Lifestyle

Intrusive thoughts are frightening but inherently normal and human

I remember feeling so desperate that I frantically googled ‘intrusive thoughts’ most days in a bid to find a solution to the constant fear. It was a cycle that I became trapped in as I felt severe anxiety every day which meant that I couldn’t let anxiety-inducing thoughts go.

I suffered for quite a few years and I would try to blink away anything that could hurt me, all day every day. I was working in a newsroom and my already consuming anxiety bloomed in this environment and it was the perfect Petrie dish for my misery.

I’ve always been haunted by poor mental health, but only when I started having intrusive thoughts due to OCD did it threaten to consume me. At the time, the thoughts seemed so much worse than any period of severe depression I’d endured and even self-harm.

Brain with a tree inside
Brain with a tree inside

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Right now, I’m so much better than I ever was and I’m even beginning to feel excited about the future, much like my old self. This is why I wanted to share my experience with you if you’re suffering the same.

Intrusive thoughts can be distressing and often involve harm to self or others, inappropriate sexual thoughts or blasphemous thoughts.

Resources to help with your intrusive thoughts:

My personal experience was that the OCD thoughts were mainly mental so I didn’t have obvious physical compulsions so it was hard for anyone to know that I was suffering.

Going to a psychologist really helped me and I wrote an article about the differences between CBT and counselling for anxiety and OCD. I cannot stress how important it is to talk to someone that you trust so that you don’t have to suffer in silence. The taboos around mental health are gradually breaking down and there is no shame in having intrusive thoughts or OCD.

If you feel distressed by your thoughts and try to stop them then that means that you are inherently a moral person and not the bad human that you imagine that you are.

Ways to deal with unwanted intrusive thoughts:

  • Recognise the thought
  • Your thought isn’t who you are
  • Your thought isn’t an action
  • Avoid making a judgement on the thought
  • Avoid getting into a fight with the thought
  • Challenge your thought – it isn’t you because…
  • Distract yourself
  • Find something to focus on
  • Do something physical

One thing that I will say is that even though these intrusive thoughts bullied me and took the fun away from my life to a degree, they did loosen their grip eventually. All things must pass and by working hard and using resources you can shake off intrusive thoughts but it can take time. Be kind to yourself and some days will be better than others.

If I slipped back into my thought patterns then I would beat myself up and even have panic attacks because of it. It doesn’t matter if you get back into a thought cycle because you can get back out of it. Remember that even though it might not feel like it, each time you emerge you get better at breaking out.

It comes down to a combination of watching these thoughts pass, learning to let go of them, challenging them and distracting yourself with better things. Life is about balance and it’s about finding a method that works for you.

Even though the mind can screw up at times, it is always looking to solve its own problems as that is its job. If you can help your brain by giving it the tools it needs as well as rest, food and exercise then things will start to get better.

We live in an anxious world and intrusive thoughts can cause a lot of anguish but you are strong and you can beat them, even though it can be difficult and take time to achieve.

Books I recommend:

If you want a practical book, then I recommend The CBT Handbook which will take you through dealing with your thoughts and feelings as well as the connection between them.

For a first-person perspective, I recommend Bryony Gordon’s Mad Girl book which is about a writer who with pure ‘O’ OCD. It is about her experiences of what her fears and intrusive thoughts did to her as well as how she deals with them. She is funny and articulate and she also has a podcast that I recommend.

Podcasts I recommend:

If you love podcasts then there are two I recommend which are Bryony Gordon’s Mad World podcast and Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast. They both have big celebrities, experts and influencers talking about the mental health struggles that they have as well as ways to manage them.

Listening to these podcasts really helps me to understand not only myself but other people and it certainly makes me feel less alone. I hope that these resources will do the same for you too.

If you have any recommendations for books or podcasts that help you to manage your mental health then let me know in the comments below!

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Intrusive thoughts are frightening but inherently normal and human
Intrusive thoughts are frightening but inherently normal and human

 

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