Intrusive Thoughts: Why We Have Them and How to Stop Them
Intrusive thoughts are images that seem to pop into your head. They are often strange or distressing. These thoughts happen to almost everyone.
It seems that intrusive thoughts come out of nowhere. These thoughts and images are not nice. The content can be aggressive or sexual, and you could suddenly think about a mistake.
“It’s normal to have an intrusive thought once in a while, but you might feel distressed when this happens.”
“In most cases, intrusive thoughts have no meaning. intrusive thoughts are not harmful if you know that these are only thoughts and you don’t want to act on them.”
If they are happening frequently, causing significant concern, or interfering with your daily activities, it is a good idea to talk with a doctor.
Read on to learn how to manage intrusive thoughts.
There are several different types of intrusive thoughts. Some people may have intrusive thoughts about:
- germs, infections, or other kinds of contamination
- There are violent acts, aggression, or causing harm to other people.
- There are doubts about doing tasks correctly or leaving tasks unfinished.
- Being an immoral person is a religion.
- Sexual acts or situations.
- acting out or saying the wrong thing.
It is possible to have other types of intrusive thoughts that are not in the same category.
People who experience intrusive thoughts become worried about what they mean. This can lead to someone trying to stop their thoughts. People may feel embarrassed and want to keep their secret.
“It does not usually have a particular meaning when it comes to images or thoughts. If you don’t want to act on the thought, and you can just move on with your day, then it’s not a problem.”
Thoughts of hurting yourself or others are a reason to reach out for help. If you’re thinking about hurting yourself or someone else, get emergency care right away. Go to the nearest emergency room or contact your local emergency services.
It’s common to have an intrusive thought every once in a while. In fact, it happens to almost everyone. A 2014 study found that about 94 percent of participants had at least one intrusive thought in the 3 months prior to the study.
In the study, the most common intrusion was doubts about doing tasks correctly. The most likely type of thoughts to be reported were sluts.
intrusive thoughts can interfere with your daily life, even if they are not intrusive.
People who feel guilty about their thoughts, or feel like they need to take action to control them, may be experiencing something more serious. It is a good idea to talk with a doctor if that is the case.
It is possible that intrusive thoughts do not have a cause. They can happen randomly. Some thoughts are in your brain. They exit just as quickly.
Seemingly intrusive thoughts are related to an underlying mental health condition. These thoughts could be a symptom of a health issue.
Signs that there might be an underlying cause include intrusive thoughts that:
- It lasts longer than a few seconds.
- Continue to do that.
- Distress over time.
- You need to control your thoughts.
Changes to mental health are nothing to take lightly. Early symptoms of some conditions may also include:
- Changes in thought patterns.
- obsessive thoughts
- thoughts of disturbing images
These thoughts are not something to be ashamed of, but they are a reason to seek a diagnosis and treatment so that you can start to feel better.
Sometimes intrusive thoughts are not the result of an underlying condition. Anyone can experience them.
There are several conditions that include intrusive thoughts. They include:
In OCD, intrusive thoughts cause serious distress. A person with OCD often makes significant efforts to try to suppress or stop their unwanted thoughts (obsessions). This usually involves repeating particular behaviors or habits over and over.
The quality of life of a person can be interfered with by the behaviors and habits. It is possible for OCD to improve with treatment.
People living with PTSD may have intrusive thoughts related to a traumatic event they’ve experienced. These thoughts or memories can bring forth other symptoms of PTSD, such as insomnia or an unpleasant state of overalertness.
PTSD can interfere with a person’s daily functioning. However, with trauma-focused treatment, it’s possible to get relief from symptoms.
People with an eating disorder may experience intrusive thoughts about their body, losing weight, or what they eat. This can include guilt, shame, or fear related to food or body image. These intrusions can cause serious distress.
Changes in behaviors related to food and eating can be caused by eating disorders.
If you have eating disorder symptoms, it is important to talk with a doctor. It can be possible to avoid serious problems with treatment.
Intrusive thoughts stick in your mind. They feel foreign and are upset.
Reducing your sensitivity to the thought and its contents is the best way to manage intrusive thoughts. The following strategies may work.
Ways to manage intrusive thoughts
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, you’ll work with a therapist to learn ways of thinking that can help you become less sensitive to the intrusive thoughts. In a controlled setting, your therapist may also expose you to triggers for your intrusive thoughts so you can learn to react to them differently.
- Medication. Sometimes, medications are used to treat conditions like OCD and PTSD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed to treat these mental health conditions.
- Self-care. A good step toward treating intrusive thoughts is recognizing what they are: just thoughts. You can learn to label them when they happen and recognize that thoughts are not the same as intent or behavior. This may help reduce the frequency or intensity of unwanted thoughts.
The first step toward a diagnosis is talking with a doctor. They’ll review your symptoms and medical history. They may conduct a physical exam and, in some cases, use questionnaires or tests to find out more about your symptoms.
If they find no physical issue that could be leading to intrusive thoughts, they may refer you to a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. These individuals are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of possible causes for intrusive thoughts, including OCD and PTSD.
A psychologist or psychiatrist can help you identify your thoughts and how you respond to them. They will be able to come to a diagnosis and decide if there is another cause.
If a thought pops up once in a while, it is probably nothing to be concerned about. They are not caused by anything specific. You can help yourself move past it by recognizing that it is only a thought.
Getting started with a diagnosis and treatment for OCD may take some time.
Staying with your treatment plan can help ease symptoms and make you less likely to think. When you have thoughts, you can use options like medication and CBT.
If you have intrusive thoughts, talk to a doctor about them. Treatment can help make intrusive thoughts less intrusive.