Written by Eric C., MA., PhD Candidate
“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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