Dealing with rapid intrusive thoughts
We live in a fast-paced society. Every day, once you wake up there is a lot that is happening that stimulates the mind. For instance, thoughts about your unfulfilling career, your naughty children, your unfaithful spouse; thoughts about the bills that needed to be paid, politics of the day, trending issues and more. Many people don’t take breaks and so the mind is constantly being bombarded by the Internet and the environment. When they take breaks, they are glued to their gadgets. Covid-19 and its effect be it economic, social, or health-related challenges have made it worse. This has resulted in stress, heightened anxiety and racing thoughts.
“Whether we like it or not, things are bound to happen. Once in a while, your bills will overwhelm you. You may fail at something that means the whole world to you such as separating from your partner, or losing your child to kidnappers. You may be trolled; either on social media or within your circle of friends,” shares novelist, Eunniah Mbabazi.
Battle in the mind
Once any of these happens, our first reaction is always to blame ourselves. We ask “why me?” Or “What did I do to deserve this?” “When the self-blame becomes too much, we start resenting ourselves. This gives rise to isolation, anxiety, depression, and worst, suicide. If not controlled, or managed, rapid intrusive thoughts might be as tragic as homicides. That’s why a husband wakes up one day and kills his wife and children, before killing himself,” she shares.
An advocate of mental wellness, Eunniah says identifying her triggers has helped in dealing with her racing thoughts. She tries to calm down by listening to soft music, taking a walk alone, meditating, writing and basically, focusing on something else other than the negativities.
Kenyan reggae icon, Cathy Matete also intimates that she deals with rapid intrusive thoughts a lot, juggling as a woman, artist and at the same time career woman who constantly has to balance between her two worlds.
“I have my own personal goals that I need to achieve within certain timelines and sometimes having a straight mind is a battle. What keeps me sane is family, God’s word and my drive. I push myself a lot sometimes I need someone to tell me to slow down,” she shares.
Psychologist Tracy Nyaguthii shares that there is a normal threshold for racing thoughts depending on what a person is going through in his or her life. However, when an individual is struggling with invasive persistent thoughts that are overwhelming and are interfering with their daily activities such as work, school performance, sleep, relationships. It is important to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist who will help them get the right diagnosis and treatment.
“When an individual has persistent intrusive thoughts, they flood the mind and drain his/her energy. They prevent people from focusing on the ‘here and now’ and make them feel trapped in their brains. There is also the aspect where an individual is constantly thinking of the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark—this is called rumination. Prolonged habits of rumination can negatively affect a person’s mental health,” she says.
She explains how people mostly ruminate because of stress trauma, depression, anxiety disorder and people with an over critical perfectionist personality.
“Whereas it is normal for an individual to find themselves ruminating about an issue, it becomes a problem when it affects your ability to engage in daily tasks in life,” shares the psychologist.
The expert advices that it’s important to take breaks, “Go for a holiday, take breaks from your phone, practice deep breathing exercises or get some good quality sleep. This will help your mind relax. It is also important for a person to take note of the changes in their mental health - some of the mental health conditions and disorders begin with changes in thought patterns,” Nyaguthii explains.
Adding to this, sociologist, Bella Zawadi shares that rapid intrusive thoughts could have a great impact on someone’s social life if they reoccur.
“Intrusive thoughts are just that, they intrude the thought process. They are uncontrollable, unwanted, mostly weird and negative thoughts that pop up, like Ads on the screen. I use that analogy because it’s more relatable. These thoughts are never so serious and should not draw concern unless they reoccur more often, leading one to feel the need to actualise them, or, interfere with daily activities. Usually these thoughts are against one’s beliefs, values, and wishes. A new mum could love her baby so much, but have a thought to drown her (postpartum depression). One can seek therapy at this point,” shares the sociologist.
Negative effects and way forward
While they are involuntary and random, they can also be caused by underlying mental illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This will affect someone’s social life by instilling fear, guilt, and doubt in oneself leading to avoidance behaviour. Severe distress from negative thoughts affects relationships with family, spouse and friends, leading to social isolation.
Racing thoughts, Bella says, can result in insomnia. This happens when you struggle to fall asleep because you can’t slow down your thoughts at night.
Actualising intrusive thoughts may inhibit access to one’s children such as paedophilic people, or parents who kill their children during postpartum period. As a coping mechanism, the expert recommends mind freeing exercises such as meditation, which are readily available on YouTube and or treatment.
“Acknowledge the negative thoughts that are not true and build up your esteem. Also acknowledge that the thoughts may be true and seek treatment/therapy, which can come in handy when they cause severe distress” she advises.