Intrusive Thoughts: Why You Have Them and How to Stop Them for Good

What are intrusive thoughts?

In a nutshell, thoughts that become stuck in your mind are called intrusive or invasive thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts cause distress since the nature of these kinds of thoughts are upsetting.

Intrusive thoughts can also occur frequently, which makes them even more challenging to deal with.

However, these thoughts are nothing more than just thoughts. 

While they appear out of nowhere and cause anxiety, they really don’t have any meaning at all.

Contrary to popular belief, they are not red flags or warning messages.

They are simply thoughts.

What gives these thoughts power is that those who have them often become obsessed about their significance.

Some fixate on their intrusive thoughts and often keep them from others.

Since these thoughts are quite distressing, many are wondering how to deal with intrusive thoughts, how to control intrusive thoughts, how to handle intrusive thoughts, and how to get rid of intrusive thoughts forever.

If anything, as long as you recognize that intrusive thoughts are just thoughts and you have no plans on acting on them, they are pretty harmless.

What Causes Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts can occur randomly.

Many thoughts can occur in your head and disappear just as fast.

These mundane thoughts leave without creating any lasting impression.

However, intrusive thoughts last longer and often return.

In some instances, intrusive thoughts can be the result of an underlying mental condition like PTSD or OCD.

At times, these thoughts can also be one of the symptoms of health issues such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and brain injury.

Mental health changes are not something that should be taken lightly.

Early symptoms of some mental conditions can include obsessive thoughts, changes in thought patterns, and thoughts of disturbing imagery.

While intrusive thoughts can be random, an individual’s reactions or experience to an event can also influence them.

Case in point: a person suffering from intrusive thoughts might read a report about a burglary.

Subconsciously, the report might cause obsessive thoughts that a burglar may also break into their own homes.

Intrusive thoughts can take on several forms. Some of the most prevalent themes include:

  • Committing harm or violence to oneself or others
  • Performing acts against one’s religion or blasphemy
  • Fear-based thoughts
  • Engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviors

How Intrusive Thoughts are Diagnosed

The first step to dealing with intrusive thoughts is to talk to a healthcare provider.

A healthcare provider will assess your symptoms and will look into your health history.

They will also conduct a thorough physical examination.

In some cases, they might also conduct a preliminary psychological evaluation.

If they don’t find any physical issue that leads to intrusive thoughts, they might refer you to a mental health professional.

Mental health professionals are trained to recognize the symptoms and signs of intrusive thoughts, including PTSD and OCD.

Working with a therapist can also be an effective way to stop intrusive thoughts and get guidance on how to respond to them accordingly.

How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts for Good

If you have intrusive thoughts, it is likely that you are wondering how you can overcome intrusive thoughts or how to clear your mind of unwanted thoughts.

While getting rid of intrusive thoughts can be quite challenging, there are ways how to combat intrusive thoughts and get over them.

Disturbing, unwanted, and intrusive thoughts don’t have to consume your life.

There are many ways you can overcome them and free your mind from those undesirable thoughts for good.

The next time an intrusive thought enters your mind, keep the following tips in mind:

Don’t suppress the intrusive thought.

Most people deal with intrusive thoughts by trying to forget about them.

Unfortunately, the method can achieve the opposite effect—you end up thinking about the unwanted thoughts all the more.

Daniel Wegner, a Harvard University psychology professor, held an experiment to demonstrate this concept. 

He asked participants in his study to not think of a white bear for 5 minutes.

Guess what happened? 

On average, the participants ended up thinking about white bears more than once per minute.

Rather than deliberately suppressing your thought, consider diverting your attention away from the thought with an engaging activity.

For instance, you can read a book or try completing a crossword puzzle.

Also, it is recommended that you do not switch between different tasks.

Immerse yourself fully in a single activity and make sure it won’t lead you back to the intrusive thought.

For example, if your intrusive thought is about death, it is ideal that you do not read a book about murder or death.

Know the difference between reality and thought.

One concern people have with intrusive thoughts is the fear that they can act on the dark intrusive thoughts (i.e., harming themselves or someone they love).

Often, they would want to know and understand the meaning behind the thoughts and get some sort of reassurance that they won’t commit them.

However, as mentioned earlier, intrusive thoughts have no power.

They are nothing more than just thoughts.

They are not signs of what is to come and you should not act on any of them.

These thoughts should be accepted as they are when they arise.

Allow them to pass through your mind freely, recognize them, but do not allow them to consume you.

Once you begin to see and accept intrusive thoughts as nothing more than just harmless thoughts, you are less likely to worry or act on them.

Identify your triggers.

Your thoughts are not always random.

In other words, they can be influenced by many factors including your day-to-day interactions.

Keeping a journal of your intrusive thoughts can help you understand your patterns more.

Aside from listing your thoughts down, it would help if you keep a record of your overall mood and how your day went.

Once you begin to notice similar thought patterns appearing over time, refer back to your notes and see if you can identify any patterns and triggers.

It is possible that the unwanted thoughts appear when you have a lot of idle time or maybe they occur when you watch a violent movie.

By tracking your patterns, you can figure out the root cause of the unwanted thoughts and fix the underlying issue.

Incorporate positive changes in your daily routine.

If you infuse more positive vibes into your life, you are less likely to have space for negative thoughts and feelings.

That said, consider making a few lifestyle changes and integrate activities that make you feel good and consider making a consistent habit out of them.

Some of the positive changes you can make in your daily routine include:

  • Practicing yoga and meditation
  • Developing healthier eating habits
  • Taking walks outside

If you notice that you have intrusive thoughts in the mornings, implement positive changes as soon as you wake up.

A shift in your mindset can also make a world of difference in getting rid of those unwanted thoughts.

Don’t rule out therapy.

Many people are ashamed to admit that they have intrusive thoughts.

Others experience feeling guilty about the thoughts.

As such, they often deal with the thoughts on their own and hide them from others.

However, talking to someone you trust about your unwanted thoughts can be very beneficial.

When you are open and vulnerable about how you feel and what you are experiencing, you can get a new perspective on the situation. 

It is reassuring to know that there are also various types of therapy available, both in group and individual settings.

Do your research and assess all of the options available at your disposal.

Conclusion

Intrusive thoughts can happen to everyone and can occur from time to time. Fortunately, with commitment and focus, you can overcome these unwanted thoughts. Your ability to fight these thoughts will depend on your willingness to worry and obsess about them.