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What are Repetitive Thoughts and Behaviors?

Repetitive thoughts and behaviors are recurring (and often anxious) compulsions. Repetitive thoughts may also be called rumination, which is defined as a single thought repeating on a loop inside of one’s head. Repeated thoughts and behaviors may be detrimental to one’s mental health and exacerbate anxiety, depression, and other related conditions. Generally characterized as negative, recurring thoughts and behaviors can lead to diminished mental health.

Repetitive thoughts and behaviors are often a key component of disorders including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and autism. The nature of repetitive thoughts and behaviors in different conditions, for example, OCD versus autism, may differ.

Signs of Repetitive Thoughts and Behaviors

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Impaired judgement
  • Avoidance of certain tasks and activities
  • Unusual fixations on certain tasks and activities (for example, a fixation on food due to repetitive thoughts and behaviors may occur in someone with an eating disorder)

How are Repetitive Thoughts and Behaviors Treated?

There are multiple known treatment methods for people struggling with repetitive thoughts and behaviors. The main treatments for this condition include:


Cognitive behavioral therapy can be an effective treatment method for repetitive thoughts and behaviors stemming from various causes. This type of therapy (also called CBT) can help the suffering individual identify, shift, and replace the repeating negative and/or anxiety-inducing thought. Over time, this therapy may help develop healthier thought patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy may be especially helpful for the treatment of repetitive thoughts and behaviors in people with depression or anxiety.

Repetitive thoughts and behaviors caused by past trauma may be eased when the individual processes trauma-related emotions. Therapy can be an effective coping strategy for both emotional and physical trauma.

Medications for underlying conditions

Repetitive thoughts and behaviors may stem from underlying conditions like OCD, depression, and anxiety, among others. Medications to treat these conditions may be prescribed in the treatment of repetitive thoughts and behaviors.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle shifts may help in the treatment of repetitive thoughts and behaviors by improving stress management. Effective lifestyle shifts may include meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling, and getting enough sleep at night.

Meditation and practicing mindfulness can be especially helpful in the treatment of this condition. Mindfulness forces the patient to focus on the present moment and practice gratitude, which can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety.