“It can be particularly helpful to keep in mind from moment to moment that it is not so much the stressors in our lives but how we see them and what we do with them that determines how much we are at their mercy. If we can change the way we see, we can change the way we respond.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn
Negative thoughts can have an unnerving hold on your mind, and stresses, anxieties, and obsessions can arise regarding anything. Negative thoughts have obsessive power over people, whether the problems that initiated the thoughts were small or large. The interesting thing about cultivating a mindfulness practice is that you are able to distance yourself from your thoughts a bit, and can then observe their strength and the way they change over time. This awareness is vital in dealing with obsessions and negative thoughts.
Sometimes I get sidetracked by negative thoughts, and my immediate reaction is to share these ideas with other people to commiserate or gossip. However, these thoughts can be like little seeds planted in your mind. The more you dwell on something, that might otherwise be insignificant, the more you are cultivating and caring for this seed of anxiety, bitterness, stress, or resentment. As you think and talk about it, it grows, and takes up more room in your mind. As these seeds grow they get stronger, and therefore gain more strength to draw your mind back to dwelling on them thereby creating a negative feedback loop.
When this is the case, there are a couple of things you can do. One is to become more self-aware of your thought processes through mindfulness. This way you’ll be able to take a step back from negative thoughts when they occur. You’ll be able to understand that you are not your thoughts or feelings, and will be able to think to yourself, “Interesting, I’m very upset about this thing that happened. I don’t know why I’m so upset or why I feel so angry, but I’m going to accept that this is how I feel right now. Just because I feel this way doesn’t mean that who I am is defined by these thoughts or feelings. They are just feelings and they will leave soon.” When you can bring non-judgmental self-awareness to small obsessions, you can acknowledge them, feel what you’re going to feel, and process them enough to move on to focusing on something else. The second way to deal with these seeds is to burn them up through physical activity or any other energy generating venture. While being physically active, you project that energy onto burning up these obsessions and work to create space in your mind that is free of those thoughts.
It is helpful to remember that feelings are feelings, and they are not good or bad. Whatever you feel is what you feel, and approaching feelings in a non-judgmental way will make it easier to process certain emotions and understand when additional action needs to be taken on an issue. In this vein, we can further explore this topic by seeing anxieties, negative thoughts, and obsessions as cues to draw our attention to certain things in our lives. When you feel obsessive about something, it might be a signal from your body that something in your life is not right. If you try the above strategies and the issue keeps arising, it may be a message to you. It may mean that you need to bring up hurts or concerns with another person, you need to clarify a relationship, or you need to seriously consider ending a relationship. When issues repeat themselves in your mind over and over, despite your attempts to bring mindful awareness to them, it might mean that they need to be acted upon in some way.
Obsessions can be your mind’s way of telling you when you are not living in a truthful and honest way. This may mean that you need to work on not obsessing over small things and growing them into large issues, or that you need to take action in your life to right some relationship or situation. When you are able to acknowledge the source of obsessions and anxieties, you have an opportunity to make changes in a way that will allow your mind to quiet down and allow you to live in a more peaceful and honest way.