Intrusive thoughts are something that we can all deal with from time to time.
You might get something stuck in your head, and it could be distressing to you, but you can’t seem to get rid of it.
You could have disturbing or violent thinking, sexual thinking that you repeatedly have, or it could be about things that you find unacceptable.
While we can’t always control our thinking all of the time, you might start to focus on certain thinking so much that it becomes problematic in your life.
For example, you could be ashamed of these recurring thoughts or put a lot of time and energy into keeping them a secret.
An estimated six million people in the U.S. experience this, at least that we can best tell. Many more people probably do and don’t report them to their therapist or doctor.
This condition doesn’t have to indicate a medical problem, but it can be symptomatic of a mental health condition in some cases.
What Conditions Are Associated with Intrusive Thoughts?
Some conditions that have intrusive thoughts as a possible symptom include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: OCD is a condition that causes intrusive behaviors. When you have OCD, your thoughts might be uncontrollable or obsessions. Then, in response to your obsessions, you could engage in repeated behaviors which are compulsions. You might engage in compulsions as a way to eliminate uncontrollable behaviors.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD can lead to feelings control, and they have a link to the traumatic event in your life. Sometimes, the feelings can cause you to have physical symptoms such as sweating or an increased heart rate.
- Eating disorders: For someone with an eating disorder, emotions can harm their mental and eventually physical health. For example, if you have an eating disorder, you might constantly think about food and its effect on your body. Then, eating creates significant distress for you.
Researchers think there is a possible link between this type of thinking and an imbalance of the brain chemical GABA.
GABA is responsible for preventing certain activities in your brain.
If your invasive thinking impacts your daily life and functionality, it represents a more significant problem.
Obsessive thoughts are something you find yourself unable to move away from, and they are part of obsessive-compulsive disorder in many cases.
Examples of Intrusive Thoughts
While the specifics can be different for everyone, some examples of intrusive thoughts include:
- A fear that you will do something embarrassing or inappropriate
- Ongoing worries that you have a disease, but there’s no evidence to support that fear
- Flashbacks to something unpleasant in your life
- Images of sex or inappropriate sexual feelings
- Continuing consideration of doing something violent or illegal
- Thinking that if you don’t take a particular action, it will create bad luck for you.
Things You Can do On Your Own
First, if you can understand the myths about the condition, try to understand yourself more.
For example, you might feel a lot of anxiety or distress about your thinking because you think having them means you want to act on them.
The reality is that the vast majority of people with these feelings don’t want to act on them.
The distress you feel is because you are at odds with your brain.
You might also feel like your thoughts all have significance, or they are a warning of something.
That’s not true. The reflections don’t have any deeper meaning in almost all cases.
Ways to cope:
- Identify the feelings when you have them as being intrusive. Give them the specific label of being intrusive.
- When you experience them, confirm to yourself that they are irrelevant to your daily life and involuntary.
- Accept their presence rather than trying to suppress them.
- Behave normally.
- Know the reality is that they could return.
- Practice mindfulness to learn how to harness your emotions more effectively.
Don’t try to push your thinking away or figure out their deeper meaning. You should try not to engage at all.
Should You See a Therapist?
If you find that you can’t deal with the thoughts on your own with strategies like the ones above, a therapist or counselor can be helpful.
If you experience severe distress or you see the effects on your daily life, talk to someone.
A therapist can help you learn how to cope with your thoughts and live with them without a significant impact on everyday life.
- Treatment options include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- During CBT, which is a short-term therapy, you can learn how to change your thought patterns and how you react to them.
- When you participate in CBT sessions, you can learn to focus rationally on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- If you talk to a therapist or mental health professional, they can determine if you have an underlying condition that causes your distressing thoughts, such as OCD or PTSD. If so, the therapist can specifically treat that condition, which should then help the ideas you have.
- Less often, your thoughts could be a symptom of depression. If so, again, a mental health professional can give you a diagnosis, and then you can work on a treatment plan for that.
- Depending on your needs, your care provider could recommend medications such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) or another type of antidepressant. These can start to help with some symptoms you might experience within a few months.
Intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of many different types of mental disorders, but there are a lot of treatments that can help.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing this type of thinking, we encourage you to call The Mental Health Center of San Diego at (858) 258-9883.
We will teach you everything you need to know and help you pinpoint the reason behind your thinking.