Thinking the Unthinkable: How to Deal with Intrusive Thoughts
Have there ever been times wherein you’re just going about your day when suddenly a disturbing, unwanted thought pops into your head? You don’t know why you thought of it, but the more you try to get it out of your head, the more the thought lingers. While the thoughts themselves can be harmless, they can make us feel distressed, anxious, or ashamed, the more we think about them and the more frequently they happen. These are called intrusive thoughts, which can be hard to deal with given their random and disconcerting nature. However, it is possible to manage and even overcome them if we learn to face them.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
Sometimes, the mind has its own will. It keeps thinking about things we do not consent to, and it can be very disturbing (Bilodeau, 2021). Often, we could just brush the intrusive thoughts off and move on. But sometimes it’s more frequent. It’s hard to detect when intrusive thoughts will pop up in your mind, adding more stress and causing feelings of shame to the person experiencing it.
Intrusive thoughts come in different forms. In particular, these intrusive thoughts can be sexual, violent, negative, and junk in nature. Firstly, sexual thoughts can occur automatically and it’s advised to remind oneself that they are just passing and normal across all genders. Secondly, violent thoughts can manifest by thinking of hurting others or yourself, and they are harmless as long as you do not intend to act upon them. Thirdly, negative thoughts usually appear when faced with a setback, which may lower one’s self-esteem, and it’s important to remember that sometimes we win and sometimes we learn. Lastly, junk thoughts are unique or anxious thoughts that do not have meaning for you, and it would be best not to pay attention to them (Sreenivas, 2021).
Why Do We Have Intrusive Thoughts?
So this leaves us with the question “Why do people have intrusive thoughts?”. According to Holland (2022), these thoughts may not have a cause and may appear in our thoughts randomly. As some thoughts wander in our brains, they can also easily exit their way out without leaving any lasting impression. Stress and anxiety often trigger intrusive thoughts. These can also be short-term effects brought by hormones or other biological factors (Bilodeau, 2021). Although not that common, intrusive thoughts can also be a cause of underlying mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as eating disorders. However, many people who experience intrusive thoughts do not have any mental health problems, says Dr. Kerry-Ann Williams (Bilodeau, 2021).
How To Manage Intrusive Thoughts
Edwards (2022) suggested four ways that can help manage intrusive thoughts. First is stress management. It’s been shown that stress and intrusive thoughts are directly linked to each other. When stress is properly dealt with; so then will intrusive thoughts. Effective ways to reduce stress include controlled breathing, mindfulness meditation and journaling. Second is proper sleep. It’s been shown that sleeping less than 8 hours can cause intrusive thoughts, so fixing your sleep schedule and sleeping for 8 hours a night should be able to help. Third is knowing the cause of the fear. It’s helpful to know which situations provoke a sense of disturbance in you. By being aware of them, you can slowly accept them rather than suppress them and remind yourself that they don’t define you as a person. Lastly is facing them head-on. When you feel like the intrusive thoughts are negatively affecting your mental health, consider talking to a mental health professional. It would get worse for you if you just let them be. A therapist can suggest behavioral changes that can help reframe these negative thoughts into positive ones (Edwards, 2022).
Intrusive thoughts may seem abnormal, but they happen to all of us at times. They are possible to deal with despite how daunting they may seem. If ever you’re bombarded with these thoughts, it’s alright to take some time for yourself to manage them or to seek support from your peers or mental health professionals.
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Bilodeau, K. (2021, October 1). Managing intrusive thoughts. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/managing-intrusive-thoughts
Edwards, J. (2022, September 22). Dealing with intrusive thoughts. NAMI. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2022/Dealing-with-Intrusive-Thoughts
Holland, K. (2022, May 20.) Intrusive thoughts: Why we have them and how to stop them. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/intrusive-thoughts#management
Sreenivas, S. (2021, March 22). What Are Intrusive Thoughts?. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/intrusive-thoughts