Dangers of obsessions

Chasing the same thoughts over and over is like chasing your own tail, not only is it pointless, it can also be dangerous

Girl lost in thinking

Raman was consumed by an important presentation he had to make at his office. He constantly worried about it, though he had spent days meticulously putting everything together. His mind was completely occupied with the job on hand. In the last two days before his presentation, though Raman went about his routine, he had no recollection of what he ate, what others said to him, or what his wife told him to get on his way from office. He also forgot his son’s birthday. When he went home happy with himself for a good presentation, he was stunned to find his wife blowing her top, and his son crying. It was his son’s birthday. Of course, his excuses were not accepted.

This is what happens when we obsess about something. We lose awareness about all the other things in life. It is good to fully focus on the job at hand, but not at the cost or exclusion of other important activities. Sadly, most of us do it. Whenever we get obsessed or worried about something, invariably, we go about our routine mechanically, not remembering important things.

Dangers of obsessions

When we are totally obsessed and consumed by a thought, we forget ourselves and our surroundings. At such times, though we may not realise it, we are in grave danger from multiple sources. For instance, if we are obsessed with a thought and if it consumes us while walking on the street, it is likely that we might have a fall or get knocked down by a vehicle.

Car collisionIf we were to drive a vehicle in a state of mental obsession, apart from being a danger to our self, we are also a danger to others. There is a high chance of an accident, especially driving on the highway, where speeds are high, and even a split-second delay can be dangerous. People, who get obsessed with any problem, be it related to office, relationships, examinations or success, tend to be in a world of their own. Since our mind can only think of one thing at a time, getting obsessed with an issue effectively reduces the functional capacity of the brain. Apart from thinking of the obsessions, the mind is not put to good use, and functions in the ‘auto pilot’ mode.

Problems of preoccupation

Those who tend to get obsessed with a thought, often become absent-minded. This happens with many of us. If we are constantly thinking of something when travelling by bus or train, we tend to forget to get down at our intended destination. And by the time we realise this, it’s already too late. If the mind is completely absorbed with something, we are likely to forget important things like tickets or keys, when leaving the house. There are enough instances of people arriving at the airport or railway station without their luggage or tickets or passport.

When the mind is completely engrossed with a thought, it cannot concentrate on other things. If you are talking to someone on the phone while trying to do some complex calculations on your calculator, depending on where your concentration is, you will either not be able to converse effectively, or will not be able to perform your calculations correctly. Try this out sometimes, you’ll realise how true it is.

Solution to the problem

Whenever people around you start complaining that you are not mentally alert, or when you realise that you are making mistakes frequently and are getting absent-minded, it is time to take stock.

Once you realise that your obsession with a particular thought is the cause of your problems, try to be aware of your thoughts. And the next time you begin to get caught up in a thought catch yourself.

A good way to track your thoughts is to sit in a corner with your eyes shut, and be aware of the thoughts that are occupying your mind. Try and eliminate these thoughts one by one till you achieve a clearer state of mind. Do this once or twice every day. Once this becomes a routine, you will find it easy to sift and clear obsessive thoughts from your mind, as and when they occur.

Our mind works such that it periodically throws up the same worry, fear and anxiety that we are trying to avoid. For example, if you are dreading the visit of a relative, or dreading an inspection in your office, or the results of an exam or interview, every few minutes you will see that your mind brings you back to this fear, this dread.

Even if you try to divert your mind elsewhere, it still comes back to the same thoughts. This is because in your mind, you have assigned this fear or dread a high priority.

You have decided that this problem matters to you more than others, at this point of time. Your mind is just following your orders. Since it has been told that this problem is high priority, it keeps reminding you of the problem, every few minutes, like an alarm, lest you forget. The only way to get around this is to take a lighter view, a more non-serious view of life and its problems, which will always be there. According high priority to any problem is what turns it into an obsession. Reduce the priority status on it, and it will soon disappear from your mind.

This does not mean you start neglecting important issues; it just means that you do what you have to, but without making it a high priority issue, without attaching too much emotions to it. Do it clinically, and get it over with.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

P V Vaidyanathan
Dr P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.


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