There’s very little in life that we have ultimate control over. The inner workings of our minds and the formulation of our own thoughts, however, should be amongst them.
Those who suffer from intrusive thoughts know that this is unfortunately not always the case.
Intrusive thoughts consist of memories, images, or any thoughts that come to our mind without invitation. Oftentimes they’re very upsetting and they can spiral into an obsession that requires a compulsion to stop. While some thoughts are fleeting, most intrusive thoughts are extremely difficult to get rid of.
“Intrusive thoughts” is a broad term, because of how much it encompasses. A person’s intrusive thoughts can range from mild to very intense in terms of their content.
For instance, someone with intrusive thoughts may worry they left a candle burning in their apartment. They’ll quickly imagine the worst case scenario: the apartment burning down; their neighbors dying in the fire; getting sent to jail for arson even though it was unintentional. Another person’s intrusive thoughts may involve standing on a rooftop and wondering “what if I just jumped?” Or they may envision holding a newborn baby and dropping them on their head. You, of course, have no intention of doing either of those things, but involuntarily, the thought crosses your mind.
Intrusive thoughts may appear once in a blue moon, or multiple times each day, and each can vary in length. Regardless of the situation, intrusive thoughts can provoke overwhelming stress and anxiety. Ridding your mind of unwelcome worry can be a little easier using the following tools.
See them for what they are
Intrusive or not, thoughts are just that: thoughts. They don’t require you to take action, and no matter how bizarre or disturbing the thought may seem, it doesn’t actually imply anything…or at least not what you’d assume it does. Try not to make too much of your intrusive thoughts, The more energy you give to your thoughts, the more the thought is able to develop. Your first instinct when experiencing a negative thought may be to shove it away. While tempting, this only makes the thought stronger. The more you focus on ridding your mind of the thought, the more your mind perceives the thought as an actual threat, honing in on it even further.
Engage in mindfulness
Mindfulness involves an active focus and acceptance of the present moment, while simultaneously prohibiting judgment of it. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing are a few of many productive ways you can practice mindfulness. Engaging in these activities will help you to stay grounded when intrusive thoughts begin to enter your mind. Even more importantly, they prevent the thoughts from getting worse.
The only way to manage your worries and anxieties is to allow yourself to fully experience them. Create daily exposures and for a certain period of time, allow the intrusive thoughts to fill your mind. Instead of engaging in negative compulsions or avoidance, feel your way through the anxiety and discomfort. Practice makes perfect, and the more you practice dealing with your intrusive thoughts, the better equipped you’ll be to handle them when they hit you at random.
Keep in mind that learning to manage your intrusive thoughts is a long road that, unfortunately, cannot be walked overnight. The tools listed above will only help if they are practiced with frequency and much dedication.
As with many facets of life, managing intrusive thoughts requires you to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” They can be difficult to tackle alone, many people require help from a professional. Contact me to learn about my anxiety treatment and how we can manage your intrusive thoughts together.