How to Tame Intrusive Thoughts

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

Do you sometimes feel like your thoughts are beyond your control, and some of them make you uncomfortable? Do you obsess about a bad day at work? Do you constantly worry if your child is going to me ok? Every time you try to relax is it cut short because every other thought you have ever had enters your mind? If so, you can relax. Intrusive thoughts are very common and usually harmless.

First off, what exactly are intrusive thoughts? They are thoughts that invade your mind and linger there. Intrusive thoughts pop into your mind at any time and usually when you do not want them to. Some intrusive thoughts are negative self-talk and irrational thoughts. One study reported by Psychology Today asked volunteers to talk about what goes through their minds. They found that the average participant had about 500 unintentional thoughts each day, and about 30% were socially unacceptable or downright shocking.

For the purposes of this blog, we are going to concentrate on intrusive thoughts that deal with negative self-talk and irrational thoughts. Negative self-talk is any inner dialogue you have with yourself that limits yourself in believing in yourself. You doubt your own abilities, and your ability to reach your potential. Negative self-talk diminishes your ability to make positive changes in your life and/or your confidence in yourself to make said changes. Irrational beliefs unchanging and false personal beliefs that are resistant to change even though there is evidence that disagrees with it. These beliefs are obsessive and cause emotional distress. The delusional belief is something especially important for those who hold them.

You can learn to feel more at ease even when your mind takes a little dark turn. Discover how meditation and other self-help techniques can tame intrusive thoughts.

Mindful Meditating to Tame Intrusive Thoughts:

  1. Let go of self-judgement. The mind has an ability to generate judgments that are powerful. It works off old neural learning that must be rewritten repeatedly before new thoughts can be learned. A more wholesome thought processes can become habitual. With more wholesome thought patterns as a replacement, your self-judgment becomes less overwhelming. It is easier move forward and have self-confidence.

  2. Focus on your breath. Paying attention to your breath keeps you in the present moment. You learn to distinguish between you and your passing thoughts. You can sit comfortably while you breathe naturally and concentrate on the way your breath feels. There is no right or wrong with mindful breathing. Think of one cycle being one inhale and one exhale and perform ten cycles. Let your breathing bring a sense of being in the moment and calmness.

  3. Slow down. Most intrusive thoughts last 14 seconds or less. Patiently waiting them out may make them pass even quicker. The first step toward slowing down and becoming more mindful is noticing that you are rushing. When we don’t make a point to slow things down and make time for stillness and relaxation, we become less effective at managing stress. The more stressed we are, the more intrusive thoughts we have.

Other DIY Methods for Taming Intrusive Thoughts:

  1. Avoid suppression. Trying to avoid intrusive thoughts usually backfires. It’s like the famous Harvard experiment that asked subjects to stop thinking about polar bears and wound up making it difficult to think about anything else. There is an emotional connection and the next time you feel whatever emotion that's connected with the thought you were trying to push aside; you are more likely to experience the unwanted thought. In the long run, it could worsen your mood.

  2. Change your expectations. Dreading unwelcome thoughts also reinforces them. Try to view them as a routine part of daily life. Intrusive thoughts happen to everyone, so know you are not alone. It’s ok if they happen. So let the thoughts happen and move on.

  3. Change the script. If you tend to replay unpleasant events, give yourself something more pleasant and productive to think about. In your new story you are the hero instead of the victim. Life is everything you had ever hoped it would have been in more. You have conquered the world!

  4. Stay on task. Do you avoid certain activities because they trigger thoughts you find it difficult to manage? You may be able to free yourself from such limitations by planning more constructive approaches. Develop more compassion for someone you disagree with instead of shutting them out.

  5. Try to disengage. Depending on your personality and preferences, you may want to minimize your involvement with involuntary thoughts. Consider them irrelevant and carry on with what you’re doing.

  6. Think it through. On the other hand, you may feel more relief when you face things head on. Write your thoughts down or talk them over with someone you trust if you find that helpful and not distressing.

  7. Rest and relax. It’s natural for your mind to wander, but you may feel like it’s getting too much exercise. In addition to meditation, use relaxation methods like listening to soft music and taking a long walk. Talk down meditations are a great way to focus on meditating and getting out of your own head.

Professional Treatment for Intrusive Thoughts:

  1. Talk with a therapist. Cognitive behavior and other talk therapies can be highly effective for dealing with intrusive thoughts. Ask your doctor for a referral or contact your health insurance company for the name of a reputable counselor. Some workplaces have programs set up with a referral service. You can try a counselor for free for one or two sessions.

Intrusive thoughts will probably continue to pop into your head, but you can live more comfortably with them through meditation and other simple techniques. If you need more help, talk with your doctor to find the treatment and relief you need. You are the master of your own destiny with or without health issues. Don’t let intrusive self-doubt limit your potential or ability to heal.

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