How to deal with intrusive thoughts?

In this article we will discuss some steps you can take to deal with intrusive thoughts.

We will also briefly touch upon what intrusive thoughts are, and what causes them.

How to deal with intrusive thoughts?

Here are a few things that you can do to deal with intrusive thoughts:

Identify the thought for what it is 

When you come across a thought that is itries=ive and distressing, don’t suppress it or try to reject them away. 

Instead acknowledge its existence in your mind and identify them for what they are- intrusive thoughts that are not really what you believe in, nor is it something that reflects your desire. 

Don’t fight it

As mentioned above, don’t fight it. Take notice of it, acknowledge it. Now acknowledging it is different from accepting it. 

Acknowledging a thought, is to understand that it is there in your mind but not rejecting it nor judging the thought. Simply observe the thought. 

The more you try to push away these thoughts, the more likely they will come back and the more likely that it will be more distressing. Let the thought be, and let yourself be. It will pass. 

Do not judge yourself for it

Understanding the thoughts does not reflect who you are or what you want. It does not tell you of anything that has to do with your person. 

Thoughts are only thoughts just as feelings are only feelings- they will come and they will do. So don’t judge yourself for these thoughts. Simply observe and acknowledge that this is something you experience as it will pass. 

These thoughts are inconsequential, just because you have it does not mean that it will happen or you will do what you are thinking that you will do. It is not a testament of your character or of who you are so dont judge yourself for it. 

Replace these thoughts with positive thoughts

Once you’ve let yourself be with these thoughts, replace these thoughts with something positive, something real. 

Take time to notice what is happening in the present. Instead of focusing on the what ifs, focus on what is and what you are doing at the moment and who you are in the present. 

Make positive lifestyle changes

Take care of yourself. Avoid drinking and doing drugs, instead eat a healthy diet that is full of nutrients and engage in exercise- this can be walks, joining the gym, or running a marathon. 

Make changes that benefit your physical health as well as allow you to engage with a positive crowd. If you think socialisation is not something you want to do, then there are plenty of exercises that you can do alone. 

Make sure you get good sleep by developing a healthy sleep hygiene as well. 

Focus on your strengths. 

Instead of spending your time on your negative thoughts or anticipating your intrusive thoughts, take time and effort to explore your positieve assets. Do this by journaling what strengths you have and this does not have to limit only to abilities but also innate strengths that a person has such as loyalty, civic sense, etc. 

Take time to develop an awareness of your strengths and appreciate yourself for them while also striving to build on these strengths and using them to overcome your challenges. 

Consider therapy

If your symptoms are debilitating or severe to the point where it is getting in the way of your day to day life, the most advisable thing you can do is to seek treatment from a mental health professional.

You will have the option of engaging in Behavioural change techniques used in behavioural therapy as well as cognitive behavioural therapy techniques which have enough evidence that set them as good treatment options for anxiety and specific phobia disorders. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy

In terms of Cognitive behavioural therapies your therapist will teach you how to regulate your negative and irrational thoughts when you come across triggers. 

As you engage in therapy you will start learning to alter your thoughts, develop an awareness of how you feel, challenge your beliefs and assumptions surrounding mental illness and mental health and build healthier and well-informed ones. 

Rational Emotive Behavioural therapy

REBT is an action-oriented type of CBT that addresses unhealthy or irrational beliefs and attitudes that influence thoughts,  emotions, and behaviours. 

It follows the ABC model of developing an awareness about the processes that influenced the development of the intrusive thoughts such as the activating event, the beliefs that were developed as a result and the consequences of those beliefs. 

It uses a method known as “disputing” to assist individuals develop realistic and healthy beliefs and as a consequence develop the ability to rationalise their thoughts and their emotional and behavioural responses as well. 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

MBSR is an evidence-based program that involves mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues. 

MBSR could be helpful in helping individuals deal with their intrusive thoughts as it has been found to be effective in tackling anxiety issues by helping individuals learn how to develop a mindful awareness of one’s thoughts and behaviours that aggravate anxiety. 

The program involves teaching and training individuals to develop skills to cope with the ansirty or to reduce the intensity of the anxiety. 

Pharmacological treatment

If your anxiety is extremely severe your doctor may prescribe you antidepressants or an anti-anxiety medication to assist your phobia treatment, your panic, and other physical symptoms.

These medications will most probably be prescribed to you in the case that you have been diagnosed with Specific phobia disorder, meaning that the phobia has now affected your life significantly. 

What are intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that appear to be struck in your head, that are recurring and that which causes distress in the individual due to its violent and disturbing content. 

These thoughts are often about behaviours and things that the individual finds disturbing and unacceptable and often appear out of nowhere but can cause immense anxiety.

Many individuals with these intrusive thoughts fail to understand that these thoughts are just thoughts and they have no real meaning nor are they any warning signs that are predicting a certain future.

Even though they are just thoughts, they are very distressing for the individual who experiences them and often lead them to become ashamed, worried, and guilty about them.

The National Institute of Mental Health considered intrusive thoughts as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

They are involuntary and do not reflect the life or character of an individual or their desires. However, it can become more distressing the more the individual tries to get rid of them or suppress them as it tends to become more intense and people fixate on them more. 

What are the types of intrusive thoughts?

According to OCD-UK, a charity in the United Kingdom focused on helping develop awareness around OCD, common types of intrusive thoughts include:

Sexual intrusive thoughts

These thoughts are concerned with one’s seuality, sexual fanties, fears, and thoughts about sex and attraction towards others that might not be social appropriate such as

  • Anxious thoughts of being sexually attracted to infants
  • Thoughts of being attracted to members of their family
  • Thoughts and fears regarding their sexual orientation

Relationship intrusive thoughts

These thoughts include concerns and anxiety provoking thoughts about their relationships and their partners such as:

  • Thoughts focused on analysing the strength of their relationships
  • Thoughts that analyse the faults of their partners
  • Thoughts related to infidelity 

Religious intrusive thoughts

These thoughts are related to fears and anxious thoughts related to their spirituality and religion such as:

  • God not forgiving them 
  • Fears about being sent to hell
  • Having intrusive negative thoughts in a religious site or setting
  • fears that they have lost touch with God
    Fears of God rejecting them
  • Constantly testing their faith

Violent intrusive thoughts

These thoughts are often related to harming oneself or harming other individuals. Thoughts here include:

  • harming loved ones or children
  • Thoughts about killing others
  • Thoughts that they will use knives and tools to hurt people so they avoid it. 
  • Fear or thoughts that they will poison food of other people, which can result in the person avoiding cooking or anything related to food.
  • People experiencing these thoughts may avoid contact with people for fear of hurting them.

What causes intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are triggered by stressful and anxiety causing experiences and events which causes an individual to experience stress and anxiety related symptoms which includes intrusive thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts are often caused by an underlying mental health condition such as:

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • Post traumatic stress disorder.

In either of these cases intrusive thoughts are a symptom which often leads to distress in the individual. 

Other medical conditions where intrusive thoughts are observed as symptoms include:

  • a brain injury
  • dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease

Conclusion

In this article we have discussed some steps you can take to deal with intrusive thoughts.

We have also briefly touched upon what intrusive thoughts are, and what causes them.

How do you stop intrusive thoughts?

Here are a few things you can do to stop intrusive thoughts:

  • Identify the thought for what it is
  • Don’t fight it
  • Don’t judge yourself for it
  • Replace these thoughts with positive thoughts
  • Make positive lifestyle changes
  • Focus on strengths

Do intrusive thoughts go away?

Intrusive thoughts never fully go away, but therapeutic interventions such as CBT and Mindfulness can help reduce intensity and frequency of their occurrences. 

Do intrusive thoughts mean anything?

Many individuals with these intrusive thoughts fail to understand that these thoughts are just thoughts and they have no real meaning nor are they any warning signs that are predicting a certain future.

They are involuntary and do not reflect the life or character of an individual or their desires. However, it can become more distressing the more the individual tries to get rid of them or suppress them as it tends to become more intense and people fixate on them more. 

How do I clear my mind and relax?

A few things to clear your mind and relax include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Mediation
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Warm baths
  • Guided meditation

Are dark thoughts normal?

Dark theme thoughts are completely normal and everyone in the general population has experienced these dark negative thoughts in their lives- from the mild and odd, to the graphic and horrifying.These thoughts are normal as long as the individual does not act on it.

References

Kandola.A. What are intrusive thoughts? Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 15th Feb 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/intrusive-thoughts

Holland.K. Intrusive Thoughts: Why We Have Them and How to Stop Them. Healthline. Retrieved on 15th Feb 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/intrusive-thoughts


Bilodeau. K. Managing intrusive thoughts. Harvard Health. Retrieved on 15th Feb 2022. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/managing-intrusive-thoughts

Coping With Intrusive Thoughts. Shondaland. Retrieved on 15th Feb 2022. https://www.shondaland.com/live/body/a35554352/coping-with-intrusive-thoughts/

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