How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts
If you live with a mental health issue like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, you are probably intimately familiar with intrusive thoughts. Since these can be so strange, frightening and upsetting, you may wonder where they came from or how to get rid of them. Here’s what you need to know about intrusive thoughts and their meaning.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts can be any idea, impulse or mental image that seems to come out of nowhere to get stuck in your mind. In some cases, they may have a disturbing, violent or sexually explicit nature. Your intrusive thoughts could even be about behavior you find unacceptable or distasteful.
Many people have intense worry or shame about their intrusive thoughts and do not discuss them with anyone, including their partner or therapist. If you are one of the millions of people with an anxiety disorder, these emotions can further worsen the cycle of your symptoms by causing you to fixate on the perceived significance of your intrusive thoughts.
Do Intrusive Thoughts Mean Anything?
Intrusive thoughts can happen to anyone, at any time. Contrary to what you might fear, having intrusive thoughts doesn’t signify a latent desire to carry out the ideas that enter 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 entirely irrelevant.
Unwanted impulses or mental images do not necessarily indicate you have a mental health issue or that you need to seek medical help. However, some intrusive thoughts may be a cause for concern if they are detracting from your overall quality of life.
For example, believing you must repeat specific actions in a pattern to avoid a catastrophe is a characteristic of OCD. Meanwhile, if your intrusive thoughts usually involve flashbacks to a specific event, you may have PTSD. People who spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about food and its impact on their bodies could have an eating disorder.
Can You Stop Intrusive Thoughts?
The best way to get a handle on your intrusive thoughts is to change your relationship to them. Mindfulness meditation is one way to accomplish this goal. A meditation practice can teach you to acknowledge each thought as it comes, then let it go. If you have an occasional bizarre urge or irrational idea, meditation can help you separate these from your sense of self.
Talk therapy is another strategy for corralling wayward impulses. A mental health professional who has 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 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.
Seeking Help for Behavioral Health Issues
Pine Grove’s adult psychiatric program provides treatment for a range of disorders, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and dual diagnoses. If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts or other mental health symptoms, our professionals can give you the tools to manage these and learn to lead a fulfilling, happy life. Contact us to learn more about any of the programming we offer.