Intrusive thoughts can only be managed by addressing the underlying issue such as stress, anxiety, OCD, or history of trauma.
They seem to come out of nowhere- strange, disturbing thoughts and troubling images that just pop into your head. They may be violent, sexual, or a paralyzing fear that something horrible will happen to somebody you love. Whatever the content, these thoughts are unsettling and often bring feelings of worry, shame, or fear.
The worst part is, the thought occurs multiple times. It can happen a couple of times a day or multiple times a week, especially when lying in bed. The more you try to push them away, the more persistent they become.
These are called intrusive thoughts. According to a study on the general population, intrusive thoughts affect over six million Americans. You can tell it’s an intrusive thought if it;
Is unusual and uncharacteristic of you.
Is bothersome and disturbing.
Feels hard to control or stop, and it keeps coming back.
Causes of Intrusive Thoughts
Sometimes, intrusive thoughts are associated with mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, many people who experience these thoughts don’t have any mental health disorder, and it’s just their brain making things up.
That said, intrusive thoughts are triggered by stress or anxiety about something. It could also result from a biological factor like hormonal shift caused by pregnancy or childbirth. If you pay attention, you will notice that those thoughts only happen when you are going through something difficult. For example, after the loss of someone, divorce, job loss, or anything that is causing you anxiety whether you realize it or not.
Stopping Intrusive Thoughts
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America has some cool tips for dealing with intrusive thoughts;
1. Identify and accept the thought as intrusive.
Often, we try to forget about it or wish it away. Doing this has the opposite effect, and you end up thinking about it more. The ADAA recommends recognizing and accepting that it’s just an intrusive thought that has no bearing on you. Think to yourself, “Mmhh, that’s an interesting thought. It’s not how I think or believe and it’s not what I want to do.”
When you don’t stress or pay too much attention to the thought, it will go away with time, just like all the other thoughts in your mind.
2. Don’t judge yourself.
Again, intrusive thoughts happen to over 6 million people in the USA alone. This means it’s something random like being rained on, and you have no control or fault in it. It’s no indication that something is wrong with you, and neither does it mean the thought will come true.
3. Seek professional help
While all is said and done, intrusive thoughts do happen for a reason. Whether it is stress, anxiety, depression, OCD, or PTSD, something is causing them. Therefore, it is prudent to seek professional help for the underlying issue so intrusive thoughts can go away too.
For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy has shown great promise in treating anxiety and OCD, and consequently intrusive thoughts. Talking to a therapist will also help you discover what is stressing you and give you tools to cope with the anxiety better. Sometimes, this could include working out, pursuing things that make you happy, antidepressants, and a proper diet.