What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome, unhelpful, and sometime disturbing thoughts patterns or unpleasant images that pop into our minds without warning or reason and may be upsetting or turn into obsessions.
Intrusive thoughts are a common experience for all of us, (in fact, a study found 94% of people have intrusive thoughts in their daily lives) but sometime we find it difficult managing these thought patterns and this experience can become closely related to OCD intrusive thoughts. While these thoughts are no different to any other, it is our obsessions that can cause the distress.
Intrusive thoughts can be devastating, often taking the form of future events, past memories, Intrusive images or urges and inappropriate thoughts as well, but there are ways to deal with them! Here are some tips you can do to help.
1. Observe The Thought
Intrusive thoughts become distressing when they start to effect how you feel, but there are ways to help how you react to these thoughts like observing the thought rather than trying to control it. Intrusive thoughts become more active in our brains when we try and stop them, and therefore more likely to return. Allowing the thought to run its course and using ‘self-talk’ to manage the thought is essential. “Here is a thought, i’m not going to focus or worry about it, and it will pass”. This will help that upsetting thought gather less power, and pass quicker.
2. Focus on Something Else
Refocusing your energy can be really helpful when you want a break from intrusive thoughts.
First, be compassionate to yourself. Nothing makes everything feel worse, fuels fear and anxiety like beating yourself up for having intrusive thoughts. If we can accept that these intrusive thought patterns are normal cognitive function, you can then work on practising self-compassion. Try to engage in an activity such as colouring, embroidery or a puzzle for example that can bring your mental energy to a different, less stressful, place. Refocusing can calm the mind and eventually even healing.
3. Know Your Triggers
Intrusive thoughts aren’t always random, they can often be brought on by ‘Triggers’. Learning what your ‘Triggers’ are can work to prevent these thoughts and all help you feel safer if they are brought on.
Learn what situations bring on these thoughts e.g. you in a car and you are stuck in traffic on a motorway. What state are you in, are you sad, stressed, hungry or tired. This way you can try and avoid the stress and try to stop the thoughts.
Instead, you can say, “I feel stressed today, and i’m travelling on a motorway” Take note, either mentally or on paper, and you’ll feel more prepared for next time.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is to be fully present and aware of where you are and what you’re doing. When you are fully aware and present you are not overly reactive or overwhelmed by your surroundings.
Mindfulness is a quality that everyone can learn to access, here are some examples:
- Seated, walking, standing, and moving meditation
- Insert short mindful breaks into everyday life
- Meditation practice with activities such as yoga or sports.
When we’re mindful, we can reduce stress and gain awareness through observing our own mind.
5. Talk To The Thought
By talking to your thoughts it allows you to truly observe their presence and puts you back in control.
If you try to push a thought aside it can add fuel to the fire. When we tell ourselves not to think of something, it often has the opposite effect, making the thought even stronger. If you can acknowledge the thought, it can let it free.
Talk to your thoughts: Say, ‘I see you thought, you are OK, I love you, but I’m not listening to you, this technique shows both self-love and compassion for the way your brain works.
6. Talk To Friends and Family
Because these intrusive thoughts are sometimes taboo, it can be difficult to bring up your experience with your family and friends. Knowing that they are common and happen to everyone can hopefully help remove that taboo. Talking to friends and family can really help, listen to their comments and try and use that compassion on yourself.
If you can share what you’re going through, it can really help you feel validated, and help face those difficult thoughts whilst keeping control. It can even be some humorous and cathartic to share your inner most intrusive thoughts with a friends and family who, probably, have experienced it as well.
7. Talk With A Professional
While having intrusive thoughts is completely normal, it’s completely rational to be upset by them and to want to get help. If it gets to the point where the intrusive thought is effecting your everyday life, be it work, school or day to day activities it has moved from being an irritant to a mental health issue. At this point it is important to get help, such as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) with the management of the thought.
It may be unresolved trauma, an anxiety disorder, or a grief response that has not been processed.
If you wish to discuss how counselling could benefit you and help with obsessive intrusive thoughts, anxiety and depression, please get in contact I’d be happy to discuss further.