Updated: Apr 24, 2020
Do you sometimes feel like your thoughts are beyond your control, and some of them make you uncomfortable? If so, you can relax. Intrusive thoughts are very common and usually harmless.
As reported in Psychology Today, a 1980s experiment by psychologist Eric Klinger asked volunteers to record what they were thinking within a 16-hour day. His research found that people have about 500 unintentional or “intrusive” thoughts during this time.1 You see, you are not alone.
You can learn to feel more at ease even when your mind takes a little turn. Discover how meditation and other self-help techniques can tame intrusive thoughts.
Meditating to Tame Intrusive Thoughts
Let go of judgments. A lot of your discomfort comes from resisting what’s on your mind rather than from the thought itself. With regular practice, mindfulness meditation can train you to observe and accept your thoughts but not get wrapped up in them. Focus on your breath. Paying attention to your breath keeps you in the present moment and gives you a focus point. You learn to distinguish between you and your passing thoughts. Slow down. Most intrusive thoughts are quick, lasting 14 seconds or less. Patiently waiting them out can make them pass even quicker.
Other Methods for Taming Intrusive Thoughts
Avoid suppressing your thoughts. Trying to avoid intrusive thoughts usually backfires and often times makes you focus on them even more…to the point where it is difficult to think about anything else. Change your expectations. Dreading unwelcome thoughts also reinforces them. Try to view them as a routine part of daily life. Change the script. If you tend to replay unpleasant events, give yourself something more pleasant and productive to think about. A white sandy beach anyone? Stay on task. Do you avoid certain activities because they trigger thoughts you find it difficult to manage? You may be able to free yourself from such limitations by planning more constructive approaches. Develop more compassion for someone you disagree with instead of shutting them out. Try to disengage. Depending on your personality and preferences, you may want to minimize your involvement with involuntary thoughts. Consider them irrelevant and carry on with what you’re doing.
Think it through. On the other hand, you may feel more relief when you face things head on. Write your thoughts down or talk them over with someone you trust if you find that helpful so you can release it. Rest and relax. It’s natural for your mind to wander, but you may feel like it’s getting too much exercise. In addition to meditation, find your own relaxation method like listening to soft music or taking in nature.
Professional Treatment for Intrusive Thoughts
Seek professional help. While involuntary thoughts usually have no significant effects, they may be more troubling if you have certain conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, or depression.
Let your physician and therapist know any symptoms that are disrupting your life.
Intrusive thoughts will continue to pop into your head, but you can live more comfortably with them through meditation and other simple techniques. If you need more help, talk with a professional to find the treatment that’s right for you.
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1 Pincott, Jena E. PsychologyToday.com, “Wicked Thoughts”, Sept 2015