Intrusive Thoughts : What they are and how to stop them

Intrusive Thoughts What they are and how to stop them

Table of Contents

Intrusive thoughts are disturbing, negative thoughts that come to a person’s mind all of a sudden. While mostly harmless, they can create a negative experience. It can affect one’s social behaviour and cause inappropriate thoughts and high levels of distress.

What are intrusive thoughts?

The mind is the part of the body that possesses thinking abilities and has all the major controlling powers. Thoughts are a conscious cognitive process that occurs independently of sensory stimulation. Therefore, thought can arise out of the blue. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and involuntary thoughts that spring out of the blue and cause significant distress.

Intrusive thoughts capture one’s mind and persist. They can be distressing, and for some, violent and upsetting. It is common among people who show symptoms/signs of depression and anxiety. Moreover, today’s highly stressful lifestyle can be an external trigger.

The thoughts may become scary and can lead to aggression and violence, prevalent in people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression. 

What is the science behind intrusive thoughts?

Unruly intrusive thoughts can intrude in various patterns, say images, strong impulses, ideas, and opinions. 

  • Decreased flow of neurotransmitters can be one reason for intrusive thoughts. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for mood changes, anxiety, and depression. When the disruptive sites in the brain do not receive enough serotonin, it can often become a cause of intrusive thoughts, which is noticeable in cases of OCD and PTSD, where there is serotonin insufficiency.
  • Stress and anxiety can trigger intrusive thoughts. 
  • Hormonal imbalances can also cause them during periods of isolation. Anyone can have an intrusive thought at any specific time. 
  • Underlying mental health issues or trauma is another reason for intrusive thoughts.
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries or Parkinson’s disease can also lead to such thoughts. 
  • Declining mental health, overthinking, and stressful situations can also cause Intrusive thoughts. 

While there are few established reasons for the causal of intrusive thoughts, more research is necessary for people who experience them without any underlying causes. 

Thus, it’s essential to understand the determinants for their causation.

Intrusive thoughts and anxiety disorder

Intrusive thoughts are among the significant symptoms of anxiety disorders. People experience repetitive rounds of intensified anxiety. Every idea they share appears accurate, causing a severe blow to their quality of life as they can’t focus on anything except their intrusive thoughts. 

Intrusive thoughts are majorly linked to anxiety disorder, irrespective of how irrelevant the ideas are. Some are related to panic disorders as well. In this case, people fear they will have a severe panic attack. They will also experience rounds of breathlessness and dizziness. 

One of the main fears among people dealing with a generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is their lack of confidence to get rid of intrusive thoughts. 

How to address the root cause of your intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts can be addressed and managed by understanding the root cause. One must reduce the sensitivity of these thoughts to do this. There are various ways of addressing these intrusive thoughts. These include:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Therapy is a great way to address intrusive thoughts. A person will understand why they feel what they are feeling is correct. They will objectively understand the situation and work on the issue with a therapist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is very effective in behaviour modelling. One learns how to manage thoughts better and be a spectator when the ideas arrive. One will also learn healthy coping strategies which will help them feel better. 

1. Meditation

Meditation is another effective way of dealing with intrusive thoughts. It calms one down, centres them, and allows them to let the thoughts go. It also increases concentration and helps them manage their moods better. 

How to stop intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, and people who experience them are generally worried. So they keep looking for ways to stop them. 

Because of the distressing images, the vision and attitude towards those heavy intrusive thoughts are essential. Intrusive thoughts can include relationships, worries, deaths, safety, or decision-making capacities. Whatever the form, it’s necessary to take care, acknowledge and handle them. 

Five ways to stop intrusive thoughts :

  1. Never engage with the ideas seriously. 
  2. Start to label them as “intrusive” and accept them. Let them come, observe them, and let them go. 
  3. Try to observe the thoughts and understand them rather than push them away. Please don’t run away from them, but rather face them. Avoiding them will cause difficulties later.
  4. Remind yourself that nothing is up to you, and everything is happening naturally. Do not in any situation blame yourself for what’s happening. Let it happen, and let it go. Be a spectator. 
  5. Allow yourself to accept the fact that the episodes will come back again. But facing them with strength and courage is a way to fight them. Seek the help of a professional and ease your way into the whole process. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is one such therapy that is proven beneficial in the case of intrusive thoughts.


Persistent intrusive thoughts are triggering, obscure clarity, and increase anxiety levels. They can also be debilitating, to the point where some cases/instances need attention and medical management.

They can be in the form of illusions, sounds, and images. Often, it becomes difficult to handle them and constantly live with them. For acknowledging intrusive thoughts, one must recognise and consciously deal with them while being mindful and self-aware. 

To get help and more clarity regarding intrusive thoughts, contact UnitedWeCare today.

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