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Get Out Of My Head!
How often does your mind run through ‘what-if’ scenarios? What if I left the door unlocked? Maybe my boss isn’t happy with my work? What if I’m late? Maybe my friend isn’t responding because something terrible has happened to them? If your mind regularly plays out scenarios like this, then you are not alone. Around 94% of people experience intrusive thoughts like this on a daily basis.
The key to making sure these intrusive thoughts do not affect your daily life is by managing the thoughts, not ignoring them.
So, what are intrusive thoughts?
Invasive thoughts can vary depending on the individual but, put simply; they are unwelcome and involuntary thought patterns. They can be thoughts that make you feel uncomfortable, worried, upset and fearful.
These thoughts, although involuntary, are perfectly normal. They can manifest in distressing images or events from the past. Alternatively, it may be a visualisation for your fears for the future. In many cases, they can simply be disturbing images that seem to come from nowhere. These thoughts may be violent, sexual, fearful or inappropriate and often everywhere in between.
However, the way you react to intrusive thoughts can lead to these thoughts becoming obsessive. People often let intrusive thoughts manifest so that they end up repeating the idea and ultimately worsening its impact on everyday life.
When an invasive thought appears, then it is easy to catastrophise based on that thought. This works by escalating the idea into its worst-case scenario. This is often built up through endless ‘what if’ questions until you get to the pinnacle of fear and it seems such a rational concern.
Intrusive vs obsessive thoughts
Intrusive thoughts can be a part of daily life. However, when the thought becomes so persistent that it negatively impacts your normal functioning, then this becomes an obsessive thought.
For example, fearful thoughts about getting ill can lead a person to feel uncomfortable leaving the house for fear of the spread of germs; they may also persistently wash their hands or change their normal behaviour as a result of the thought.
How to get rid of intrusive thoughts
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut way to get rid of invasive thoughts. They can appear out of nowhere, and scientists are still not sure how they appear. Current research indicates that intrusive thoughts are due to a chemical imbalance of GABA in the brain.
One technique that many people try to use when an intrusive thought appears is to suppress it. However, research at Harvard University suggests that trying to ignore the intrusive thought is counterproductive and can end up making the thought pattern even worse.
So, if you can’t ignore the thought, how can you manage it so that it has minimal impact on your life?
Five ways to manage intrusive thoughts
1. Work out where the fear is coming from
In many cases, an intrusive thought will latch itself onto something you feel strongly about. A thought will appear and be drastically against the core values you hold that it makes you sit up and pay attention. As you react negatively to it, this fear actually feeds the thought, making it become stronger. As a result, it becomes harder to get over.
2. Accept it
It is perfectly normal for intrusive thoughts to appear and the best way to manage the thought pattern is to accept that this type of thought may arise because of the values you hold. Then, let it come and go. Don’t try to understand where the thought comes from or why it is bothering you now. The less attention you pay to the thought the better, simply acknowledge its arrival and let it go.
3. Everything is ok right now
The problem with intrusive thoughts is the way you can start to catastrophise the idea. In some cases, if your brain starts asking ‘what if?’ questions, you can respond with a ‘so what?’. This can help to limit the severity and escalation. However, this method will not work for everyone.
Another way is to respond with ‘everything is fine at the moment’. You can accept that what you are thinking could be true but reason with yourself that it is incredibly unlikely. For now, you are focusing on the present and right now, everything is ok.
4. Stay as you are
Some people manage their intrusive thoughts by adapting their behaviour to get rid of the thought. However, changing your habits and your reality to suit invasive thoughts is not a long-term solution and will lead you to be sucked into an endless cycle. The more power you give your invasive thoughts, the more control it will have on your life.
5. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice that allows you to be present with your own thoughts. It can be incredibly effective at managing intrusive thoughts as it can help you not to respond to the feeling. Instead, mindfulness teaches you to acknowledge the feeling and let it come and go.
One practice that you can try is the container method. In this, you visualise a box and when a thought comes into your mind, tell yourself; “I don’t need this thought right now.” Then envision yourself putting it into a box.
If your head feels full of intrusive thoughts, then visualise you moving the energy of the thoughts in your head all the way through your body to your feet. Visualise this energy travelling down to your feet and onto the floor. This method can be incredibly beneficial if you want to feel more grounded and centred without busy thoughts distracting you.
Need further help with intrusive and obsessive thoughts?
My blended approach of hypnotherapy, mindfulness and NLP practices can help you to have power over your intrusive thoughts. Find out about my bespoke therapy packages that are individually tailored to suit your needs by calling 0207 971 7677 for your free 15-minute consultation.
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Dash.harvard.edu. (2019). [online] Available at: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/9275580/wegner_managing.pdf?sequence=1 [Accessed 18 Mar. 2019].
Medical Daily. (2019). OCD Symptoms More Widespread Than You Think: 94% Of People Have Intrusive Thoughts. [online] Available at: https://www.medicaldaily.com/ocd-symptoms-more-widespread-you-think-94-people-have-intrusive-thoughts-275440 [Accessed 18 Mar. 2019].