Repetitive Obsessive Anxious Thoughts

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 19, 2021

repetitive obsessive anxious thoughts

Repetitive anxious thoughts, obsessive anxious thoughts, anxious thoughts that you can’t dislodge are common symptoms of anxiety disorder.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your anxiety symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, and Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to your symptoms, including having repetitive anxious thoughts that seem difficult to dislodge.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and having obsessive anxious thoughts.

Repetitive Anxious Thoughts anxiety symptom common descriptions:

  • You have a thought that triggers fear, and no matter what you do, it continues to haunt and scare you.
  • You have become obsessed with a certain fear, which is triggered by a thought. The thought seems impossible to stop.
  • Many people have repetitive anxious “thoughts” that trigger fear responses and believe they will never be able to get rid of them. Consequently, these thoughts could prevent recovery and keep a person stuck in anxiety disorder and repetitive fear.
  • Every waking minute you are in a battle to get rid of or “not think about” the thought that triggers a fear response.
  • Repetitive anxious thoughts can be about a rational or irrational fear.
  • Repetitive anxious thoughts can be about any topic or subject.
  • You have a fear thought that continues to plague you. While you don’t want to think about it, it seems the brain continues to pop it up no matter how much you don’t want or like it.
  • You have thoughts that scare you that you can’t seem to dislodge or forget.

This symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist 24/7 day after day. For example, you have repetitive anxious thoughts once in a while and not often, have them off and on, or have them all the time and every day.

Repetitive anxious thoughts can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms or occur by itself.

Repetitive anxious thoughts can precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

This symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

This anxiety symptom can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background to your struggle with anxiety disorder.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Repetitive and obsessive anxious thoughts can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up.

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Why anxiety can cause and contribute to repetitive anxious thinking

Medical Advisory

1. Behavior

Overly apprehensive behavior, such as uncontained worry, is the main cause of this symptom.

For instance, worrying about a potential threat is a common cause of repetitive anxious thoughts, especially if the threat is based on an irrational fear.

Worry can be defined as: troubled about an actual or potential problem that can cause harm, discomfort, or unpleasantness.

Worry creates anxiety, and anxiety activates the stress response. The degree of stress response is proportional to the degree of perceived threat. The greater the perceived threat, the greater the anxiety and triggered stress response.

Consequently, worry triggers stress responses, whether you feel them or not.

As with anxiety, there are no “freebies,” meaning that every time you worry, you trigger stress responses that stress the body.

If you are a worrier, it’s likely you have experienced repetitive anxious thoughts that seem difficult to stop.

Common behaviors associated with this symptom include:

  • All of nothing thinking
  • Catastrophizing
  • Imagining and dwelling on the worst (worry)
  • Fear of having a serious mental health problem
  • Fear of having a serious medical health problem
  • Fear of the strong feelings of anxiety
  • Fear that anxiety will ruin your life, and there’s nothing you can do about it
  • Crisis living

Common fears associated with the symptom include:

  • What if I can’t stop thinking these fear-provoking thoughts because there is something wrong with my brain, or it is a symptom of serious mental illness that I can’t do anything about?
  • What if I can’t stop these thoughts and they ruin my life?
  • What if I can’t stop these thoughts and I can’t overcome anxiety disorder?
  • What if I can’t stop these thoughts, and they stress my body so much that I become very sick or die?

To name a few.

2. The stress response

As mentioned, anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response. The stress response causes many body-wide changes that give the body an emergency “boost” of energy and resources when we believe we could be in danger.

This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”), or the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response (since some people faint when they are afraid).[1][2]

One of these changes includes:

  • Increases activity in the fear center of the brain (amygdala and others) and decreases activity in the rationalization areas of the brain (cortex and others).

This change in brain function increases danger surveillance and reduces our ability to shut danger messaging off since the rationalization area of the brain contains the “anxiety brake” ­– the mechanism required to stop fear messages from triggering the fear center.

The more frightened we are, the higher the degree of stress response and the less ability we have to apply the “anxiety brake.”

An active stress response is a common cause of repetitive anxious thoughts.

As long as a stress response is active, we can experience this symptom in greater frequency and intensity.

3. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the many stress response changes.

However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can’t complete recovery.

Incomplete recovery can create a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Hyperstimulation can cause changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated.

Since hyperstimulation can keep the activity in the fear center heightened and the rationalization areas suppressed, hyperstimulation is a common cause of chronic repetitive anxious thoughts.

4. Other factors

Associated with anxiety, other factors can cause and contribute to this symptom, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.

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How to get rid of repetitive obsessive anxious thoughts

When repetitive anxious thinking is caused or aggravated by “other factors,” addressing the specific factor or factors can help alleviate this symptom.

When repetitive anxious thinking is caused by anxious behavior, such as worry, addressing unhealthy worry can alleviate this symptom.

If you are struggling with uncontained worry, we recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced therapist is the most effective way to address issues with anxiety, including what can seem like out-of-control worry.[5][6][7]

Moreover, this symptom can be aggravated by an active stress response and hyperstimulation. Ending an active stress response and eliminating hyperstimulation can also help reduce this symptom.

However, dealing with the true cause of this symptom – unhealthy behavior – will resolve repetitive anxious thinking with practice and time.

Recovery Support members can read the “Containment,” “Extinguishing Fear,” and “Overcoming A Fear Of The ‘Crazy Thought’s’ Symptom” sections in chapter 6 for natural and practical ways to eliminate repetitive obsessive anxious thoughts.

How common is this symptom? In several online polls we conducted, 98% of anxious people experience this symptom. As you can see, repetitive, obsessive anxious thinking is extremely common for those who struggle with anxiety issues.

For more information, play the video below to hear a conversation between a Recovery Support member and Jim Folk about how to get rid of repetitive obsessive anxious thoughts. Jim Folk is the president of

Repetitive obsessive anxious thoughts is a common indication of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and worry.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Repetitive Obsessive Anxious Thoughts.


1. Folk, Jim. “The Stress Response.” Anxiety Attacks,, 2020,

2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018,

4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015,

5. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012,

6. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017,

7. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.