Today’s comment is How to Stop Intrusive and Obsessive Thoughts. I got the idea to do this video after a number of people on my live you tube chats repeat asked, “Dr. Bloch, how can I stop these intrusive thoughts? This a big problem for those of us who suffer from depression. So let’s start by asking, What is an intrusive thought?” I like what Wikipedia says. “An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or upsetting idea that may become an obsession, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.”
Another name for intrusive thoughts is automatic negative thoughts, better known by their acronym (ANTS). By the way is there an anteater in the house.
The problem with I intrusive thoughts is they are repetitive, and over time create neural pathways in the brain, kind of like grooves in an LP vinyl record, that make them stronger and stronger. And while we can’t prevent these thoughts from arising, we can control how we respond to them. And so now I am going to give you a few tips for doing this.
The first thing I am going to say is what not to do. Don’t dwell on the thoughts or try to fight against them. If you give them special attention or try to fight against them, they will become stronger. It’s like if you say to yourself, “Don’t think if pink elephants, what do you think will happen? You will think of a pink elephant.
Instead, it is better to practice the principle of non resistance and just observe the thoughts without grabbing onto them or pushing them away. You you can visualize your thoughts as clouds passing overhead or leaves drifting down a river. This process of observing your thoughts in a detached way is called mindfulness meditation practice. There is a ton of information out there about how to do this, I have a video called, “The Mindful Way Through Depression. It is easy to start a daily practice of mindfulness meditation practice, and if you have one you are far more likely to use it in the heat of the battle.
The second technique that I frequently use is to say, CANCEL! CANCEL! And then replace the negative thought with a more empowering one. This is based on the principle of thought substation which says two thoughts can to occupy the same place in your mind at the same time.
So if the intrusive thought is “I’ll never get better” you can replace it with the affirmation “This too shall pass” or “I can attract the resources I need to heal from this depression.”
Or, your intrusive thought could be one about the past such as, “I never should have moved to Oregon from San Diego,” to which you can respond, “I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time.” Or, “I can always move back to San Diego” which one of my clients actually did. In general, if the intrusive thought involves berating yourself for something you did in the past, then you should seek to practice self-forgiveness.