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Last Updated on December 8, 2020

How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts from Eating You Alive

How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts from Eating You Alive

The human brain is an amazing organ. What we most associate the brain with doing is thinking. It assimilates a tremendous amount of information, and processes it in a multitude of ways, such as cognitive thinking, memory recall, and decision-making.

The brain processes so much information that it is not uncommon for us to experience random thoughts, or intrusive thoughts, unrelated to any of our values. Most people experience intrusive thoughts without any significant consequences. But for a few people, intrusive thoughts are more severe and can make it difficult to function normally day to day.

Here we’re going to examine the nature of intrusive thoughts, and then discuss how to stop intrusive thoughts when they are causing problems.

What Are Intrusive Thoughts?

Generally speaking, intrusive thoughts are thoughts that pop into your mind seemingly out of nowhere. They are usually strange thoughts that you normally wouldn’t think of. For example, you might think, “What if I have a stroke or a heart attack?”

You might think harm may come to someone you know, maybe even a loved one. You certainly don’t want someone you love to get hurt, but nonetheless the random thought crosses your mind.

The absurd nature of intrusive thoughts can cause people some distress. However, in general, they are a normal part of having an active brain. We are so used to thinking about something all the time that during quiet periods the random, intrusive thoughts will arise from the vast database we call our brain.

These may appear as you’re falling asleep or when you are waking up. They may distract you during an important meeting or presentation. Or they may even find their way into moments of meditation.

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There is another class of intrusive thoughts called “unwanted intrusive thoughts.” These are more intense and can trigger anxiety, panic, guilt, or disgust. Their content is usually about violence, sex, or socially unacceptable behaviors[1]. They can be quite disturbing. Some examples are:

  • Pushing someone in front of a moving vehicle
  • Stabbing someone
  • Torturing a person or animal
  • Randomly touching a stranger

What makes unwanted intrusive thoughts disturbing is that people are afraid that they might commit the acts pictured in their mind, or that they indicate that something is wrong with them.

For the most part, intrusive thoughts are nothing to worry about. However, if you are having difficulty getting them out of your mind, and they interfere with normal functioning in your life, then you may want to seek professional help. This still doesn’t mean you want to commit the acts, but rather you may just need some help in learning how to manage the intrusive thoughts.

A Common Myth About Intrusive Thoughts

One common myth about intrusive thoughts is that we subconsciously want to commit the acts pictured in our mind. This is rarely the case. It is not uncommon for kind, loving people to have intrusive thoughts about harming others. They realize they are just random thoughts that are inconsistent with their intentions, and they just ignore them.

Another common myth is that all intrusive thoughts should be examined. Remember, they are just random thoughts, not actions. The only power they have to harm us is the power that we give them.

What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?

As mentioned above, in most cases, intrusive thoughts are just harmless random thoughts that pop into our mind unexpectedly. In other cases, they may be indicative of other mental or emotional disorders[2]. They can cause people great distress and hinder their ability to function if left unchecked.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) occurs when the intrusive thoughts become repetitive, and the person doesn’t have the ability to control them. The thoughts lead to certain actions in the hopes that they will make the thoughts go away.

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For example, a person with OCD may develop a routine of checking and rechecking to make sure all the doors and windows are secure in order to ease the fear of being assaulted by an intruder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur as a result of a traumatic event, such as a violent attack. The person with PTSD experiences severe distress and has difficulty coming to terms with the event. In such cases, intrusive thoughts are part of the experience. The person keeps re-living the experience and the emotions associated with it.

Eating Disorders

Sometimes people develop eating disorders as a result of not being able to deal with their emotions. The disorder can have different manifestations, such as overeating, binging, starvation, or purging. Whatever the case, the person is trying to either hide or overcome a recurring train of thought, belief, or emotion, and intrusive thoughts are a part of this dynamic.

Addiction

Addiction is usually the result of growing up not learning how to deal in a healthy manner with conflict, one’s emotions, or life in general. When a person doesn’t know how to cope, then the only alternative is to try and cover up the emotions with a substance that changes one’s mood, such as alcohol, drugs, or a behavior, such as sex. Intrusive thoughts are a part of addiction because addicts develop obsessive and compulsive thinking and behavior.

How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts

The majority of people have intrusive thoughts that are harmless. Though the content of the thoughts might be violence and socially unacceptable behaviors, the person is aware that they are just random thoughts and are not their true intentions or motives.

Though it is difficult to completely stop intrusive thoughts, we can diminish them significantly. Here are some effective strategies:

1. Don’t Indulge in Them

If we indulge in our intrusive thoughts, then we give them more power and increase the likelihood of them reoccurring. The best thing to do is just ignore them and to not attach any significance to them.

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2. Avoid Entertainment Involving Violence

Studies have shown that watching violence on television, or other media, can lead to aggressive behavior.[3] And of course, aggressive behavior is preceded by aggressive thinking.

3. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a way to calm the mind and help you focus on more positive thinking. Therefore, it reduces the quantity of random thoughts and changes their content from unwholesome thoughts to more wholesome, productive thoughts.

4. Reduce Mental Agitation

Intrusive thoughts are sometimes the result of an overactive mind. In addition to using mindfulness meditation to calm your mind, you can reduce mental agitation by reducing (or eliminating) the sources. These sources can include too many activities or responsibilities in your life, and background noise, such as radio and television when you’re not engaged with them.

Dealing With More Severe Intrusive Thoughts

If you are dealing with intrusive thoughts that make it difficult for you to function, then you may need to seek professional help. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, but rather you may just need some help in learning how to cope with the intrusive thoughts. Here are a couple of approaches that a mental health professional might use.

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy where a mental health counselor helps you examine your thought patterns. The goal is to identify inaccurate or negative thinking and develop strategies for changing that thinking so that you learn to respond to thoughts in a healthier manner[4].

2. Medication

Sometimes mental health problems are the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. In such cases, a mental health professional might prescribe medications, such as antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs)[5].

When considering medication for treating any mental health problem, it is advisable to proceed with caution. First, most medications come with unpleasant side effects. Second, they are generally not a cure, but rather intended to address the symptoms.

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Third, it isn’t always clear if the thought patterns are the cause or the result of the chemical imbalance. For example, addicts may show a chemical imbalance in the brain, but this is the result of years of unrealistic thinking. Addiction generally can be treated without medication. In such cases, seek help from an addiction expert.

The Bottom Line

Intrusive thoughts are a normal part of life. They are the result of having an active mind that works 24 hours a day. For most people, intrusive thoughts are not a problem. They recognize that the thoughts don’t mean much and are fleeting.

For some people, however, intrusive thoughts can be more of a problem. The thoughts may be recurring and cause significant emotional distress. They can also indicate other mental health issues, such as OCD, PTSD, or addiction.

If your intrusive thoughts are making it difficult to live a normal life, it is advisable to seek professional help. A mental health expert can address the underlying causes of the intrusive thoughts and help you develop strategies for coping with them.

In either case, even though the content of the intrusive thoughts may be disturbing, they generally don’t indicate that you subconsciously intend on acting out those thoughts. Remember, they are just thoughts.

More Tips on How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts

Featured photo credit: Francisco Moreno via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts
[2] Healthline: Intrusive Thoughts: Why We Have Them and How to Stop Them
[3] American Psychological Association: Violence in the Media
[4] Mayo Clinic: Cognitive behavioral therapy
[5] Healthline: Intrusive Thoughts: Why We Have Them and How to Stop Them

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Charles A. Francis

Author, meditation teacher, and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

11 Positive Thoughts for Your Everyday Motivation

11 Positive Thoughts for Your Everyday Motivation

The power of positive thoughts cannot be denied, even though sometimes it can seem a little like a cliché when you hear people talking about it. Well, I’m here to tell you that cliché or not, the mental and physical benefits of thinking positively are a proven way to give you more confidence, improve your self-esteem, give you motivation, and generally put you in a better mood. Thinking of at least one positive thought every day can have significant benefits for you.

Some scientific studies even suggest that thinking positively can reduce the likelihood of health conditions, like depression, hypertension, and a variety of other stress-related disorders.

This sounds amazing, but what does it really mean to think positively?

Positive thinking isn’t about finding your inner smile. Many people rarely have what they would consider joyous inner thoughts but that doesn’t mean they can’t be content with themselves and their life.

Positive thinking (thinking of positive thoughts every day) is more about finding the positive imagery in your life and viewing things through more optimistic eyes, especially if you’ve got yourself into a rut of seeing things negatively.

The biggest problem with positive thoughts is that they wear off quickly and things like rejection, negative experiences, setbacks, and heartbreak can soon put you into a downward spiral that gets you back into that negative funk you hate.

And, let’s be honest, being in a negative funk is a sure-fire way to strip your motivation and leave you unable to perform at the levels you know you can. If you’re looking for an instant way to boost your motivation, join the free Fast-Track Class – Activate Your Motivation. It’s a free intensive session that can help you identify your inner drive and build a sustinable motivation engine. You can sign up for the free session here.

So, how do you keep yourself positive in a world that seems hell-bent on bringing you down? Well, with the right routine of positive thoughts you can ensure that you wake up every day feeling motivated and looking forward to everything life has to throw at you.

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Here are some tips so you can start thinking of positive thoughts every day.

1. Be Thankful You Woke up This Morning

Not to start on a morbid note, but you woke up this morning. Some people didn’t. Don’t think of it is as a depressing morality tale, just use it to remember that you’ve won the greatest gift life has to offer – you’re alive.

It’s so easy to dwell on the negative aspects of our lives, but we always seem to miss the most obvious positive thing we have – life itself. Take a deep breath, look outside your window, and marvel at the world around you.

2. You Don’t Have to Listen to Haters

There’s no doubt that some people are really mean-spirited individuals who will love to ruin your day. Well, I’m here to tell you they can’t. Not if you don’t let them.

Ignore the haters. Dismiss their bile for what it is – vicious comments of unfulfilled people. Remind yourself that you are above them and nothing they say will bring you down.

3. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

I know, I know. It’s easy to say, “Don’t compare yourself with anybody else.” But at the end of the day, we all have envious thoughts when we see somebody we perceive to be more successful than we are.

But think about it, are they really better than you and even if they are, does it even matter? By spending time being jealous you are wasting time on negative thoughts that could be spent pursuing something that makes you happy.

4. You Must Take a Chance

It’s easy to shy away from something that is high risk and high reward out of fear of being labeled a loser.

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Have you ever noticed that doing so actually makes you feel worse than if you’d just taken the risk in the first place? We know that rejection feels bad and failure can weigh heavily, but regret is a far stronger emotion over time.

Don’t hesitate if you have the chance. Go for it and tell yourself that if you fail, it’s no big deal. At least you tried.

Perhaps the perfect example of this approach is David Goggins. We all have a lot to learn from the inspirational David Goggins story and his priceless sayings.[1]

Goggins, considered by many to be ‘the toughest man alive’, is a retired Navy SEAL and the only person ever to complete SEAL training, the U.S. Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training. He’s also one of the world’s top endurance athletes and held the Guinness World Record for pull-ups, completing 4,030 in 17 hours.

He sounds like a ‘naturally gifted badass person’ right? But in his book, he reveals that he was actually ‘The weakest man in the world’, in his own words.

Overcoming obesity, poverty, racism, learning disabilities, abusive violent father, he came through the other side, inspiring people to embrace suffering and struggle, to find their greatness and inner peace. He took the slim chances he had and changed his life completely.

5. Accept That Things End

Even the best things in life end eventually, so don’t worry about them. Don’t fret about how the good times are about to stop, just enjoy them while they last. And when they do finally end, be happy in the knowledge that something else just as good will come along.

6. Don’t Judge Others

This ties in with point number 2 above – you won’t like it if others judge you so don’t judge them. We know it can be difficult to refrain from labeling other people, but doing so is a sure-fire way to start descending into a negative thought spiral.

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We all live in a world where passing judgment is tolerated, but not only is accepting people a great way to make others feel better, it’s also a fantastic way to foster positive thoughts within ourselves.

7. Don’t do Things for Others That Make You Unhappy

We all want to make other people happy, right? But what if the things that other people want us to do makes us unhappy?

If you’re doing something just for the satisfaction of others, don’t. Stop it right now. Your happiness and your time should never be sacrificed for the satisfaction of someone else. You won’t be able to think of positive thoughts every day if you are unhappy in the first place.

8. Don’t Like Your Job? Then Quit.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but nothing is more certain to drain your happiness levels quicker than a job that you hate. If you spend your evenings and days off dreading returning to the office, then start to do something about it.

We’re not talking about jeopardizing your livelihood by quitting (although the dramatic heading for this point certainly suggests so). What we mean is start to make plans and formulize an exit strategy. Nothing promotes positive thoughts more than a plan that removes something negative from your life.

Start simple by saving up funds to make the change and circulating your CV. The first step may seem difficult, but the sense of relief it gives will improve your thought patterns immeasurably.

It might be scary to start over at someplace new and going through a screening process that might be tedious, but once you understand that selling yourself can be easier than you think, you are halfway through.[2]

9. Take Control of Your Mornings

How you begin the day will set the tone for how the rest of it will go. Getting up in a panicked state is a very efficient way to kick start a negative emotional spiral. Get up bright and early, and give yourself time to prepare for the day.

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Though some of the mind-boggling thoughts you are having when waking up can be positive for you and even mean more than you imagine, it’s better to set up a fixed positive mental routine.

Think about the positive aspects of your life and tell yourself things like, “Today is going to be a good day” or “I’ll be amazing today.” Yeah, I know this sounds cheesy, but positive words instill positive thoughts.

10. Focus on the Good Things in Your Life No Matter How Small

You’re going to hit obstacles during the day. Things don’t generally run perfectly all the time. The trick is that when you encounter a challenge, don’t dwell on it and choose to focus on the positives you can find no matter how small they may seem.

If you get stuck in a traffic jam, don’t fret about how it is slowing you down. Take positivity in the fact that you have extra time to listen to the radio station you have been enjoying. If you head to your local store and it’s out of the ingredients you need for your dinner party, buy something else and create a different food masterpiece.

Focussing on good things is a great way to gain positive momentum in your life. The huge power of momentum is that even a series of very small things can accumulate to massive results – with the aid of momentum.

11. Look at the Funny Side

Even dark situations can have a humorous side if you look at them the right way. When in a dark or trying situation, remind yourself that what is happening to you will probably make a great story in the future and may even be passed on as a joke. Look for the funny side and laugh.

Final Thoughts

We all know that positive thoughts can be incredibly motivational but in modern life, it can be difficult to stay uplifted when the world around you seems determined to bring you down. By following some of the tips in our guide above, you could harness the power of positive thinking and find yourself starting every day motivated. So, start thinking of positive thoughts every day!

More Tips to Start Thinking of Positive Thoughts Every Day

Featured photo credit: Jacob Townsend via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Vision, Belief, Change: Best David Goggins Quotes
[2] Vision, Belief, Change: Is Selling Yourself Easier Than You Thought?

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