How to manage intrusive thoughts

‘Just don’t think about it.’

Possibly the most unhelpful thing one can say to another. How about we respect our thoughts. After all, that’s all they are.

Imagine if you could see everyone’s thoughts. Now there’s a thought. There’s no way of knowing how people think. You might be able to guess what they are thinking but you can’t know how they manage their thoughts.

I wanted to share some of my intrusive thoughts with you. For me, it helps to talk about them. It helps me validate them and it creates a platform in which we can safely say, you know what… this might sound bonkers but… and after this, you might realise you’re not alone and I hope you find some comfort in that.

Gemma Thickett, Advice and Information Service Manager at Rethink Mental Illness, said:

‘Intrusive thoughts can be associated with mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing mental illness. Intrusive thoughts can be very common, but if it’s starting to affect your quality of life it’s important to explore what you can do to manage them and seek out professional support which can help you.’

My top 4 intrusive thoughts

Like most of us, I think about a bajillion things at once. What can be rather annoying though is the frequency in which I think about the SAME things and they are often things from the past. However, I have managed to use some of my intrusive thoughts to my benefit and I channel them in a positive way while maintaining a good sense of humour about them as that is my way of coping and it works for me.

If I don’t do this…

…then that will happen. I used to wager a LOT on things like if I don’t see another magpie, something negative would happen to me or someone I loved. It wasn’t until fairly recently I realised that I had got a handle on this. I would have physical symptoms of panic (racing heart rate, tingling) if my thought wasn’t fulfilled.

I won’t need a poo will I?

I imagine this is a common one but when I was a very young girl, I was obsessed with not needing to poo anywhere. I won’t need a poo will I? Will I, Will I? The question would swirl around my head over and over again. Now my Mum, who was a legend by the way…. unhelpfully told me that I wouldn’t. And I believed her. So you can only imagine my horror when I was caught short at school and shat myself in year 7. It was decades later I realised that although there’s no place like home, pooing in other places wasn’t as bad as previously dreaded. It’s taught me that if my boys worry about something, I offer them a scenario whereby we come up with a solution if the unthinkable happens.

If I don’t try a bit of the food….

…it will be poison and that person will die. I’m not over this one so if my husband orders a different meal to me, I have to take a bite just in case. Same with the kids’ food.

The one about the boiler pressure

This is currently the most annoying one and it plagues me daily. Do you know what the pressure is on your boiler? Well I do and I know exactly how it fluctuates and unless it remains stable, it really affects me. I’m yet to fully understand why I seek comfort in my boiler but I do and that’s just the way it is. Every morning when I wake up, the 1st thing I do it check it. When I’m feeling particularly anxious about something, I find myself having to leave the boiler cupboard door open just so I can check it more regularly. I don’t need a new boiler. I realise it’s absurd and I can’t make the connection. When the pressure isn’t where it should be, I can find myself in a manic state. But I have lots of tools to help me. Talking of help…

Managing intrusive thoughts: Help is at hand

If you also have to deal with intrusive thoughts – as so many of us do whether we care to admit it or not – then here, Antonia Harman, multi award winning emotional trauma expert and healer and founder of www.divinempowerment.co.uk offers her top five tips to manage intrusive thoughts.

What to do when intrusive thoughts are getting you down

Intrusive thoughts can be both destructive and distracting; they keep you up at night, they stop you from being present, they could even alter your behaviour, making you play small. You may not take opportunities as the little voice in your head tells you not to, even when you know in your core it’s the right thing for you. Intrusive thoughts can cause anxiety and are generally a blight on your life.

Here are my top 5 tips on how to deal with intrusive thoughts:-

1. Self-enquiry

What are the intrusive thoughts actually saying? The thoughts tend to bubble up when you feel a little unsure; they escalate your feelings making a mountain out of a molehill. Are the thoughts constantly murmuring in the background? If they are, which they are for most people, take some alone time to sit and engage with your thoughts. What is that broken record playing on repeat? Is it that you are not good enough? That you will never achieve your goals. Is it abusive about your weight? That you are a terrible parent? Too much of this or too little of that? Whatever it is, listen and work out what the loudest voice is saying.

Once you know that, start asking yourself, is it true? Most intrusive thoughts are unfounded. Let’s take “I’m a bad parent” as an example. Well, are you? No one expects Mary Poppins. Do you stuff up from time to time? That’s cool you are human. Are your kids fed, with a roof over their heads and happy? If so, you can’t be doing that badly now, can you?

To stop intrusive thoughts, you need to find a resolution to them, to get to the point where they no longer resonate; they don’t make sense. For example, if some said you were a ‘tin can’, you would be puzzled. You definitely are not a tin can, so the idea of you being one completely bounces off you.

You need to be that annoying kid who says “But why” repeatedly. Listen to the thoughts dissect them with ‘But why’ you need to be honest with yourself. If some of the points are accurate and there is room for improvement, that’s fine too; make a list and action it. Get proactive and neutralise the blighters. Once the loudest thought is gone, go onto the second and so on.

2. Seek Professional Help

If you are struggling with point one, you could seek professional help? Talk therapy can help probe into the ‘why’ of things to help you burrow in and let things go. Letting it go is the most important thing, seeing it for what it is with a neutral, adult perspective and forgiving all parties. This means you need to forgive them, the situation and yourself. There is a good reason that forgiveness is a central theme in all religions; even AA has ‘make amends’ a major component. Forgiveness stops intrusive thoughts and allows for a happier you. If you are looking for non-attachment to your thoughts, you could give Divine Empowerment a try; we dissolve the energy or emotion associated with trauma. Once it’s gone, you find peace in the situation you don’t feel triggered when you think of it; you don’t feel anything; it’s neutral and just the facts without the loaded emotions.

3. Get into Nature

The more grounded and relaxed you are, the quieter your mind is. Have you noticed that the intrusive thoughts subside when you are on hols? Why is that? Of course, you are less stressed (hopefully), but there is more to it. Being in nature is grounding the negative ions you get from the sea or forest to help to quieten the mind; the body is less stressed and anxious. Make being in nature part of your daily practice if you can do it barefoot or in moccasins, all the better (rubber-soled shoes block grounding); that way, the negative ions can be absorbed through your feet. To really connect to nature, go for a walk alone and if you are feeling brave, leave your phone indoors. The world is unlikely to end whilst you are on your 30-minute stroll. Many people constantly listen to music and have little or no time to self-enquiry whilst on your walk. Allow your thoughts to bubble up and refer to tip one.

4. Exercise

Yoga, pilates, chi gong, and tai chi are great way to ground and quieten the mind. They calm down your adrenalin and cortisol levels, causing less stress. The more pressure you have, the busier your mind will be. Meditation is another option; there are countless guided meditations on YouTube; apps like Calm and Mindful are brilliant as they keep you accountable to your daily practice. You can start your day with a guided meditation, use breathing techniques when you get stressed and even listen to bedtime stories and much more.

5. Monitor Visual Consumption

Are you hooked on the news? Let’s face it; there hasn’t been much good news of late are you watching the news on repeat and stressing yourself out? It’s great to be well informed but not overly well informed. If you have news bulletins on your phone, switch them off. Stick to watching the news once a day at the most. Whatever you are doing now, halve it; there is a lot of ‘fear porn’ out there which will cause intrusive thoughts.

Are you hooked on true crime documentaries or horror shows that stress you out? Do you watch scary things late at night and go to bed fretting about it? If so, knock it on the head entirely. If the intrusive thoughts are about something you have seen on the telly, turning your box off is a simple fix!

Have you ever suffered with intrusive thoughts? Do leave a comment and connect with us on Instagram here where we love to chat all things being in your 40s.