This is the fourth in a series of blogs about obsessive thoughts which can interfere greatly with our emotional well-being. One powerful way to beat them is visualising your mind in the following way:
Imagine yourself standing on a street and all around you thoughts are floating lazily by. Some of the thoughts are your own, other thoughts are from outside sources you access such as other people, TV, Internet etc. You notice that when you pay attention to a thought it gravitates nearer. The thoughts you ignore simply float on by.
When you focus and examine a thought up closely, you notice how it connects to another similar thought, and you find yourself jumping from one thought to the next. Sometimes these are practical, day-to-day thoughts such as stuff you have to do, chores, etc., or the thoughts can themed by the past or a daydream (“what if…”).
In our imagined scenario, you unexpectedly notice a thought hovering in front of you that triggers some anxiety in you. This thought is called “Fear A.” A could be a fear of having a panic attack, of ill health, or even something bizarre. You find it impossible not to look at the thought, and as you give it your full attention, this causes it to come closer and closer. When you examine the thought, you begin to react with fear as you do not like what you see.
You further notice how that initial scary thought is connected to more worrying “what if” thoughts that you also examine in detail. The more you try to escape from the thought by pushing it away, the more it seems to follow you around as if it were stuck to you. You try to focus on more pleasant thoughts, but you find yourself continuously coming back to the fearful thought.
What makes the difference between the thoughts that just float on by and those that stick? The emotional reaction
Only the ones we pay to attention to, the ones that get a good strong emotional reaction will stick and stay firmly in place and start to attract other similar thoughts. That emotional reaction from us is a thought’s energy source – once you are having an emotional reaction to a thought, you will be regularly drawn to that thought until the emotional reaction has lost its energy and faded away.
On the positive side, if someone pays you a very positive compliment, you may find yourself unintentionally drawn to that thought anytime you have a spare moment. This can improve your overall level of confidence and mood throughout the day.
But our brains sadly are wired so that we focus less on the positive and more on the negative. So very often we forget about those positive compliments all too easily and are drawn more frequently to what might upset us. Taking the opposite example, if a work colleague criticises you, I am sure that you find the emotional reaction to that thought much more intense and probably very long-lasting. We have an awful tendency to “pick” away at these old hurts just like continually picking at a scar on our body.
A change in your reaction
It’s may not come easily to you, in fact it may take a lot of effort at least at the start – but a change in the way you have been reacting to the intrusive thought will quickly disarm the emotional reaction you are having to the negative thoughts. Once the emotional reaction has been significantly reduced, the anxious intrusive thoughts will dissipate. In the past you have probably tried to rid yourself of the thoughts by attempting to struggle free of them.
The trick, however, is not to attempt to be free of them but to have a new reaction to them when they run through your mind. We can never fully control what goes through our minds, but we can control how we react to what goes on there.
Going back to the original visualisation
You have Fear “A” going on in your mind. Don’t push it away, tell yourself that everything is fine, the thought can stay there if it wants but you aren’t going to pay any attention to it. You might have a short phrase that you repeat to yourself, such as: “OK that thought/fear is a possibility, but it is very remote and I am not going to worry about it now. Today I am trusting that all is well.”
When that is done, move your attention back to whatever you were doing. This takes practice in the beginning, but what will happen is that you will find yourself checking how you think/feel less and less during the day, and as it does not have a strong fearful emotion connected to it, your mind will not be drawn to troublesome intrusive thoughts.
I am indebted in this blog: https://www.panicaway.com/articles/intrusive-thoughts/
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
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See also: Anxiety Symptoms, Intrusive Thoughts, Intrusive Thoughts 2, Obsessive Thoughts