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Thought Addiction

When we hear the term addiction, we don’t often think of it in terms of our thoughts, but in terms of substance, whether that substance is a drug, an activity, a food, a lifestyle, but the reality is that overthinking is a facet underlying addiction. What we might not realize is that our thinking can be an addiction in and of itself. Just like any other addiction, thought addiction serves a purpose or meets a need. It can be protection, self-soothing, masking pain, filling a void, trying to prove something, or experiencing comfort. We find that we attach ourselves to the thoughts that have overwhelmingly taken root in our minds with or without our permission. These thoughts in which we have spent time, energy, effort in dutifully attending to in order to avoid perceived threats to safety, avoid discomfort, or avoid the real problem. 

We form habits in our thoughts, in the 60,000-80,000 thoughts we have in a day, becoming a victim to them. Our thoughts as ‘normal’ represent our mind’s ability to be present in reality, to make sense of the world around us, to confirm our existence, as Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am”. Thought addiction distorts the beauty of thinking, the brilliance of what our minds are capable of, by letting them run amuck, experiencing something helpful in moderation to something maladaptive in excess. One might struggle with thought addiction:  


One might struggle with thought addiction If...

  • if you spend more time in your thoughts than you do in participating fully and mindfully in your life
  • if you attach more meaning to your thoughts than connecting to the people, places, and things, around you
  • if you find it extremely difficult to identify or stop unhelpful or negative thoughts
  • if you find your mind in control of you rather than the other way around
  • if you find yourself consumed with your thoughts to find a non-existent solution
  • if you fixate on your thoughts and become attached to how that makes you feel
  • if you trust your thoughts to be absolutely true
  • if you find yourself under lock and key by thoughts dictated by past thought patterns
  • if you feel like you are your thoughts

Thoughts will always take up free rent in our mind, but we are in more control, have more power, and can experience more freedom from the thought chains, than we think we can. We can take an honest look at what our thought addiction might mean for us and take the steps necessary to creating a healthier relationship with our thoughts and therefore our emotions. We don’t have to eliminate or run away from our negative thoughts to experience freedom from them, we can look at them as a facet of the whole that contributes to the ways we think. We can begin to understand that it is a beautiful thing to know we have the capacity to experience all ranges of thoughts.

How to start addressing your thought addiction:

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Schedule Worry Time!

Set aside time designated for thinking worrisome thoughts. This can help you reduce the time you spend worrying throughout your day about those pesky things you cannot control. It can support you in being more intentional and purposeful in your thinking. It can be used with guidelines to support you in thinking more effectively and using your thinking time wisely.

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Everyone Thinks!

We all experience thoughts, it’s a universal thing. Understand that you are not alone. Understand that there are others who experience this same thing, that we can all be victims to any type of addiction as mental illness does not discriminate. Thoughts are not permanent: “this too shall pass”.

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Notice the Difference Between Thoughts and Feelings!

Thoughts dictate feelings and when we are addicted to our thoughts, our feelings get involved. Thoughts are attached to feelings so when we engage our thought addiction we chase those feelings, we can become addicted to the feelings that going down that rabbit trail can give us. While thoughts and feelings are connected, they are completely separate. Notice this and learn to thinking more positively so that you can feel more positively.

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Identify The Purpose of Your Thought Addiction!

Why did this serve you in the past? What is the need being met? What does your thought addiction protect you from?

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Create A Life Worth Living!

Find out what needs to be added to your life: a hobby, a friend, an adventure? Focus on what you value and participate whole-heartedly in those things that bring you joy, purpose, and meaning.

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Write your thoughts out and be more comfortable with co-existing with them. Writing out your thoughts can help you understand them, help you cope, support you in externalizing, process feelings underlying thoughts, gain a better perspective on whether this thought pattern is helpful vs unhelpful, and articulate your innermost patterns. It can reduce stress and overthinking.

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Be Mindful and Present!

Practice mindfulness and mediation. Learn to be an active participant in your present, in the things that matter in the here and now. Pay attention to your present moment nonjudgmentally and learn to stop and smell the roses. Think of thoughts as clouds passing over a mountain or a train traveling through the countryside.

Meet The Author

Michaela Quinley, Clinical Therapist at Sea Glass Mental Health



Meet The Author

Michaela is a Clinical Counselor at Sea Glass Mental Health. She works with teen, couples, and adult populations. Michaela specializes in treating  anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. 

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