What to do when intrusive thoughts come to mind

When we have intrusive thoughts it is important to:

  • identify when we are having them
  • how we are trying to make them go away
  • how we may be avoiding situations which are provoking them.

The thought itself is not the problem - it's what we try to do with the thought which can become an issue.

Thoughts and reality are not the same. A thought is just that - a thought.

It is also true that suppressing our thoughts does not work. This often results in 'thought rebound'. The thoughts we are trying to push away just come back bigger and bolder than before.

Therapy can help us to tackle our intrusive thinking. Distraction has been found to be an effective intervention and can reduce stress and distress. It can help to interrupt the loop of negative thinking. It can also help us to differentiate between negative thinking and denial and/or avoidance.

'Focused distraction' means we live in a stressful situation with which we are coping. Helping clients to understand these differences can be very useful in helping them to tackle their intrusive thinking. Focused distraction is about art, writing, sport, memorising, reading, music, gardening, mindfulness. Any activity, in fact, which demands we focus on a different thought.

By doing this, we can retrain our brain to focus on something other than the thoughts that are causing us to feel anxious. An anxious state of mind and a relaxed state of mind are incompatible.

We accept our unwanted thoughts. We acknowledge our unwanted thoughts. And then we find a healthy distraction to focus on. 

It's a good habit to get into. And, when we do, we become more in control of our intrusive thoughts.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Walsall, Staffordshire, WS6
Written by Lyn Reed, MA,MBACP,Pro.Adv.Dip.PC, Pgd.Cert. in Supervision
Walsall, Staffordshire, WS6

I offer a supportive, confidential therapy service especially for those living with anxiety and stress. I have acquired considerable expertise and knowledge having worked in the social care field for many years. Having experienced ups and downs myself, I understand life's road can be rocky and therapy often helps us to discover a new way.

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