Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts: 3 Helpful Strategies

Obsessive Compulsive Thoughts Wordmap

You wake up in the morning groggy from the night before.

It was so hard to fall asleep with those intrusive thoughts bouncing around in your brain.

Now, though, as you rub the sleep from your eyes you can sense their return. And they usually stay right there in your mind throughout the day.

Sometimes they may take a back seat, but they are still present up until you fall asleep again.

Intrusive thoughts drain not just your brainpower, but also your emotional energy. 

How can you combat them and find more peace?

Three Helpful Strategies for Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts

Consider the following three strategies for dealing with intrusive thoughts.

1. Let go to find control

When it comes to intrusive thinking, it is tempting to push back those thoughts with something else. Remember the amusement park game where you have to hit a mole coming out of a hole? Most times you miss, and the mole disappears, only to return a second later somewhere else.

It’s much the same with intrusive thoughts. If you push them down, they will only return later. Obviously, then, this method isn’t a real solution for finding control in your life because it just doesn’t work.

Try an experiment with me for a moment.

  • Close your eyes (if you are comfortable to), and spend 20-seconds thinking of a white bear: a polar bear. Please give it a go now.

Not too hard, eh? Most people find they can do that without too much difficulty. 

  • Okay, now I want you to spend 20-seconds thinking of anything you want, except a blue bear: 20-seconds, but no blue bears. Please give it a go, and remember, no blue bears.

How was that? Most people find that a lot harder, even though they rarely think of blue bears in day-to-day life. Why? Because of the way our brains work. The more we try not to think about something, the more we think about it. 

So, instead of pushing the intrusive thoughts away, accept that you do have them. I know it’s scary to accept them because you’re afraid of them. You might be worried they will overcome you, or that you will succumb to them. But, in practice, that doesn’t happen. Remember that, however intrusive and real they might seem, they are only thoughts, not reality. The thoughts themselves cannot harm you.

2. Consider what triggers your intrusive thinking

Next, consider what triggers your intrusive thoughts. Is it a sight, smell, or sound? Do your intrusive thoughts arise because of a particular stressor. Or are they just always there?

They may occur more often during peak periods of stress and anxiety and fall into the background when you’re less stressed. The important part is that you learn to understand how your personal thinking works. Only then can you find a resolution to the problem.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Know thy enemy?” In this case, the enemy is your intrusive thinking. If you identify what triggers it, you can take steps to minimise your exposure to triggers.

3. Change your perspective and your thinking

It’s important to note it is not the intrusive thought itself that causes you distress (see above). Rather, it is the emotional reaction that you have to that intrusive thought that creates your stress and anxiety.

If you can shift your perspective on your thinking, you can begin to reduce its impact on your life.

For example, try this out:

  • Identify the thought, then try to acknowledge and move past it instead of becoming hyper-focused on it.
  • Use humour. Give the thought a silly name, associate it with a humorous image or make a joke out of it.
  • Recognise that your thoughts can’t hurt you; they are just thoughts. When you begin to feel stressed practice breathing exercises to calm down.

But What Should I Do If I Still Have Intrusive Thoughts?

If you are still bothered by intrusive thoughts, then it is time to see a therapist. Therapy can guide you through the process of letting go, recognising triggers, and shifting your perspective.

However, instead of doing this on your own, therapy gives you the support of a professional. A therapist will be able to provide structure and guidance as you navigate through this process. That way, you can find a real resolution to your intrusive thinking.

Be aware, though, relief doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it takes time to stop your intrusive thoughts.

Intrusive thinking doesn’t have to be a drain on your life. Instead of having those thoughts bouncing around in your head uncontrolled, you can learn how to separate them from the emotions they cause and understanding how both of them work to sabotage your life.

And as you begin to understand your thinking, you will find that you have more control. 

With greater control comes an increased awareness of your thought process and what to do when you sense things are getting out of hand.

Getting further help

Many people with intrusive thoughts are anxious about seeking help. Many people worry that a counsellor might see them as weird, or judge them for their thoughts. However, we have worked with many clients with similar issues, and we know that the thoughts don’t define you. They are just thoughts, and you would never act them out.

If you would like to speak with someone about your intrusive thoughts and how we might be able to help, please call us today on 0151 329 3637 or complete our online referral form and we will contact you. You have lived with the thoughts long enough. Call today.


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