One of the most troubling issues with anxiety, depersonalization (DP), and derealization (DR) is the constant flow of intrusive and unwanted thoughts in our minds.
These thoughts flow with such force that they seems unstoppable.
Most often, these are thoughts that can range from mildly unpleasant to utterly scary! When I was in the throes of DP/DR, my mind would be beset by the same intrusive thoughts every day. I would constantly think “Am I going insane?” While another part of me would wonder “Will it always be like this?”
Sometimes, the thoughts won’t even make any sense. It would be nonsensical. Just a fusion of unrelated words and concepts traveling at lightning speed inside my head.
It felt overwhelming and as if this wasn’t enough already, I would have music stuck in my head all the time. There will always be a lively jukebox playing inside my head, and I would have nothing to do with the choosing of the songs. Sometimes, it would play awful top 40 songs that I would never explicitly choose to listen to otherwise!
If you are suffering from OCD thoughts, do not worry! You are not alone. This article will teach you how to make them go away. OCD, which stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is when we have, among other things, an obsession with certain thought patterns and feel a compulsive urge to do something about it.
In most cases, that something we do is to find different ways to distract our attention away from such thoughts. We switch on the TV, put on our headphones and listen to music or keep checking our mobile phones regularly. This may provide some relief, but often, these thoughts almost always return.
A cure always starts with an understanding. Once you understand why your mind is riddled with unwanted or intrusive thoughts, you’ll be able to make them go away. It usually won’t happen overnight, but with patience and understanding, your mind will eventually learn to rest, and the intrusive thoughts will be extinguished.
Anxiety is a state where our mind is never at rest. It is constantly fired up. Even when we feel like we are resting for a few minutes, we are hyper vigilant in the background and scan for internal and external threats.
Because of the mind-body connection, when we are in this mental state, our body starts to produce adrenaline in excess. Adrenaline is a hormone that plays an important role in our fight-or-flight response. It increases the blood flow to our muscles, dilates the pupil, and primes our body to either fight a threat or run away from it. When there is excessive adrenaline, it also starts to affect the way we think.
Adrenaline agitates the mind. When we are in danger, we need to think and act fast. The mind feels energized and spends this excess energy by firing off many thoughts that are aimed to tackle the threat.
But when there is no immediate outside threat, as it is mostly the case with the vast majority of people with anxiety and DP/DR (how often do we encounter a hungry lion on our daily commute?), the adrenaline powered mind starts to fire off thoughts as a way to expend the excess mental energy.
What happens now is that we start fighting or try to run away from these dreadful and intrusive thoughts. This creates additional stress, which produces more adrenaline. Remember, the amount of adrenaline secreted in your body is directly related to your stress level. This excess adrenaline, when it reaches the brain, energizes the mind even more and the cycle thus perpetually continues.
By nature, water in a bowl is still. Our mind is similar, such that when we are healthy, it remains still and takes care of the essential functions of day to day activities. Stress-induced adrenaline is similar to dropping a stone in a bowl of still water. When the stone is dropped into the water, you’ll start to see ripples on the surface of the water.
The drop of this stone has energized the water, which now creates ripples to expend that excess energy so that it can come to stillness once again. As long as we keep dropping the stones or disturbing the water, there will always be ripples on its surface. The more energy we apply to it, the bigger the ripples are. This is similar to what happens in our head. With more and more adrenaline being pumped in, our mind tries to spend this excess energy in the form of thoughts (just like the ripples on the water’s surface).
This is similar to what happens in our head. With more and more adrenaline being pumped in, our mind tries to spend this excess energy in the form of thoughts (just like the ripples on the water’s surface).
By understanding this mechanism we can now come to a solution. To stop these unwanted or intrusive thoughts, we need to stop adding more stress into the mix. We need to break this adrenaline-thought cycle.
Breaking the cycle
The easiest way to break this adrenaline-thought cycle is to stop the adrenaline from being secreted over and over again. You do that by letting your body and mind know that these thoughts are not a threat. You need to establish a feeling of safety.
When we experience intrusive or unwanted OCD thoughts, our first instinct is to fight them or try to run away from them. This is why we try to distract ourselves in myriad different ways or keep fighting such intrusive thoughts.
When we fight or try to flee from the thoughts of our minds, we add stress to the body and mind. Our mind cannot hide from or fight itself. Doing so only produces additional stress. This additional stress produces more adrenaline, which keeps these thoughts going.
On the other hand, when we stop fighting and instead of running away from such thoughts, remain internally steady, we send a signal to our body that the current situation is not a threat and that it can stop producing the excess adrenaline. When this adrenaline stops, the mind stops becoming agitated. This leads to the eventual extinction of intrusive and unwanted OCD thoughts.
Next time, when you have such thoughts, try to face them. Know that they are just excess mental energy and that they cannot do you any harm.
The nature of your mind is to return to stillness just like water. By letting these intrusive thoughts come and go as they wish and not fighting them, you are not considering them as a threat. When this happens, the body learns to stop secreting additional adrenaline in your blood.
Over time, the mind spends all of its excessive energy and returns to a place of stillness and stops producing these automatic unwanted thoughts.
One piece of caution is that this practice requires patience. Do not expect these intrusive and unwanted thoughts to stop immediately. It takes weeks or even months for the adrenaline in your bloodstream to return to normal levels. Please give your body and mind all the time they need to return to the healthy stillness which is their true nature.
- Opening Image – Jackson Pollock Painting, L605
- Water Ripple in Bowl – https://www.flickr.com/photos/a-m-photo/2266067600/