Those little monsters, or intrusive thoughts, as they are called, that pop into your mind all of the sudden, have the ability to make you feel straight up shitty and ruin your day. However, know that they are more common than you think, sadly, but also that there are things you can do to manage them, learn to accept them, and leverage them as source of personal growth
You are minding your own business, trying to be a good human, doing the best you can, when out of nowhere — a dark, disturbing thought or an image pops into your mind. It stops you dead on your tracks, bringing up all sort of uncomfortable feelings, whether embarrassment, anger, worry or shame. You feel it in your body as well; sweaty palms, upset stomach, and a rapid heart beat. The more you try to push the thought from your mind, the more it persists, because as we know, what you resists, persists.
This social phenomena is thought to affect some six million Americans, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. But given the state of the world, we can safely say it affects millions of others around the world. Our collective consciousness is under attack by these nasty little fuckers.
While people who suffer from a mental health disorder, such an obsessive-compulsive disorder, clinical depression, or post traumatic stress disorder, tend to experience them most commonly, intrusive thoughts also affect people who don’t have a diagnosed mental health disorder.
Disturbing thoughts can happen at any time, and can be triggered by severe stress, or like in my case, they can also be brought on by biological factors such as a hormonal shifts. Shortly after giving birth to my daughter, I was plagued by intrusive thoughts that kept me up night, and even showed up during the day, giving me full body chills, anxiety and in occasion, paralyzing fear. Thankfully, they were not an everyday occurrence, and I was highly aware why they were happening. Nonetheless, while I was under the grasps of negative thinking, I couldn’t shake these feelings off, and so rather than trying to push them away, I learned to embrace them.
Here are some of my tips to help you make peace with your little monsters:
1) Remember this mantra: “I am not my thoughts” While intrusive thoughts may be disturbing, they aren’t harmful or a sign that you have a secret desire to do the things that popped into your mind. You, are not your thoughts. 2) Acknowledge the thought: “WTF! that’s a disturbing thought!” Say it out loud. That in itself can stop you from continuing down the obsessive thinking path and end it there. 3) Feel the thought: When the intrusive thought pops into your head, your first instinct is going to be to push it away. Don’t. Take a deep breath, and feel the thought. It won’t be easy at first, as the feelings that accompany these thoughts go quickly into the body, making you feel panicky and overwhelmed. That’s okay too. Go back to #2 and acknowledge how you are feeling. “This is making me feel anxious, sad, upset, angry”, etc. Name it. Say it. Own it. 4) Have no judgement: Having a disturbing thought doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Many people feel shame or embarrassment for thinking these thoughts. They start labeling themselves as bad or crazy people. Go back to #1 and repeat. “I am not my thoughts. This is not what I believe or what I want to do” 5) Make peace with it: Accept that the thought happened. Observe it without any attachment or feelings. Once you get comfortable and the negative feelings associated with those thoughts have passed, simply, let it go. Don’t push though. Be polite, simply open the door, and wave bye-bye!
When it’s more than just a thought.
So how can you tell if what you are experiencing is just a random intrusive thought or something that requires you to seek help.
When it’s just a thought:
*The thought is random and not in line with how you usually think or feel. Its nature tends to be violent, deeply disturbing and it happens suddenly.
*You have a strong desire to push the thought out of your mind. You do not entertain it and want nothing to do with it.
*They don’t occur on a regular (daily, hourly) basis.
When to ask for help
If at some point, intrusive thoughts start to really fuck up your daily life, to the point you are not able to go to work, do things you enjoy, be around others, and it’s a non-stop compulsive thinking kind of thought…. it’s time to see someone. Whether a mental health professional, a trusted friend or therapist. The important thing is that you address it and seek help.
HOWEVER, even if these thoughts are not disrupting your everyday life but are bothering you, you should and can reach out to someone for help. These thoughts can be troublesome enough to just want to vent to someone about it. Do what’s going to help you feel better.
There are lots of therapies that have proven successful for managing compulsive, intrusive thoughts, from cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation, to addressing the underlying causes whether is anxiety, stress, trauma or even simply things like changing up some of your lifestyle choices from food and nutrition to improving your sleep quality and exercise. A health care professional can help identify the best strategies for you.
We are all experiencing unprecedented amount of stress and trauma, in addition to our already hectic, stress-filled life. More than ever, our mental health has to be prioritized. These is more than “self-care” this is serious shit, that a bath and some candles will simply not take care of it. Neither will numbing yourself with food, alcohol or drugs, at least not long term. Below there are links for free resources, that can truly help.
*The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a helpline that offers free assistance and advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can reach the helpline at 1-800-950-6264.
*International OCD Foundation https://iocdf.org/
*Anxiety Social Net Online Support https://adaa.org/
*Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance https://www.dbsalliance.org/
Remember that you are spirit, having a human experience, that you are light, you are love, and life itself.