How to Handle Uncontrollable Thoughts
Wondering how to handle uncontrollable thoughts? Uncontrollable thoughts are not actually uncontrollable, but they sure feel like it! You know those intrusive thoughts that come when you don’t want them to, that you can’t seem to shake, and that just seem to cycle endlessly? They can be related to something that has you stressed out, something you worry about, a past experience you regret or dwell on, or even fears about the future.
Intrusive thoughts often feel uncontrollable because they keep popping up in your head, which then leads you to overthink, stress, and overanalyze the situation. Unfortunately, uncontrollable thoughts are a common cause for severe stress, but with the right techniques, you will be better prepared to gain control of these thoughts and keep them at bay.
What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?
Uncontrollable thoughts are often very intrusive and almost always come without warning. You might experience images you don’t want to see, relive past traumatic experiences, or see your greatest fears and worries in your mind time and time again. It almost seems that the harder you try to get these thoughts out of your head, the more difficult it is to get rid of them.
This can certainly cause stress, but these intrusive thoughts are often FROM stress and overwhelm as well. Intrusive thoughts make it difficult to stay calm or positive as the thoughts just keep coming back. You might also keep your intrusive thoughts a secret and feel that you can’t share them due to the nature of some of your uncontrollable thoughts.
If intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts are causing you great distress, making your stress worse, or leading to becoming very overwhelmed, then it’s time to do something about them.
When Thoughts Become Obsessions
Some people experience these uncontrollable and intrusive thoughts because of a mental health condition like anxiety disorder, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Under those circumstances, it’s really important to see a mental health professional to get the disorder treated, as the stress you live in your daily life can make it worse.
For those struggling with OCD, you might find that your thoughts turn obsessive, where you can’t stop thinking about them, and you may even act on them. The following tips can help if these thoughts go beyond just causing stress and lead to serious struggles in your daily life. Please note, these tips are not meant to take the place of counseling or support from a mental health professional.
Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness does take a little practice, but it can be amazing for those thoughts that feel uncontrollable, whether obsessive or not. With mindfulness, you aren’t trying to get rid of the thoughts, but make more sense of them. You get into the state of acceptance of what is happening right now, then can stop thinking too much about the past or about a future that may or may not happen.
Switch your thoughts (even temporarily) – You may not be able to just wish the thoughts away, but sometimes you can distract your mind, if only for a few minutes at a time. It might not seem like much, but this technique can help to relieve your stress related to these intrusive thoughts at least in short bursts. It WILL make a difference, and before too long, you’ll be able to distract your thoughts for longer periods of time.
Write it down – When you have a lot on your mind, doing a brain dump in a journal is an excellent method. This works both for things you want to think about, and those that you don’t. Plus, a journal is personal and private, so you don’t have to show anyone else what thoughts keep invading your mind and causing distress.
Talk to someone – It’s also a good idea to talk to someone about your thoughts, whether you tell them exactly what your intrusive thoughts are, or just to get a little distraction. Call up a family member or friend, text someone, meet a friend for coffee. Their conversation is often enough to give you at least a few minutes of peace from your own intrusive thoughts.
Simple Steps for Overcoming Uncontrollable Thoughts
If you still don’t have a handle on your uncontrollable thoughts, there are a few more things you can do to help manage them, which can help you control your stress and overwhelm as well.
Here are some more tips for these intrusive thoughts:
Use mindfulness to accept them, then move past them. Mindfulness helps you to reach a level of acceptance, so instead of just trying to make the thoughts go away, you acknowledge and accept the thoughts, then try to move past them, releasing their power over you.
Understand why the thoughts are there to begin with. Sometimes your uncontrollable thoughts are trying to tell you something, like how a dream often isn’t realistic, but it may be sending you a message or explaining what your subconscious is going through.
Stop trying to will them away. This isn’t going to work and may even cause you to focus more on those intrusive thoughts. Think about it like a craving. If you have a craving for something, the more you try to get rid of the craving, the more you want it. But if you have just one of whatever you’re craving, it eventually goes away.
Tune into your breath. Allow your breath to be your anchor in the present moment. Breathe in and notice the full length of your in-breath. Exhale and tune into the sensations of your out-breath. Bring all of your energy and attention into the fullness of the present moment, anchored by the rhythm of your breath.
If your’e feeling down, like your mind is racing, or even feeling that you’re generally out of sorts, you may want to dive a little deeper and check out my recent article, 7 Tips to Build Better Mental Resilience.