If you have ever had intrusive thoughts, you know that they can be disturbing. For some people, intrusive thoughts can become overwhelming and can begin to consume increasing amounts of time, energy, and attention. To get control over these thoughts, it is helpful to first understand some of the most common reasons that intrusive thoughts occur.
- Depression – Some people who struggle with depression begin to have intrusive thoughts. For example, many people with depression ruminate about past mistakes or losses. They may have trouble letting go of past hurts and may struggle to stop the intrusive negative thoughts. They may also begin to have intrusive thoughts of death, dying, and suicide.
- Anxiety – Worrying is often a huge component of anxiety. Sometimes these worries become intrusive and relentless.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Intrusive thoughts are often a part of OCD. As a person attempts to manage these obsessive thoughts, they frequently develop compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately, these behaviors usually are inadequate at diminishing the obsessive thoughts or alleviating the underlying anxiety.
- Unresolved Trauma – Intrusive thoughts can occur when a person has unresolved trauma. This is particularly true for people who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These intrusive thoughts can occur as part of a flashback or can seem to appear “out of nowhere”, especially if a person has experienced significant childhood trauma. Resolving the trauma can significantly reduce these intrusive thoughts.
- Psychosis – People who have Schizophrenia or some other type of thought disorder can experience intrusive thoughts. Some people experience this as hearing “voices”.
- Bipolar Disorder – If someone is in a manic episode or in a severe depressive episode, they may experience intrusive thoughts. While manic, a person may have trouble getting thoughts out of their mind and, as a result, may begin to impulsively act on their thoughts.
- Addiction – People who struggle with addictions can have intrusive thoughts. These thoughts are often directly associated with their addiction. For example, an alcoholic might begin to think obsessively about drinking. The alcoholic might begin to feel like the only think that can eliminate these thoughts is to drink.
Obviously, the more you know about the causes of the intrusive thoughts, the better you will be at getting rid of those thoughts. For example, intrusive thoughts that are driven by a thought disorder such as Schizophrenia often require medications, while intrusive thoughts that are caused by anxiety often diminish simply by learning strategies to manage the anxiety. Psychotherapy can be very useful in helping you both identify the causes of the thoughts and in helping you develop the tools you need to manage these thoughts in the future. To assist you in the process of managing intrusive thoughts, I have listed some basic interventions below.
- Don’t make the thoughts bigger than they are – It is important to recognize that thoughts are just thoughts. Just because a thought comes into your mind, it doesn’t mean that you must act on that thought. Don’t obsess on the disturbing thought. Let it go, it’s just a thought. The less you focus on it, the less power that it tends to have over you.
- Resolve old traumas – Sometimes intrusive thoughts occur because of unresolved trauma. These thoughts are a part of the unresolved memories associated with the trauma. Once you resolve the issues around the trauma, the thoughts tend to go away.
- Grieve old losses – Unresolved grief can lead to depression and depression can lead to intrusive thoughts. Grieve old wounds and losses so that you are able to more fully engage in life.
- Get sober – If you are struggling with addictions, get the help you need to become abstinent. Then surround yourself with a support network to help you manage the impulses that may lead you toward relapse. The further you get away from being in your addiction, the less intrusive thoughts you will have.
- Talk about the thoughts – It is often helpful to talk about the thoughts that you are having. If you keep them inside, they often become bigger and more overwhelming. Talking about them often decreases their intensity and allows you to gain some perspective.
- Use the stop-and-start technique – When intrusive thoughts occur, it is helpful to re-direct your thoughts to other areas or topics. It is not enough to tell yourself to just “stop thinking about it”. Instead, replace the obsessive thought with a different thought that does not have the anxiety attached to it. For example, picture yourself on the beach hearing the sound of waves instead of focusing on the intrusive thought.
- Learn to forgive yourself – Everyone makes mistakes. Learn to forgive yourself for your past mistakes rather than ruminating about the past.
- Learn to let go – The more you worry, the more anxious you will become. Learn to let go of the worries and get back in the moment.
- Learn to manage anxiety and stress – Managing stress and anxiety helps quiet the mind. The better you are at learning to relax, the less intrusive thoughts you will have.
- Change your actions to change your thoughts – It is easier to change your thoughts if you are fully engaged in an activity. For example, if you are playing tennis, it is hard to ruminate about an intrusive thought that you had earlier. Get your body fully engaged and your mind will follow.
- Change your self-talk – Sometimes intrusive thoughts come because of old messages that you learned as a kid. Create a habit of using self-talk that is self-encouraging rather than repeating self-talk that beats you down.
- Be kind to yourself – Kindness never goes out of style. Learn to be kind to yourself. You will feel better and your thoughts will become more positive.
- Medications can help – Individuals with a thought disorder such as Schizophrenia often benefit from antipsychotic medication, while individuals with Bipolar Disorder often benefit from a mood stabilizer. Antianxiety medications and antidepressants can help those who are struggling with depression and anxiety.
- Psychotherapy can help – If you get stuck in a cycle of intrusive thoughts or are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, addictions, or other mental health issues, psychotherapy can help.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.