Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts
Are you going about your day, washing dishes, and answering emails, only to find the strangest thoughts crossing your brain? Maybe a sudden image of violence, or a startling question about driving into the wrong lane. Or maybe your brain begins a litany of criticism as soon as you spot a typo in your text. Does looking in the mirror spark an internal, negative monologue? One of the common struggles of mental health issues is intrusive thoughts.Intrusive thoughts can be a symptom of many different mental issues including:
- Personality disorders
- Postpartum depression
- Body dysmorphia
If you find yourself dealing with intrusive thoughts, it is always good to talk with a Christian counselor to find the source of the issue. In the meantime, here are some different tips for dealing with intrusive thoughts, as well as different types of intrusive thoughts.
Dealing with intrusive thoughts.
When you are deep in the heart of depression, negative thoughts come fast and thick. From low self-esteem to thoughts of self-harm, it is important to remember that these thoughts are not the things that define you. Finding something comforting to remember will be valuable in those moments.
Intrusive thoughts may be the result or cause of anxiety. When your mind is racing wildly with worry and fear, it is easy for intrusive thoughts to slip in. Your fight or flight response might become triggered and panic attacks occur. It is important to pause when an intrusive thought pattern happens to release those thoughts. Not letting them distract you from the work you are doing can be a challenge, but try to stay in the present rather than worry about the future.
OCD (in all its various forms)
Intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of OCD. You may experience sexual thoughts, violent scenes, or scenarios of fear playing out in your head. When those thoughts come, practice playing out the best scenario. Talking out loud, whether to yourself or a trusted friend can also help you work through the scenario. This allows your mind to go in a new direction.
Body image issues
There are many intrusive thoughts connected with body dysmorphia. If you have an eating disorder or struggle with weight and health, intrusive thoughts can be triggered by looking in your closet or the mirror. Learning how to speak positive words aloud to fight the negative thoughts that come with your body image.
Tips for handling intrusive thoughts.
- The first step will be identifying your intrusive thoughts. Notice when they happen. Take note if they come when you are doing something particular or when you are around a certain person. There might be more of a pattern to this than you realize.
- Slow your breathing. Intrusive thoughts can lead to panic and irrational behavior. When you identify an intrusive thought, take a few moments to slow your breathing. Learning breath prayers can be a good way to help you think about God in those difficult moments. A breath prayer is a few words said while inhaling and exhaling slowly. Example: inhale, “God is with me” exhale, “when I am afraid.”
- Let them linger and fade away. You cannot force the thoughts away, so staying on task and just letting the thoughts float in and out without fighting can be a way to release the tension sooner.
- Notice if your neck and face muscles are tensing up and gently release the tension. Your body needs to release the fear and tension. Roll your neck and shoulders a few times. Take a moment to stretch out your back. Release the tension in your body and your brain will release its tension as well.
Verses to remember.
Remembering Bible verses when you have intrusive thoughts can reroute your mind back to God.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39, NIV
Intrusive thoughts can make you feel that you are somehow separated from God. This is a falsehood. If you are
engaging in thoughts about negative behavior with relish that may be a sin. But intrusive thoughts are not sinful. Nor can they separate you from the love of God. When intrusive thoughts occur, remember that you are a beloved child of God. Place reminders of God’s love where you can see them.
Here are several ideas:
- Place a post note on the mirror with a favorite verse on it
- Put a wallpaper on your phone/computer with a comforting verse
- Create a playlist of music that soothes you
- Keep a gratitude journal or practice remembering the good things that God has done in your life
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV
Trust is hard because often intrusive thoughts can lead to controlling behaviors. Learning how to let go of control takes practice. By letting the intrusive thoughts come and go, you can practice trusting God to handle the things that cause you fear and stress.
You can keep a prayer journal that chronicles the way you are releasing your intrusive thoughts to God. Write out your scenario, then offer it to God in prayer as a trust exercise.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. – John 15:3-5, NIV
Having consistent spiritual practices will help you to fight the intrusive thoughts with the truth from God. Here are several ideas.
- Create a habit of Bible reading. It could be morning or at night. You could use an audio Bible, an app on your phone, or your physical Bible.
- A daily prayer practice will help you direct your thoughts to God. There are many resources for prayer: prayer books to help you create a rhythm and books with prayers when you feel that you don’t know how to pray. There are also practices such as contemplative prayer, breath prayer, and prayer walking. Finding different ways to pray can help you to focus your thoughts on God when intrusive thoughts occur.
- Memorization and meditation on the Bible can be an amazing way to fill your mind with the truth that can fight intrusive thoughts, much like a vaccine trains your body to fight disease. Writing out a Psalm can be a good meditation practice. Putting verses above the kitchen sink or on the bathroom mirror can help with memorization. Listening to Scripture set to music may help you with both meditation and memorization.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV
The Lord knows your thoughts, but he is not judging you for having intrusive thoughts. He looks at you with love and compassion. Meditating on the love of God will help you rest from the fear and pain caused by intrusive thoughts in your life.
Intrusive thoughts may be a part of your life, but they do not need to take you away from the love of God. You can learn to trust the goodness of God, and that it is greater than any intrusive thought you may have.
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