What are Intrusive thoughts, how can you stop them from taking over your mind?     

The link between Intrusive thoughts, triggers, and stress

What are Intrusive Thoughts:

Every day we have thousands of thoughts that seem to create a background hum that we are often not consciously aware of. We can experience a range of thoughts, which may include happy thoughts, anxious thoughts, creative thoughts, innocuous thoughts, intellectual thoughts, memory thoughts, sometimes just plain weird thoughts or any type of thoughts at all.

Every now and then a thought will catch our attention and evoke an emotional response. Sometimes we will be able to brush off these thoughts or triggers and move on with our day.  Other times we get caught up with the thought. Often, we can’t control, and the thought keeps revisiting. We can name this type of thought an “intrusive thought”.

Theses thoughts will tend to surface and seem that we cannot control them, which can sometimes be distressing in itself. The trick is to know that we can learn to control is how we react. In fact, it becomes important in managing intrusive thoughts, because often the more distressed we become about intrusive thoughts, the more often they return and increase in intensity. The more anxious or stressed that you become, the more that the intrusive thoughts tend to occur.

Anxiety and stress are directly linked to intrusive thoughts

Sometimes anxiety and stress can effect how we can cope with triggers and intrusive thoughts. Your perception, thoughts, beliefs, expectations and attitudes are very significant in determining your stress level.

Triggers are events, things, experiences or potentially even people who cause your mind and body to react. Emotional triggers are unique to each person. People can have anxiety triggers, anger triggers and trauma triggers to name just a few. A trigger is often a reminder of a past trauma. It may cause someone to have flashbacks. When we are triggered, we are experiencing a past injury in present time and often causes our reaction to be disproportionate to the present event or not reasonably related to the actual present facts.

Intrusive thoughts are unexpected images or thoughts that seem to come from nowhere. They’re often strange and distressing. These thoughts happen to almost everyone from time to time. However, they can increase in frequency and cause distress. For example, the content may be distressing because the content is aggressive or sexual. Typically, the content of intrusive thoughts is the worst thing a person can imagine about something they deeply value which reflects how important it is to them.

It is important to remember that as long as you do not have any desire to act on the thoughts, they are not harmful. They often increase at a time when a person is more stressed or anxious or if a person becomes depressed.

Types of intrusive thoughts

Some common presentations of intrusive thought that people may have could include:

  • Germs, infections, or contamination
  • Violent acts, aggression or causing harm to others
  • Doubts about not being good enough, about doing tasks wrong or leaving tasks unfinished
  • Sexual acts or situations
  • Acting out or saying the wrong thing in public

Remember that these thoughts are nothing to be ashamed of, but they are usually a reason to seek professional help if they continue to pop into your head, you feel like you need to control your thinking or they are causing you distress over time.

Some helpful strategies for managing intrusive thoughts:

Stress can increase the frequency of intrusive thoughts, so an important part of managing these thoughts is to manage your stress levels effectively.

  1. Change stress inducing behaviours. Managing your stress levels may involve changing your behaviours so as to replace old, stress-inducing self-defeating and avoidance behaviours. For example, if you are prone to using alcohol to avoid managing situations in your life, the use of alcohol may be affecting your thinking and contributing to intrusive thoughts. Similarly people who are prone to using drugs, or who are prone to binge eating may notice links between the intrusive thoughts and the behaviours that reinforce the intrusive thoughts.
  2. To reduce the sensitivity of these thoughts:

                                          Try not to dwell or add meaning to your intrusive thoughts.

  • Remember you are not your thoughts. How we think is not necessarily true or accurate. They are not the truth just because you have them.
  • Notice your emotions but let them pass.
  • Employ meditative strategies like imagining that your thoughts can be written onto leaves that you place into a stream and you can watch them move away, and you can detach yourself from any meaning that you had prescribed to the meaning of any thought.
  • Label them “just thoughts” or “intrusive thoughts”
  • Your thoughts create your reality and that’s a really good reason to be positive and not dwell on intrusive thoughts. Change your thoughts and you will transform your life.

The benefits of psychological therapy:

Psychologists are able to treat the intrusive thoughts with empirically researched therapies which are beneficial in either resolving, reducing symptoms and managing symptoms:

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a system of therapy to help people overcome intrusive thoughts and emotional problems. This therapy emphasises changing the ways in which people think and behave in order to improve their moods such as anxiety, stress, depression and anger. Therapy helps consists of helping to restructure your thinking and change behaviour.

Schema -focused therapy can help people understand and change long-term life patterns. The therapy consists of identifying Early Unhelpful Schemas and systematically confronting and challenging them. Please see our Article “Schema Therapy- The Next Step In Over Coming Stress and Anxiety”.

Mindful Meditation is an approach designed to help you become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Also helps to diffuse or detach from learned familiar patterns of how you may have been responding to intrusive thoughts in the past.

Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing is a neuroprocessing method designed to decrease the emotional intensity and reprocess any content of significant distress. By changing our negative belief about a matter of distress to a positive belief, empowering the individual to be able to feel calm in response to what had caused fear and anxiety.

Speak to your psychologist today about Intrusive Thoughts.

Written By Linda Johnson Clinical Psychologist

Phone – 6381 0297

Email – admin@revivehealthandhappiness.com.au


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