January 17, 2023

Obsessive Thinking and Anxiety Conditions

By: Design
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Medicially Reviewed By:
Dr. Priya Chaudhri
credentials here

Have you ever found yourself obsessing constantly over something? Like a broken record in your mind, these repetitive thoughts keep you in a never-ending state of stress and worry. What causes obsessive thinking?

What is Obsessive Thinking?

Obsessive thinking features a tendency to remain in a never-ending thought replay mode. When repetitive thinking interferes with our daily life, it becomes dysfunctional. The constant cycle of obsessive thinking creates a neurological rut, like a tire spinning in the mud. The distorted thoughts become stuck in that rut and prevent you from dismissing them.

When we mull over thoughts of an event, issue, or problem it is exhausting. It is also a huge waste of time and energy, as there is no purpose to obsessive thinking. But ruminations are destructive when what you are obsessing over involves negative self-talk.

Negative self-talk is when you tell yourself over and over that you are ugly, stupid, worthless, or any critical trait that is demeaning. When this happens, the thought patterns can become factors in depression, self-harm, or anxiety.

Obsessive Thinking and Anxiety

If you find that your daily state of mind is in turmoil due to worry, it may be a sign of anxiety. Constant worry, fueled by obsessive thoughts, can impact your sleep, and your appetite, and even cause physical symptoms.

Anxiety symptoms might include:

  • Feelings of dread, fear, and worry.
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart.
  • Racing thoughts.
  • Chest pain.
  • Shaking
  • Unable to focus.

Anxiety disorder is the most prevalent mental health disorder in the U.S., affecting about 20% of adults. Many of us find ourselves consumed with obsessive worry, which can be a feature of any of the subtypes of anxiety. The spectrum of anxiety disorders includes:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Phobias
  • Panic disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Social anxiety disorder.

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a complex mental health disorder that is related to anxiety disorder. OCD affects about 1.2% of the US adult population, with women three times as likely to suffer from it.

OCD actually involves two disorders: obsessive thoughts and the compulsive actions that result. Obsessive thoughts are rooted in doubt, fear, or guilt, and lead the person into a pattern of repetitive behaviors. The compulsive behaviors act to lessen the symptoms of anxiety.

OCD obsessive thoughts revolve around something that the person fears. These thoughts result in a desire to solve a problem. Instead of letting the thoughts pass, the person ruminates over them. They fear that just having the thoughts can cause the dreaded incident to occur.

The OCD thoughts will take on a sense of urgency. When the compulsive act relieves their anxiety, it reinforces the OCD pattern because the mind registers it as a success. This keeps the person trapped in the OCD cycle.

Examples of obsessive thoughts:

  • Irrational fear. The individual might fear germs or contamination or fear they may set the house on fire, for example.
  • Disturbing thoughts.  The individual might have repetitive and disturbing sexual, religious, or violent thoughts about a loved one.
  • Rigidity. The individual might have an extreme need for order and symmetry that leads to intense stress if items are not arranged just so.
  • Fear of harming. The individual might have thoughts of self-harm or harming others.

Examples of compulsive behaviors:

  • Washing hands over and over until raw
  • Checking repeatedly that the lights are turned off, that the stove is off, that the doors are locked, etc.
  • Counting in patterns
  • Mentally repeating a phrase, word, or prayer
  • Arranging items to be spaced at exact distances apart, placed in certain patterns, or turned in a particular direction

How To Stop Obsessive Thinking

There are several types of therapy that can assist those who struggle with obsessive thinking. These include:

CBT. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term therapy that guides the person toward reframing negative thought patterns. The therapist helps them recognize how constant worry leads to depressive episodes. CBT teaches the person thought-stopping skills that interrupt the rumination cycle.

ERPT. Exposure and response prevention therapy is a type of CBT that is offered in one-on-one and group formats. ERPT slowly exposes the person to distressing thoughts by having them state the thought out loud. As the thought is stated, the person is taught how not to respond to it.

Prolonged Exposure. This type of therapy is geared toward trauma that might be caused by the OCD thoughts. The therapist gradually exposes the person to the disturbing thought and little by little the thought loses its power over them.

EMDR. Eye movement desensitization reprocessing is a type of therapy for helping people with OCD. It uses a system where the person follows an item with their eyes, back and forth, while sharing their OCD thoughts. This can reduce the effect of the obsessive thoughts.

Habit Reversal Training. This therapy involves the person practicing the compulsive part of OCD. They become aware of the muscle or body sensation that is linked with it and develop an awareness of when the urge surfaces. The patient then learns an alternate response that blocks and reverses the disordered habit.

Using Thought Switching/Stopping Techniques in Daily Life

Neuroscience has made inroads in helping us understand the brain’s role in obsessive thinking. Recent clinical data describe the neural network connectivity between an area of the prefrontal cortex and the default mode network. This is found to contribute to obsessive thinking. Breaking that connection through thought switching or thought stopping actions, like CBT, can help reduce ruminating.

Elevation Behavioral Health Residential Mental Health Care

Elevation Behavioral Health is a private mental health treatment program. If you are struggling with obsessive thinking and anxiety, we are here to help. Our program features a luxury setting and a compassionate team to help you work through this type of anxiety. To learn more about our center, please reach out to us today at (888) 561-2114.

Our team of experts is here to help you.