The French call Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder folie de doute, the doubting disease. That’s what obsessions are–a doubt caught in an endless loop of thoughts. But even those not diagnosed with OCD can struggle with obsessions. In fact, I have yet to meet a depressive who doesn’t ruminate, especially in our age of anxiety. Every day gives sensitive types like myself plenty of material to obsess about. So I’m constantly pulling out the tools that I’ve acquired over time to win against my thoughts, to develop confidence–the antidote for doubt–to take charge of my brain. Maybe they’ll work for you, too.
1. Name the beast.
My first step to tackle obsessions: I identify the thought. What is my fear? What is my doubt? I make myself describe it in one sentence, or, if I can, in a few words.
2. Pencil it in.
A while back, when I was especially tormented by some obsessions, my therapist told me to schedule a time of day where I was free to ruminate. That way, she said, when you get an obsession, you can simply tell yourself, “Sorry, it’s not time for that. You’ll have to wait until 8 in the evening, when I give you, My Head, 15 minutes to obsess your heart out.”
3. Laugh at it.
Laughter can make almost any situation tolerable. And you have to admit, there is something a little funny about a broken record in your brain. I have a few people in my life who struggle with obsessions in the same way I do. Whenever I can’t stand the noise in my head anymore, I call up one of them and say, “They’re baaaaaack…….” And we laugh.
4. Throw it away.
One behavioral technique that works is to write out the obsession on a piece of paper. Then crinkle it up and throw it away. That way you have literally thrown out your obsession. Or try visualizing a stop sign. When your thoughts go there, remember to stop! Look at the sign!
5. Learn the lesson.
I often obsess about my mistakes. I know I messed up, and I’m beating myself over and over again for not doing it right the first time, especially when I have involved other people and hurt them unintentionally. If that’s the case, I will ask myself: What is the lesson here? What have I learned? Then I will describe the lesson that I have absorbed in one sentence or less.
6. Reel it in.
Buried within an obsession are usually pieces of truth. But other parts are as accurate as a juicy celebrity tabloid story: “Celine Dion meets ET for drinks.” That’s why you need some good friends that will help you separate fact from fiction. When I call up my friend Mike and tell him my latest obsession, he usually laughs out loud and says something like this: “Wow. Reel it in, Therese. Reel it in…You are way out this time.”
7. Imagine the worst.
I know this seems wrong–like it would produce even more anxiety. But imagining the worst can actually relieve the fear triggering an obsession. Because you’ve hit bottom. You can’t sink any lower! Isn’t that refreshing?
8. Put it on hold.
Sometimes I start to obsess about a situation for which I don’t have enough information. So I put my obsession “on hold,” like it’s a pretty lavender dress at a boutique that I saw and want but don’t have enough money to buy. So it’s there, waiting for me, when I get enough dough–or enough data.
9. Interrupt the conversation.
An obsession is like a conversation over coffee: “This is why he hates me, and this, too, is why he hates me, and did I mention why he hates me? I’m sure he hates me.” So I can be myself and rudely interrupt. I don’t even have to say, “Excuse me.” I can ask a question or throw out another topic. And, best of us, no one will tell me, “Let her finish.”