- What if I lose touch with reality, “go crazy,” or develop Schizophrenia?
- What if I get herpes?
- What if I become a pedophile?
- What if the afterlife is a really scary place?
- What if I physically hurt someone I love?
- What if I get attacked/kidnapped? What if someone breaks into the house?
- What if I’m not with the right person?
- What if I develop an eating disorder?
These are all examples of obsessive thought loops that I’ve engaged in over the past several years. As I’m sitting here writing out those fears, currently not in the throes of anxiety, they all seem so silly. But when I was stuck in the obsessive thought loop, these fears were so very real to me. These what ifs, and all the scenarios that come along with them, were all I could think about day and night, until I would make myself physically sick with anxiety.
None of my fears mentioned above might resonate with you. But it doesn’t matter what the obsessive fear loop is about. We will all come up with different things to be scared of. And we’ll change those fears over time.
What I’ve come to realize is that the subject matter is not the problem.
Because once I rationalized these fears, another one would only pop up. It’s like I swing from one branch to the next without ever really letting go of fear.
I asked myself: am I going to spend my whole life swinging from one fear to the other? How can I break free from anxiety all together?
It occurred to me that there must be something underneath all of these obsessive thought loops.
When we stop the constant chatter of our fears, what’s left?
Sensation is left. Emotion. Feeling in the body.
What if we just allowed ourselves to feel what it is we’re feeling underneath all those fears without covering over it with obsessive worry?
When I began meditating on allowing the sensation to be what it is, I found more space.
Lately, I found myself obsessing over marriage. My boyfriend and I have been in a loving relationship for four years. Marriage is the next logical step. And even though I love him so, so much, my fear started to overtake me. All I could think about was how terrifying marriage is- this lifelong commitment. What if I make a mistake and get married and then I’m miserable? How am I going to feel in ten years? But what if we break up? I don’t want to break up. And on and on, constantly, until I felt sick to my stomach.
But thankfully, I realized quickly that this was just another thing for my anxiety to latch onto in order to avoid having to feel what I actually feel underneath the obsessive thoughts.
So I stopped. I let the thoughts fall to the side and I just SAT with what I felt.
I felt a tightness in my chest. I felt a gripping. I felt sad for relationships that haven’t worked out in the past. I felt grief over a past relationship that I don’t want to accept was unhealthy and abusive. I felt scared that I’m unworthy of stable, long-lasting love.
All of this was whirling around inside of me. So I gave it space. I imagined the confines of my chest opening up into a wide open field where all of these emotions could play and be seen and heard.
And then there was no need for these emotions to rear their ugly head at me through obsessive thoughts. I’d tended to them and given them space.
Would they come up again? Of course.
But that’s the practice: to notice when you get lost in worry. To stop. To come back to what you’re feeling. And to give it space.
Next time you find yourself obsessing over fearful thoughts, take a moment to stop. Close your eyes. What do you feel in your body? Name it. Give it a color, a shape, an identity. And then give it space. Allow it to roam around in a big field.
Say, “I see you, fear. I see you wanting attention and love.” And then give it love. So much love.
Because all our fears ever really want is our love.
What types of thought loops do you get caught in? What do you think you’re trying to cover over?