5 Tips for Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts

After Bug came along, I struggled immensely with postpartum depression, which mainly took the look of OCD tendencies. When I hit rock bottom and Bug was about 4 months old, I began treatment for PPD.  I met my therapist(who I kept for a little over a year…the longest ever!). We talked a lot about my anxieties that surrounded my kids. Before I knew it, she was asking me if I had ever had obsessive compulsive disorder come up as a suggested diagnosis in prior therapy sessions.

I honestly laughed a bit and told her I was nothing like Monk. You know, the show, “Monk.” It follows that detective who had his long list of fear and the obsession with cleanliness? I am nothing like that, I kindly told her. My house is never going to be that clean, I’m okay with a mess, and I don’t have to touch every single light pole as I walk by it. OCD is not any part of me.

She asked me to describe my re-occurring thoughts for her again and I began to talk about the thoughts that came to my mind, that I was unable to get rid of, that kept me up all night and distracted me in the day.

The thoughts of the kids suddenly not breathing and having to check fifteen times in the middle of the night.

Pulling over to the side of the road to check for the tenth time I buckled the baby in or asking my kids to look as I drive.

The visions, horrific thoughts, of accidents and natural disasters that never happened. Yet I was envisioning them over and over again as I laid down to sleep.

She kindly told me that’s one of the ways OCD can manifest; its not always a person who panics about cleanliness or washes their hands a certain amount of time.

After recognizing my struggle with intrusive thoughts because of the worsening of this specific anxiety disorder after Bug’s birth, I began to realize this was something I had been dealing with for awhile. Before then I had never been able to put a finger on what it was. Intrusive thoughts, while never running my life quite as badly as they did postpartum, were a factor in my life for years. I began to come up with ways to stop or avoid intrusive thoughts and I wanted to share a few of those with you all today.

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Recognize them as they begin.

When my intrusive thoughts begin, they usually start off pretty simple. My Mema told me every mama has them and maybe they do. She also said they can be intuition and a good thing…and maybe for some people, or even sometimes for me, they are. It’s simply a little nudge of “check the baby.” Checking can be good. However, the third time that thought comes into my head, I know now that it’s the beginning of an obsessive phase with that specific mental image. I treat mine like baseball-three strikes and you’re out! If I have the same thought three times(example, three times I have to check that the baby is buckled before/while driving), I need to halt right there in my seat and try to stop them before they take over. How do I do that?

Have an arsenal of ways you can stop the thoughts.

I love to have a large list of ways to help stop intrusive thoughts after I’ve recognized them as such. I always start with trying to identify the lie or exaggeration in my thought. To use the not buckling the kids in as an example again, I will tell myself I have already checked three times and there is no need to check again-my mind is lying to me by making me feel as though I’m remembering wrongly. If it’s something illogical, I go over reasons why whatever my thoughts are would not and could not ever happen in the real world.

I try and stop my catastrophising by reminding myself repeatedly that the worst does not always happen-even if things seem like they’ll end badly, they will not be as bad as the situation I am predicting in my mind. At the hardest times to get rid of them, I allow myself to think through the situation and acknowledge the worst could happen and the consequences of what could happen. After thinking it through and exposing myself to said thoughts, I’m able to come to terms with the thoughts and sometimes this will successfully stop them.

And if none of those things to do on your own don’t work?

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Call a friend! Or a therapist.

The two thoughts I have that are the most intrusive are the kids dying(usually in a car accident while I’m driving) or that I’ll cheat on my husband. One of those is sort of out of my control for the most part, the other is completely in my control. I’m super blessed to have a best friend who knows my kind of crazy and deals with my random three am text messages of “Well what if I cheat on him??” (Her name is Heidi and she blogs at Heid and Seeking!)

She will remind me that’s within my control and I can’t cheat on my husband on accident. Or she’ll remind me that there are thunderstorms every single summer and this year is not going to destroy New England…it’s just another summer storm.

It also helps to have friends who don’t argue or try and reassure your anxieties. Make sure you have someone who will confirm your thoughts and ask you themselves, what will you do if the worst does happen? It helps me to know that next step.

Really, when it comes to intrusive thoughts, you just have to..

Be honest.

The first time I told my husband I pretty often had these thoughts, I was embarrassed. I would go between thinking everyone had these, so I should keep quiet about my struggles, and no one had these, so I was alone and no one would understand. (The wonderful black and white thinking of my kind of insane!) Josh couldn’t relate to them, but the more I talked about it, the less taboo they felt and off limits they felt. Honesty helped me to acknowledge the feelings and the consequences if I acted on some of those thoughts-for example, if I did cheat on Joshua, it would damage, possible irrevocably, our relationship. It helped remind me that while the thoughts jumped into my mind against my will, I was still in control of whether or not I acted on them.

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Intrusive thoughts are so hard to deal with and what works for me may not help others, however I truly do hope any of these pieces of advice can help you!

Do you deal with intrusive thoughts? Any advice for others living with them?

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5 thoughts on “5 Tips for Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts

  1. I love this! I struggle with anxiety, and stopping it as it begins has been key for me! I’m so happy that you’ve been able to find the perfect ways for you to cope and lead a happy life! 🙂

  2. I struggle with anxiety, and stopping the thoughts as they begin has been key for me! I’m so happy that you’ve found what works for you and that you can lead a happy life! 🙂

  3. I’m terrible about thinking I didn’t lock the door at night and check it multiple times. Sometimes I’ll be upstairs about to climb into bed and feel the need to go check it. I try to talk myself down (like you) reminding myself that it is part of the nightly routine.

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