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8 steps to help with intrusive thoughts

Unwanted, intrusive thoughts are much more common than you might think. Most of us will experience them at some time.

Intrusive thoughts can range from silly or crazy to downright scary and worrying. Often they are fleeting and we recognise them as harmless and are able to let them go, but occasionally a thought can seem to hang around inside your head for days, weeks or even months. These are the “stuck thoughts” which I have written about previously.

Intrusive thoughts usually represent the exact opposite of our natural personality, which is what can make them so disturbing and upsetting - for instance, a gentle and peaceful person may find themselves having thoughts of extreme violence or anger. This can give rise to the belief that they may become their thoughts, and start to act on them, or that they are becoming mentally unstable.

Anxious overthinking takes hold, which gives rise to physical symptoms of distress and the creation of a whole new inner narrative as the imagination starts creating stories filled with disaster and despair - “I’m having a heart attack” - “I’m going to pass out” - “Everybody will see I cannot cope”.

Very often people keep these thoughts to themselves because they are too embarrassed to admit what is going on. They continue to struggle and suffer.

The natural impulse, of course, is to fight the thoughts - to try to stop them or change them - but that can be really counterproductive, because what we resist persists.

There's often a belief that intrusive thoughts are a lack of control over thoughts, but actually, the opposite is true - it’s a case of over-control, with the person experiencing them desperately trying to control their thoughts. 

What happens if I say to you, “Don’t think of a blue elephant”?

Exactly. You immediately think of a blue elephant.

You can’t control that response. You can only control what you do after that response. You can either let that blue elephant drift on down and out of your thought stream, knowing it's irrelevant to you, or you can fixate on it and try to figure out what that elephant means.

We cannot control the thoughts that pop into our head automatically. But that doesn’t mean we have to pay any attention to them, or give them meaning. Not all thoughts are messages. Most of them are junk.

The only way to free yourself of intrusive thoughts is to reduce the amount of attention you give them - treat them as absolutely insignificant and of no interest or importance to you.

Here are some steps to take if you experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts:

  1. Begin to build an awarenesss of your thoughts so that you can recognise and acknowledge when a thought is intrusive and unwanted.

  2. Tell yourself “This thought is of no use to me.”

  3. Stop resisting it or pushing the thought away. Tell yourself “This thought will pass”

  4. Adjust your body language - pull yourself up straight, adopt an open body posture, tilt your chin upwards slightly and smile.

  5. Breathe. Extend your exhale to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.

  6. Tell yourself’ “It’s safe to let go of this thought”

  7. Notice how your body starts to settle once you give it permission to do so, and the thought drifts away.

  8. Congratulate yourself and carry on with what you were doing.

The thought may return later on, but if you apply these steps consistently you will find it becomes easier and faster each time to change the response within you. It does require conscious effort on your part to put this into practise. Nobody else can do this for you, but hypnotherapy can assist you in the process by teaching you how to tap into all your inner strengths and resources.


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