Working with intrusive thoughts

ATTENTION! What is your mind saying to you? BELIEVE? Don’t believe everything you think! CHALLENGE What’s the evidence? Is this fact or opinion? Are there alternative ways to see this? What’s the bigger picture? Is this thought useful to me right now? DISCOUNT I can let the unhelpful thoughts go EXPLORE OPTIONS Respond intentionally and mindfully.

It is all too easy to get caught up in an endless loop of thinking about things, particularly if you are feeling anxious, depressed or lonely.  These might be thoughts about a social situation or event, career plans, a mistake that just keeps playing on your mind or even persistent self-criticism.  Thoughts and emotions can amplify each other and keep you in a cycle of rumination.  You think about something, your brain turns it over and over again, your feelings get involved and you believe what your mind is telling you – whether or not it has evidence to back it up.  This technique is about constructively challenging those thought cycles so that you can make conscious choices about what you do.

The picture above sets out a technique I use with clients to address painful or intrusive thoughts.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, it starts with paying attention to the thought. What is your mind saying to you? What connections is it making? Once you are able to identify the thought, and often the feelings associated, it is important to recognise that thinking something doesn’t make it a fact, and you don’t have to believe the thought.  If you think ‘no-one will ever love me’ or ‘I’m worthless’ that is an opinion, it is not a fact. You can learn to treat your thoughts with curiosity without believing everything that your mind tells you.  Challenging thoughts means questioning the basis of which you are thinking them.  Considering the evidence for and against the thought, and whether the thought is useful.  It is helping you to be reasonably cautious, or is it preventing you from living the life you want to? You can discount unhelpful thoughts and focus on things that are more likely to help you to lead the life that you want to.  Explore your options and make conscious choices about how you respond.

This technique can be used solo, but it is often useful to have a someone working through it with you the first few times you use it.  If you would like to talk to me about how it could me useful to you, you can contact me here.


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