How to stop fixating on things
8 ways to overcome fixated thoughts8 ways to overcome fixated thoughts | Edward-Elmhurst Health
COVID-19 Information Center: get the latest on vaccines, testing, screening, visitor policy and post-COVID support >>
Back to Healthy Driven Blog Home
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do something that brings you joy. Call a friend, go for a walk, draw a picture, listen to music, have a good laugh.
- 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.
- 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.
KidsMatter: Helping youth say “yes” to endless possibilities
How to handle family drama at the holidays
Give thanks all year, you’ll be a lot happier
Laura Koehler, Psy.D. Specialty: Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Dr. Koehler's work has focused on helping adolescents and their families. Read More >>
Healthy Driven Stories with Mary Lou Mastro
Our very own President & CEO Mary Lou Mastro will post about what our patients want to know, from the latest buzz in our hospitals to what’s new in health care.
Healthy Driven Life
We’ve got fresh new ideas about how to lead a healthier life! Our physicians and other experts will post about exercise and fitness, recipes, wellness advice and more.
Healthy Driven Heroes
Our stories about patients who bravely and proactively improved their health, and the caregivers who helped them along the way, are sure to motivate and inspire.
Healthy Driven Moms
Our physicians and other experts will post about all things moms and moms-to-be want to know.
Healthy Driven Cancer Fight
Our physicians and other experts will post about issues that matter most to people affected by cancer.
Healthy Driven Hearts
Our physicians and other experts will post about the latest treatments and more for living a heart healthy life.
Healthy Driven Minds
Our physicians and other experts will post about improving mental health and well-being.
Healthy Driven Voices of Diversity
By creating platforms and opportunities that allow us to come together, we can begin to know and understand each other.
Healthy Driven Community
Read stories that illustrate our commitment to keeping our community healthy.
Healthy Driven Chicago®
Our physicians and other experts will post about the steps you can take today to stay healthy and fit for years to come.
If you have reached this screen, your current device or browser is unable to access the full Edward-Elmhurst Health Web site.
To see the full site, please upgrade your browser to the most recent version of Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer. If you cannot upgrade your browser, you can remain on this site.
- I want to...
- Schedule online
- Log into Patient Portal/MyChart
- Listen to our podcast
- Pay My Bill & Estimate Costs
- Take a Health Assessment
- Find a class or support group
- Search Careers
- Contact Us
Stop Obsessing or Fixating With a Fast Cognitive Technique
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment (Baer, 2003). Subtracting the psychological jargon, mindfulness refers to clearing your head and focusing on how your mind and body feel in the moment.
While I don’t like the term "mindfulness" because it sounds like jargon and doesn’t sufficiently explain what it is, research has shown that mindfulness is nevertheless effective. Specifically, mindfulness techniques can be very effective in helping people cope with a wide range of issues and disorders. For example, mindful meditation groups have been associated with significant improvements in mood (Massachusetts General Hospital, 2011) and group mindfulness treatment was found to be as effective as individual cognitive-behavioral therapy in patients with depression and anxiety (Lund University, 2014).
How exactly can mindful techniques help you and your mood? In particular, how can a mindful technique get you out of a bad mood, help you resist an addiction trigger, or stave off an anxiety attack? In my clinical work with men and women, I have found that one technique works well in helping clients to stop fixating and start focusing on something else. By stopping the fixation, one’s mood can quickly improve. I use the technique I will review in a moment with addicts who feel overwhelmed by a craving; individuals on the verge of a panic attack; individuals who are ruminators or who have a bad temper; and individuals who tend to obsess or ruminate.
The first step when you get overwhelmed is to recognize that you are officially upset or fixating on something negative. Once you label the problem, use this technique which involves asking yourself a series of questions and then answering them. The technique is simple and quick, requiring only a minute or two of your time.
Wherever you are, ask yourself the following questions:
- If I had to guess, what is the exact temperature now (inside or outside, depending on where you are)?
- What is my body temperature like now? Do I feel a little cold, a little warm, or perfectly comfortable?
- If I don’t make any noise, can I identify every single sound that I hear?
- Outside, what is in the sky? Are there clouds? How would I describe what I see in the sky?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how hungry am I?
- If I could choose to eat any dish right, what would I choose?
Very quickly, I’m sure, you got the idea. The value of this exercise is to distract your mind from any upsetting thoughts and feelings you are stuck in and to redirect your thinking to specific, tangible questions by using your senses. This technique works with kids and adults, and you can repeat the exercise later if you need it.
The exercise above is just one of the many behaviors that you can use to improve your mood when you feel anxious, angry, or upset. I've found that clients love this exercise because it is incredibly easy to do; it's not time-intensive; you don’t need paper, pens, or anything else to do it; and you can create your own distraction questions based on your personality. My 8-year-old daughter, for example, would be sure to include on her list: How many pink unicorns are flying across the sun? Remember that this technique can be adapted in any way that you want. By trial and error, you will find the precise technique that works for you so that you can feel better and stay focused throughout the day.
Feel free to explore my book on dysfunctional romantic relationships, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve or follow me on Twitter.
20 techniques not to go in cycles and not to “wind up”
Many of us replay conversations that have already taken place in our heads: “Why did he say that?”, “I made a complete fool of myself!”, “ Here's what you should have said…”
Perhaps you are worried about an upcoming meeting at work, a weekend party, or filing your tax return: “How will my presentation go?”, “What if the party will the former come?”, “What if I fill out the declaration incorrectly?” nine0003
Deep down we know that such thoughts only hurt, but their whirlpool continues to pull us in. If you are facing a similar problem, one of the techniques can help you.
1. Ask yourself if such thoughts are productive.
Would another “mental rehearsal” for your upcoming meeting with your boss help you? Maybe it's time to admit that you have already prepared enough, and you need to trust your intuition?
2.Look at the situation from the outside
Will the case that you constantly replay in your head be important in five years, or are you exaggerating its significance? nine0003
3. Schedule according to biological rhythms
When are you usually at your best physically, mentally and emotionally? If you find it easiest to concentrate in the morning, try to use this time to deal with complex projects, which may seem overwhelming in the afternoon. If you are full of energy in the evening, plan important meetings and tasks for the afternoon.
4. Focus on sensations
What are you hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting right now? Focusing on the sensations will help bring you back to the present moment.
5. Give up the pursuit of the ideal
None of us is perfect and cannot be. We are constantly changing, developing, but we will never know everything in the world. Instead, the acquired knowledge and information should be used as efficiently as possible.
6. Accept what you can't change
Something may not have worked out the way you wanted. Maybe you yourself made a mistake. Learn from the situation and forget about it. Don't let the past distract from the present. nine0003
7. Accept that you cannot predict or control the future.
Worrying about the future will surely ruin the present.
8. Move more
Take a walk around the neighborhood or walk down the hallway, go for a run or bike ride.
9. Realize that you don't need to understand everything
To change a habit, you don't have to understand why you have adopted it. Sometimes introspection is helpful, but often it becomes a convenient excuse for not doing something you don't feel like doing. nine0003
10. Repeat phrases that help you focus and calm down
Tell yourself: “I can handle this”, “Relax!”, “Live in the moment”, “Deal with problems as they come”, “It’s okay, I in safety". You can also count to ten, exhaling at each count.
11. Solve One Problem at a Time
How often do you talk on the phone while driving, cooking dinner, or surfing the Net? You're dividing your attention between multiple tasks, which leads to information overload, which in turn causes anxiety and looping. Learn to focus on one thing. nine0003
12. Recognizing the problem, focus on the solution
Think about the optimal outcome instead of worrying about everything that could go wrong.
13. Think about what you are depriving yourself of through fantasies or looping.
14. Think about what obsessive thoughts save you from
Maybe your mental exercises distract you from unpleasant feelings and discoveries? If this is the case, find out what you are trying to protect yourself from. Are you missing out on a lot? nine0003
15. Ask yourself what is in your power and what is not
Focus on what you can change: your attitude to the situation, behavior, decisions. Of course, the actions of other people can hurt you, but they are free to do as they want. Also, you cannot change the past, but you can draw conclusions from it. We cannot predict the future, but we can prepare for it.
16. Set aside a separate time for worries
If you decide that the situation really deserves careful consideration, make an appointment with yourself. At the appointed time, set a timer - for example, for 15 or 30 minutes. During this time, worry and worry. Take notes if necessary. If the allotted time is not enough, schedule another meeting and postpone the experience until this moment. nine0003
17. Develop mindfulness
Learn to be in the present moment without judgment, notice thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations while maintaining the position of an observer.
18. Practice deep abdominal breathing
It helps to relax and focus on the present moment.
19. Take improv lessons
Spontaneity and creativity are qualities that will be very useful in life.
20. Help others
When we shift our attention and thoughts to another person or a new business, we are distracted from our own problems and begin to concentrate on the present. nine0003
About the author: Rachel Finzi is a psychotherapist at UCLA.
Text: Zhanna Omelyanenko Photo Source: Getty Images
New on the site
How not to burn out before the New Year holidays: 3 tips - listen to them
Without exhaustion: how to prevent burnout
Are you a victim of FOMO? 6 Ways to Overcome the Fear of Missing Out
“Every time a relationship got serious, I left. Why?" nine0003
“I'm sorry that I confessed to my husband about cheating. How to restore good relations?
Incubi, sacrifice and orgies: what is sexual magic - dive into the story
How to recognize a womanizer: 10 signs - check your partner Learning to let go of your thoughts will make you feel happier.
Rumination, also called repetitive negative thinking, is a mindset that involves repeatedly and passively focusing on the causes, consequences, and meaning of negative feelings and circumstances. It's like being stuck in a whirlpool of endless abstract negativity:
“What's wrong with me? Why do bad things keep happening to me? Why am I so unhappy? Why am I always wrong? What if things never get better? What if it gets worse?" nine0094
Chewing requires a lot of effort, so it seems that it should be useful or even necessary, but it is not. Thinking, over-analyzing and repeating unpleasant things over and over is a mental habit that makes people feel stuck and makes them feel even more unhappy. In fact, rumination is a transdiagnostic risk factor. Longitudinal studies have shown that increased chewing rumination predicts later onset or worsening of symptoms of depression, anxiety, bulimia, and substance abuse. nine0003
Recognition of rumination
The good news is that interventions that help people break the mental habit of rumination can lead to marked improvements in mood and even reduce the likelihood of being diagnosed with depression after a year.
Step one is to recognize when you're thinking. Everyone thinks about problems sometimes, but not endlessly. If you're stuck in a rut, spending a lot of time asking unanswered questions about negative things in your life, you're probably stuck in unhealthy overthinking. If thinking about your problems makes you feel less energized and hopeless, rather than helping you move on or do things differently, it's probably thinking. nine0133 Just by noticing what's going on, you can change your thought process. Obviously, you can't just stop thinking about something, but when you understand what's going on, you're better equipped to choose a different response.
Distraction from reflection
An alternative response that can disturb reflection is simple distraction. Do what you enjoy, what is exciting or enjoyable, and you will have less room to think. You can go for a walk or jog, try a bubble bath, talk to a friend, read a book, watch a silly video, solve a puzzle, or draw. Just a few minutes of distraction may be all you need to reset. nine0003
Another way out of thinking is to focus on solving the problem. Rumination is an abstract way of thinking focused on "Why?" and “What if?”. Problem solving is more specific and actionable. Here are some anti-thinking questions you might want to ask yourself:
- What can I do to fix this problem?
– What can I do to make things a little better?
– What can I try to make a difference? nine0094
– What can I do as a first step to get started?
– What should I do next?
– What can I do to make things go well?
– What can I do to prevent this from happening again?
– What can I do differently next time?
– What can I do until I know?
– What can I do to get more information? nine0094
– What can I do to make a decision?
- What can I learn from this?
These “What can I…?” all questions are about acting or moving forward in the right direction.