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Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts

We have all experienced having a song stuck in our head – singing and humming the melody completely unconsciously, annoying everyone around us, and ourselves. But what do we do when our thoughts get stuck in our heads? And better yet, what do we do when those thoughts feel upsetting or even frightening?

One technique I suggest to my clients is thought stopping. Thought stopping requires a bit of imagination but can be an effective tool for refocusing and reframing your negative thought patterns. Start by coming up with what you would rather be thinking. For example, if my intrusive thought was “I am failing at everything”, I might reframe that thought to “I am trying my best”. After you have established a more positive thought, it is time to put thought stopping into action. When the negative thought pops up, imagine a stop sign. You might put your hand up to tell the thought to stop, or even say “STOP!” out loud. Sometimes people find it helpful to swipe the thought away like clearing the apps off your phone. Whatever you do, once you have told that intrusive thought to stop, tell yourself (out loud or in your head) the thought you would rather believe. This might feel silly at first, and you might not believe yourself, but with practice, this can be an effective tool for stopping intrusive thoughts in their tracks.

Another technique you might try is putting your thoughts on trial. What evidence do you have to support the idea that you are failing at everything? Better yet, what evidence do you have that you are not? Take time to find the smallest accomplishments that prove your negative cognition wrong! Remember, even if you were not able to get out of bed today, you are still surviving, and that is an accomplishment worth celebrating! You might also try giving your intrusive thoughts a time limit. For example, if your thoughts are telling you that you are failing at everything, maybe allow yourself five minutes to really live in that thought. Set a timer and just notice the way your body feels when you think you are failing at everything. Notice the way it makes your heart rate increase and your stomach goes into knots. Notice the way your mind races. When the five minutes are up, STOP! Use your thought-stopping techniques or put the thought on trial. Go do something to distract yourself, but don’t let the thought take up more space in your head than the five minutes you gave it.

If your intrusive thoughts include thoughts of hurting yourself or others and you feel you might act on those thoughts, call the suicide helpline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911, or go to your nearest emergency room.

-Emily Rhoads, MS

Speak Your Mind


151 West Dunbar Cave Road
Clarksville, TN 37040

(931) 908-8808

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