Almost every one of us have intrusive thoughts before.
Those little disturbing, harmful thoughts jumped into your mind out of nowhere, accompanied by gruesome graphic images and impulsion that give you doubt and fear.
What are intrusive thoughts? I have explained in my previous post and how are they formed. Today, let’s talk about how can we stop the OCD intrusive thoughts.
Research has shown that 94% of people across the world have experienced unwanted or intrusive thoughts before. Intrusive thoughts are unstoppable and random.
These thoughts will most likely trigger your negative emotions as intrusive thoughts are largely negative in nature. They can fall into either of the categories of violence, destruction, sex, death, or anything that could cause an unpleasant feeling in you.
Most people will not dwell on these disturbing thoughts as they are aware that they will not act on the thoughts. They know that thoughts are just random ideas flashing through the mind, same as fantasy or daydreaming.
However, many of us who are more sensitive or always trying to understand the significance of an event might dwell on these thoughts more.
These thoughts make us feel ashamed, make us doubt and feel negative about ourselves. We start to worry if there is something wrong with us, or if we are morally corrupted.
While feeling ashamed, we also try to suppress these thoughts which in the adverse lead to more intrusive thoughts popping up.
Soon, our life and our rational brains are overtaken by these disturbing voices. We felt we are losing control over ourselves and our brains, and we start to fear we will act on these thoughts. This process just goes on and on.
An unhealthy obsession and compulsion with these intrusive thoughts are formed. We gave intrusive thoughts the power and let them get the better of us. Eventually, they evolve into OCD.
When I looked up online, I see many subtypes of OCD, including harm OCD, sexual OCD, religious OCD, and so on. People with OCD can fall into more than one subtype. Even though there are many OCD subtypes, one thing in common is that they all can be resolved by changes in cognitive thinking and daily lifestyle.
1. Change Your Relationship With OCD Intrusive Thoughts
As explained earlier, intrusive thoughts are nothing uncommon, but the way we handle the thoughts makes the difference.
If we can understand that thoughts are not the actual representations of reality and they are not real. We can just observe them like a bystander and allow them to come and go.
However, if we suppress, overly-evaluate, and ruminate on these thoughts, the thoughts might take the upper hand.
The famous “white bear” experiment from Professor Daniel Wegner proved that this theory is for everyone. When the participants were told not to think about a white bear, the image of a white bear came in uncontrollably and repeatedly.
We need to understand that having intrusive thoughts are normal and these thoughts are involuntary. We do not have to overly attach meanings to these thoughts.
Just like having a horrific nightmare, whatever happened in the dream is not decided by you and they are not representative of the reality. Same as intrusive thoughts.
There is actually no way to completely stop all the intrusive thoughts as they are random and involuntary, but I can guarantee you that changing your relationship with the intrusive thoughts can help to greatly reduce them popping into your head.
When the intrusive thoughts appeared next time, don’t give these little voices attention. Just notice that ‘Intrusive thoughts’ are here, and bring your attention to the things you are doing. Simply let these thoughts come and go.
This brings me to the second point.
2. Label the Intrusive Thoughts
One habit that helps me greatly is to label my thoughts. Instead of fighting my thoughts, I acknowledge the presence of the thoughts by labeling them, and telling myself the ‘unwanted thoughts’ or ‘intrusive thoughts’ are here again.
I will also remind myself of the thing I am doing at the time to get my attention back to reality.
For instance, if I encounter intrusive thoughts when I am having a walk by myself. I will speak to myself “I had an intrusive thought again.” and then remind myself of the action I am doing at the time such as “I am taking a walk right now. My feet are taking little steps forward. I am breathing in the fresh air”.
By marking the activities you are doing, you are pulling your attention away from the thoughts and back to your physical activities.
I find labeling extremely helpful not just in labeling intrusive thoughts but also in other negative emotions and self-criticisms. It helps to put a distance between ourselves and our thoughts.
The fundamental reason why we are struggling with all types of OCD intrusive thoughts is that we falsely take the thoughts as reality.
By separating ourselves from our thoughts, we can see the situation more rationally, and not be carried away by our thoughts.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness is a great way for us to train our brains to focus on the present moment. Instead of being distracted by intrusive thoughts, practicing mindfulness can help us to better recognize what’s happening and separate ourselves from our thoughts. It is a great practice that helps with obsessional thinking.
Practicing mindfulness also has various benefits including training our brains to concentrate better. There are many videos on Youtube on mindfulness meditation. You can also read this post for the ultimate guide for mindfulness meditation for beginners with OCD intrusive thoughts.
It’s not easy to keep your focus during a meditation session. Whenever you feel yourself being distracted, be mindful and label your thoughts. Then, simply bring your attention back to the moment.
Another mindfulness practice you can do in daily life is to focus on your physical sensations.
Let’s try it together now!
Now, look around you. Say 5 things that you see.
And now, focus on your hearing. Tell me 3 sounds you can hear right now.
Next, let’s move to the smell. Tell me 1 scent you can smell in the air now.
Lastly, let’s move to taste. You can pop a candy in your mouth now if you have one. Feel the sensation and taste as the candy slowly melt on your tongue.
Is it a refreshing experience? It might be a simple exercise but it can help to free us from our thoughts and emotions.
We have been too occupied with our thoughts and our hectic schedules, it’s time to bring our attention to the present moment and our surroundings.
Besides the mindfulness practices, also try to incorporate some daily habits that allow you to be fully immersed in the activity. My favorites are drawing and jogging.
I can sit for hours in the same spot drawing with calm music playing in the background. It just gives me a simple joy to have my attention fully focused on one thing.
4. Be Patient With Yourself And Move Forward Daily
Be patient. Slowly making all the little practices a habit and you will see the magical changes happen gradually. All the big changes start with small daily changes.
You will still experience intrusive thoughts occasionally, but that doesn’t mean your effort has gone futile.
Do not feel defeated when the unwanted thoughts come around again.
Remember, you are training yourself day by day, and you are getting better in every way daily.
Just do your things. Be gentle with yourself and keep moving forward every day.
Keeping a mindfulness journal is a great tool to keep track of your progress. I have prepared a free printable all-in-one mindfulness journal for our subscribers. You can collect by subscribing below, or reading more about it here.
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Lastly, if you are feeling deeply troubled by any form of OCD or OCD intrusive thoughts. Don’t hesitate to talk to a professional.
I understand it can be scary when you first encounter intrusive thoughts and you can’t stop them. You will feel helpless, and lonely, not knowing what to do or how to seek help. I went through the same phase too.
I was struggling daily with if I should visit a psychiatrist during my darkest days with OCD.
I didn’t visit at the end partially due to my own personal experience with a psychiatrist. (Side story If you are curious to know what happened. Well, I had pretty serious depression when I was younger and I visited a psychiatrist for the first time. I didn’t get better from those sessions. All I remember was the doctor prescribed the antidepressant to me. I didn’t like the overall experience.)
I just move on with my life living with the condition while constantly reading more to understand how I can cope better with these intrusive thoughts. Things just get better and better each day.
But that is my own personal experience. I understand that everyone’s experiences are different and I encourage you to engage a professional and reliable therapist to talk to if your life is heavily impacted by intrusive thoughts.
Your mental health is more important than anything. The professional therapist can guide you in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which helps you to understand your symptoms and manage your intrusive thoughts better.
Lastly, trust yourself. You have been fighting through a lot and you can survive anything. It’s not an easy battle but I promise you everything will be alright. I have gotten better, and so can you.
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