Those thoughts—they keep coming into your head, whether it’s day or night.
You feel tormented as images flash through your mind or as impulses quickly appear and disappear. And no matter what you do to try to distract yourself, nothing works! Instead, you feel even more sad, depressed, and powerless.
Intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of depression. They can make your life torture as you battle every day to keep them at bay.
However, there are things that you can do to cope with these thoughts so that they don’t rule your life.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted scary, depressive, or anxious thoughts that are disturbing and distressing. There can be several reasons why you have intrusive thinking.
- Being triggered by past trauma due to sights, sounds, or smells that you are exposed to
- Going through a difficult or troubling life situation
- Having certain beliefs about yourself, whether or not they are true
- Experiencing obsessive thoughts about doom
You can have intrusive thinking while depressed because your mind is in a very vulnerable state.
Already, your attention is focused on the negative. Depression often makes you feel out of control, without any ability to make change happen for yourself. When that powerlessness comes out through the thoughts in your mind, it can be particularly distressing.
Types of Intrusive Thinking
So what constitutes an intrusive thought? Here are a few examples:
- Feeling guilty
- Low self-worth
- Doing something impulsive
- Expecting the future to be bad
- Worrying about other’s perceptions of you
- Being overly critical of yourself
For those who are not depressed, at times, a thought might occur to them that they find troubling. However, they have the capacity to brush that thought aside and continue with their day.
Depressed people, on the other hand, often don’t have the capacity to do that. Instead, they dwell or ruminate on the thought. Instead of letting it go, they keep brooding over it. Even if they would rather have the thought out of their heads, they can’t seem to let go.
As you can imagine, this only causes the depression to get worse. It’s as if the two feed off of each other.
What to Do About Intrusive Thoughts
There are several things that you can do to push back against intrusive thinking. The first is to identify the thought for what it is—intrusive. Identifying and labeling the thought helps to create a buffer between you and it. This does, however, require a bit of self-awareness on your part.
Some other things that you can do include:
- Acknowledge the thought, then let it go
- Remember to breathe by practicing mindfulness exercises
- Say to yourself a mantra or phrase that is empowering
- Visualize a place where you have always felt calm and at ease
It’s best to practice these skills when you are not in the midst of intrusive thinking. That way, when those thoughts do occur, you will be better prepared to deal with them.
Intrusive Thinking and the Art of Distraction
Oftentimes we consider distraction to be negative, but when dealing with intrusive thoughts, it can really help you cope. What kind of distractions can help?
Exercise is one idea. It helps you be more present and in the moment. That makes it harder for those thoughts to creep in. Another idea is doing something to “get out of your head,” so-to-speak. That could be doing a physical task, such as yard work, or chatting with someone you know and trust.
Intrusive thoughts don’t have to wreak havoc on your life. If this type of thinking causes you to believe you don’t have any control, then the key is to take back that power. The above-mentioned ideas can help you get started.
However, it’s also a good idea to get professional support through individual therapy. Please, contact us to see how we can be of help.