How many thoughts do you think we have per day?
Add to your thought tally by taking a wild guess…
Research on this has previously been a bit foggy, but recent research has uncovered an innovative way of counting them. According to Dr. Jordan Poppenk and Julie Tseng, we experience over 6,000 thoughts per day.
But how many of these are unwanted?
This is a lot harder to find out and it is different for everyone. However, evidence suggests that 94% of us experience impulsive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images and urges.
Intrusive thoughts, generally speaking, are exactly what their name suggests.
They are involuntary and invasive thoughts that occur without reason.
These thoughts can be very inappropriate, disturbing and upsetting in nature and are a common symptom of OCD (amongst other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and some eating disorders).
You can have intrusive thoughts relating to:
- Safety (e.g. having the random urge to drive off a bridge or into a wall)
- Violence (e.g. having a random thought about hurting someone)
- Fear (e.g. being scared of heights, so having the random image of you falling from one)
- Sex (e.g. having a random, often extremely disturbing thought about sexual intercourse with someone that you shouldn’t)
- Memories (e.g. getting flashbacks to an upsetting experience or event)
- Crime (e.g. getting the random urge to shoplift in a supermarket)
- Addiction (e.g. having a random thought about a particular substance)
- or anything that is unsettling to you.
Despite their link to certain mental health conditions, intrusive thoughts are normal. Having these types of thoughts does not always mean that you have a mental health condition.
Though the fact that they are normal and common doesn’t change how problematic they can be.
Those that are brave enough to discuss their intrusive thoughts often report feeling scared of their own brain and worrying that they are crazy.
For this reason, it is most definitely worth remembering that you are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are not facts either, they are simply just thoughts.
However, if your intrusive thoughts start interfering with your day-to-day life then we recommend seeking professional help from a qualified therapist or counsellor.
How Do We Put a Stop to Our Intrusive Thoughts?
Ultimately, the best way to stop intrusive thoughts is to stop stopping them.
Okay, let me rephrase, the best way to deal with intrusive thoughts is to accept them for what they are. Just thoughts.
We’re not (some) Instagram influencers, so we aren’t going to just tell you to think happy thoughts. But we are going to give you some quick DOs and DON’Ts for accepting your intrusive thoughts:
DO: Label Your Intrusive Thoughts
When one of these random unwanted thoughts break their way into your head, this is your time to label it. You can label it as whatever you want as it will help you to accept it and recognise it for what it is.
DO: Build Mantras
Mantras are little sentences that you will tell yourself in the event of an intrusive thought. In this case, they will help you to remember that they aren’t real and that the likelihood of them becoming a reality is very slim.
Try these to start you off:
- ‘I am okay, this intrusive thought will pass’
- ‘There is absolutely no evidence for this’
- ‘Thoughts are not facts, this will pass’
- ‘This thought is not mine; it does not need my attention’
DON’T: Avoid the Thought
Common advice suggests that fearing the thoughts is not going to be helpful and that it may actually make them worse.
Imagine if I was to say, don’t think about Pandas, what do you think about? Pandas right?
Well this works in the same way that your intrusive thoughts do. Avoidance in this case will only strengthen the impact that your intrusions have on you.
Many people go out of their way to avoid their intrusive thoughts, such as taking a different route to miss out the bridge where their safety-related thought occurred, for example.
This strategy of avoidance will just lead to a vicious cycle of intrusions and avoidance. It is practically impossible to avoid everything that triggers an intrusive thought, so it is pointless trying really.
Did You Know: OCD can occur for an absolutely massive range of reasons, but this vicious cycle is a little bit similar to how it works. Sufferers believe, through no fault of their own, that certain actions or compulsions will rid their minds of these repetitive intrusions (known as obsessions).
DON’T: Take Responsibility
These intrusive thoughts are not yours. They are not your fault. They are not facts. They have no meaning. They will pass.
You do not have to take ANY ownership of them.
DON’T: Change Your Behaviour
Again, these thoughts are not yours and they have no hidden meaning, so you do not have to go too far out of your way to get rid of them.
Other than possibly labelling them, repeating a mantra and calmly moving your attention back to what you were doing before one broke in.
Reminder: If your intrusive thoughts start to get in the way of your day-to-day life or you spend a lot of time worrying/ fixating on them, it is advised that you seek professional help. See our Support page for more information.
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