A disturbing idea or image appears in your head, seemingly out of nowhere. It could be aggressive in nature or just a persistent worry that you’ll say or do something you’ll regret later. Whatever it is, it’s likely to make you feel anxious or ashamed. Despite your best efforts, you can’t shake that nagging idea.
About six million Americans may experience “intrusive thoughts,” as they are termed, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Why do they occur?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition in which recurring, unwanted thoughts are so distressing that the sufferer engages in ritualistic, compulsive actions as a defense mechanism. These symptoms are also typical of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be induced by a traumatic experience (such as a near-death experience or a violent assault). But, of course, intrusive thoughts don’t always have these extreme causes only. Almost everyone deals with these thoughts.
While most people regularly deal with intrusive thoughts, they can quickly become a source of worry or fixation.
Sometimes intrusive thoughts are rooted in past issues, where matters take a more severe turn. For example, someone with anger issues might experience thoughts that trigger negative reactions or violence. Likewise, individuals with a history of substance abuse might experience similar thoughts. If not reigned in, these might result in a relapse. In that scenario, many organizations, such as Serenity at Summit Rehab, seek to assist patients in making a better life. So, if you are in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to seek professional help.
In most cases, though, intrusive thoughts remain just an annoyance. They can be triggering and can cause needless anxiety. But as always, there are ways to deal with them. So let’s take a look.
- Face the roots
Sometimes, intrusive thoughts are rooted in past events. If that is the case, then you might be dealing with residual feelings of guilt or anger. The best way to move on is to deal with these issues head-on. It is essential to recognize that if a problem remains unresolved, it will not disappear. Sometimes people try to ignore the issues in the hope they will disappear. But that is not always the case, and issues may only become bigger over time. Facing your problems means making an effort to resolve them.
- Avoid ruminating
Ruminating is a maladaptive way of coping with stress. Individuals who overthink tend to repeat the same negative thoughts in their minds. In turn, they get caught up in the details surrounding the intrusive thought rather than the original issue itself. As a result, ruminating lasts longer and causes more significant distress than necessary, making it undesirable and harmful to mental health. Avoiding ruminating can involve recognizing it when it happens, then taking steps to distract yourself from those thoughts.
- Work on your mindset
How you regulate or direct your thoughts correlates with your frame of mind. Lacking the right frame of mind will cause you to have a miserable existence in general. What you focus on is essential, so if you believe your flaws are all there is to you or you’ll never amount to anything, you’re right. If you genuinely want to quit having intrusive thoughts, you must adjust your outlook on life. It stands true regardless of the difficulties, setbacks, or experiences you’ve had in your life. Wrong thinking leads to a terrible life because it affects your ability to deal with negative thoughts.
- Use rationality to ward off irrational thoughts
Intrusive thoughts are often rooted in irrational feelings or emotions. One of the best ways to deal with them is to learn how to separate rational thoughts from irrational ones. When irrational thoughts occur, it is crucial to recognize that they are not real and therefore do not need to be feared or avoided. One of the best things you can do when these issues arise is to acknowledge their existence. In doing so, you might realize that they are completely unrealistic and, therefore, you can let go of them. Acknowledge that the thought exists and that it is irrational, and move on with your daily tasks.
- Spend time with your pet
When coping with unwanted, invasive thoughts, having an animal companion can be a welcome distraction and a simple source of emotional support. Animal companionship has been shown to reduce anxiety, provide an escape or distraction, lessen feelings of isolation, and stimulate the production of “feel-good” hormones like serotonin and oxytocin, all of which can help to minimize intrusive thoughts.
Major depressive disorder and other mental health issues are linked to elevated cortisol levels and intrusive thoughts. And according to a study, the stress hormone cortisol is reduced by animal interaction.
- Talk to someone
Often, our thoughts result from isolation or time spent away from people. Talk to your loved ones, a friend, a partner, a family member, or anyone you trust. Talking about your intrusive thoughts with someone you love is an excellent way of associating those negative thoughts with something positive. The next time you have such thoughts and deal with them accordingly, you might just think about your loved one instead, and trigger positive feelings through your associated memories.
- Practice Mindfulness
A key component of mindfulness is developing the ability to observe mental processes in a detached manner, free from judgment or emotional attachment. Because you aren’t rejecting the reality of the intrusive ideas but rather altering your perspective on them, this strategy can be beneficial in dealing with them.
To practice mindfulness, you can try meditation. There are many meditation applications, many of which offer courses tailored to novices and people who deal with intrusive thoughts.
Constant vigilance is vital in keeping intrusive thoughts from becoming destructive. Of course, not all of these suggestions will work in every circumstance. However, one option is to try to reinterpret the disruptive idea. One way to do this is to pay attention to how your body reacts when particular thoughts arise, without passing judgment and instead approaching them with curiosity.
Worrying thoughts may be your mind’s attempt to make sense of anything upsetting in your life. Dealing with what is actually bothering you can also help you deal with intrusive thoughts.
Write for us If you have more tips and hacks to deal with your thoughts.