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Most people who suffer from obsessions need medical help to cope with the stresses they create. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications that will help to curb obsessive thoughts and behavior therapy can help to stop the compulsions that follow them, such as constant hand washing.
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One of the best ways to avoid obsessive thoughts is to stay busy. Although the thoughts may remain they won't be as intrusive or as severe because you are occupying yourself with something else, leaving less room for the thoughts to take over your life as often.
Obsessive thoughts cause anxiety, but by being physical you will tire yourself out which will allow for more restful sleep and therefore less anxiety. A good night’s sleep helps the brain to recuperate from daily activities.
In addition, exercise creates an endorphin rush in the brain. The release of these 'feel-good' chemicals creates a natural high making you feel better and less likely to be troubled by obsessive thoughts.
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Make a List
Lists are great for the mentally challenged because they help to put things into perspective.
1) When obsessing, you should make a list of reasons why your obsession seems logical to you. Then, narrow that list down by marking through the thoughts that you realize are not a probability - that is the things you are thinking about that are unlikely to happen.
2) Thoughts that are probable will depend upon the situation and the person you are, but probable thoughts for a parent of a teen who is late coming home could include that they misjudged the time it would take to drive home not that they have been in a car wreck and are lying dead somewhere along the road.
3) Once you have the list of probable reasons for the anxiety, you should write out the reasons as to why each thought is probable and this step should help to narrow the list even more because as you explore why each point is probable, you will see that some can be marked off as not probable. The more items you can move off the list, the faster you can get control of the obsession.
4) As you see the list dwindling, your mind begins to accept that the obsession is not realistic and the urgency to act upon the obsession releases its grip on you. Even if only part of the obsession is released, the list is worth the effort because it can help you to get a handle on what is really bothering you. Lists give way to self-discovery which helps to control the obsessions.
For example, if you are afraid that your teenage child has been in a car wreck because he or she is ten minutes late, a quick list can pinpoint where the obsessive thoughts are coming from and can help you to make decisions about how to proceed with logic and understanding rather than a full out rant about how the teen has "damaged" you.
In most cases, the teen has not done anything out of the ordinary but when you are thinking with the obsession in control, you may feel damaged and take that feeling out on the teen. Allowing obsessions to control your actions can be detrimental to any relationship but with a teen it can often cause feelings of hurt and resentment that will never go away.
Writing a list while waiting for the teen to come home will allow for a more productive conversation with him or her about why they should call if they are going to be a few minutes late. Ranting to a teen about how much stress and worry they have caused usually gets no results.
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Discuss the Obsession
Most people do well with lists but some need more encouragement and can learn to deal with their obsessive thoughts by starting a conversation. Select and prepare two to three adult family members or close friends with good reasoning skills to help get you through an obsessive crisis. These people should be given the whole truth about how the obsessions make you behave. The whole truth means even the things that you aren't comfortable with other people knowing about you, so it is important that you trust and respect the people you select to be your safety net in an obsessive crisis. Then, you must let the people choose whether or not they want to be your safety net.
If these people agree to help, they must understand that it is their responsibility to work with you to sort through the points on your mental list - similar to a written list. It is your responsibility to listen to and consider the logic that their safety net brings to the situation so that the obsession can be dissolved. You should not ask anyone to be your safety net if you do not respect them enough to listen to them in a time of crisis.
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Further Help to Conquer Obsessive Thoughts
Understanding how obsessions work is a big part of the recovery process. You can research obsessions so that you understand the transition your brain goes through to cause an obsessive episode. Once you understand the mechanics of obsessions, you can plan distractions for yourself.
A good workout or tackling some spring cleaning are effective ways to use that nervous energy brought on by obsessive thoughts. The distraction should fit your own needs, but planning “chores" ahead of time can help to tame the antsy feeling that comes with the obsessions. When planning your chores, you should once again make a list and hang it somewhere convenient, like the refrigerator, so that when you are spiraling out of control you will see the list. This will help you to realize that you are in a situation where you need to keep yourself busy to stop the natural progression of the obsession.
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London, Robert, M.D. “Taming Obsessive Thoughts." http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-minute-shrink/201006/taming-obsessive-thoughts
Source: Author’s Own Experience