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How To Handle Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder This Winter

How To Handle Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder This Winter

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is sometimes called winter depression. This type of depression typically creeps in during the cold and dark winter months. Symptoms of SAD are quite similar to those associated with major depression. The effects of SAD include feeling depressed for a prolonged period of time, low energy and motivation, feelings of hopelessness and loss of interest in your favorite activities. Seasonal affective disorder may affect your eating habits, which in turn leads to changes in weight. Sleep is also affected, with some experiencing insomnia (lack of sleep) and others experiencing hypersomnia (sleeping too much). 

Seasonal Affective Disorder During COVID-19

As you can imagine, the symptoms of SAD are exacerbated while living through a global pandemic. If you’ve been feeling especially depressed recently, you’re not alone. Millions of people across the world are currently coping with increased feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and fear.

The pandemic is far from over. COVID-19 can worsen the effects of SAD in a number of ways. Many of us are still unable to have the level of social interaction that we may have grown accustomed to pre-pandemic. Prolonged social isolation will lead to worsening symptoms of depression and feelings of hopelessness. Additionally, the pandemic has caused so much trauma – deaths, loss of jobs, loss of home, loss of relationships. These stressors are sure to have an impact on your mental health. All of this is coinciding with the holiday season, which can be an emotionally triggering time for many people. With all of these variables happening simultaneously, 

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder shows itself in many ways. Common signs and symptoms include oversleeping and a change in your eating habits. Many people experience increased cravings for carbs or sweets. Because of this weight gain is another common side effect of SAD. 

Those experiencing SAD will feel down for most of the day, on an almost daily basis. It’s common to lose interest in activities you typically and to feel sluggish or fatigued. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt or shame may pop up during this time of year. You may have difficulty concentrating, which can impact your performance at work or in your relationships. Some people will experience suicidal ideation as a result of SAD. 

Tips for coping with SAD During COVID-19

Self-Care Is a Must

During a long and dreary winter, the days tend to bleed into each other and you may find yourself neglecting self-care tasks. Be sure to keep up with your hygiene routines, stay hydrated, eat healthy foods and prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. Many people are more prone to illnesses during this time, so take extra care of your physical health.

Beyond that, you should also make time for those ‘extra’ self-care activities that just make you feel good. Whether it’s a bubble bath, time with a good book or cooking a favorite meal, you can help manage SAD by doing things that you enjoy. This is known as behavioral activation, and it’s an important element of cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Move Your Body

Exercise benefits both our physical and mental health. During the winter months, it can be hard to find the motivation to get moving. But by staying active, you’re helping to reduce the effects of SAD not only by releasing endorphins, but also due to behavioral activation, which we mentioned earlier. 

With the right gear, you can go walking or running outside during the colder months. Consider investing in a few pieces of winter exercise wear to encourage yourself to get moving. If you prefer to work out indoors and have access to exercise equipment, the treadmill and stationary bike are great options. If you don’t have access to equipment, there are endless apps, videos and websites that can help you to workout without having to leave your living room. 

Give Light Therapy a Try 

Light therapy is commonly recommended for treating seasonal affective disorder. During light therapy, you are exposed to artificial light that mimics natural outdoor light. Research shows that exposure to light release a chemical in the brain that lifts your mood and eases the effect of SAD. Light therapy lamps are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased online. Try using the lamp within the first hour of waking up in the morning. 

Practice Mindfulness Daily

Mindfulness has been proven to be effective in managing the symptoms of SAD. Mindfulness meditation gives you a moment to be still and calm and to notice our thoughts in a clear and non-judgmental way. We often move through life so quickly that we rarely stop to notice our thinking patterns or negative self-talk. 

Meditation isn’t the only way to practice mindfulness. You can incorporate mindfulness into your days in simple, ways. When eating a meal or drinking a cup of tea, try to do it more mindfully. On your next walk, you can be more mindful by making the effort to observe and appreciate your environment. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help

If you’ve been feeling down for a prolonged period of time, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Let your loved ones know what you’ve been experiencing. Your support system can be extremely beneficial in helping you to manage the symptoms of SAD. Having a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on go a very long way. 

Are you able to get help with tasks like cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning and laundry? For many people experiencing depression, these tasks are incredibly difficult to do. Are you able to get help from a partner, friend or family member? If you have the means, consider delegating these tasks to a grocery delivery service or laundry service. 

If your symptoms have been present for a prolonged period, it’s worth considering professional help. By working with a therapist, you’re taking a big step towards managing, reducing and even eliminating the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be an effective method of treating SAD because it teaches you to change the way you think.

The clinicians at Flourish Psychology are trained and qualified in aa number of treatment modalities, including cognitive behavioral therapy. Contact us to schedule your first session. 

SELF-SABOTAGE: WHAT IT IS + HOW TO STOP DOING IT

SELF-SABOTAGE: WHAT IT IS + HOW TO STOP DOING IT

Self-sabotage happens to the best of us, and we’re sometimes not even aware that we’re doing it. Self-sabotage describes actively or passively taking steps that prevent us from achieving our goals or becoming our best selves. This kind of behavior can affect every aspect of our lives, from our careers and relationships to our finances and personal development. 

The term is used to describe behaviors, actions, omissions, or even thought processes that create difficulties in daily life and have a negative impact on long-term goals. Quite often, people are unaware that they are self-sabotaging, thus repeating cycles and patterns of negativity throughout their lives. 

Only by identifying our self-sabotaging habits do we begin to take the necessary steps to stop. With further introspection, we can uncover the origin of our self-sabotaging patterns, which better enables us to disengage from these habits.

Signs and Examples

Sometimes, it’s hard to identify these behaviors. You can sabotage yourself in many different ways. Some may be obvious (such as overspending on shopping when you should be saving towards a goal), but some are much more difficult to spot. 

A simple way to identify self-sabotaging behavior is to think back through your past to determine any negative patterns. For example, you may realize that all your former romantic partners were unaffectionate, or that you’re always late to job interviews. Consider how your actions, omissions, or thought patterns have perpetuated the patterns. Ask yourself if the patterns are in alignment with your values and your long-term goals. 

The clearest sign of self-sabotage is your life being misaligned with your values and your vision for the future. Identify the goal that you want to achieve (such as having a clean, decluttered environment) and then identify which of your behaviors are undermining that goal (such as going to bed without washing the dishes or clearing off your desk). 

One of the most common examples of self-sabotage is procrastination. Though we want to achieve our goals, we delay or avoid doing the things that will help us to achieve them. Other forms of self-sabotage include poor money management, overworking, substance abuse, or not taking prescribed medication. Self-sabotage can be as simple as forgetting to cancel subscriptions that you don’t use or as complex as repeatedly allowing childhood trauma to manifest in adult relationships, without taking steps to address the trauma. 

Another common example of self-sabotage is chronic lateness. Lateness can negatively affect both our professional and personal lives. Substance abuse is another common form of self-sabotage, which can impact all aspects of our lives, including our finances, health, career and relationships. A fear of intimacy commitment is another common way that we sabotage ourselves. These fears can make it incredibly difficult to maintain both romantic and platonic relationships. 

Negative thought patterns can also manifest in self-sabotaging behaviors. For example, if you have the unhelpful core belief that you will never find love, you may be reluctant to do the very things that would lead to you finding love. If you have the unhelpful core belief that people are not to be trusted, you could be preventing yourself from enjoying the benefits of being vulnerable in your close relationships or from getting the help that you may need. 

Of course, there are countless other examples of self-sabotaging behaviors. Working with a therapist is a great way to unpack the ways that you may be undermining your own success or growth. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective form of therapy that helps you to identify and modify your unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors. 

Causes of Self-Sabotage

These behaviors can be caused by a variety of reasons. When it comes to relationships, self-sabotage is often caused by fear – fear of rejection, fear of being hurt or fear of repeating an unpleasant experience from a previous relationship. Fear can lead to self-sabotage in many aspects of our lives. For example, a fear of rejection may cause us to not go after opportunities that could improve our lives. Fear of failure may prevent us from launching that business or writing that book. 

Sometimes, these behaviors are the product of observing and mirroring the behaviors of our parents. For example, a child who grew up in a poor household may still maintain a scarcity mindset well into adulthood, even after improving their financial situation. This can manifest in self-destructive behaviors such as hoarding or a lack of generosity. 

Overcoming Self-Sabotage

After you’ve identified your self-sabotaging behavior and considered its origin, you now need to understand the purpose it serves. For instance, procrastination serves the purpose of avoiding something unpleasant or intimidating. Substance use/abuse serves the purpose of temporarily making us feel good or alleviating stress. 

Can you think of a healthier behavior that can serve the same purpose? Let’s say your self-sabotaging behavior is oversharing on social media when you’re angry. Posting online allows you to vent and to voice your opinion, which feels good when you’re angry. How else can you achieve this? Could you write in a journal or call a friend instead? Could you listen to some music until you’re calmer and then revisit the situation? Have a plan in place for the next time you feel the need to engage in self-sabotaging behavior. The next time you feel like overspending after a hard day, you’ll remember your plan to call your mom and put your credit card in a hard-to-access location. 

Set yourself up for success. If you want to eat healthier snacks instead of junk food, keep a healthy snack in your bag. If you want to stop using video games to procrastinate while working from home, put the console away at the beginning of your workday or week. Make it easy for you to choose healthy behaviors while putting up barriers for self-sabotaging behaviors. 

By working with a therapist, you’ll have the support of a qualified and experienced mental health professional. Therapy is an excellent tool for identifying negative thought and behavior patterns that you may not even be aware of. The clinicians at Flourish Psychology specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other forms of therapy that can help you to live your best life. 

Contact us today to schedule your first session. 

How to Uncover Unhelpful Core Beliefs

How to Uncover Unhelpful Core Beliefs

Core beliefs are the fundamental and foundational ideas that you hold about yourself, others and the world around you. They can best be described as the filter through which you see and interpret the information that you receive from others and from the outside world. These beliefs are deeply embedded and have a significant impact on your daily thought processes and decision making. They are always in the back of your mind and manifest in many different ways throughout our lives. These beliefs have a tremendous impact on everything from self-esteem to relationships and even your finances. They help to shape your perception of reality and are often the driving force behind your automatic or intrusive thoughts. 

Here’s an example. Your boss sends an email requesting an urgent meeting tomorrow morning. The email comes out of the blue and you aren’t sure what it may be about. If your automatic thought is that you’re going to be fired, you may have a core belief that you are not good at your job or a belief that good things are always taken away from you. Someone with different core beliefs may have a more neutral attitude towards the meeting. Another person may believe that the meeting is signaling a promotion or salary increase. 

Most of our core beliefs are inherited from our families of origin. As children, the adults around us show and tell us (both directly and indirectly) the things that we should believe and accept as true. We emulate our caregivers and deeply internalize the things that we are told and shown. As we age, these beliefs become even more entrenched and we may even subconsciously seek out situations and experiences that corroborate our beliefs. In this way, the beliefs are reinforced as our experiences seem to confirm their validity. 

The good news is that you have the power to alter your core beliefs and the way you see yourself and the world around you. 

How Core Beliefs Shape Our Worldview 

Your worldview is a system of beliefs about reality and society. Like your core beliefs, your worldview is initially formed in childhood through your interactions with the adults around you. As you age and go through life, your experiences continue to shape your worldview. This system of beliefs is heavily influenced by your core beliefs and you ultimately come to accept these beliefs are the definitive truth about society and the world you live in. 

Beliefs About Ourselves

Your core beliefs about yourself are often rooted in childhood experiences. The adults in your life told you things about yourself and you accept these things as truths. These beliefs are also heavily influenced by the way that you are treated by others as you make your way through life. Both helpful and unhelpful core beliefs about yourself are formed gradually over time. With effort, you can alter or improve your core beliefs about yourself. Unhelpful beliefs include “I will never find love” and “I am a lazy person.” Helpful beliefs about yourself include “I make good decisions” and “I am worthy of good things.” Your core beliefs about yourself help to form the “rules” that you set for yourself as to what you can and cannot do. For example, you may subconsciously believe that you are not “allowed” to express anger or sadness. This rule may be tied to a core belief that your emotions are burdens to other people. You may have formed this core belief based on how people have reacted to your emotions in the past. 

Beliefs About Others 

Our experience with other people helps to form our core beliefs about people in general. For example, someone who has repeatedly experienced infidelity in relationships may form the view that “everybody cheats” even though this it not an objective truth. Because of this belief, they may approach relationships with cynicism or may avoid romantic relationships altogether. This can have the counterproductive effect of chasing away a good, faithful partner. It can also cause a self-fulfilling prophecy, where they begin cheating too, since “everybody does it.”

Core beliefs about other people can easily turn into stereotyping. For example, it’s a common core belief that wealthy people are inherently evil or selfish. This core belief does not take into consideration that wealth and morality often have little to do with each other. Many wealthy people are generous and use their money to positively impact the lives of others. Unchecked core beliefs about others can lead to self-sabotage. For example, if you believe that wealthy people are evil, you may subconsciously deny yourself of prosperity to avoid becoming “one of them.”

Core Beliefs About The World

How do you see the world around you? Is it a “dog eat dog” world or do you believe that most people are inherently good and kind? Your core beliefs about the world impact how you make your way through life and how you interact with the world. Those who believe in “every man for himself” will approach life differently from those who subscribe to the belief that “I am my brother’s keeper.”

Uncovering Your Unhelpful Core Beliefs

How much thought have you given to your core beliefs and how they may be impacting your daily life? Most of these beliefs sit unrecognized in the very back of our minds, yet they play such a significant role in our lives. By uncovering your core beliefs, you will be able to identify any unhelpful ideologies that can be replaced with healthier, more progressive beliefs. 

One way to uncover your unhelpful core beliefs on your own is to notice your automatic thoughts. The next time you have an immediate negative thought about yourself, take a moment to notice and examine it. For example, if you make a mistake at work and your first thought is “I can’t get anything right,” ask yourself where this thought came from. Do you have evidence for and against the thought? Can you think of anyone from your past who caused you to feel that way? By noticing and questioning your negative automatic thoughts, you can gain valuable insight on your core beliefs. 

Working with a therapist is an excellent way to uncover your core beliefs and identify their origins. Through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other forms of therapy, you can develop core beliefs that are healthy, helpful and positive. 

Contact us today to schedule your first session. 

5 Surprising Ways That Fear Leads to Procrastination

5 Surprising Ways That Fear Leads to Procrastination

With spooky season in full swing, fear is an emotion that is at the forefront of our minds. Fear often has the effect of causing us to avoid the object of the fear. As we get older, we stop fearing the monsters under our bed and begin fearing seemingly more innocuous things. An important phone call can get the heart racing just as much as the latest horror movie, so we avoid making that phone call. In this way, fear can lead to both long term and short term procrastination. 

Fear is an emotion that lets us know that something is wrong or that we’re in danger. It’s biologically designed to cause avoidance of the object of the fear. In this way, it can help to keep us out of harm’s way. However, sometimes we fear things that are not actually dangerous (such as starting a new project at work or having a hard conversation with a friend). Even though we aren’t in any real danger, the fear can still lead to avoidance. Recently, we blogged about various causes of procrastination and suggested strategies for reducing this common habit. In the spirit of Halloween, we’ll be expanding on the strong link between fear and avoidance, while exploring some of the most common fears that lead to procrastination.

Fear of Failure 

Fear of failure is one of the most common fears experienced by most people throughout life. This fear is often linked to perfectionism or black and white thinking. Instead of acknowledging the huge grey area between success and failure, this cognitive distortion causes us to believe that if something isn’t done perfectly, then it’s a complete failure. A persistent fear of failure may be linked to low self-esteem. If you don’t believe that you have the capability or knowledge to achieve something, it’s easy to constantly feel as though you won’t achieve your goals. This fear is typically characterized by an avoidance of the activity that is inciting the fear in the first place. In this way, procrastination and a fear of failure often go hand in hand. Many people fear the possibility of failure so much that they will put off beginning a task or procrastinate when it comes to the pursuit of goals.

Fear of Success

You may be surprised to know that the fear of success can be just as debilitating as a fear of failure. We all want to succeed, so how is it possible to fear success? The truth is that success can be scary. Success can mean more publicity or notoriety and this can be intimidating for those who prefer to stay out of the spotlight. Success brings great pressure to continue to perform and often comes with additional responsibilities and challenges. It’s also common to fear possible reactions to your success. Will your success alienate you from your peers or family members? Will people think that you’re bragging or snobby because of your newfound success?

In the same way that a fear of failure can cause procrastination, the fear of success can make it difficult to start and complete projects. Because you fear the aftermath of the success, you subconsciously delay starting the task altogether. 

Procrastination and Fear of Rejection

Everyone has feared rejection at some point in their life. This fear can develop in early childhood and shows up in various settings throughout life – socially, professionally and in our romantic lives. We may first experience it when we are afraid of getting turned down by a parent, so we avoid asking for permission to do something. The fear has many underlying causes and, if left unchecked, can place significant limitations on a person’s life. A fear of rejection can affect your ability to meet new friends, form romantic relationships and advance in the workplace. We often need to “put ourselves out there” in order to succeed and the fear of rejection makes this very difficult. 

For example, you may procrastinate on applications for jobs, scholarships or other opportunities due to the fear of rejection. You may also put off sending important emails because of the fear of rejection. 

Fear of Judgment and Procrastination

The fear of judgment is experienced by people from all walks of life because we all want to feel accepted and understood by those around us. The fear of being judged can hold you back in many ways. You may be afraid of being judged while exercising, which causes you to avoid getting a gym membership or going outside for a run. You may want to start a blog, but you’re afraid of people reading and judging the things you write. Fearing the negative opinions and reactions of others often leads to procrastinating on doing the things that we really want to do. 

A fear of judgment can also have a negative impact on interpersonal relationships. Are you hiding parts of yourself from the people close to you? A fear of judgment can often lead to a lack of vulnerability in relationships, which limits the quality of your connections. This fear of judgment can cause you to procrastinate on having difficult (but necessary) conversations with the people in your life. 

Fear of Missing Out

The fear of missing out (often shortened to FOMO) stems from the perception that everyone else is more successful or happier than you are. FOMO can cause feelings of anxiety, as you are led to believe that your peers are progressing and leaving you behind. It’s often triggered by observing others and making comparisons. 

FOMO is linked to smartphone addiction. To avoid feeling left out, we’re tempted to constantly keep up with social media posts, the latest headlines and the newest trending topics. Smartphone use in turn triggers feelings of FOMO, as we are often watching the highlight reels of others

Can you identify with any of these fears and are you able to see how they may be holding you back? Last Halloween, we explored the ways that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you to face and overcome your fears. By working with a therapist, you’ll be able to uncover how these fears may be manifesting in your life or preventing you from achieving your goals. Through CBT and other forms of talk therapy, you can develop the skills needed to “feel the fear and do it anyway!” Contact us to schedule your first session.

4 Causes of Procrastination – and how to overcome it

4 Causes of Procrastination – and how to overcome it

Procrastination is a common human experience that we’re all prone to. As children, we put off doing chores and homework even though we might get in trouble. As adults, procrastination can affect us at work, home, in our personal lives and even our health and finances. It can take the form of putting of daily tasks (like washing the dishes) for a short period of time, or putting off bigger tasks (like getting a check-up at the doctor) over a longer period of time. 

Even the most hardworking, organized and disciplined people struggle with procrastination because it has very little to do with laziness, poor time management or a lack of discipline. Procrastination is simply an unhealthy coping mechanism used to handle difficult emotions or situations. Identifying the reason for your procrastination is the first step to getting back on track with the things you want to do.

If procrastination is a habitual part of your life or you’ve been procrastinating for an abnormally long time, it can be described as chronic. This is a common issue for people with ADHD and other mental health concerns. Key indicators can be a habit of being late for meetings or missing deadlines. It can also show up as putting things off in multiple areas of your life – at work, at home, in relationships, etc. 

When procrastination begins to negatively affect your mental or physical health, your finances or your relationships, you may wish to start working with a therapist. This can help you to uncover the reasons for your procrastination, adjust your mindset and take the first step towards achieving your goals. 

Here are four of the most common causes of procrastination. 

1. Perfectionism and Procrastination

Perfectionism can show up in different ways. You may be waiting for the “perfect” time to do something, even though there will never be such a time. You may be so desirous of a perfect outcome that you spend excessive amounts of time in the planning phase, but the actual task is being put off. Perfectionists are prone to all or nothing thinking, where something is either perfect or terrible, with no in-between. Quite often, they will procrastinate because they fear they will be unable to meet the unreasonable standards they set for themselves. They won’t be able to do it perfectly, so they avoid doing it at all. 

If this feels familiar, remind yourself that done is better than perfect. Embrace the concept of “good enough” and lower your unreasonable standards. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be good enough. A slightly flawed completed task is better than one you’ve been putting off because it needs to be flawless.

2. Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is one of the most common causes of procrastination. When we are afraid of a negative outcome, we will naturally try to avoid it. When you put off a task, you are trying to delay the failure that becomes a possibility once the task is complete. By changing your attitude towards failure, you may be able to break the procrastination habit. Remind yourself that every successful person has faced significant setbacks and losses along the way. Failure represents a unique learning opportunity. With the knowledge you gained from a failure, you’ll have a better chance of success next time around.

3. Lack of Resources or Information

Another common reason for procrastination is simply feeling that you are ill-equipped to handle a task. Maybe you don’t have sufficient information or you find the task confusing. When we don’t know how to begin a task, it’s easy to keep putting it off. By gaining clarity, we feel a lot more confident in our ability to perform.

If you’re procrastinating because of a lack of clarity (such as not knowing the process to do something or how to access the tools you need), make it a priority to seek information. For example, many people delay planning for retirement because they think it’s too complicated or expensive. By making just one phone call, you’ll find out that it’s a lot easier than you think.  Do your research and ask questions to ensure you have all the information you need to confidently get started. 

4. Low Self-Esteem and procrastination

Low self-esteem can lead to procrastination when we doubt our ability to perform. If we believe that we aren’t competent, intelligent or skilled enough to do something, it makes sense that we would avoid that thing. By not facing the task, we don’t have to feel the difficult and unpleasant emotional effects of low self-esteem. 

Building healthy self-esteem is a continuous process of changing the way your feel about yourself. An effective way of doing that is by providing yourself with evidence of your worth. By starting and completing a task, you’re showing yourself that you have a lot to be proud of. 

Strategies for Reducing Procrastination

It’s normal to procrastinate from time to time. First, ask yourself if you genuinely need a break and if so, give yourself guilt-free permission to relax. Burnout can lead to a lack of motivation or energy and can make it difficult to start or finish tasks. Rest is an important element of productivity, since we need to be well rested to do our best work. If you don’t need to rest, try to devise a strategy to start. Starting is the hardest part and a task begins to feel more manageable once we’ve gotten over that first hurdle. 

Taking a small first step is often all that we need to get the momentum going. If you’ve been putting off cleaning your home, try starting with just one corner or one sink. Set a timer for five minutes and pick up as many items as possible. If you feel like stopping after completing your small step, it’s okay to do that. Quite often, we want to continue once we’ve gotten started. If you feel motivated to keep going, go for it! 

Working with a therapist is an excellent way to address your procrastination. You’ll have professional guidance as you discover the causes of this habit and how it may be linked to your mental health or past experiences. Using CBT or other techniques, a therapist can also help you to improve your mindset about perfectionism, failure and your views on yourself and your work. 

Contact us today to schedule your first session. 

How to Identify and Address Intrusive Thoughts

How to Identify and Address Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are those thoughts that pop into your head seemingly out of nowhere. They happen automatically and can happen at any time. These thoughts are usually unwanted, unpleasant or even painful. Intrusive thoughts are often repetitive in nature and usually come in the form of mental images or statements said to yourself.

These thoughts are normal and most of the time, they come and go without causing us much distress. They become a problem when they are too intense, when they start to negatively impact our behavior or when they cause us to harm ourselves and others. 

Why Does This Happen?

Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts from time to time. Sometimes, they are unpleasant or embarrassing memories or replaying scary or traumatic situations. Intrusive thoughts do not always indicate an underlying mental health condition and are not always indicative of a need for medical attention. But if your thoughts are very intense or have been affecting you for a prolonged period of time, it can be a sign of a mental health condition. 

People living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience flashbacks and other intrusive thoughts connected to the traumatic event. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is known to cause uncontrollable and obsessive intrusive thoughts that may cause you to take certain actions (compulsions) in an effort to stop the obsessive thoughts. People who have developed an eating disorder commonly experience overwhelming thoughts about food, their health and their bodies. 

Common intrusive thoughts

People have intrusive thoughts about all sorts of things and these thoughts are usually unique to their personal circumstances. For those who have experienced trauma, it’s normal to have recurring intrusive thoughts related to the event, including flashbacks or ruminating on how you could have avoided the event or done things differently. People with low self-esteem often feel like there’s a bully in their head. These intrusive thoughts tend to be self-deprecating in nature and can lead to decreased feelings of worth. 

Many people have intrusive thoughts about death and may fear that they are going to get into an accident or that someone will harm them. Other people may have intrusive thoughts about catching a disease or being poisoned. It’s also quite common to have thoughts of committing illegal or violent acts, whether against yourself or others. Sexual thoughts are also very common. Many people experience unwanted or inappropriate thoughts or images of sex. For example, heterosexual people may have an intrusive homosexual thoughts or vice versa. Or you may have an intrusive sexual thought about an inappropriate person like a family member.

It’s always important to remember that you did not cause your intrusive thoughts. They happen automatically and they are normal. Most of these thoughts are never acted upon. Intrusive thoughts become harmful when they become obsessive or when they begin to negatively influence our behavior. 

Three-Step Method for Addressing Intrusive Thoughts

  1. Don’t try to suppress the thought

It’s normal to want to suppress an unpleasant thought when it pops up. Sometimes we even physically shake or hit our heads, trying to get the thought out. But this is a counterproductive strategy that can lead to even more rumination. Here’s an example:

Don’t think about purple elephants. Are you envisioning a purple elephant right now? Are you able to get yourself to stop? Probably not. 

Suppressing an intrusive thought tends to have the boomerang effect of the thought continually returning to you. By suppressing a thought, we are actually thinking about the thought, which can turn into a cycle of rumination. 

2. Label the thought

A critical step to addressing and eliminating these thoughts is to acknowledge and label them. When you realize that you are having one of these thoughts, it can be helpful to say to yourself or out loud “I am having an intrusive thought.” This can help to prevent you from attaching yourself to the thought. You are aware of exactly what it is, so you are better able to control it. Some people even give these thoughts a name to separate themselves from the thought. 

For example, you can decide to call the intrusive voice in your head after a villain in a childhood cartoon. When the thought pops up, you can say to yourself “That’s just a Plankton thought.” This simple strategy is helpful for both children and adults.

3. Talk to the thought

Now it’s time to actually address the thought. Talk to it as if it were a separate body. Let it know that it’s not wanted or helpful right now. Let it know that you’re aware that it’s just an intrusive thought and that you don’t have to attach yourself to it. If you’ve named the thought, you can address it by name. 

By practicing this three-step method when unwanted thoughts arise, you may notice over time that you’re less affected by your thoughts. By simply acknowledging and addressing them, you can take back your power.

If you have been struggling with uncontrollable, intense or unbearable intrusive thoughts, or if you are worried that these thoughts may cause you ongoing distress, it’s important to seek help. By working with a therapist, you can uncover the root of your unpleasant thoughts and develop actionable skills and strategies for addressing, minimizing or eliminating intrusive thoughts. 

Contact us today to schedule your first session.