How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts

By Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c


“Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate.” ~Norman Vincent Peale

1. Check in with your surroundings
If you are being bombarded by intrusive thoughts, it is important to ground yourself using your sense of vision. Your visual sense is the easiest to remember when you are under attack. Look around you, describe the colors and shapes you see. You can do this out loud, or to yourself. Also, look around and find words written on books, magazines or billboards. Read backwards the letters of these words out loud, or to yourself. When reading letters backwards, you cannot stay focused on the intrusive thoughts.

2. Find your breath
During the onslaught of intrusive thoughts, take a moment and count each breath. Begin by inhaling through your nose, and count 1 to yourself. Exhale through your mouth, and count 2. For every odd number, inhale. For every even number, exhale. Count until you reach 10, and then repeat. Remember, take full deep breaths. When you add structure to your breathing, you are likely to feel more balanced and relaxed. As you count each breath, your mind will focus on the numbers, instead of on the intrusive thoughts.

3. Visualize someone or some place calming
Take a moment to think about a person or place that makes you feel at ease. By focusing your attention on a loved one or relaxing place, you can experience a positive mood shift. The intention of this strategy is not to suppress the intruding thoughts. The goal is to redirect your attention to something love and life affirming. Trying to make sense of, or rationalize with your intruding thoughts is like trying to give direction to a drunk person. It’s not going to work.

4. Explore the cause
Have you explored where the intrusive thoughts are coming from? During childhood, it is especially common to adopt certain beliefs about ourselves, based on what others told us. We unknowingly carry these thoughts into adulthood, not realizing their harmful effects.

5. Remember, re-training takes time
Overcoming intrusive thoughts is a process that requires discipline and patience. If living with intruding thoughts has become the norm, it may be difficult to re-train your mind, simply because it is something new and different. In the words of Robert Anthony, “Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable, than risk being happy.” We need to create new and healthier pathways. Creating these pathways will take some work. But, with practice you can do it!


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30 responses to How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts

  1. thoughtcascadeblog says:

    Mine used to be much worse and would come right before a severe panic attack … I could take my index finger and tap it on the top of my other hand, or do a foot tap … I would combine that with some of things you wrote up above … it really helps and the tap physically seemed to interrupt the process.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Rita says:

    You need an office in my city! Better yet, in my office building. But then again you might get tired of me knocking on the door. These are the most wonderful posts. Thanks again.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. cbethhoffman says:

    I thought I had a good grasp of my thoughts and my ability to be mindful. Hearing, “It is cancer,” put me in a place I couldn’t control with positive thinking. I kept hearing it over and over and over no matter how I tried to change the patterns of thinking. I will put these to good use!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Great subject! I think many of us suffer from those at times! I know I do. Especially when trying to go to sleep! Thanks for another wonderful post!

    ~Sarah Katherine ~

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Great post! In zen there’s the principle of ripping out the weeds and placing them next to the plants as nourishment. If you can separate you self from the content of your thoughts you can nourish yourself with their energy.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Ryo112358 says:

    Awesome post. Especially love the last point. I speak from experience when I say it took two months of constant attention for me to get adequate control of my thoughts. Now after half a year, I realize the effort was completely worth it. If you’ve been doing anything one way your whole life, change can be difficult and slow. Stick with it and it WILL pay off.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Miriam says:

    These are wonderful ideas, very good advice. I guess in the end it comes down to shifting the focus to how we want our life to be. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. There is also loads of scientific information out there right now about how the foods we eat affect our mental health. If our “guts” or microbiome (serious buzzword right now) aren’t healthy, neither can our minds be fully. Anxiety, depression, ocd are being associated/linked with poor nutrition. Here is a lovely video explaining what our microbiomes “do.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DTrENdWvvM
    Also, check hear to find out more on how foods affect mood. http://www.healthhomeandhappiness.com/depression-gut-connection.html
    I have personally seen a radical transformation in my everyday personality and mood just be switching to a paleo diet. Thanks for the daily inspirations Eric!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. David Swan says:

    I think the first paragraph is awesome, I had a partial psychosis so y intrusive thoughts are bizarre beyond belief and sometimes feel outside my body, making the effort to focus on external thing is really effort ad takes the sting out of the images being from anywhere else, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A counselor at Crisis Textline suggested listening to music and focusing on one instrument at a time for the whole song. I listen for the beat of the drums/percussion. It worked for me!

    Liked by 1 person

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