How To Stop Intrusive Thoughts

by Vanya Sharma last updated -

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There are times in life when we are faced with thoughts that we don’t have control over, or so we think. For some people, these thoughts are a regular part of their lives. They come up uninvited and then simply just make a comfortable home for themselves inside our heads. And what we don’t like is their constant knocking on to the fore of our mind. They are annoying and sometimes borderline frustrating. These thoughts are known by the name of intrusive thoughts. In this article, we discuss in depth what intrusive thoughts are and how we can control them for a better life.

What are Intrusive Thoughts?

Your day has just started, you are brushing your teeth and suddenly you remember that one time you accidentally stepped onto someone or maybe lost your favorite pen. These are very basic examples of what intrusive thoughts may look like. What happens is your mind goes into this crazy and unforgiving loop of thoughts that pop up now and then, sometimes through triggers and sometimes just out of sheer randomness. They often leave us wondering what just happened.

These thoughts can be as basic as the examples given above or a reminder of something embarrassing, but sometimes and for some people, these thoughts might be more than that. They can be troublesome to the point of triggering anxiety and major distress – they can involve the thoughts of killing or harming someone or abusive and loathing feelings for oneself. They can also be sexual. And what’s worse is that they tend to get stuck in the head, as also mentioned in a paper published in the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). What is important to understand and know here is that – if you are faced with intrusive thoughts, no matter to what degree or extent, you are not alone. At the end of the day, if these are just thoughts with no desire to act on them, they are not harmful. Below, we will try to understand the different ways to tackle these thoughts.

Young men talking on the stairs of an office

Reach out to friends and family if you are faced with intrusive thoughts. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts

There are many ways you can gain control over your intrusive thoughts, these include identifying your triggers, practicing gratitude and self-affirmations, facing your fears, and talking about your feelings among other things. Let us take a detailed look at them below.

Identify Your Triggers

People who are constantly faced with intrusive thoughts, generally, tend to have some specific triggers. When proper attention is not paid, they often fail to recognize their triggers. These triggers may include deadlines, a memory of a major event in life, crowded places, or sometimes a particular belief about the wellbeing of your family or someone else.

Intrusive thoughts sometimes come from an obsession with a thing or person. As per the AADA, what OCD intrusive thoughts do is they go against our core values – our core feeling about something is what provides fuel to these unwanted thoughts. It is, thereby, important to identify what your triggers are, first and foremost, to control your thoughts. Sometimes, it can be a mere object or a song with some memory attached to them, thereby triggering your intrusive thoughts.

Accept The Thought

The thing that doesn’t work with intrusive thoughts is trying to control or kill them. The more you consciously try to control them, the more you empower them and bring anxiety to yourself. Every time you try to push away a thought or try avoiding it, it becomes bigger in your head. It sends a threat signal to the brain and turns into this thing you need to get away from, thereby triggering fear and anxiety.

Rumi, in one of his famous poems, said, “If I sit in my own place of patience what I need flows to me… without pain. From this, I understand that what I want also wants me, is looking for me, and attracting me”. You can try applying something similar to your thoughts too, sit still with them and let them flow, do not let your OCD with these thoughts play tricks on you. Accept the thought, embrace it, and then remind yourself of – a thought is just a thought and it has no power over you. As quoted in the ADAA, “Freedom from OCD is not about stopping the mind from offering up strange and occasionally disturbing thoughts but learning how to recognize spam vs. urgent mail.”

Refocus Your Energy

To take a break from your intrusive thoughts, try refocusing your mind and energy on something else. Find an activity to do that you will enjoy; it can be anything such as coloring, dancing, watching a TV serial, or meeting people. All you simply need to do is mentally engage yourself in something else. When our brains are tired, stressed, or too quiet, intrusive thoughts come into play and they hold space in your brain. By giving your concentration to something else, the thoughts often tend to shift to the back of the head. This can help you calm your mind and relax.

Talk To The Thought

As per a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, small changes in the way we talk to ourselves during self-introspection can have significant impacts on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Give your thoughts love and compassion, hear them out, and then let them go. An intrusive thought usually comes from a place of distress and what it seeks most is validation and love like any human being in distress does. Once you talk and listen to it, you need to tell the intrusive thought that is all you can do for now. It would help you de-stress and letting go of the thought.

Be Mindful

Mindfulness can help you focus your mind and regain control over it. It helps you stay in the moment, as per a health news report published in the NIH newsletter. It says, “You can practice mindfulness throughout the day, even while answering e-mails, sitting in traffic or waiting in line. All you have to do is become more aware—of your breath, of your feet on the ground, of your fingers typing, of the people and voices around you.” This will help prevent your mind from drifting away and taking you on long tiring emotional journeys.

Remember It Is Just A Thought

It is important to remind yourself that it is after all just a thought, and you have more control over it than anything else. A thought without any action has no power at all. Every day, all of us are faced with a hundred and thousand of thoughts, some we choose to act on and some we choose to ignore. The same goes for your intrusive thoughts. The only reason why intrusive thoughts seem to be overbearing is because they trigger an emotion in us that we don’t like. It is, however, important to constantly keep reminding yourself that a thought is just a thought, just thinking about it doesn’t make it true.

Reach Out

If you’re being faced with intrusive thoughts, do not isolate yourself from others. Talk to people; they can be your friends, family, or a stranger if it makes you feel more comfortable. Find a person you can trust and open up to them, it will help you feel lighter and also bring back some control. The more you will try to avoid your thoughts, the bigger they will become. Besides, another good thing about sharing is that it may give you perspective and might also serve as a catharsis for you. So, reach out to people.

Seek Professional Help

If your thoughts seem to be getting the better of you and none of the above-mentioned ways seem to help, then seeking professional help is a valid and good idea. The telling signs of it getting bad may include your routine getting affected or your daily affairs starting to seem like an arduous task. These intrusive thoughts might be a result of unresolved trauma, grief, or anxiety disorder. An intervention by a professional will help you assimilate your thoughts and see them for what they are. Seeking therapy will help you go back to your routine and resume your life.

It is always important to know that there is nothing wrong with having intrusive thoughts or OCD or any mental health condition for that matter. You may want to practice mindfulness or want to talk to someone, but whatever you decide to do, make sure you don’t let the thoughts become bigger than you. If these are thoughts involving guilt, then you need to forgive yourself and tell them to leave room for other things in your brain. Taking care of your mental health should be on top of your priority list for a better life and health.

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About the Author

Vanya Sharma handles the medical expert collaboration for Organic Facts. She is also responsible for the website’s monthly newsletter and website content and contributes to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube regularly. A writer at heart, she joined the website while she was still pursuing her English Literature degree from IGNOU, Delhi, India. Vanya has completed the “Introduction to Food and Health” certificate program from Stanford University, US. She aims to bring unbiased and helpful information to all those seeking to make their health and lifestyle a priority.

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