus on the content of the thought, but realize the cold hard fact: you are just anxious.
So what do you do when you are anxious? Handle the anxiety--directly. Take a bath, go on a walk, laugh or talk to a friend. Once you identify and label the anxiety, it allows us to relax, taming the once powerful but now defeated monster of the mind.
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