Experiencing unwanted intrusive thoughts can feel exhausting and uncomfortable. They tend to come out of nowhere without any warning and cause a great deal of negative emotions. For some people, they are often repetitive and can be disturbing or even distressing. The unwelcomed thoughts can be in the form of images, sounds, or statements.
What Is an Intrusive Thought?
An intrusive thought is a thought that interrupts normal thinking and concentration. An intrusive thought could be anything and vary in the degree of disturbance. According to Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, those who display a large number of intrusive thoughts have a heightened inner-monologue or stronger habitual inner speech process.
For some individuals, their intrusive thoughts can leave them feeling anxious, ashamed, or even afraid that they’ll commit the act they have pictured in their minds. The thoughts may be about their relationships, future decisions, sexual orientation, religion, death, or just uncommon thoughts that leave them consumed with uncertainty. Those left feeling ashamed or worried tend to keep their thoughts secret in fear of being judged.
The reality is, intrusive thoughts are normal. All people experience them. The difference is that some individuals have a hard time managing their intrusive thoughts.
The intrusive thoughts that can characterize anxiety are involuntary. They do not suggest that a person is going to engage in the behavior. As a matter of fact, people who experience these thoughts typically find them shocking and unacceptable.
Why Do We Get Intrusive Thoughts?
Everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, but others are more susceptible to experiencing them at more alarming (or uncomfortable) rates. For individuals who are prone to anxiety or depression, intrusive thoughts can be more prevalent.
Intrusive thoughts can be the result of an underlying mental health issue such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience intrusive thoughts that can be connected to the traumatic event. These thoughts may trigger some physical symptoms associated with PTSD.
Common Intrusive Thoughts
A list of common intrusive thoughts that people experience include:
- Fear-based thoughts of behaviors that you may engage in that are inappropriate or that leave you feeling embarrassed
- Fear-based thoughts that have acquired a disease even though there is no rational evidence to support it
- Flashbacks to unpleasant experiences from your past.
- Inappropriate thoughts or images of sex
- Thoughts of committing illegal or violent acts.
- Fear-based thoughts of being sexually attracted to family members, children, or the opposite sex
- Overanalyzing the strength of a relationship
Managing Your Intrusive Thoughts
One may not know it at the time, but they may be reinforcing these unwanted intrusive thoughts by becoming consumed with them. It’s hard not to get entangled within intrusive thought patterns, but there is a better way to manage them.
Here are a few steps that a person can take to overcome unwanted intrusive thoughts:
- Label these thoughts as “intrusive thoughts.”
- Remind yourself that these are “automatic” thoughts that you do not have control of.
- Remember, they are just thoughts.
- Do not try to push them away. Let them be, and let them gradually go.
- Give yourself time. No one needs to put a timeline on their thoughts.
- Expect and accept that these thoughts can come back again
- Don’t skip a beat. Stay focused on whatever you were doing before the intrusive thought while allowing the anxiety to be present.
- Practice self-care strategies that manage and decrease stress, such as yoga and other mindfulness activities.
Things you should avoid:
- Engaging with the thoughts in any way.
- Forcing yourself to push the thoughts out of your mind.
- Trying to figure out or rationalizing what these thoughts could possibly mean.
Effective strategies take time. Give yourself grace when trying to figure out how to manage your intrusive thoughts.
Seeking Professional Help
Although one of the best ways to manage intrusive thoughts is to reduce your sensitivity to the thought, here are some other strategies that can help you:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy is a great way to help discuss distressing thoughts with a mental health expert who can help you develop healthy responses to your intrusive thoughts.
- Meditation. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and other calming activities teach incredible strategies for calming the mind and centering away from intrusive thoughts that feel shocking or harmful. Implementing these strategies can help a person self-regulate again and remain calm through a particularly disturbing intrusive thought.
Intrusive thoughts are powerful. Their unusual nature can cause a person serious distress and anxiety. Remember, though; intrusive thoughts are just thoughts; they do not define you. If your intrusive thoughts interfere with your day-to-day life, reach out to a healthcare provider or a mental health professional for guidance.
It is tough when your mind is consumed with thoughts that make you uncomfortable or that leave you feeling ashamed. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts that all people have to deal with; some are just better at managing these thoughts. You are not alone, and you have nothing to be ashamed of. We want to help you create the tools you need to manage your intrusive thoughts before they are able to consume your ability to live your fullest life. If you are having intrusive thoughts that have become burdensome or bothersome to you, reach out to Sober Life today. Our team is equipped with not only the knowledge but the passion for helping you learn more about your intrusive thoughts while finding the best strategies to help you along this journey. Remember, you don’t have to be on this journey alone. Call Sober Life now at (619) 542-9542.