This is about the ongoing saga of my friend who struggles with unwanted thoughts and phobias and has been given the (I think unhelpful) label of OCD.
If you’ve not seen the original unwanted thoughts article then it might be worth checking that out first…
What’s happening as he works through his problem is that actually, his progress goes in spirals — sort of 2 steps forward, one step back type of thing.
His last setback was actually caused by just one late night. Just the lack of sleep for one night has made it more difficult to stay on top. Everything affects everything else…
Anyway, over the weeks and months, we’ve developed some very simple mental “handles” for him to use when his head is swimming and he’s got “stormy waters.”
I reckon you’ve got to keep it simple because in an anxious state, it can be so hard to hold any kind of rational thought in your head.
In a crisis you need some simple ideas to try. A simple action plan to get rid of unwanted thoughts…
- Nip it in the bud. BE QUICK. The more you dwell, the harder it’s going to get. As soon as you become aware of an unwanted thought, give it no importance (a “don’t care” attitude) and then THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE. Unwanted thoughts often have a shocking sense of urgency attached. Quick diversion is essential before the thought takes hold.
- Keep it simple. It is simple. It’s not easy but it’s simple. Don’t GO THERE but don’t suppress thoughts either. You cant stop them arising but you can choose to pay attention or not. Again — THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE.
- Don’t split your attention. Once you fully understand that your fear or unwanted thought is irrational, let go off it. There’s no constant danger, no need to split your attention between what’s happening now and being alert for danger. If you become aware of a split — if you’re aware of “thoughts always there in the background” then pay MORE attention to what you are doing, or something external like sounds or images or events happening NOW. Come to your SENSES — pay attention to perception, which is always NOW.
- Exercise. If you become anxious then you need to get that adrenaline out of your system asap. Go for a run or brisk walk ’til you calm down.
Longer term solutions
- Meditate. Regular meditation will mean you can deal with all the points above more effectively until you no longer get unwanted thoughts
- Make a pact. Some irrational fears may still require that you are allowed to think certain thoughts around that subject. Make a pact with yourself in advance to identify what thoughts are allowed and what thought are not. You might want to talk this through with trusted friends first. This is because you probably don’t know for sure what should be allowed if you have a phobia.
- Learn your triggers & notice cause/effect. Learn your triggers that start you off on a path of unwanted thoughts Learn how other things in your life affect your ability to stay on top — sleep, too much caffeine, poor diet and so-on. The faster you learn, you faster you’ll feel well again.
- Don’t go it alone. If it gets to the point where you feel you can’t cope alone — please GET SOME HELP. These are tricky issues and you probably need supporting through it. I’ve had the same conversation with my friend about 100 times and it takes a long time for the new ideas to “get through.” It’s tough. Get help and support.
- Sort out your lifestyle. Everything affects everything else — lack of sleep, poor diet, too much caffeine and a range of other lifestyle factors all affect your thoughts and your ability to drive your own mental car.
Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.
It’s a simple, no-fluff guide that shows you both what to change and how to change.