FREE MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT. start here

How to Stop Obsessive Thoughts

Jill Johnson

Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/13/2023

Wondering how to stop obsessive thoughts? Find helpful tips and guidance here.

Picture this: You’re going about your day and suddenly start thinking about something compulsively. Seriously, you can’t stop thinking about it.

Perhaps you have a fear of contamination and can’t stop envisioning washing your hands after you take public transportation. Or maybe you just left your house and now are obsessively wondering if you turned off your coffee pot.

These obsessive thoughts can create intense feelings of anxiety and dread, which can seriously impact your daily life. Because of this, it’s important to learn how to stop obsessive thoughts. 

Here are some pointers to help curb the habit and improve your quality of life. But first, learn what obsessive thoughts really are and what causes them.

What Are Obsessive Thoughts?

Don’t have a full clear idea about what obsessive thinking is? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: thoughts that just won’t go away.

But don’t confuse intrusive thoughts with obsessive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are uninvited. 

This kind of thought can be very common. A study looked at nearly 800 college students across six continents. It discovered that nearly 95 percent experienced at least one incident of intrusive thinking in the previous three months. But this isn’t the same as obsessive thinking.

While an intrusive thought may pop into your brain and then — poof! — vanish, an obsessive thought lives in your head and won’t go away.

Why Do We Have Obsessive Thoughts?

If you’re dealing with anxiety obsessive thoughts, you’ve probably spent some time wondering why you have these thoughts. Obsessive thinking is most commonly associated with an anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Risk factors for developing this anxiety disorder include a family history of it, brain structuring and childhood trauma

People with OCD have obsessive thoughts. This can create repetitive behaviors, like washing your hands over and over again or making sure the stove is off a zillion times after cooking a meal.

Obsessive thinking winds up creating tons of anxiety. This anxiety can lead to mental turmoil that can impact your day-to-day life.

Just because you have OCD doesn’t mean you have obsessive thoughts 24/7. It’s different for everyone, though.

Some people may experience obsessive thoughts from time to time. But this can still be really damaging to your life because you can’t necessarily control when they’ll pop up.

online mental health assessment

your mental health journey starts here

OCD and Obsessive Thinking

Wondering how to know if you have OCD? Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder can control their thoughts, even when they know they’re happening.

Most people with OCD spend at least an hour a day on obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals. Also, there’s no pleasure found in these compulsive behaviors. 

When left untreated, obsessive thinking can disrupt both your professional and personal life. It can be difficult to accomplish tasks at work if you’re too consumed by obsessive thoughts. 

Similarly, it can be hard to make connections in your personal life if you can’t get intrusive thoughts out of your head. In other words, you really have to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder to stop these consuming thoughts.

How to Stop Having Obsessive Thoughts

Now that you know what obsessive thinking is, it sounds pretty miserable, right? To get rid of it, you’ll need to deal with your mental health disorder (OCD).

The best thing to do is to speak with a healthcare provider trained in navigating mental illnesses. They can give you health tips and come up with a treatment plan that’ll work for you. Your provider may suggest therapy, medication or a combination of both. 

Seek Out Therapy to Cope

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common treatment option for OCD. With this type of therapy, you’ll speak with a mental health provider to identify behaviors that contribute to obsessive thoughts. Then, you’ll figure out ways to change those things.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is another therapeutic modality that can be used to treat OCD and stop obsessive thoughts in their tracks.

ERP is a form of CBT. When you engage in ERP, you’ll expose yourself (under the care of a mental health professional) to things that trigger your obsessive thoughts.

For instance, if you have a fear of germs, you may be asked to touch something dirty. From there, you’ll work to avoid the compulsive behaviors that usually follow these thoughts.

psych meds online

psychiatrist-backed care, all from your couch

Trying Taking Medication for Anxiety

Medications for anxiety can also be used to help you deal with the symptoms of OCD (like obsessive thoughts). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine and sertraline are most commonly used to treat OCD.

SSRIs are commonly used to treat depression, but they can also treat anxiety. It can take between eight to 12 weeks for SSRIs to start having a noticeable impact in treating OCD. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder may require a higher dosage than is usually given to those with depression.

Side effects of taking SSRIs may include headaches, nausea and trouble sleeping. If you take any medication and notice adverse effects, you should let your healthcare provider know. That way, they can monitor these side effects and adjust your dosage if need be.

Most people find that taking medication (often in combination with therapy) can be a good way of managing obsessive thoughts connected to OCD.

Before taking any new medication, it’s important to divulge whether you have any other medical conditions or are allergic to anything. This can help a healthcare provider ensure whatever they prescribe won’t impact your health in a negative way. 

Beyond medication and therapy, getting good sleep, exercising regularly and eating healthily may help you manage anxiety caused by obsessive thinking.

To figure out if medication could help stop your obsessive thoughts, or if there’s another form of treatment that would be better, speak with a healthcare provider.

Hers offers online consultations with mental health professionals, making it fast and easy to get the help you need to stop obsessive thinking and improve your quality of life. Connect with an expert today.

5 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Radomsky, A., Alcolado, G., Abramowitz, J., et al., (2014). Part 1—You can run but you can't hide: Intrusive thoughts on six continents. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2211364913000675?via%3Dihub
  2. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/obsessivecompulsivedisorder.html
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Repetitive Behaviors Take Over. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-when-unwanted-thoughts-take-over
  4. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
  5. Exposure and Response Prevention. International OCD Foundation. Retrieved from https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/ocd-treatment/erp/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

phone screen

Care for your mind,
care for your self

Start your mental wellness journey today.