How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome ideas, images, or impulses that enter your mind unexpectedly. They come out of nowhere and can be disturbing, violent, and highly distressing. They may be about something terrible or violent, sexual or profane, or even self-harming. Intrusive thoughts can feel like a betrayal of what we value most in life: our relationships with others, our beliefs, or our sense of self.

The circumstances under which they occur might impact their meaning and significance to the individual experiencing them. While they are quite common, people who experience them often struggle to understand why they happen and how to manage them effectively. They can feel impossible to conquer. It can feel like the more you try not to think of the thought, the worse it gets.

Many people have had intrusive thoughts at some point, though some deal with them more frequently than others. They can make us feel shame, fear, and in some cases, self-loathing due to their content. It’s important to know, though, that intrusive thoughts are normal, especially when dealing with PTSD. It can feel like you’re reliving your traumatic event.

Other types of intrusive thoughts happen, too; and it’s normal from time to time. That’s not to say intrusive thoughts can’t be hard to handle. They can be bothersome. This is why it’s crucial to find good coping strategies.

What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?

First, it might be comforting to understand the cause of intrusive thoughts and where they come from. In most cases, they are caused by high anxiety or stress. For women, hormonal changes can also be a source of intrusive thoughts. So, if you just had a baby and are experiencing intrusive thoughts, your hormones might be the cause.

Intrusive thoughts are common symptoms of mental health conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)and General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). However, they can also indicate other underlying issues such insecure attachment in relationships, harmful thought patterns, a troubled past, or simply a vivid imagination.

Coping Strategies

Now that you know the cause of intrusive thoughts, here are some ways to deal with them:

1. Meditation

I know. I know. Meditation is always recommended, and it is a common coping strategy for intrusive thoughts is meditation. Meditation helps calm the mind and the body. Most meditation approaches also focus on observing your thoughts, living with them, and making peace with your mind.

Using meditation can help you look at your intrusive thoughts differently. You also don’t need to know much to start. There are many apps and resources out there that you can use to begin your meditation journey.

However, it’s very difficult to meditate under normal circumstances, and it can be even worse when dealing with PTSD. It’s a practice that takes dedication and patience, so be gentle with yourself.

2. Create a Mantra

Another way you can deal with intrusive thoughts is by creating a mantra which you can say to yourself. Your mantra doesn’t have to be anything super elaborate. It just needs to bring you comfort and help you ground yourself in reality.

Some examples of mantras are “This will pass” or “This is temporary.” You can also just tell yourself to stop, which is what I do. I’ll say, “That’s not happening right now,” and then describe what is happening in that moment. Out loud if no one else is around!

Whatever you say is entirely up to you.

3. Therapy

Therapy can be great for many things, and intrusive thoughts aren’t an exception. Talking to a trained professional who understands what you’re going through can be very comforting and affirming. It’s also easier to work through things when you’re not alone.

I highly recommend therapy for everyone, really. If you have any interested in self-understanding and self-growth, therapy is a wonderful way to gain perspective and address patterns. I would say it’s essential if you’re dealing with unresolved trauma.

There are many different approaches and methods out there. You just have to find what works best for you.

Closing Thoughts

A thought doesn’t have any significance or power on its own. Thinking of being a doctor won’t make you a doctor. The same is true for intrusive thoughts. They don’t have any power by themselves. Thinking of certain things doesn’t make you flawed or evil. To give those thoughts power, you have to act on them. In the majority of cases, that never happens.

Simply remind yourself they aren’t happening in that moment and focus on a physical sensation until they pass.

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