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'In-Bodiment': How To Cope With Intrusive Thoughts, Obsessions, and Preoccupations

This week, 'Therapy Begins with T(ea)' steeps on intrusive thoughts & repetitive anxiety and offers a full body check-in to practice 'in-bodiment' through intero- and extero- ception.

anxiety intrusive thoughts obsessions

Therapy Begins with T(ea) is a weekly newsletter based on the themes that come up in my sessions as a therapist who specializes in conflict & attachment in romantic relationships, shame & imposter syndrome, and our psychological relationships with money. Each week consists of a 'steep' in thought reflection, an accompanying body based check-in, and tea card intentions for the week to come. Its intended use is for educational purposes only and is not a replacement for individualized medical or mental health treatment.

'Steep' in Thought (3-5 min)

anxiety, Intrusive thoughts, & preoccupations

We’re all familiar with that never-ending string of thoughts that runs through our head like a tape player. Negotiating how long you can stay in bed and still have time to get ready. Deciding what, and when, to eat. Overanalyzing that last text. Rehearsing what you’ll do when you run into the person you dread seeing. The laundry list of appointments, birthdays, and deadlines you have to remember. How to make it through your day while the world is on fire. We’re constantly thinking.

And sometimes, that running tape of thoughts begins to loop and we start to ruminate. It shows up as anxiety and worry, intrusive thoughts, and obsessions -- about other people, an ending we can’t move on from, our bodies, the (uncertain) future. Interpersonally, it shows itself as ‘nagging’ and bringing up the same grievance or starting the same fight over and over. We become preoccupied.

The function of being preoccupied

The repetitive nature of preoccupation is frustrating and draining. And the part of us that’s driving it thinks we can find ‘the answer’ if we cycle through enough, but at some point, even that feels involuntary. And then we’re left stuck & distressed.

Rumination signals that there’s unfinished business, but we won’t be able to ‘finish’ it if we stay in the loop in our heads. The key is looking less at the content of our thoughts and more at the function of them: preoccupations disconnect us from our bodies (even when the obsession is about our bodies) out of fear of what emotions and truths we would have to confront if we really sat with/inside ourselves. But it really is only in the body that we can figure out what that unfinished business is that’s keeping us in a closed feedback loop. Only when we’re in-bodied can we access the underlying hurts and needs that mask themselves as repetitive thoughts. And it’s only when we feel safety in the body that we can start to process our unfinished business with the clarity, curiosity, compassion, and connection (the Cs of Self energy) that come with a regulated nervous system.

So if the tape player of thoughts in your head starts to loop this week, try re-connecting with your body. And if you’re struggling with what ‘in your body’ actually means, practice with this week’s fully body check-in.

Full Body Check-In (2-4 min)


We’re going to practice two ways we can re-connect with our bodies. The first is interoception, the sensing and awareness of what’s happening inside the body (e.g. hunger/thirst/sleep cues, inflammation/pain, energy levels, emotions). Each week, we do that with our breath.

So when you’re ready, take a deep inhale in through your nose. Let your body fill with air and then exhale out through your mouth as a sigh. Repeat the breath again. This time, notice how your shoulders subtly lift up on the inhale and then slowly drop as you relax in your exhale. All we’re doing in this moment is tuning into our breath. Noticing how it feels to breathe. With each cycle of breath, try to focus on a different part of your body. Notice how it expands, shifts, and adjusts as you breathe in and observe how it changes again as you breathe out. Try tuning into your ribcage, your back, & your belly, one at a time.

Keep breathing. In slow, out slower.

If this feels good for you, maybe you stick with interoception today as your route toward in-bodiment. But if you’d like to keep going, another way we can engage with our bodies (& remind it that it is safe) is through exteroception -- the awareness of what’s happening outside your body. We practice this by noticing how our body interacts with the environment we’re in. And, today, we’re going to focus on firmness.

On that next breath in, start to tune your attention to the point of contact between your body and what you’re sitting/laying on (if you’re standing, notice the point of contact between the soles of your feet and the ground). Notice how it feels. Is it firm and solid? Or does what’s underneath you soften & mold to your shape? Notice the comforting & relaxed heaviness of your body against what you’re sitting or laying or standing on. And then, on the next breath, look for the part of your body that is feeling ‘lightness’. Maybe you find it in your upper body that’s suspended in air as you sit. Maybe it’s in the tingling of your palms and fingers that gently lay open. Maybe it’s in the stillness of another part of your body. Take a moment to find it and enjoy the experience of lightness.

Through intero- and extero- ception, we can re-connect with our bodies: to quiet our mind, to soothe our heart, and to process our emotions.

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