Intrusive thoughts are challenging for anyone, but here are two useful phrases I use to lessen my own.
One of the hardest things with intrusive thoughts is being able to ignore them. Once they enter our minds and begin to stress us out, there is no way to detach from them, no way to forget about them. There is no way out until our brains decide to let go.
But what if I told you that there are some simple phrases that you can use to stop your brain before it really starts to take hold of these anxious thoughts? What if I told you that a few simple words can make it that much easier to disengage?
The Lizard Brain
The amygdala, or the “lizard brain”, is responsible for reactions such as anxiety. In the rational brain, the frontal lobe works correctly and the anxious response produced by the amygdala is quickly quelled. However, when the frontal lobe doesn’t respond correctly (such as could be the case with a brain injury or neurological condition) or the amygdala is overactive (prolonged stress, hereditary or environmental factors), anxiety can ensue. Through retraining our brain, sometimes we can manage these symptoms.
Handling Intrusive Thoughts: The Power Of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
When I entered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions in 2014, I was sure that they wouldn’t work for me. There was no way, none, that any of this would work for me. In my mind, these guys were trying to cure a would-be killer and soon and sure enough, they would discover it.
But they were right.
When I held a knife, I realised how not-scary I felt. It was just a knife, a cutting thing, for food. All of this fear had all been worked up in my head. The more I saw the knife, the more bored of it I became. That was the plan of therapy, not to make me not think these things, but to make me bored of thinking these things. Ie, I’d no longer react to it.
But sometimes that’s not always possible. Sometimes your brain throws you a curveball and makes you worry when you wouldn’t normally fear. In those situations, there are a couple of phrases that you can use.
Phrase 1: So What?
When you challenge intrusive thoughts with “so what?”, you are asking what it means, and what importance do they have? For example, if, like me, you’ve been on a busy train platform and you’ve suddenly thought “what if I jump in front of the train right now?”, the natural reaction would be to worry. But what if, instead of worrying, we ask ourselves “so what?”, what does it mean? What logic can we gain from this thought?
The answer is simple: If we jump onto the track in front of a train, we are going to die.
Our thoughts do not reflect our true desires, they are our brains warning us of the potential dangers around us.
Being near the railway line does not necessarily indicate that you want to jump onto the track (unless you are suicidal, in which case please talk to someone), it just indicates that you know the tracks are not a safe place to be.
We can apply it to almost any situation:
What if she/he doesn’t love me?
Do you need another person to live with, anyway? That’s codependency, my friend. Discover yourself, be yourself and love you first. Never, ever give anyone else power over you.
That interview was stressful, what if I don’t get the job?
So what? Maybe it wasn’t the best job for you anyway, maybe there is something much better out there waiting for you.
When you apply this logic to these irrational thoughts, sometimes they actually deserve to be laughed at. And believe me, at some point, you probably will laugh at the ridiculousness of it all!
Phase 2: I Don’t Know
One of the hardest things to accept in life is uncertainty. In an uncertain world, the one thing we all want is certainty and guarantee. We cling to the past, afraid of the future. We cling to what we know because we are frightened of what awaits us, but the truth is, we really don’t know, and we never will know until we try.
How did I know I could make clotted cream fudge? I didn’t. How did I know that I would find my strength after losing my Dad? I had to wait and see for myself.
When we accept that we don’t know, we give up the need for certainty and we embrace change. We welcome each day with open arms and a thirst for what’s new. You become curious about life and excited for each day. Instead of putting things into orderly boxes, you accept that sometimes things fit somewhere in between.
The only way you’ll know, the only way you’ll ever have answers, is if you try.
How do you cope with intrusive thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
Until Next time,
Stay safe & have fun,