Have you ever had thoughts that pop up out of nowhere, seemingly without reason? For example, you may be having a perfectly normal day and then suddenly think about something scary or inappropriate. Intrusive thoughts like this can be stressful and anxiety-inducing, but they’re also harmless for most people. In fact, intrusive thoughts are very common and happen to everyone at one point or another.
If you have an anxiety disorder or depression, then those types of conditions can make intrusive thoughts worse by making it harder for you to manage them effectively. In this post, we’ll go over what intrusive thoughts are and how they affect your mental health. We’ll also talk about things you can do if you’re experiencing them right now!
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are stressful, anxiety-inducing thoughts that pop up seemingly out of nowhere. They can take many forms, for example:
- What if I get in an accident?
- What if someone finds out about my secret hobby?
- What if I’m not good enough at work?
Not everyone has them. For some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these unwanted thoughts come with a lot of distress and discomfort. Whereas for others, they may not be bothersome at all.
It’s essential to remember that intrusive thoughts are not the same thing as anxiety disorders. For example, someone with OCD might have constant thoughts about germs or contamination and be compelled to wash their hands over and over again to reduce their anxiety about these thoughts. In contrast, someone who feels anxious about having a panic attack can have similar thoughts but doesn’t experience this level of distress or compulsion around them.
If you’re worried about your intrusive thoughts, it’s worth seeing your doctor or psychologist to find out whether they may be related to an existing condition such as OCD or generalized anxiety disorder.
Intrusive Thoughts Are Not a Reflection of Who You Are
If you have an intrusive thought, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or any sign of a mental health disorder. We all experience these thoughts from time to time. It’s critical for people who experience them regularly not to panic. Just remember that these thoughts are normal.
While some of these thoughts may feel extreme, they are normal. It can feel like it is derailing your healthy mental cycle, but if you just let them go and don’t panic, it will be okay.
It’s Okay to Talk About Your Intrusive Thoughts
It’s absolutely okay to talk about your intrusive thoughts with someone you trust. For example, a friend or family member may be able to provide support as you process what the thoughts mean. They might be able to help you find solutions for how to cope with them.
Intrusive thoughts are not something that people should feel embarrassed about. They’re part of being human and experiencing anxiety. If at any stage you want someone else’s opinion on what these kinds of thoughts might mean for you, it’s good to seek out their advice without feeling guilty or ashamed about it. We all need others’ input sometimes.
Managing Intrusive Thoughts
While intrusive thoughts can be managed, it’s important to remember that they are normal and not something to be ashamed of. If you feel like an intrusive thought is bothering you to the point where it interferes with your daily life, talk to someone about it.
Try these strategies if you’re having a hard time managing your intrusive thoughts:
- Figure out what may have triggered your intrusive thought. Try keeping a journal of when the thoughts occur so that you can identify patterns and make connections between triggers and intrusions. This will help you learn more about why this is happening and how to prevent it from happening again in the future.
- See if there’s anything that could trigger the thought or make it worse in other ways, such as making sure your phone isn’t nearby when watching TV.
- Distract yourself by doing something else instead of focusing on whatever might have triggered the intrusion. It doesn’t matter what activity distracts you. Just pick one thing that shifts focus away from whatever triggered this particular intrusion.
- Don’t judge yourself or others based on what was said during an intrusion. Know that these thoughts do not represent who we really are as people.
Accepting Your Intrusive Thoughts
The first step to managing intrusive thoughts is accepting them. Don’t fight the thought, and don’t try to push it away. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you like the thought. It just means that you recognize it as a part of your mind’s natural functioning at the moment. You don’t need to act on it or change what’s happening in your brain.
You can still try to change intrusive thoughts if they’re harmful in some way — such as by finding a way to replace them — but acceptance is usually enough.
The bottom line is that intrusive thoughts are normal, and they don’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. They can be very upsetting, though, so it’s essential to know how to manage them. It may take some time before they go away completely, but there are things you can do to make them fade more quickly or prevent them from coming back again in the future. If you or someone you love is struggling with recurrent intrusive thoughts, and they are making your daily life more difficult, getting help could help you learn to manage them. For more information about how Acera Health can help, give us a call at (949) 647-4090.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.