5 Coping Strategies for Intrusive Thoughts
Have you ever had a time when a negative intrusive thought made it difficult for you to focus on a task? If you only had the thought one time, it probably wasn't a huge deal. However, when a negative thought starts to occur more frequently, it can prevent you from doing your best work. Constant unwanted thoughts that disrupt your ability to do something are called intrusive thoughts. If you are struggling to deal with these thoughts, here are five coping strategies.
5 Ways to Cope with Intrusive Thoughts
Here are five ways I cope with intrusive thoughts:
- Acknowledge your thoughts without judgment. Acknowledging your negative thoughts can be difficult if they upset you. However, the only way to combat intrusive thoughts is to acknowledge their existence. It is important not to judge them because you will feel more critical about yourself or your situation. Negative criticism breeds more negative thoughts, which leads to more intrusive thoughts. To prevent intrusive thoughts from increasing and intensifying, remind yourself that thoughts are temporary and they do not necessarily mean anything.
- Be aware of thought distortions. According to bipolar expert Natasha Tracy, a cognitive distortion is "an example of when your brain lies to you."1 For instance, you might think someone is laughing at you when they are actually laughing at something someone else did. You might worry that you failed a test when you actually did well on it. You might assume that if bad things tend to happen to you, nothing good will ever happen. When you become aware of your thought distortions, you will have fewer intrusive thoughts. Better yet, you will have more positive thoughts.
- Challenge your intrusive thoughts. Another way to reduce your intrusive thoughts is to find evidence that contradicts them. For instance, if you constantly think you are a bad person, remember the times when you did something kind for somebody else. When you think you'll get passed on for a promotion, remember how hard you worked to get it. Consider the things that make you qualified for the position. When you think no one likes you, remember who your true friends are and what they have said about you. It can be really hard to challenge intrusive thoughts during high-stress situations. So, spend some of your free time writing down your intrusive thoughts and the evidence against them.
- Use an affirmation or mantra when you have an intrusive thought. Affirmations and positive mantras are wonderful ways to distract yourself from intrusive thoughts. If you are religious, think about your favorite piece of scripture. If you like to sing, pick out your favorite lyrics. My favorite mantra is "This too shall pass." By saying this to myself, my thoughts pass more quickly and come back less often. Finding an affirmation or mantra that you agree with will reduce your intrusive thoughts as well.
- Remember that having intrusive thoughts does not mean there is something wrong with you. I have heard many people with mood disorders claim that there must be something wrong with them because of their thoughts. This type of statement encourages self-stigma and increases intrusive thoughts. Having intrusive thoughts does not mean there is anything wrong with you. Your thoughts might have been triggered by something in your environment or a toxic situation. If you have not identified your trigger, a mental health professional can help you and provide coping strategies that will work for you.
These are just five of many more coping strategies. Do you have any of your own strategies that have helped? If so, share them in the comments.
1. Tracy, N., "Black and White Thinking: Cognitive Distortions and Mental Illness." Youtube, June 2015.
Lueck, M. (2021, March 7). 5 Coping Strategies for Intrusive Thoughts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, November 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/toughtimes/2021/3/5-coping-strategies-for-intrusive-thoughts