Dealing with intrusive thoughts/obsessions

HylianHylian Citizen, Mentor
Does anyone really struggle with intrusive thoughts/obsessions? How long have you dealt with them, and how do you try to cope with them?

I've had OCD-esque issues my entire life, but the past few years those problems have gotten a lot worse. A lot of the worst intrusive thoughts that I have are harm related, like worrying that something I do will accidentally result in someone else getting hurt. I can't do anything without having to face thoughts about how if I screw something up or don't do something that can be unreasonably specific that something really bad will happen, and it'll be my fault.

I think these issues have gotten worse because of all the things that have happened the past few years, especially the dog that I had since I was 6 or 7 passing away from kidney cancer and not being able to do anything about it. It's very frustrating because these things just continue to get worse, and now I don't get much quality sleep since these thoughts keep me awake. I can't focus on anything anymore and am becoming increasingly depressed because it makes me feel useless.

Comments

  • Statest16Statest16 Citizen, Mentor
    It's better now I did yes for years
    I likely have "OCD with intrusive thoughts" but have never been formally diagnosed because OCD-WIT is something doctors never diagnos in general
  • BenderBender Citizen
    I don't have OCD but I do have tendencies. Some of them are useful, but I'm also plagued with intrusive thoughts. They often rake havoc at night, and they are the driving force behind my insomnia.

    It used to be worse, I don't even want to go into how bad it was and in which way it affected me. Even if I knew they don't reflect my actual feelings and thoughts, I still felt horribly guilty about having them.

    What I found helps (and no, it's not easy and it requires time and sustained effort):

    - cultivating emotional awareness: when I'm at least aware that I'm too stressed, upset etc and preferably why I do better in both anticipating and sorting through what's a valid fear and what isn't.

    - mental awareness of what these thoughts are: from my own experience and what I've heard from others, people either try to repress intrusive thoughts, or they end up obsessing over them - both ways only make the issue worse. What I try to do is acknowledge the thought as it comes and calmly label it as irrational. It's a bit like saying: "Hello, I know who you are and you have a right to exist, but you have no value and I'm aware of that". It takes discipline and perseverance, but it seems to decrease their frequency.

    - mental and emotional hygiene: any change in the frequency or severity of intrusive thoughts is always a sign that something is off. Due to alexithymia, I'm usually not fully aware of what, so I have to open an "investigation".

    I still struggle with this, but it's much, much better than it used to be. Some forms of meditation help (I had to find less conventional ones as I have a hard time standing still for long) and so does regular exercise that not only releases endorphins but at high intensity doesn't allow the mind to focus on anything else but the physical effort and works like a "reset" button. It's well-known by now that your mental well-being will affect your physical well-being, but it works the other way around too: a strong and healthy body can help you feel better mentally. But most people dismiss or hate those who suggest this method.

    So for me, it requires constant "maintenance" through a mix of awareness, introspection and mental, emotional and physical hygiene/care.

    I understand some people found medication helpful, but I have no experience with it.
  • I have little experience with the intensity of intrusive thoughts that you describe, Hylian. But I have had them with some intensity at various times in my life. I think Bender's suggestions are excellent. 

    A less elegant trick which I used a lot when my thoughts were severely interfering with sleep, etc:  I would say to myself over and over again "Here and Now, Here and Now, Here and Now" almost like one of those meditative chants, except this has little to do with meditation and more with just forcing the brain into submission. I recall times when this would be said with gritted teeth and I was unable to do anything except grit out that short phrase. 

    I don't watch TV and don't have a TV, but at one of the worst points in my life, I would load up the VCR/DVD player with movies and fall asleep staring at the screen. Again, it was like I needed something to push out my awful thoughts. 

    The long term fixes are, as Bender described, meditation of some form, exercise and if you can stand it, healthy eating. 

    Don't try to change everything at once. Life requires a lot of patience. 
  • BenderBender Citizen

    A less elegant trick which I used a lot when my thoughts were severely interfering with sleep, etc:  I would say to myself over and over again "Here and Now, Here and Now, Here and Now" almost like one of those meditative chants, except this has little to do with meditation and more with just forcing the brain into submission. I recall times when this would be said with gritted teeth and I was unable to do anything except grit out that short phrase. 
    I don't know about elegant, but it's great advice. The art of staying in the moment does not come easily to many of us, but even small improvements in the area will be incredibly helpful. There was a time in my life when I seemed to live almost exclusively in both the past and the future and it was awful.

    These days, I just do this as if I'm performing a regular exercise: just remind myself daily to actually spend some time in the here and now, deliberately paying attention and valuing the present. Keeping in contact with nature and animals also seems to help.

    I don't watch TV and don't have a TV, but at one of the worst points in my life, I would load up the VCR/DVD player with movies and fall asleep staring at the screen. Again, it was like I needed something to push out my awful thoughts. 

    Yes, distractions can also help to steer your mind off obsessive or intrusive thoughts. I never found TV or movies strong enough for this but I know people who use gaming and other hobbies (or work, or weed 😁) in a similar fashion. And music seems to work very well to manipulate my mood.

    Don't try to change everything at once. Life requires a lot of patience. 
    It's very hard to master patience when you're young, it took me decades to get better 😉

    Great insight, Blaze, I didn't even make some of the connections that seem so obvious in your post 😆
     
  • HylianHylian Citizen, Mentor
    I haven't been formally diagnosed with OCD, but other people in my family have it, and my issues have gotten so bad that I could possibly be diagnosed with it. I don't just have intrusive thoughts/obsessions, I have a lot of compulsions, though my ITs/obsessions are the main reason I have those compulsions.

    Working on my emotional awareness has also been useful for dealing with my ITs and compulsions. If I can recognize that I am already upset it can help me kind of "predict" how "intense" my thoughts about these things will be, and at least help me avoid giving into the compulsions I may have from them. I need to work on getting better at recognizing my stressors and avoiding the ones that I can.

    I've also tried the thing about acknowledging/accepting that the thoughts are irrational. It's very helpful, though I think it is hard to successfully do sometimes due to how intense my issues can be. It's like if I try to accept that those thoughts are irrational, I often get bombarded with more thoughts about how if I ignore those ones and something bad happens it'll be worse, because I could have prevented it by not convincing myself that those worries are irrational. It does work, but it just seems to trigger more doubt and anxiety sometimes. I'm unsure how I can go about avoiding and coping with that.

    Exercise does seem very useful for redirecting my focus onto other things, and to kind of "reset" my thoughts. I've honestly found keeping up on exercise hard to manage with my other responsibilities, though having a large dog around has been good so far since I have to walk and run with him a lot. Hopefully that increased amount of exercise will help me calm my intrusive thoughts more.

    I think that trying to keep my thoughts in the present is a really good idea. A lot of my issues can be about the future repercussions of doing/not doing certain things, so if I was able to keep myself in the present that'd help me not focus on those thoughts as much.

    I also honestly can't sleep with music, TVs, or really any source of sound on, but I have noticed that if I play a game or watch a show I like right before going to bed, that it can help me think about the game/show while trying to sleep instead of my intrusive thoughts. I'll certainly try to do that more often and see if it helps me get to sleep better. I have been relying on medications so far that just leave me feeling exhausted once they wear off, but simultaneously wake me up and prevent me from going back to sleep since I'm not as sedated. 

    Thank you guys for your advice and suggestions!
  • blazingstarblazingstar Citizen
    edited May 2021
    At our best, we hold only a sliver of all the wisdom of life and its many wonders. We each contribute what we have learned and/or the problems we have faced. Each can take what resonates with each and leave the rest. 

    One of blessings of this forum and other places where people flourish, is we can share these gifts and support each other. 

    Bender, I look to your posts as wisdom incarnate. I missed you so much on WP and am so glad to have found you again. 

    Hylian, take what you can and use it to grow your life.  Once learned, patience eases all the troubles in life. It is easier for older people to have patience, because for us, six months, a year, a decade, is not long to wait. For me particularly, I can more easily practice patience because I have seen over time the patterns in life. Took me a very long time. 
  • BenderBender Citizen

    Bender, I look to your posts as wisdom incarnate. I missed you so much on WP and am so glad to have found you again. 

    Thank you so much for this, Blaze, it means a lot to me ❤

    I'm also very happy that even if I decided to take an indefinite break from WP for my own well-being, I can still talk to people like yourself and others here who have so much to offer in terms of insight and knowledge. 

    I automatically resort to introspection combined with research as a way of making sense or progress, but sometimes you really, really need input from others or a pair of fresh eyes you can trust 🙂


  • BenderBender Citizen
    Hylian said:


    I've also tried the thing about acknowledging/accepting that the thoughts are irrational. It's very helpful, though I think it is hard to successfully do sometimes due to how intense my issues can be. It's like if I try to accept that those thoughts are irrational, I often get bombarded with more thoughts about how if I ignore those ones and something bad happens it'll be worse, because I could have prevented it by not convincing myself that those worries are irrational. It does work, but it just seems to trigger more doubt and anxiety sometimes. I'm unsure how I can go about avoiding and coping with that.


    Thinking out loud here: due to my chronic anxiety, I pretty much prepare for the worse in most if not all situations, as nothing is actually impossible, just improbable. Somehow, if I feel I have something resembling a strategy or course of action for the worst-case scenario, I feel more relaxed and can concentrate more on better outcomes.

    I also try to remind myself of all the moments in my life when things looked hopeless or I felt I lost everything (I can actually still feel the despair and fear I was feeling at the time) and that such moments are actually less permanent than they seem.

  • Lost_DragonLost_Dragon Citizen, Member
    I have intrusive thoughts - particularly around accidental harm especially manslaughter. Or about doing things that I would never actually do - such as kicking puppies in the face or abusing a child. 

    The way I cope with them is thinking about how silly they are and discrediting them. I know that, logically, I'm not going to go up to someone's child and hurt that person. Since I know that's not something I actually want to do, that it's just a passing intrusive thought and does not accurately reflect me as a person. That the entire reason it's disturbing and intrusive is because it's something I deem abhorrent.

    I remind myself that I am the one in control of my actions and that I have nothing to fear. That I could stress about the things I might accidentally do one day, but that there is no point in doing so because there is no new conclusion to make from having that conversation with myself over and over again. 

    So when I do find myself having an intrusive thought, I treat it like someone annoying just gave me a piece of unconstructive criticism. I roll my eyes, acknowledge the thought (trying to ignore it directly seems to make it worse) but I acknowledge it for what it is (my brain throwing things together) and that it has no bearing on my character. 
  • AmityAmity Administrator, Citizen
    It seems like this health issue is causing you distress Hylian and it sounds quite challenging, I think I would feel quite worn down by it.
    Do you have a good family doctor or other mental health professional you could talk to about this?

    The intrusive thoughts I have are of the trauma related variety. Though I do remember in my teenage years having something akin to compulsions and rituals to deal with the overwhelming stress in my life.

    Blaze and Bender have great advice for dealing with this type of intrusive thought, I'll share a recent example.
    I've been in a grumpy, irritated mindset for a couple of weeks now and there have been increasing old thoughts about my ex husband (a not so charming type of man) coming bursting into my headspace uninvited as they aways do.

    I hadnt been able to piece it together till today when V and I talked it over and I realised that I had a laterally related trigger a few weeks back that happened at an inopportune time, but I never came back to it, to resolve the issues it would create.

    So here I am now, right back to almost decade ago, yet again with an old familiar and unwanted way of thinking, how I will deal with it now?
    Let it exist without emphasis, let it fade without any emphasis, like a cloud floating on by. That bit way harder than writing it is lol.
    Afterwards I will call it as it is, ASD style I label it as the intrusive thought it is and do my best to keep it in the untrusted thoughts category.

    I dont think I would have got to this point though without the help of a psychotherapist, I was too close to the problems and needed a skilled/experienced outside perspective to find a way through.
  • BenderBender Citizen
    Amity said:

    I've been in a grumpy, irritated mindset for a couple of weeks now and there have been increasing old thoughts about my ex husband (a not so charming type of man) coming bursting into my headspace uninvited as they aways do.

    I hadnt been able to piece it together till today when V and I talked it over and I realised that I had a laterally related trigger a few weeks back that happened at an inopportune time, but I never came back to it, to resolve the issues it would create.

    This is exactly how it happens to me too. Due to alexithymia, it will take me a while to even realise something is off, then there's the process of figuring out what. It helps if someone close to you notices you're acting differently and helps you figure out what happened.

    Let it exist without emphasis, let it fade without any emphasis, like a cloud floating on by. That bit way harder than writing it is lol.
    Spot on, this is precisely what I meant by acknowledging without dwelling on it. It takes a lot of mental discipline to turn this into a habit.

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