Are Obsessive Thoughts a Mental Health Symptom?

Since not everyone is the same, and your symptoms could result from an underlying condition, you may want to try some of these self-care strategies and find out which works better for you.

Remember, discussing how you feel and your obsessive thoughts with a mental health professional is highly advisable for long-term improvement.

Identify the thoughts

You may find it useful to learn the difference between your usual thoughts and your obsessive thoughts through a meditation practice or a thought log. Both techniques can help you discover your triggers.

As you write your thoughts, you may identify patterns and themes that repeat or that are particularly distressing.

Counter the thoughts

“Once you identify the obsessive thought, talk back to it,” Bauer says. “Use your rational voice and tell the obsessive voice to stop. Explain to your obsessive thought that your friend is busy and will text when they are free, you already washed your hands, or the door is locked.”

You may find it helpful to remind yourself that these obsessive thoughts aren’t helpful or accurate. You are in control of your own choices and behaviors.

But if you find doing this difficult, also remind yourself this is a symptom and it’s not your fault. You’re doing the best you can to counter these thoughts.

Sit with the thoughts

If you’re living with obsessive thoughts, it may be tempting to constantly push the thoughts away, especially if they’re distressing. But, sometimes, this reaction can have the opposite effect, says Shepard.

“I think of it like the Chinese finger trap puzzle, that little woven tube that you can stick your fingers in,” she says. “Your instinct […] is to try and pull your fingers out when they start to feel stuck. But this only tightens the puzzle’s grip. Instead, you have to relax into the puzzle to free yourself.”

The same is true with obsessions, she says. Try to allow them to be there, in a nonjudgmental way, to help them dissipate.


It may also help to take out a notebook and write about what you’re feeling.

Journaling may provide emotional relief and help you accept the thoughts you’re having.

Engage in calming activities

“The more anxious we feel, the easier these thoughts invade us,” Bauer says. “It is important to understand our anxiety triggers and how to decrease and manage our anxiety.”

Several activities can promote relaxation. Some of these may work for you:

  • exercise
  • deep breathing at least once a day, or when anticipating anxiety
  • massage
  • daily meditation
  • prayer
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • yoga