How to Stop Obsessing

This is a self-care post for people dealing with depression or anxiety. As I’ve mentioned before, I dealt with life-threatening depression several years ago. I learned a lot and have been lucky enough to have happiness as a default setting for a long time now.

With mental health matters, the same things don’t work for everybody! However, maybe something that’s worked for me will work for someone else, too.

One sure way to fall into or prolong depression is by obsessing about a fear or a negative situation. Often, we let our minds become completely fixated, and we believe this is both natural and inevitable — even though some of us are capable of avoiding it. Whether we’re dealing with an illness or the threat of one, an impending layoff at work, a breakup, or any other kind of heartbreak or dread, we tell ourselves that there’s no point in denying our feelings.

In my experience, I can acknowledge negative feelings without cuddling up to them, making them a cup of tea, and asking them to take up permanent residence. This may not be true for everyone, but I’ve learned that I can control what I think about, and the more practice I have at controlling it, the better at it I get.



Studies show that when you think about something painful again and again, it becomes one of your most easily accessible thoughts or memories. It’s like your mind is wearing a familiar path. (Fortunately, if you obsess about positive things, as I make a point of doing, this thinking begins more and more to rise to the top.)

On a practical level, obsessing about situations beyond our control, or fears that may or may not come to pass, serves no good purpose. It’s just extra, pointless suffering for us. Even if we need to devise a plan (such as what we will do if we lose our job or when the divorce is final), obsessive negative thoughts will block insightful and creative solutions to the problem. It would be better if we could come at it with a clear head.

A lot of writers read this blog, so I bet you know what I’m talking about. Have you ever been stuck staring at a Word doc or a blank page for a really long time? And then you get up and do the dishes or take a shower, and suddenly the solution appears? Sometimes the brain needs a break to do its best work.

Here are some things that have helped me stop obsessing. Maybe one or more of them will work for you!

1. Avoid the external triggers.

If there’s an impending layoff, politely walk away from freaked-out conversations between coworkers. If a tragedy in the news is upsetting you, make a donation to a cause that can help, if you’re able to do it and it’s an option. Then turn off the television, take a social media break, and disable the news alerts on your computer. If you’re worried about a health prognosis, don’t leave the medical literature the hospital gave you in plain sight. Painful breakup? Feel free to clear your social media accounts of photographs of the person, if that will help you, and unfollow or hide mutual friends who chat a lot with your ex (heck, unfriend them if you want to.)

2. Schedule some overrides.

If you just tell yourself, “Don’t think about it, don’t think about it,” well, you’re going to think about it. But your brain is, happily, pretty bad at thinking about two things at the same time. Here are some great things to schedule for overriding obsessive thoughts:

Take a long walk while listening to an entertaining audiobook. (Sometimes, fiction is survival. That’s why writing is so important. If you write escapist genre fiction? You’re probably saving lives.)

Watch a funny movie. Or episodes of a funny TV show. Feel-good, sentimental stuff with happy endings works, too. In all seriousness, this can be incredibly helpful.

Create. Tell yourself you’re not allowed to obsess until you produce a finished drawing, a row of pieced quilt squares, a poem, or five fresh pages of your story.

Alcohol does not work as an override. It’s the opposite of an override. Trust me on this. I’m pretty sure drugs don’t work, either.

3. Do something nice for somebody else.

Give your friend a card with a hand-written note telling her why you like and admire her. Bring your neighbors a bunch of donuts or bagels for no reason. Bake cookies and take them to the homeless shelter (and also, have a cookie.) Negative obsession and positive action are nearly incompatible.


If you have other ways to avoid obsessing about negative things, please share them! I bet we all can use them. Thanks for reading, and take good care of yourself.








13 Replies to “How to Stop Obsessing”

  1. This week has been a challenge. I tend to obsess over things that “should” happen for me. Case in point, I’m signed up for NaNoWrimo. I have done tons of research for my story and have plotted it 15 ways to Sunday. But I find myself doing everything but writing that story.

    I am the type of writer who can crank out 6,500 words in a day (as a draft) and tell people to, “Leave me alone, I’m writing”. What was the problem? It is a great story! A guaranteed best seller! (Ahem)

    So after two days of feeling self-doubt and self-pity, I ran across this tweet by SL-Literary Agency:

    Joseph Joubert, “Never write anything that does not give you great pleasure. Emotion is easily transferred from the writer to the reader.”

    I have to give up that dream- for now. Maybe forever, but definitely for now- all 15,000 words. I am destined to do great things (as are all of us). The hard thing is to stop, regroup and rechart the course. So my advice is to find a new and better direction. Don’t ask, “Why?” ask, “Where to now?”

    Today, I’ve started thinking about another story idea that has been partly researched. I’m getting excited. Maybe they’ll make a movie out of this one… 😉

  2. Hi Bryn, great post! I’m sure there are plenty of people who need to hear this right now! I had post natal depression with the birth of my second child and found writing to really help me manage it- both as some escapism, something else to think about (other than whether your baby is eating, sleeping, growing enough etc) and also as some regular dedicated time to do something Inlike and is just for me. I think (for me) writing is great for keeping negative thoughts at bay. But the important thing is to find what works for you.

    1. Hi Zara! I’m so sorry you went through that after your second child. I’ve talked to many people who felt like they were alone when they went through postpartum depression, so I think it’s great that you talk about it and talk about what worked for you. Writing can be so healing. Thank you so much for commenting!

  3. Excellent post and great suggestions. Practical. When I’ve been overly concerned about a matter(s) I’ve used some of these techniques. They work. One I’d like to add is to take one day at a time. If that’s too much, take an hour at a time. Stay in the day and try not to project too far into the future. Heck, if Jesus suggested it, It can’t be wrong. ( :

  4. Very good topic, well written post Bryn!

    I am by nature a nurturer. One way for self-care for me, is to care for others. I find knowing myself, and what helps me is key to survival. What works for me is getting out of my self and helping others.

    Earlier this week something happened that I knew could trigger a depression. At the same time, I chanced upon a kitten. I haven’t had a cat for awhile. I decided it might be a good time to have a kitten, there is nothing more amusing than a kitten. Kittens require care. Food, water, grooming, play, petting, all of which encourage me to do the same for myself.

    I am up, early, because I have a kitten. Apparently, I have a morning kitten. Feed the kitten, make tea, listen to uplifting book while watching kiten do insane kitten things. 🙂

    1. Kelly! Congratulations on the new kitten… who’s here at just the right time. This really made me smile. I think it was really wise of you to recognize that an event could trigger a depression, and to take proactive measures to avoid descending into it. That’s something I’ve finally gotten better at… knowing myself well enough to know when it’s a risk.

      I love the point too about how taking care of someone else encourages you to do it for yourself… I never thought of that!

      Thank you for commenting 🙂

  5. I get anxiety. Panic. The fun omg u gonna die, son, hope u had fun which can come at me on a sunny day right out of the blue. Makes life interesting? Not. I have found that writing a garbled description of how I am feeling in the moment, forcing myself to really get into what this character (me) is feeling helps me-me step outside of myself to see what my demon is, like holding up a mirror. Focusing on capturing the “panic” on paper is really like writing my demons away, and can trigger me to get back to the fun writing. Your blog, by the way, bursts with optimism that is also helpful to someone like myself so thanks.

    1. Ughgh, I am so sorry you go through that! It’s great that writing can help you get a handle on it! That’s great advice for others, too, so thank you. I hope with time that can make those attacks of anxiety shorter, less frequent, and less intense.

      And thanks for the kind words! I appreciate that so much.

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