Five Daily Lifestyle Changes to Manage Intrusive Thoughts
What may seem like minor behavior changes, can add up to greatly improve your standard of living.
Written by Julieanne Pojas, Psy.D.
01 Dr. Julieanne Pojas is a clinical psychologist at the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago in Deerfield, IL. She specializes in the treatment of OCD and anxiety-related disorders empowering individuals to overcome their fears using evidence-based interventions.
02 Dr. Pojas recommends making simple daily lifestyle changes such as improving your physical health and implementing mindful activities into your schedule as a means of coping with anxiety.
03 The path to recovery starts with creating good habits in your day-to-day. No amount of progress is "too small."
1. Accept and embrace the thought.
What happens when you try to control the intrusive thought? It strengthens the thought and prolongs your anxiety. Trying to push it away or avoid thinking it will inadvertently send a message to your brain that having this thought is a real threat and that you need to get rid of it. This is just OCD playing tricks on you! So instead of rejecting the thought, accept it and learn to embrace it! Tell yourself, “A thought is just a thought.”
2. Schedule daily exposure time to deliberately provoke the thought.
Designate a specific amount of time each day to repeatedly think intrusive thoughts on purpose while not engaging in any compulsions and avoidances. I recommend doing this for 20 - 30 minutes at the end of the day or when distractions are minimal. Any amount of exposure practice is better than none. You cannot take a break from your OCD and to expect to do so would be like expecting a medical patient to take a break from their cancer or diabetes. The only way to get better at managing your intrusive thoughts, is to practice, practice, practice! Practice equals persistence.
3. Be physically healthy.
Make physical activity and good nutrition part of your lifestyle. Did you know that even a brisk 10-minute walk can give you several hours of relief and can provide a similar effect as taking aspirin? Every week, get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity, like taking a brisk walk, or 75 minutes of a vigorously intense activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a mixture of the two. Exercising also helps with getting good night’s sleep (which is also important for managing anxiety).
When it comes to what you eat, stay away from processed foods and sweets and try to avoid alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated drinks. It is important to stay hydrated so drink lots of water. Certain foods and supplements can help with reducing anxiety and staying calm such as Probiotics and foods high in Vitamin B and Tryptophan. Omega 3- fatty acids and foods that contain complex protein or are high in protein can also help with improving concentration and mood.
4. Have a sense of humor.
The content of these intrusive thoughts can be so catastrophic and even outrageously silly sometimes that you just need to laugh. Laughter is an immediate mood-booster. It releases beta-endorphins, creating a feeling of euphoria. So try to make fun of your OCD, attend a comedy show, watch a silly YouTube video clip, find a funny filter on Snapchat, or simply spend some time catching up with an old friend and just laugh out loud. Studies show that it can boost your mood even if you laugh on purpose. Go ahead, try it!
5. Practice mindfulness.
Engage in activities that force you to be more mindful or more present. This will help you stay grounded when you start to have intrusive thoughts or if they get worse. Yoga and meditation are great ways to practice mindfulness. While mindfulness can be a challenging skill to learn, it is a great way to beat your intrusive thoughts.
Dr. Julieanne Pojas is a clinical psychologist at the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago in Deerfield, IL. She specializes in the treatment of OCD and anxiety-related disorders empowering individuals to overcome their fears using evidence-based interventions. She presents at conferences nationwide educating consumers, family members, and mental health professionals about the subject of OCD and anxiety-related disorders. You can find her on LinkedIn here.