How To Stop Obsessing Over Something That Happened: 11 Tips

This new article will show you everything you need to know about how to stop obsessing over something that happened.

As you lie in bed, attempting to drift into sleep, that troubling incident replays in your mind unexpectedly. Before you know it, the early hours of the morning have arrived, and you find yourself still fixated on the past.

If you’re grappling with the challenge of breaking free from obsessive thoughts about something that transpired, whether it occurred yesterday or decades ago, rest assured that you’re not alone. Many individuals encounter the struggle of ruminating to the point of obsession at some juncture, and we have numerous valuable tips to help you break this cycle. Explore them below!

How To Stop Obsessing Over Something That Happened:

1. Grant yourself permission to dwell.

It’s common for almost everyone to grapple with revisiting past events. A crucial initial step to cease obsessing over the past paradoxically involves letting go of any shame associated with this fixation.

Embracing self-compassion not only brings inner peace but also prevents your anxiety from escalating. This is especially vital if the event in question involves a mistake on your part. Experiencing guilt over your actions is distressing enough, and adding self-criticism about reliving the experience only exacerbates the situation.

If the event is a recent challenge, such as a breakup or the loss of a loved one, acknowledge that a degree of obsession is normal and trust that these thoughts will likely dissipate on their own with time. Imagine advising a friend in the same situation – what comforting words would you share with them?

2. Anchor yourself in the present reality.

Direct your focus to the sensory details of the current moment. By grounding yourself in the present, you redirect negative thoughts about the past. The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a practical technique for grounding: identify five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Differentiate between thoughts and facts, internalizing the distinction. Challenge the obsessive narratives in your mind by questioning their objective truth.

3. Engage in distraction.

Immerse yourself in other activities to divert your attention. By investing your energy in an absorbing activity, you become too engrossed to dwell on past events. Ensure the activity demands your full attention and immerses you in a state of “flow”; passive distractions like watching television may not be as effective.

Consider activities such as volunteering, joining a club, or acquiring a new skill – not only do these pursuits distract, but they also boost self-esteem. Healthy distractions, like listening to a podcast or video calling a friend, can help alleviate obsessive thoughts by redirecting your mind towards different subjects. Keep in mind that distraction serves as a temporary solution; if the event is significant, avoidance can worsen the situation over time.

4. Allocate time for deep reflection.

Establishing a specific period for contemplation will contain your obsession. Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes and journal about the source of your fixation or anxiety. Once the timer concludes, consciously set aside these thoughts until the same time the following day. Deliberately constraining your rumination time helps prevent obsessive thoughts from dominating your entire day.

Plan your reflection period (1) for after your workday, avoiding proximity to bedtime to ensure that these thoughts don’t interfere with your ability to sleep. If obsessive thoughts intrude outside the designated time, jot them down in your journal to address during the scheduled reflection period.

5. Differentiate between controllable and uncontrollable aspects.

Take action if there’s an opportunity to enhance your situation. While you may not alter the past, there could be steps you can take to improve the present circumstances. Can you rectify the situation? If not, work towards accepting the uncertainty.

If the issue involves a mistake on your part, consider apologizing and forgiving yourself. In cases where someone else erred, seek closure from them and strive to forgive. Distinguish between “ruminating” and “problem-solving”. If there’s no room for improvement, acknowledge that obsessive thoughts are not constructive.

7. Place the event in its proper context.

Although the event may feel monumental, it’s essential to recognize that it isn’t the end of the world. Gaining perspective will help you understand that while you may be experiencing pain or anxiety in the moment, life will continue.

To overcome obsession with a personal error, practice “self-indifference”: acknowledge the shame or embarrassment, then let it go, recognizing that everyone makes mistakes. Humor your anxieties by contemplating the worst possible outcome of the event. Understanding how you would respond to the worst-case scenario can assist in breaking the cycle of obsession.

8. Extract lessons from the experience.

While “everything happens for a reason” may sound cliché, there’s wisdom behind it. Reflecting on what you can learn from the situation may not erase the pain, but it can aid in moving forward from the memory. Reframe negative thoughts into positive ones; view the unfortunate incident as an opportunity to align with your values and improve the situation, or express gratitude for the resources that can help you navigate through the challenges.

9. Cultivate mindfulness through meditation.

Incorporating daily meditation into your routine can anchor you to the present moment. Dedicate 5 or 10 minutes each day to sit in a serene, quiet space, focusing on your breath. Consistent meditation fosters mental discipline, empowering you to quiet the incessant recall of past events.

Ensure that your meditation environment is free from distractions, such as phones or televisions, and wear comfortable attire.
During meditation, integrate positive affirmations like “I am calm,” “I am focused,” and “I am at peace.”
When obsessive thoughts disrupt your meditation, acknowledge them and release them. Recognizing your obsessions, rather than suppressing them, diminishes their influence.

10. Embrace physical activity.

Engaging in regular exercise (2) is a powerful antidote to obsessive thinking. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, helping alleviate stress while providing a constructive distraction from persistent thoughts.

Consider combining meditation and exercise by exploring activities like yoga or tai chi. The emphasis on breath and body movements in these practices makes them effective grounding techniques.

11. Develop a comprehensive stress management strategy.

Pinpoint your triggers. Certain situations may spark obsessive thoughts. Take a proactive approach: if you’re aware of your inclination towards obsessive thinking or a specific event that lingers, use moments of mental clarity to identify potential triggers. This proactive approach aids in preventing obsessive thinking from escalating into a problem.

For instance, if a breakup is causing distress, a particular song might evoke memories of your ex. To avoid fixating on the breakup, consider abstaining from the song for a while.

Be precise: compile a list, either mentally or physically, of potential triggers for future obsessive thinking. Similarly, keep track of activities or practices that offer relief when you find yourself obsessing. Perhaps a specific type of tea has a calming effect, or engaging in jogging serves as an effective distraction.

In summary,

To overcome obsessive thoughts about past events, consider the following strategies:

  1. Grant Yourself Permission to Dwell:
  • Acknowledge that dwelling on the past is a common experience.
  • Practice self-compassion to find inner peace and prevent escalating anxiety.
  1. Ground Yourself in Reality:
  • Utilize the 5-4-3-2-1 method to focus on present sensory details.
  • Differentiate between thoughts and facts to challenge obsessive scripts.
  1. Engage in Distraction:
  • Immerse yourself in absorbing activities like volunteering or learning a new skill.
  • Choose distractions that actively engage you in a state of “flow” to effectively divert your mind.
  1. Schedule Time to Reflect:
  • Allocate a specific time for rumination to contain obsessive thoughts.
  • Set a timer for reflection, ensuring it doesn’t interfere with sleep, and address thoughts during the designated time.
  1. Identify Controllable Factors:
  • Take action if possible to improve the situation.
  • Distinguish between ruminating and problem-solving, acknowledging when obsessive thoughts are unhelpful.
  1. Put the Event in Perspective:
  • Recognize that the situation, while impactful, is not the end of the world.
  • Practice self-indifference and humor your anxieties to understand the worst-case scenario.
  1. Learn from the Experience:
  • Reflect on the event to extract valuable lessons.
  • Reframe negative thinking into positive opportunities aligned with your values.
  1. Incorporate Meditation:
  • Dedicate daily time to meditation to stay present.
  • Focus on positive affirmations during meditation to foster mental discipline.
  1. Embrace Exercise:
  • Engage in regular physical activity to release endorphins and distract from obsessive thoughts.
  • Consider combining exercise with mindfulness practices like yoga or tai chi.
  1. Develop a Stress Management Plan:
    • Identify triggers and be proactive in avoiding them.
    • Keep a record of activities that bring relief during obsessive moments, creating a personalized stress management strategy.

By incorporating these techniques, you can work towards breaking the cycle of obsessive thinking and finding a healthier perspective on past events.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read my article about how to stop obsessing over something that happened. I sincerely hope its contents have been a good help to you.

Przemkas Mosky started Perfect 24 Hours in 2017. He is a Personal Productivity Specialist, blogger and entrepreneur. He also works as a coach assisting people to increase their motivation, social skills or leadership abilities. Read more here