How do I stop having intrusive thoughts?
There are several options open to you if you want to stop intrusive thoughts. This page will discuss treatments and options available to help you overcome them. If you are looking for more informational content, please see the following.
Options available to you to help you stop intrusive thoughts.
You can follow what is called a stepped care approach.
Start with self-help.
I have an online course based on my work with clients in my private practice you are free to have a look at.
Regardless of whether you want to start with my course, self-help may be enough for many people and a more cost-effective option than individual therapy. If you cannot work on your own, or self-help did not work for you, then face-to-face therapy is your next option.
I would recommend working with a psychologist rather than having general counselling, as their training may be more suitable for your needs. You can arrange either face-to-face meetings or online therapy.
Important. If you have intrusive thoughts, there will be things you do best addressed by specific therapy models, which I shall explain to you now.
The most critical steps to stop intrusive thoughts
Step 1. Dedicating time to the thought
If you analyse your thoughts, wondering why you have them, what it says about you as a person, there are models of therapy that will help you stop doing this.
Why do you need to stop doing this?
Thoughts need the energy to survive. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy works well for this as it teaches you to label the thought and move on.
You can do this right now, although it takes practice. Next time you have an intrusive thought, rather than dedicating time to it, label it as just as thought and move your attention away from it. Try it now.
Decide on your label. You can use a label such as.
- there’s an intrusive thought
- its just a thought
Don’t push the thought away; this does not work. The more you tell yourself to stop thinking about something, the more likely you will think about it. Try this for yourself. Don’t think about your favourite food for one minute. This might be desserts, pie, steak, whatever it is, do not think about it.
Did you notice an increase in saliva? If you did, not only did you think about the thought, but you changed your physiology, as your body is now preparing for food!
Keep labelling; there’s a thought, and move on.
Step 2. How to learn to accept your thoughts
I use mindfulness and acceptance, and commitment therapy strategies to help you accept your thought process. You have come across this phrase before, ‘accept your thoughts’, so I shall take a second and explain why this is helpful.
Why is this important?
At the moment, if you are suffering, you cannot accept intrusive thoughts as ‘just a thought.’ You react to them as real or worried that you might act on the thoughts and cause some harm either to yourself or someone else. You have developed several ways to cope with your thoughts, including avoiding things or avoiding your thoughts.
Learning to accept your thoughts helps to stop the thought-action fusion.
This is where you believe that thinking about something makes it more likely to happen.
Once you have been taught to accept them, the thoughts shall no longer mean anything to you with practice. The reason they keep popping into your mind at the moment is that you shine a spotlight on them, trying to figure out what they mean, trying to avoid them and adopting various tactics to make sure you do not harm. Your brain has decided, ‘this is something we need to pay serious attention to.’ Learning to label them and move on helps to stop this.
Step 3 Stop doing things differently.
To cope, you now do things differently. You might avoid things you believe trigger your thoughts, or you might find that you engage in things to make you feel better. These are known as compulsions.
Behavioural therapy will help you with this, for example, CBT and ERP.
Why do I need to do this?
It’s unnecessary. The only purpose it serves is to make you feel better temporarily. If this strategy worked, you would not be reading this page, as the thoughts would be gone.
Stop changing your behaviours.
You might have changed the way you exist in the world to prevent you from causing some harm (concerning your thoughts.) For example,
- If you have intrusive thoughts regarding knives, you might have moved the knives in your kitchen, or
- If you experience intrusive thoughts regarding children, you might avoid children parties, or are extra careful with how you look at a child or are uncomfortable bathing and dressing children. or
- If you have unwanted thoughts regarding your sexuality, you may avoid people, places or things that trigger your thoughts.
It would be best if you learned to stop doing this, as even though the strategies you have developed help you in the short term, they are not effective long term, as they only keep this cycle going.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, in addition to mindfulness-based approaches, combined with relaxation training, will help you achieve this.
Step 4 Take the thoughts less personally.
It would be best if you were taught that thoughts do not mean anything about you as a person.
Step 5 Take the fear out of your thoughts.
Having an emotional reaction to the content of your thoughts keeps the unwanted thought alive in your mind. When you can let the thought come into your mind, and your feelings are not affected, the thoughts lose their power.