What Are Intrusive Thoughts?

If you live with a mental health challenge like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, you have probably experienced intrusive thoughts. Since these can be so strange, frightening and upsetting, you may wonder where they come from and whether you can stop having them. Here’s what you need to know about intrusive thoughts and their meaning.

Understanding Intrusive Thoughts

Any impulse or image that suddenly enters your mind is an intrusive thought. These ideas may be about things you would never ordinarily think about doing, such as hurting a loved one.

Many people feel intensely embarrassed or ashamed about their intrusive thoughts and never mention them to anyone, including their partner or therapist. If you are one of the millions of people with an anxiety disorder, violent or sexually explicit intrusive thoughts can intensify your symptoms.

Do Intrusive Thoughts Mean Anything?

Intrusive thoughts can happen to anyone, at any time. Contrary to what you might fear, having them doesn’t mean you secretly wish to act on every random whim that enters your mind. Not all the urges that pass through your stream of consciousness are equally valid. Sometimes, they could be your subconscious mind’s attempts to process experiences, and other times, they are completely meaningless.

Unexplained urges or bizarre images aren’t necessarily a symptom of a mental illness that requires professional help. Still, intrusive thoughts may be problematic if they happen frequently enough to detract from your overall quality of life.

For example, believing you must repeat specific behaviors in a pattern to avoid a disaster is a leading hallmark of OCD. Meanwhile, if your intrusive thoughts usually involve vivid flashbacks to a frightening or upsetting event, you may have PTSD. People who spend a disproportionate amount of time dwelling on food, calories or eating could have an eating disorder.

Can You Stop Intrusive Thoughts?

A proactive way to take control of your intrusive thoughts is to change your relationship with them. Mindfulness meditation is one thing you can try to accomplish this goal. A meditation practice can teach you to acknowledge each thought as it comes, then release it. Through meditation, you can learn how to separate the occasional unwanted compulsion or irrational idea from your sense of self.

Talk therapy is another strategy for managing stray impulses. A mental health professional trained in techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy can teach you ways to reduce your sensitivity and heightened reaction to your most distressing thoughts.

If you are struggling with your mental health, taking steps to improve your self-care routine can also benefit you. Actively managing your stress levels with healthy coping strategies like exercise and volunteering may help reduce the frequency or intensity of unwanted thoughts.

Request Help From Someone Who Cares

Cumberland Heights is the first addiction treatment center in Tennessee to receive certification from the American Society of Addiction Medicine. We offer personalized treatment plans based on any co-occurring mental health conditions you may have, such as anxiety or OCD. We understand how these issues go hand in hand with substance use disorders, and we will go the extra mile to help you. A life without addiction is possible – contact us today to let us show you the way.