Struggling with Intrusive Thoughts? – 5 Tips to Manage the Unwanted Trespassers

Digitally created colourful painting of a cartoon character screaming with his hands in the air. - intrusive thoughts

Don’t you just hate it when intrusive thoughts barge in?

It can be hard to stay focused when you have that meddlesome thinking nagging at you. Plus, that constant train of intrusive thought can lead to reduced productivity and increased stress.

However, there it is possible to control your runaway thinking and beat those intrusive thoughts.

Here are our 5 top tips for beating intrusive thoughts.

Tip #1: Use reminders, Music, and Fidgets to Stay on Track

Whether you are at home, school or work, intrusive thinking will make it harder for you to stay on task. That’s why it can help to have reminders that will keep you grounded and on track. 

For example:

  • Hanging a reassuring note or poster in your office
  • Checking your calendar for any due assignments or work deadlines
  • Make a list of the things that worry you, so you know nothing is forgotten
  • Using an object to fidget with (a pen, coin, etc.)
  • Playing music in the background or through headphones while you work

These tricks can really help when you notice that intrusive thinking is developing and you need a way out. Lists are particularly helpful at the and of the day, or the working week if you tend to stress over things not done. They are pretty good as checklists that you know for sure that you have missed nothing, too.

Tip #2: Exercise regularly

Working out and getting regular exercise will definitely help if you have intrusive thinking. Why?

Firstly, when you are exercising, you get into a “zone” where you become more focused. When you’re in that “zone,” your attention is strictly on what is happening in that very moment, leaving little room for those pesky thoughts.

Secondly, research has shown that exercise is a highly effective way to improve your mood with long-term effects. Both the physical and emotional benefits of the exercise remain long after your workout is over.

Fortunately, there are many simple ways that you can incorporate exercise into your day.

For example:

  • Scheduling regular exercise classes
  • Walk and bike as often as possible
  • Take frequent breaks where you get up and move around for a few minutes
  • Engaging in physical activity on the weekends, rather than being more sedentary

Tip #3: Fight Back with Your Motto!

Frequently intrusive thoughts will say things such as, “You can’t do it,” or, “Don’t bother trying.” To fight back, you can create your own motto. It can even be as simple as, “I can handle it.”

Be creative! Try to make it personal and meaningful for yourself, not just a catchphrase you pick up.

Why is this helpful? Because giving yourself a friendly reminder can help to ground you back in the present, as opposed to being caught up and carried away by the tide of intrusive thoughts.

Tip #4: Practise Mindfulness

There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness and what it can do. Mindfulness activities such as breathing and meditation can work wonders to get rid of intrusive thoughts.

For example, meditation often requires focusing on your breathing. If you have a thought, whatever it is, you can let it go and return to the breath.

You might find this hard to do at first. But, over time, you can create a practice that you can use at any time of day.

One activity I often recommend to clients is a 5-breath meditation. Take five slow deep breaths, counting to five on the in-breath and seven on the out-breath. As you do, observe the sensation of the breath in your body; the rise and fall of your chest. It only takes one minute to do this, but that minute can pay dividends that last a lot longer.

It’s also helpful to create a space in your home that is conducive to practising meditation and developing your mindfulness skills. It doesn’t have to be a special room, just a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and can choose to practice mindful meditation.

Tip #5: Designate a time to let the thoughts flow

It might seem like a radical idea, but designating a time and place when you let your thoughts flow. It works because, in general, it can take a lot of effort to keep your thinking in control. It might help if you created moments when you can let the gates loose.

For instance, you could do this while at your meditation spot, or during therapy, if you have counselling. The advantage with the latter is that you will have the support of a trained professional therapist. A therapist understands how disruptive and disturbing intrusive thoughts can be and will work with you to find solutions that work for you.

Intrusive thoughts can really sabotage your day. Yet, they don’t have to. By practising the above tips and seeking out help, you can ensure that intrusive thinking doesn’t derail you. Over time, you will feel more in control and empowered to do the things you want to do.

If you would like help managing your intrusive thoughts, please call us on 0151 329 3637 or email enquiries@counselling-matters.org.uk. We would love to hear from you.

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