How To Deal Effectively With Obsessive Thoughts
Imagine just sitting in a fancy coffee shop spending a nice and chilled out afternoon with your friends. The conversation is comfortable, effortless and smooth. No one is talking about their problems with their boss at work, analyzing the flaws of their significant other or backstabbing their new, noisy neighbors. Everyone’s relaxed, laughing and just having a great time. The moment is perfect. You wouldn’t change a thing about it. You’re just indulging in the sweetness of doing nothing slowly and mindfully sipping your delicious creamy cappuccino and eating your favorite double chocolate chip muffin… Because it’s all about these little things that make life great.
So you’re just chilling with your friends trying to figure out where should you eat your lunch and then boom! Your brain switched mode from “keep calm and relax” to “unwanted intrusive thoughts”. Obsessive thoughts just pop up in your head triggering an anxiety attack and you just can’t understand what happened. Only moments ago, you were so calm, relaxed and totally unaware of what would happen next… And now you find yourself unable to understand the situation you found yourself in. And here’s the thing: the fact that you don’t understand the situation you’re in it’s not your fault. Your state of being at this particular moment is the result of subconscious processes that constantly operate in your brain and you have absolutely no control over it. But don’t panic because there is still something you have full control over and it’s your action! No matter no irrelevant, ridiculous, surreal or bizarre you still have full control over your own actions. In other words, you can choose whether to be angry or calm, disoriented or focused, terrified or curious and the list goes on. So, here is what you should do if you are becoming bombarded with intrusive thoughts: You should accept responsibility for your actions. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “That’s easy to say when you have magic wings and a wand.” But that is actually not the case. Because “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” And the moment you realize that will be the moment of total transformation of mind, body, and spirit. Going through your life after realizing that you are an observer makes the whole experience more authentic and fascinating. That’s why every kind of activity will produce some sort of positive effect if you add to it two important ingredients: dedication and sincerity. So, next time when intrusive thought will pop up in your head be an observer. Adopt an observer’s perspective and instead of identifying with these unwanted, intrusive thoughts challenge them. Look at this natural phenomenon from a different perspective. Be mindful, humble and calm and see what will happen.
The Observer’s Perspective
So let’s look at this phenomenon of obsessive thoughts. First of all, according to experts, the average person has up to 50.000 thoughts daily. If most of them are positive well, you’re a lucky one because normally the negative ones can get up to 70% in not more.
Second, it’s a natural phenomenon and as such it occurs without any human input. So if you think that you’re the only one experiencing unwanted, intrusive thoughts and that’s your fault you’re wrong. We all have intrusive thoughts that we struggle to get rid of. But the problem begins when you start to blame or criticize yourself for having them. Of course, it would be much easier if we had only positive thoughts but we all know that’s nothing more than an empty dream. Because the truth is that you can’t control the random thoughts pop into your head. They just happen out of the blue. Which basically means that you can’t prevent it. But don’t worry because there is still a lot you can do about it. It’s true that you have no control over your thoughts but at the same time, you have full control over your action. It depends only on you how you decide to respond to these thoughts. From this perspective, we can safely say that these thoughts are like emotions. They are a natural phenomenon that occurs without your input, permission or conscious choice.
Finally, having intrusive thoughts can be an unpleasant and even terrifying experience. But still, they are only thoughts, not facts. Unless you are able to find any evidence for believing in what they are telling you. If not, stop ruminating or identifying with them because it will make you, even more, upset, anxious and frustrated. Instead, be an observer.
Obsessive Thinking In Simple Questions:
We are talking about random intrusive thoughts, not about the thoughts of harming yourself or others. Because if that’s the case the best thing to do will be to find a good therapist and talk this through a therapy session. But if you’re dealing with random intrusive thoughts that are just pop up in your head and you just don’t know where they come from and what to do to get rid of them I may have something important and useful to tell you. Besides, I could have at least a bachelor’s degree in this field considering how many times I conducted a self-experiment to understand this whole phenomenon of intrusive thoughts…
Anyway, let’s get serious. A little “Intrusive Thoughts” Q&A:
What are obsessive thoughts?
First, Intrusive thoughts are those negative, unwanted, obsessive kind of thoughts that seem to pop up randomly. And just like any other thoughts, they are natural phenomena that occur without our input. They just happen. Everyone has them. So if you think that you’re having them because there is something wrong with you it’s not true. Let’s face it. You’re not welcoming intrusive, negative thinking to ruin your day. Furthermore, I can bet that most of the times you can’t even figure out why they happen. There were no stressors or anxiety triggers and even though some embarrassing, bizarre, disgusting, irrelevant and unwanted thought just came out of the blue. And that’s completely normal.
Second, Intrusive Thinking is called “intrusive” because it comes without our permission. It just happens. But what is even more important is that an obsessive thought just like any thought, in general, comes and goes. It doesn’t last forever.
Third, it’s important to realize that thoughts don’t equal reality. Otherwise, you could think of something and it would turn immediately into a reality. But we all know that it’s not how the universe works. Otherwise, we would all be permanently happy, incredibly healthy and of course wealthy…
Finally, you need to realize that “thought-stopping” aka thought suppression doesn’t really work. Otherwise, you could tell yourself to just stop thinking about something and your obsessive and disturbing thoughts would just magically disappear. But as we all know it never happens. Furthermore, the more you suppress the thoughts the worse they become. So instead of trying to suppress intrusive thoughts and getting stuck inside a ruminating thought cycle accept them as a natural phenomenon. Accept the fact that thoughts just like emotions come and go naturally. So regardless of how disturbing an intrusive thought is it won’t last forever.
Why do intrusive thoughts happen?
Our brain is like a complex computing machine that receives and process external stimuli then start thinking and generates thoughts and ideas. We may not be aware of this but there is always some kind of external impulse that results in the creation of thought. So even if you think that some thoughts come out of nothingness you’re actually wrong. There is always something that triggers the whole thinking process. Furthermore, this applies to all types of thoughts. In other words, it doesn’t matter if we talk about positive, negative, neutral or obsessive thoughts they are all triggered by external energy. That does not mean, however, that every thought that pops up in your head is true, logical or relevant. Otherwise, thoughts would equal reality. And we all know that it’s not the case. Besides we are not aware of the subconscious mind that loves so much playing tricks on us.
Having said that, it is safe to say that thoughts are a natural phenomenon that occurs without human input. We can control only our intentional thoughts and all the rest that randomly pop up in the head we just need to accept as a natural process.
When do intrusive thoughts happen?
Well, intrusive thoughts pop up in your head when they’re least expected. They like an intruder that sneak up on you and disturb your peace of mind. And like any other intruder don’t ask for your permission or consent. It’s a mental game between your conscious reasoning and unconscious brain mechanism. It’s a tricky game with no rules. Have fun!
But seriously, intrusive thoughts, by definition are like an unexpected intruder. They sneak up on you in order to deliberately destroy my peace of mind. By nature, they are intrusive, disturbing and sometimes even violent. But you need to remember that you are stronger. You are the captain of your own ship and some kind of meaningless and ridiculous intrusive thought cannot just show up out of the blue and shamelessly threaten our piece of mind. So how can you effectively manage the situation when you feel bombarded and tortured by obsessive thoughts? The best way, in my opinion, is to take responsibility for your action which means not to react emotionally to these intrusive thoughts and implement a realistic action plan in order to prevent damage. At least this is what I am doing when intrusive thoughts trying to make me insane…
Falling Down The Rabbit Hole
Don’t go down to the rabbit hole of overanalyzing an intrusive thought when it pops up in your head because it only creates a vicious cycle of looking for evidence of relevance and accuracy of some random notification that just showed up out of the blue. And as we all know, most of these intrusive thoughts don’t make any sense. If you don’t believe me next time when some obsessive thought appears in your mind challenge it. Be an observer and ask yourself if this thought is relevant or accurate? Is there any evidence of this thought being the truth? I bet the answer is no.
So as you can see, it’s not the intrusive thoughts that cause you distress but how you think about these thoughts.
What NOT to do when you are dealing with intrusive thoughts:
1. Don’t IDENTIFY with your thoughts
Thoughts are NOT Facts
If you don’t believe me just challenge these intrusive thoughts that popped up in your head and try to find any and I mean ANY evidence of them being true, accurate or relevant.
2. Avoid RUMINATING
It’s not the intrusive thoughts in themselves that causes you distress. It’s this whole thought process that is being triggered immediately. And to avoid falling into the rabbit hole you shouldn’t go through this thought process. Getting stuck in ruminating can be avoided but only if you chose mindfully the way you want to deal with all these intrusive thoughts that are disturbing you.
3. Avoid SUPRESSING
If you ever tried to force yourself not to think about something you were thinking at that moment you know that it only makes things worse. Suppressing thoughts just like suppressing emotions produces the opposite effect. If you have ever tried to do that you know exactly what I am talking about. Whether we like it or not, suppression just does not work.
4. Challenge your NEGATIVE SELF-TALK
Don’t punish yourself for having these intrusive, obsessive thoughts. Bad thoughts don’t make you a bad person just like good thoughts don’t make you automatically an altruist. It’s the action that counts, not words or thoughts.
Sometimes we all have embarrassing, disgusting, disturbing or even violent thoughts and it still doesn’t make us bad people. Why? Because thoughts don’t equal facts. That’s why thoughts don’t make you a good or bad person. They are just more or less accurate notifications that appear in your mind. What really counts is these thoughts affect your behavior. A particular thought itself is only a piece of information. It’s up to you how you choose to interpret it.
Simple Ways to Overcome Obsessive Thinking
Simple Ways to Overcome Obsessive Thinking
Journaling is probably the most underrated way to deal with intrusive thoughts. It not only helps you to address issues and reduce anxiety but above all it clarifies your mind. And the best part? It’s so simple. You think you’re too busy to journal? You’re wrong. These Apps will make journaling an easy and effective way to deal with this unwanted plotline that randomly pops up in your head:
- Day One Journal (Mac, iOS, Android)
- Momento (iOS)
- Journey (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Chrome OS, Web)
- Moodnotes (iOS)
- Grid Diary (iOS)
- Daylio (iOS, Android, Amazon.com)
- Penzu (Web, iOS, Android)
- Five Minute Journal (iOS, Android)
- Diarium (Windows, Android)
- Daybook (iOS, Android)
- Daylio (iOS, Android)
- Diaro (iOS, Android, Amazon.com)
- Diary Book (Android)
- Five Minute Journal (iOS, Android)
- Journey (Android)
- Lucy (Android)
- Offline Diary (Android)
- Secret Diary (Android)
- Universum (Android)
- Glimpses (Windows)
Write A Letter To Yourself – write your intrusive thoughts down and burn it or throw it in the garbage bin!
If some random, unwanted, intrusive thought just popped up in your head and doesn’t live you alone challenge it. Investigate if there is any evidence of this thought to be true. Do the reality check and ask yourself if this particular thought is a relevant and accurate piece of information or just a random and completely irrational plotline? Can you find any evidence of this thought to be true? Does it make any sense at all? And what if you turn this thought around? For example, an intrusive thought that tells you: “My life is meaningless” appeared out of the blue in your head. Now, you have a choice. You can go through all of this thought process, ruminate and become even more frustrated or you can challenge this thought and rewrites this definitely false statement as the opposite. So instead of identifying with this intrusive thought try to find the things in your life that you are grateful for and tell yourself: “My life is valuable and I am grateful for all I have”. It may sound strange at the begins especially because as human beings, we have a tendency to focus more on negatives instead of looking at the positives in our daily life. But if you try to do the turnaround of unwanted intrusive though you will notice that thoughts don’t control you. You just have to stop taking them so seriously.
I find distraction an incredibly effective way to deal with unwanted thoughts and difficult emotions which usually if not always come along. I mean. Given the nature of thoughts that are nothing more than passing bits and pieces of information sometimes redirecting your focus on some other thing can resolve the problem. When I feel hunted by obsessive thoughts which lately happens a lot to me I call my friends, start listening to the music or watching Netflix and it helps. Because it not only redirect my focus on something pleasurable but also because it automatically lowers my stress level. It’s like shifting naturally into a different dimension to wait out the storm in a calm place and the come back to the reality when everything settles down.
Intrusive thoughts can be very disturbing, problematic or even violent. Furthermore, they can easily affect your behavior and ruin completely your well-being. But only if you let them to. So instead of believing what these unwanted, random and obsessive thoughts are telling you, try to embrace the chaos caused by them and work on damage control through mindfulness. In other words, if your mind runs in unintended directions and unwanted thoughts start bombarding you do a mindful meditation. Focus on your breath and observe your external personal space. Focus on here and now and observe how intrusive thoughts just float away…
Thoughts just like emotions don’t last forever. They come and go if you don’t try to combat or suppress them. Furthermore, most of them are nothing more than bits and pieces of information that don’t make any sense. That’s why it is so important to practice non-attachment. Accept what comes and allow it to leave when it’s time. Stop struggling. Focus on being a witness and observe your thoughts without identifying with them. Once you learn to observe your thoughts without judgment detachment will happen automatically. Be patient because over time as you practice non-attachment, your thoughts will slow down. But remember that detaching yourself from your thoughts require understanding two essential things:
- Thoughts don’t equal Facts
- You are NOT your thoughts
The moment you understand this, separating from your thought will become natural. And in consequence unwanted intrusive thoughts will stop hunting you. So next time when an obsessive thought appears in your mind instead of ruminating practice awareness. Separate yourself from your thoughts and observe them without judging them. Accept them and let them go.
6.Get The Outsider’s Perspective
Sometimes when your mind runs in unintended directions and unwanted thoughts start bombarding you getting an outsider’s perspective is the best way to break the vicious cycle. So if you feel like obsessive thoughts are taking control over you talk to someone. Ask a trusted person to give you a reality check instead of going through your thought process. I know how easy getting stuck in a negative pattern of replaying the same unwanted obsessive thought can be. But usually, the solution is very simple, you just need to be mindful. When your mind starts to play tricks on you separate yourself from your thoughts. Don’t identify with them. Talk to someone or even say this particular intrusive thought out loud and ask yourself if it makes any sense. If not, you can let it go. Let the intrusive thoughts go and go back to whatever you were doing before.