How to Manage Obsessive Worry

Obsessive worry can really feel overwhelming. It can feel as if there is simply no escape from constant ruminations and can be like a mental battle. It is as if the more you try to stop it, the more it persists. Well, the good news is that it can be controlled and overcome.

Obsessive worry often goes round and round like a negative loop. Like “thought suppression” the more you try to push it away the more it fights back. It’s rather like trying to hold a beach ball underwater, futile, because as soon as you relax your hold, it pops right up to the surface again. Over time obsessive worry can become habitual. The longer you spend ruminating the deeper into you get. It’s rather like going into a “trance”where you have lost the ability to “undo the spell.”

The only way to overcome it is by deliberately “applying your will” and “changing your behaviour.” In other words, you need to “get out if your head” by shifting your mindset, switching to another modality of experience, such as bodily activity, sensory distraction, ritual, expressing your emotions, interpersonal communication, or learning to detach from your thoughts. Sometimes people with obsessive worry will find they have let go of a specific worry, but will become aware that they are now caught up in a different worry. Sometimes this can afford temporary relief, but the emphasis is on the word “temporary!”

One of the reasons we get so caught up in obsessive worry is that it is in our nature to “problem solve,” if you like, it’s an “evolutionary trait ” something that ensured our ancestors survived, but the seductive pull of an obsessive loop can be very compelling. Often the things we worry about are irrational, or “what if’s” with no answer as such. As we follow the path of least resistance we simply go round and round in a negative spiral. Someone once said, worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere!

Deliberately breaking out of obsessive thinking can appear difficult at first (especially if your highly anxious) but with practice it can be done.

Here are a number of strategies to help you break free from obsessive worry:

1. Engage in physical exercise like running, swimming or something that you will get absorbed in like rock climbing, paint balling or ab-sailing.

2. Practice mindfulness meditation and learn how this discipline can effectively teach you how to let go and disengage. Mindful drawing and colouring can be a great escape.

3. Play powerful and evocative music to release repressed emotions ( emotions such as sadness and anger often underpin or drive obsessive thinking) dance or sing loudly.

4. Engage in discussion with someone about things other than your worries, alternatively confide in someone (sharing your concerns can sometimes lighten the load or help get things in perspective) alternatively find yourself a therapist who can help you manage your worries.

5. Find a distraction that is absorbing such as learning to play the guitar, watch a film or playing a computer game.

6. Turn to sensory motor stimulation by absorbing yourself in activities such as crafts, gardening or even a spot of “retail therapy.”

7. Absorb yourself in a jigsaw puzzle, crossword or word search.

8. Finally, engage in healthy rituals, for example combing abdominal breathing with a chant or positive affirmation that you can repeat, visualise and dwell on to bring about a positive trance induction to dispel the negative trance enforced by the obsessive worry.

Examples of affirmations:

“Let it go”

“These are just thoughts”

“I am relaxed and free from worry”

Until next time

Steve Clifford Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Image ref:By Alex (Flickr: [1]) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Source: The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (2005) by Edmund J. Bourne, PH.D. Appendix 4, How to stop obsessive worry. P428-9, New Harbinger Publications

2015 – it’s time to ditch your “inner critic”




Have you got an inner critic that keeps putting you down? That little voice that undermines you at every opportunity?

Self-critical thoughts, or, for want of a more apt description, “stinking thinking” has the potential to undermine all good feelings, lower self-esteem and chip away at self-worth. This inner critic can get in the way of close relationships and achieving life goals. Negative self-evaluations such as, “I’m not as good as others,” or “I couldn’t possibly do that,” very often limit the things we try, because we do not feel good enough and expect to fail. In my work as a therapist I see many people with deep insecurity stemming from childhood, perhaps, driven to overcompensate with a need to succeed in order to placate the inner critic. The voice that constantly tells them they are not good enough or need to do better.drives them to strive for perfectionism, an impossible task which will ultimately see them fail. In so doing, reinforcing the belief that they are not quite up to it or should try harder.Many are deeply unhappy, knowing that life could be so much better if only they could cast this critical inner voice aside.

The roots of self-criticism very often go back to childhood, perhaps we were subjected to a critical parent or overly harsh teacher, maybe we were told we were not good enough or had strong moral or religious teaching that shaped our outlook. Wherever the seeds were sown, you can bet that self -critical thoughts surface when you don’t want them, probably when you are feeling vulnerable, low in mood or insecure.

So how can you overcome self-critical thinking? Well, it won’t happen overnight, firstly you need to be more compassionate towards yourself, more accepting. Then with a detached non-judgemental stance begin to listen for themes and identify the messages. Ask yourself, “Who do these voices or statements remind me of?” Respond and quietly challenge, for example saying, “Its OK to make mistakes, that’s how people learn.” Resist all temptation to chastise yourself, don’t say things like, “Don’t be stupid.” Try to understand how such messages shape your behaviour and then try to change self-limiting behaviours. Learn to ignore the negative inner voice, just let it chatter away as if it was an advert on a radio station in between songs, just let it go.

Most psychotherapists can help with self-criticism and low self-esteem. Contact the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies – for details of CBT practitioners in your area or you can contact us on –

Here are ten tips to help you to overcome self-criticism:

  1. Never, never, put yourself down. Instead talk to yourself with compassion as you would to a child.
  2. Ask yourself, “Have I had similar thoughts before? What happened then? Is there anything different this time? What can I learn from previous occasions?”
  3. Try to focus on your strengths not your shortcomings.
  4. Build your self-esteem and worth by reading books on positive thinking daily.
  5. Don’t mock yourself, don’t ever call yourself “stupid” or similar again. Mocking this way will erode your self-esteem and worth.
  6. Look for evidence that disproves your thoughts. Ask yourself, “Is there an alternative explanation. Are there facts that I am overlooking?”
  7. Ask yourself, “If my best friend had this thought what would they do?”
  8. Forgive yourself, you are human after all. Being human means that you will make mistakes. Celebrate your the fact that you are human and embrace your mistakes for mistakes are part of the human condition and it is only through them that we learn.
  9. Free yourself from “should’s, musts and ought’s,” replace them with “could, might and maybe.”
  10. When you hear that critical inner voice, say to yourself, “There is that voice again, I don’t have to listen to you, you are the voice of yesterday, not today.”

Until next time, Steve

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype Please contact us through our website @

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Steve Clifford Senior Accredited Integrative Psychotherapist.                                           Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

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File:Mr Pipo thoughts.svg

All day long our minds are filled with constant chitter chatter. Most of it benign, some of it worry-some, and some of it down right troublesome.

Research suggests we have somewhere in the region of 65,000 thoughts every day and that on average our mental dialogue is in the region of 50 to 300 words per minute.

Much of this is self-talk, inwardly directed and a good deal of it is unhelpful. Because of the way it makes us feel, it is capable of raising our stress levels and bringing down our mood. In CBT circles we talk of NATs (Negative Automatic Thoughts) or ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts).

Such thoughts are:

AUTOMATIC              They just seem to come into your mind without any concious effort.

DISTORTED               They are not always supported by the things you know to be true.

UNHELPFUL             They are nearly always negative and make it difficult to change.

PLAUSIBLE               You accept them as facts without questioning them.

INVOLUNTARY         You do not choose to have them and they appear difficult to stop.

One of the problems is that we tend to be so identified with our thoughts that we often cannot see them for what they are…just thoughts. Instead, somehow we see them as us, and we feel we have no power over them. Often we give them power, believing them and that we are somehow at the mercy of them. Racing thoughts, obsessive ruminations and irrational fears take over.

How then can we learn to step back and take control? Well, let me introduce you to “thought flipping.”

I would like you to imagine that you are now going to install a “negative thought alarm.” As soon as a negative thought crosses your mind a silent alarm sounds. You then step in with absolute authority, grab hold of the thought and flip it on its head, by thinking the exact opposite.

Yes, expect a little battle at first, when your rational programmed mind tells you that such a practice is ridiculous and could not possibly be true. But like the Master you are, you use your authority and power to respond back in a direct and commanding way. The mind is reminded that it’s former thought was, at the very least, as lousy and ridiculous as the new flipped one. As you are the Master you will choose what is true.

Here is an example of thought flipping where we rewrite the negative mental script.
You find your mood dipping and you notice you are feeling angry with yourself. Your thoughts are as follows: “I am useless and have no sticking power, I missed an entire week at the gym.” By flipping the thought we create a different perspective and this can halt the negative mood slide. “I have been kind and listened
to my body and taken a break from the gym, so I am going to have a really good workout today, because I am truly committed to my goal of feeling good and honouring my mind and body.”

What you need to do is change the wording, in other words rewrite them. Which one do you want to be true? You choose?

It can be really helpful at first to get into the habit of writing down any serial negative thoughts that continue to pop into your mind. Do this when you notice the drain on your emotions and you start to feel down, depressed or anxious:

Write down your thoughts on paper and take a good look at it.

Do you know this thought is a fact, is it true?

Is this a helpful thought, does it serve you?

Write down a counter thought that opposes the negative thought

Change the wording of the thought to something more positive

Now each time the negative thought wants to dominate your thinking, assertively replace it with the new positive alternative.

So here we have it, thought flipping, tackling negative thoughts by re-creating positive alternatives with deliberate intent. Planting positive thoughts this way ensures that we take back control and create the reality we want.

Until next time, very best wishes, Steve.


You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                   Please contact us through our website @

Visit our facebook sites:

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                       Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                 Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.


Adapted from: “Thought-Flipping: A guide for Taking Charge of Your Mind-Stuff,” by Leigh Donovan, 30/06/12, Spirit-full, a personal transformational blog.

Ref: “Negative Automatic Thoughts,”  Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS TRust, Clinical Psychology, 2002

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