Friday, February 10, 2017

What to do with Intrusive Thoughts


Annnnnnd it's Friday again!  The weekend is just about upon us and I couldn't be happier to see it!  Lots of fun planned for my family, including a birthday party, Valentine's date night (ooh la la!) and a celebratory girls night dinner in honor of one of my Bestie's birthdays (Happy birthday, Christine!!). And let's be real:  I'm also celebrating because it means 2/3 dinners this weekend will be neither cooked nor cleaned up by me! HOLLA!

Before we officially get to the weekend, I wanted to touch base about our thought life.  How's it going, Besties?  I'm asking because there is a common misconception that people who struggle with intrusive thoughts have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  The reality is, while OCD is a serious problem for a lot of people, everyone struggles with thoughts they wish they weren't having sometimes.  Whether you feel inundated with guilt over things you can't control, anxiety about things that may or may not happen in the future, or unexplained sadness when a disturbing "what if" scenario suddenly springs to mind, we have all been there at some point or another.

What separates a normal amount of intrusive thoughts from something worthy of a clinical diagnosis is what you do with those thoughts when they happen.  A person with OCD or another type of anxiety disorder will typically be run away with these thoughts, making their present task extremely difficult or downright impossible.  So let's spend some time chatting about coping skills, shall we?

There is so much to share about these unwanted thoughts, but for today's post I will stick to the basics.

Feelings are not facts.  This is Psych 101.  Any good therapist will discuss this with a client who struggles with intrusive thoughts.  What we feel is POWERFUL.  When we have an emotion, we often feel it physically as well.  Our bodies have a physiological reaction to stress, anxiety, sadness, and excitement.  When our mind feels something, our bodies do too.  That makes the feeling very difficult to dismiss.  However, with practice, we can notice when we are having uncomfortable thoughts (perhaps when you sense your body is beginning to react) and say to ourselves "feelings are not facts" or "Just because I feel this, doesn't mean it's true."  If you can, try to think of a time when you felt the same way and your thought was not true.  Don't berate yourself; simply notice and remind yourself gently of the truth.

Try to understand your intrusive thoughts.  Intrusive thoughts have a greater chance of taking over if we don't understand how or why they are happening.  When we have a better understanding of underlying triggers that can cause unwanted thoughts and feelings, we are better equipped to cope effectively and reduce the chances of them recurring.  I use a tool called a thought record with almost all of my clients, and I have used them in my own life as well.  A thought record brings greater awareness to your experiences, moods, and thoughts, thus enabling you to process your intrusive thoughts and in turn, take away a lot of their power.   You can find a printable thought record here to give it a try.  

Return to the current moment.  Besties, this is a big one.  This takes practice and hard work.  BUT I promise the more you practice this, the easier it will become.  AND, the more peace you will experience.  I can tell you from personal and professional experience, the more you practice mindfulness, the more you will feel relaxed and in control of your thought life.  It's glorious.  So how do we return to the current moment?  Simply notice when we are not there (i.e. when our intrusive thoughts are present), and say something to yourself such as "Right now I am ____________."  Whatever you are doing in that moment.  For example, unwanted thoughts may occur when you're driving.  When you notice this, you say "Right now I am driving."  And then re-focus on just driving.  You can do this as often as you need to until your mind turns away from those intrusive thoughts.  

I hope you find these suggestions helpful.  Remember, everyone has had unwanted thoughts at some point or another.  If you or a loved one is truly feeling overwhelmed by obsessions, compulsions, or anxiety, please do email me for some additional help.  Life is too short to live without peace of mind!  

Have a beautiful and peaceful weekend, my Besties!  Don't forget your self care! :)



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