Intrusive Thoughts: Could I Really Change the Way I Think?
It's an age-old question: Could you really change the way you think?
We've all had those moments where we feel like we can't control our thoughts. Every thought that enters our mind is something that's like it's built by someone else to infiltrate our thoughts and to tear us down.
I was a panelist for my friend's mental health event. It was my first time being a panelist on a panel where I was discussing something I was really passionate about. I opened up about my mental health struggles, my coping mechanisms, and my personal struggles with addiction to painkillers. I did what I thought I could never do, and when people hugged me afterwards and told me I did well, I believed them. I did do well. But when I got home and when the makeup was taken off and the hair was in a bun and my oversized shirt hugged my body - the thoughts came.
You shouldn't have worn that outfit
You looked awful
Nothing you said made sense
Nothing you said made a difference
Why did you mention being addicted to painkillers
Everyone's gonna think you're crazy
And these are just a few of the thoughts that instantly came to my mind.
These are called intrusive thoughts.
The Anxiety and Depression Institute of America defines intrusive thoughts as "thoughts that are stuck thoughts that cause great distress."
These thoughts aren't your fault. They can come so suddenly. Unwanted intrusive thoughts are like the cousin you don't really wanna talk to too much coming over your house suddenly and staying for a few hours. You didn't give them permission to come in, but they came in anyway and just made themselves at home. That's what intrusive thoughts are - they come in and try to make you believe that they're real when they're nothing.
Intrusive thoughts aren't just believing you did horrible at something or believing you're a failure. They come in so many other forms.
Intrusive thoughts can be talking to a friend and seeing their body language change ever so slightly and believe they no longer like you. When in reality, they just failed an exam and felt down about it.
Intrusive thoughts can be believing a guy is staring at you and going to come and speak to you and harass you. When in reality, he just likes your shirt and wants to know where you got it from.
You can even have more severe or aggressive intrusive thoughts about sex, death, or violence (if this is the case, look into reading up on how those may lead to other mental disorders or be attributed to another medical issue).
Intrusive thoughts are anything negative you may think that borderlines an assumption. There's no weight or facts behind it, you just think it or feel it. And, if you're like me, you may confuse an intrusive thought as an intuitional feeling.
But if they come in all these colors, shapes, and sizes, how do we cope with it? How do we change our thinking?
It's easy for people to say "Just be more positive!" and "Think about happier things!", without realizing that when the mind is conditioned to think a certain way, it will have to be conditioned to think differently. These aren't just overnight quick fixes or hacks, these are lifestyles that you'll slowly have to adapt to before they become second nature to you:
Learn to accept the thoughts as simply thoughts
When the intrusive thoughts enter and they just keep coming and coming, its hard to just accept it. If anything, we try to fight it, because it hurts us and sometimes sends us into a panic (fight or flight response). Try taking a mental note of the thought. Every thought is valid, so give it it's validity. But, realize that it's not true and think for yourself. With practice and time, the intrusive thoughts will lose their meaning.
Try not to take every thought personally
I'm working on this right now, and trust me, it's hard. I take everything so personally (blame it on my Pisces sun and moon). But, I've already noticed changes in my demeanor. Realize that every negative thought isn't an attack on you and isn't devised to harm or hurt you. Take it as either constructive criticism if it's something you know you could've improved, or take it as fake news if you truly know you did your best. You know you better than anyone else.
Write down the thoughts, and then flip them
Y'all knew some type of journaling would be incorporated in this (my absolute favorite coping mechanism, if you didn’t know). Write down each intrusive thought as it comes. Once you've written them all down, read them and change them into positive thoughts. Journaling isn't for everyone and that's okay. If this is you, try saying them aloud and changing them to positive thoughts. As the intrusive thought enters your head, say a positive thought aloud to cancel out the intrusive thought. Saying affirmations aloud is very helpful, because the more you say it, the more you start to believe it. Here's an example of switching intrusive thoughts to positive thoughts below:
Intrusive thoughts are one of the main causes in panic attacks and episodes in other mental disorders and illnesses. We try our hardest to fight them and to make them go away, when all we need to do is to accept them, take them as a grain of salt, and change them to positive affirmations.