Overcoming scary, Intrusive and Racing Thoughts with anxiety
Worrying, obsessive, intrusive, or racing thoughts are some of the symptoms of anxiety that can bother people the most. They do not understand how they can have these thoughts that seem so scary and come with such impact and frequency.
These worrisome, intrusive thoughts seem to come automatically, and those that suffer from them have little to no control over their presence.
These can be constant thoughts about their health, life, those closest to them, or even negative thoughts about themselves, thus creating a negative self-image. They may be repetitive, compulsive thoughts about interactions they have had during the day or things that have happened in the past or may happen in the future.
Why your thoughts never seem to cease
The main reason you have numerous thoughts running through your mind is because of all your confusion about how you are feeling and the need to try and figure everything out as you attempt to escape your current state. Thinking has become an addiction, and so now the brain has a constant momentum to it and is the reason it never seems to shut up.
You may go around in circles all day long, looking for answers and trying to find a way out of this hell you find yourself in. Some people may struggle to sleep as they reflect on the whole day, trying to figure it all out. Because of this the mind continually stays active and never gets the rest it so needs to be at peace
Worrying can also become a habit. When you are in an anxious state, thoughts and emotions seem to be exaggerated, and everything is magnified. The anxious mind also has a tendency to create and then try and solve problems that don’t even exist. Even a small problem becomes massive and something that you could dismiss when you were healthier, sticks around all day.
How do I control my thoughts?
The simple answer is that you can’t control them. You can’t control your thoughts any more than you can manage your heartbeat. If you could, then you would be able to continually think positive thoughts and stop unwanted thoughts coming, which we know through experience is not possible. If it were, then there would be no negative, worrisome, racing thoughts and you wouldn’t be reading this article.
You can be free of negative, worrying thoughts, but it won’t come through trying to control your thinking process. Trying to push down or suppress the thoughts you don’t want, won’t free you from them either; in fact, it will have the opposite effect.
Understanding this one fact is the first step to being free of obsessive thinking, as you can now stop wasting vital brain energy trying to control, change or suppress your thoughts. Trying to control or silence the mind just leads to more thinking and so you end up in a constant loop of creating more noise.
It is important to understand that it is your mind that generates thoughts, not you. So, trying to control your thinking serves no purpose; it only exhausts, frustrates and keeps you locked in a cycle of constant thinking.
Thoughts are just energy forms
Thoughts are just a form of energy passing through your consciousness and are mainly formed through the energy you are currently experiencing. So, if you are feeling depressed, then they tend to have a sad flavour to them. If you are angry, then they usually have an angry flavour to them, if you are happy, then they will most likely have a joyous flavour to them and so on.
So, this is why when you are fearful/anxious, your thoughts tend to have an anxious/worrisome flavour to them. This does not make them real; in fact, it tells you how false and how unimportant they are. A lot of these thoughts are your mind’s way of trying to release what is trapped within, be it anxious/fearful energy or old subconscious beliefs that serve you no purpose.
This is why your mind can be a lot calmer after strenuous exercise, as a lot of this energy has been burnt off. It is also why people can get addicted to exercise in an effort to quieten their mind or numb it down with alcohol. It is what I initially attempted to do until I realised that I was still trying to suppress and control my mind and not getting to the root of the problem.
Why do my intrusive thoughts come with such speed and frequency?
The intrusive thoughts come with such frequency due to your constant obsession with over-thinking. This usually comes through the need to keep going over how you feel, trying to fix yourself, find answers or obsessively worrying about situations in your life and trying to fix them.
It is your overuse of the brain and the thinking process that gives it momentum and forms a habit of constant thinking. This is why your mind can feel exhausted, out of control and frantic. It’s like you want to find the ‘off’ button but can’t.
Trying to think your way to a calmer mind just means you are going back to using the mind in an attempt to control the mind, which means more thinking and why nothing is solved this way. The same can be said through trying to calm it through techniques, all techniques require the mind’s involvement and so go no way towards solving the problem.
Why are my thoughts so negative?
People ask me why their thoughts always seem to be mostly negative, and my reply is “Because these are the thoughts which you give the most attention to, and the thoughts you give the most attention to will keep repeating within your mind as you are not allowing them to pass on through”.
This understanding is true for anyone. If we were just going through our day and thinking about what we need to get in for tea, the appointment with the vet, or the new shoes we need for the night out next week, then these thoughts would just come and then pass on through.
But then suddenly we see someone we know walk past, so we wave and yet they turn away without acknowledging us.
We then think “Oh no, what have I done to upset them?”
We can then spend the next few hours on this incident, saying things like:
“Why was she so ignorant, I’ve always been there for her?
‘That’s the last time I will bother with her!”
As this thought has been deemed far more important than the others, it is not allowed to pass on through. So, it sticks and keeps repeating itself in our mind due to our obsession with it and stays there until we can come up with a solution to ease our concern.
Then all of a sudden, our friend texts us and apologises for not waving back. They didn’t recognise us until they got further down the street and then realised who it was. Due to this, our mind is appeased and so the thought is then able to pass on through, and so we then find the relief we were looking for.
When we suffer our thoughts also tend to be negative due to the fact that when we feel anxious and down, we usually think far more negative thoughts than positive ones and so thinking negatively becomes a habit. So, it is vital to allow these thoughts to pass on through without obsessing about them or believing them to be factual. There is no truth in thoughts; they are all just coming from faulty beliefs, old conditioning or the energy we are currently experiencing.
You may often come across people who never seem happy, who always have something bad to say about others and are continually complaining. Is it because life treats them differently or that negative thinking has just become a habit for them? Our mind is like a garden; if we keep planting weeds, then that is what will continue to grow. You have the freedom and choice to no longer give negative thoughts your belief or interest, they can be there, but if we pay them no attention they no longer have any power or influence over us.
Don’t put belief into your negative thoughts
Once you put belief into any negative or intrusive thought and identify with it, then it will most likely bring down your mood, and so more negative thinking will occur.
If your mind produces any negative or intrusive thoughts, then allow it to do so without giving them your belief or attention. Without your belief and attention, these thoughts are free to pass on through into nothingness. Even if a thought keeps repeating itself within your mind, don’t try to stop it. Don’t try to reason with it, just allow it to repeat itself until it runs out of energy, which, without your constant focus and attention, it will.
Why intrusive thoughts are of no importance, whatever their content
What continually changes can never be real and your thoughts are changing all the time, as are your emotions. It doesn’t matter what you think or how you feel; the world spins the same for everyone. The outside doesn’t change because of how you think, just your personal experience of it does.
Your thinking literally creates your experience and why we all experience life differently, as no two people think the same. This thinking process works well when our thoughts are mainly calm and balanced because they don’t create much turbulence. The problem only occurs when our thoughts become worrisome, negative and fearful. As then, the outside falsely appears to be a fearful, negative and worrisome place to exist in, full of problems that continuously need our attention. This is because our outer world is always a reflection of our inner mind state; there are no exceptions to this.
It is only the belief in these thoughts that cause people to start avoiding life and to worry and complain more, not realising that their outer world hasn’t changed at all, just their thinking process. The world is the same, non-threatening place it was before they suffered. It just no longer appears that way due to their identification with the fearful/anxious thoughts in their mind. Without identification and belief in their anxious/fearful thoughts, these thoughts would not disturb them and have no fuel to continue.
The trouble is, most people don’t look to clean up their inner state and instead look to change or control the outer world and others, falsely believing that this is where the problem lies. This can then lead to constant drama and conflict within their life and personal relationships, leading to more negative thinking and in many cases, feelings of resentment and guilt.
Don’t see your thoughts as reality
How many times are our thoughts about a person or a situation entirely wrong? Someone who has insecure thinking may constantly think their partner is going to leave and so may need constant reassurance.
Someone who has anxious thoughts may believe that everything will go wrong. They then feel like they have to stay in constant control and so may spend all their day worrying about things that haven’t even happened.
Someone with thoughts about low self-esteem may falsely believe that nobody cares about them and so the smallest thing can offend them or they fall into people-pleasing habits, always wanting and needing people’s acceptance.
Can you see how people’s individual thoughts, when identified with, can shape a person’s experience of life?
Your past experiences create many of your thinking patterns
Let’s take the first example above and explain in more detail about how your past experiences can lead to your current thought process. Also, the example below could apply to either gender; I just chose a female at random.
So, let’s say a woman has been cheated on in her last two relationships. Due to this, she will then be much more inclined to have thoughts about the next one going wrong. Because of these thoughts and her acting upon them, her new partner and the relationship will most likely begin to suffer. The thought could be ‘He will just do the same to me’. She may then question where he is, continually seek assurances and drive herself crazy through her insecurities until the relationship finally breaks down.
Now there was nothing wrong with this thought appearing as it came through a belief created through her past experiences. The problem occurred because she became identified with the thought and saw it as the complete truth. Now I am not saying this new man was a knight in shining armour or another frog, but the point is the new relationship never stood a chance because of her identification with her current thinking patterns and why it is so important to see through them.
If this lady could have caught this thought and realised it was just a conditioned response due to her past experiences and not necessarily fact, then she could have put her insecurities to one side and given the new man and relationship a chance. Those insecurities may have still popped up, but she could have seen the truth behind why they appeared and not reacted so strongly towards them.
This is the same as someone going to a supermarket and having an anxiety attack for the first time. Due to this experience the next time they are due to visit their mind may come up with the thought ‘Hey this is where you felt anxious before, don’t go back’. As you can see, the mind is designed to keep you safe and protect you and so it is just doing its job.
But on this occasion, it has got it wrong; the anxiety attack had nothing to do with the supermarket; this was just a mere coincidence. As what real danger is there in walking around putting groceries in a basket? The supermarket doesn’t become more dangerous because of a thought you have, it stays the same safe and peaceful place it has always been, only your belief in that thought has the opportunity to disguise this fact.
You may also experience an emotional response to go alongside that fearful thought. This response mainly comes from a belief in the thought; without that belief, the response in most cases weakens in its intensity. With this understanding, you can then begin to see the emotional response as a false alarm and part of the minds protection systems and override this too.
The way to override this response and ultimately turn the fear response down is always to show it that you’re fine. Showing it you are fine is achieved by no longer following the initial instinct to avoid or escape.
“But how do I know the difference between a real threat and an imaginary one” you may ask? Trust me, if there is a real danger then you will know about it, you won’t have to question which is false and which is not. Just remember you are always in control of the decisions you make, you can always override your anxious thinking or emotional response and live the life you wish.
Thoughts are not reality; they are illusions brought to life by your belief in them
Time and again, our thinking will prove to be incorrect and have no truth in reality. This false thinking happens to every one of us at some point. Yet we always go back to our thinking to tell us the truth about a situation, never stepping back and thinking that maybe our thoughts don’t deserve the respect we give them.
Remember, thoughts are not the problem here; you can think whatever you wish. It is your identification and belief in them that creates the problem. Only then can they take over and dictate how you live your life.
Some very wise person once said to me “Paul your mind is not talking to you, it is just talking, you really don’t have to listen to it, be your own master and make your own way in life”.
Distracting yourself from your thoughts is just another form of suppression
Allowing the momentum of the mind to slow down
Don’t attempt to distract yourself from your thoughts, just allow them to run freely in the background and they will run out of momentum all by themselves with no involvement or interference from you. Also, the less you get involved with your thinking, the more the momentum in your mind will die down, and so the habit of over-thinking will diminish.
So, don’t ever think, “I must not think that”. Let all thoughts come and do not attempt to suppress or turn away from any of them. See them for what they are – thoughts/energy forms, exaggerated because of the way you are feeling. Many are just old conditioned thoughts of no value created through your past experiences and some are created through your mind trying to make sense of everything and release the energy that has been built up within, like a kettle releasing steam.
It doesn’t matter what their source is; the same approach applies. The conditioned thought eventually disappears through a lack and belief and interest in it and so do the ones created through your mind releasing its pent-up energy and momentum, so learn to give all thoughts their space and they will release themselves.
Don’t get angry or attempt to fight with your mind
As you may have now realised, the mind can never come to rest through force. It can only come to its own resting point when you pull your interest away and let go of trying to control it. If you held a bowl of water and wanted the water to settle, you wouldn’t start trying to do this by force, as all this would do is disturb it even more. What you would do is just put it down, let it slosh around for a while and allow it to settle all by itself.
You always find peace through a non-doing, not a doing. This is the way to be free of any form of negative thinking and calm your overactive mind. Peace will never come through struggle, strain and control. Never get into a battle with your mind. Never try to force it to think differently or to quieten down through force or willpower.
How do I release past negative thoughts?
If you have constant thoughts about the way someone treated you, or a bad experience you went through, and keep regurgitating it in your mind, then the memory of this experience is never released. The thought will just keep gaining energy, and so the brain will keep on repeating it, which again will begin to disturb your peace of mind.
The experience you are thinking about is not happening now, so you are free to let it go; it is the letting go of it that frees you. The memory, which again is just a thought form in your mind, begins to run out of energy and so your mind is then able to release this experience and become free of what was disturbing you. It is not the past experience that is hurting you; it is you holding on to it that is.
Keeping it within, while repeatedly going over it doesn’t help in any way, shape or form. It just keeps disturbing your peace at this moment and serves no other purpose. I am not saying there aren’t things that people find hard to let go of, and some may need to talk this through before they can let go completely, but I see people holding on for months to a minor argument they had with a friend or a throwaway comment someone made to them weeks ago.
This is why after a break-up people recommend throwing away all traces of the person, deleting them off your phone and all social media as this is the best way to get over them. This means that by removing all traces of them, you are not continually reminded of that person as much and so the memory of them eventually fades out. In doing this, you are free from the pain of the break up far quicker than you would be by holding on to it and going over past photos and memories.
You can free yourself of any old memory if you stop putting your attention into it. The only thing that keeps a thought in place (which is all a memory is) is your need to keep going over it, instead of making the decision to let it go.
Below are the words of someone from my blog who was able to overcome their own intrusive thoughts.
Intrusive thoughts were really annoying when I had them. I’d start getting some modest handle on my life and then the mental chatter (sometimes dark and violent, sometimes silly and absurd or some small part of a song playing over and over) would start.
What took the wind out of their sails for me was letting them go on and on for as long as they wanted to.
This doesn’t mean that they would immediately stop; it just meant I was done struggling with them. I’d be in the kitchen cleaning up and they would start up. So I adopted an attitude of “Spend as much time with me as you wish’ and I’d then go back to doing whatever I was doing.
Even if my attention was now pulled this way or that way, I just let it do that. And in time I did not even notice that they were gone, they were just that ‘gone’.
The most important thing to take away from this article is that thoughts in themselves are not the problem; it is your identification and involvement with them that is. This identification is what creates non-existent problems and drama in your life, what has you going over things or believing a negative self-image.
When you identify and put so much belief into your thoughts, deeming them to be important and worthy of your attention, you then become even more embroiled in them. In doing so, you just end up adding more thinking on top of thinking, keeping you in a continuous cycle of a noisy and chaotic mind.
Don’t try to sort out the noise in your mind through any form of control or suppression, if your mind wants to be noisy, then allow it the freedom to be noisy. If it wants to throw up some dark or crazy thoughts, then allow it to do so. Allow it to think and worry about whatever it wishes while you become a detached observer, unaffected by the mind’s antics. Learn to no longer get involved in its drama and stories and just leave it be to spout what it wishes without any concern or interest.
No thought is more important than another, and none of them are personal. Without identification, thoughts have no power and no fuel to continue. When you are finally able to see this, it will change everything. Just remember you don’t create thoughts, your mind does, so don’t take personal responsibility for them, they hold no truth and have no reality to them.
I learnt to say things like ‘My mind came up with this thought today’ rather than ‘I keep thinking this awful thought about…” this created some separation and so these thoughts became less personable and believable. I would also say “My mind is very noisy today, it will soon settle if I leave it be” rather than saying “I can’t stop thinking today, it is driving me crazy” this helped me no longer try and jump in and control my mind or get frustrated with it.
It is important to realise that the mind’s nature is to be calm. It has just ended up in this state due to what we have put it through; the worry, the stress and the overthinking. We have just pushed it beyond its capabilities and fallen into a habit of continuous thinking. We are responsible for the minds current state, not the mind itself.
All it needs to go back to its natural state of peace and clarity is to be left alone. Trust me; if you leave the mind alone, then it will sort itself out and eventually find its natural resting state and regain its equilibrium. It truly needs no interference from you to once again be at peace.
This article was taken from a chapter in my best selling book ‘At Last a Life’ which tells the story of how I fully recovered from anxiety.