Much has been said about positive and negative thinking but let’s focus on less talked about term in psychology called ‘the unwanted intrusive thinking’ that has unknowingly become a part of our thought process and is really toxic for our mental health.
Have you ever experienced yourself focussing on a present situation/work and found that you are in an imaginary world to an extent that this has become a part of your life.
Intrusive Thinking: An intrusive thought is a repetitive, unwelcomed involuntary thought, image or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession and is distressing. These thoughts are so struck in the mind that they are almost difficult to eliminate.
For example, if you have intrusive thoughts about your husband’s safety, you might keep calling him and asking him until he reaches his destination safely.
Intrusive thoughts are problematic as they lead people to psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, mood issues, obsessive compulsive disorder etc. The content of the intrusive thoughts differ from individual to individual. However, they mainly focus on sexual, violent or socially unacceptable images. Apart from this they also consists of repetitive doubts about relationships, decisions small and large, sexual orientation or identity, intrusive thoughts about safety, religion, death or worry about questions that cannot be answered with certainty. A person having an intrusive thought of harming others, might imagine himself harming his significant other. This might as well create problem in their marriage as he would avoid his wife most of the time.
Common problem with intrusive thoughts is that they produce a lot of worry ultimately provoking anxiety in the person. The anxiety is produced to an extent that he would want to eliminate these thoughts as soon as possible but rather than getting rid of these thoughts he would struggle against them, try to reason them away and finally reinforce these thoughts by getting entangled in them.
Elimination of these thoughts from the brain can be a difficult affair for many, but these self-help techniques can help you to a great extent.
Why not accept these thoughts: It is important that you accept these thoughts .You are aware of the thought but it is equally important to be aware that these thoughts are not real, knowing that the thoughts produced are not real might refrain you from reacting towards them.
Thoughts don’t describe who you are: If you are aware that these thoughts do not describe who you are as a person, they are likely to produce less anxiety.
For example: as quoted above, a person who has intrusive thoughts about killing his significant other might end up feeling guilty. Thus, he might feel anxious and may have serious self doubts.
Avoid any emotional reaction: Most of the times people end up reacting to these thoughts. If you have intrusive thoughts about your son failing in his exam, you might feel frustrated towards him or worry too much about his studies. If you allow the thoughts to enter your mind and your feelings are not affected, the thoughts start to lose their power.
Do not change your behaviour: Sometimes, you might change your behaviour in order to prevent yourself from causing some sort of harm in relation to your thoughts.
For example: if you have intrusive thoughts regarding escalators, you might avoid their use in malls or hotels and doing this will again give more power to the thoughts.
Avoid reassurance: Reassurance from others might help you suppress the negative feelings but only for short term, however the thought will stay alive. Thus, every time you are triggered by the thought, you will look for reassurance and end up reinforcing the reassurance behaviour.
Avoid distractions: Yes! avoid distractions. Every time you have an intrusive thought, you might try distracting it. Distractions should be avoided as the distracting event can become a cue for the intrusive thoughts. You might switch to good music in order to distract yourselves not realising that the same music can act as a cue for the same thought that we were trying to avoid.
Though we cannot tell why these thoughts pop into our heads but some psychologists have theories. Psychologist Lynn Somersterin (2016), suggests that perhaps recurring or frequent intrusive thoughts are a sign that there is something difficult or something going wrong in a person’s life. Perhaps they are struggling with relationship problems, stress at work or frustration with parenting and instead the problem staying politely buried, it finds other ways to work its way upto the surface.
It is important that you slow down the tempo of your lives a bit, where you find time to connect to yourself and your restless souls are at peace. Find time to do something that helps you relax. You can practice relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation. Indulge yourself in regular exercise or physical activity as it relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better and boosts overall mood.
Remember, if intrusive thoughts are frequent than the normal, visit a psychologist.