The Real Reason You Have Intrusive Thoughts

Do you have reoccurring, upsetting, and unwanted thoughts? You can't seem to stop thinking about them no matter what you do. Do you keep them secret because you're ashamed or embarrassed by them? Per Healthline, the thoughts could be violent, sexual, or anything you find disturbing. These are intrusive thoughts that are not pleasant, and you might be scared that you'll act out the behaviors in these thoughts. 

You may also feel horrible about yourself because of these intrusive thoughts. You might think that because you're having these thoughts, it means you're a terrible person (via Anxiety & Depression Association of America). Intrusive thoughts can be about death, or you or your loved ones' safety, or a variety of disturbing things. They can also be questions you have that you cannot possibly get a definitive answer to. These thoughts can feel like messages or warnings, and they cause a lot of anxiety and worry. The ADAA points out that the more you try to make them go away, the more the intrusive thoughts keep coming back. 

So, what causes intrusive thoughts? 

Causes of intrusive thoughts

Everyone has intrusive thoughts from time to time. Still, suppose they affect your day-to-day life and get in the way of daily activities, work, or school. In that case, your intrusive thoughts could be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, or depression (via WebMD). Intrusive thoughts can also be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (via Medical News Today). 

According to Healthline, intrusive thoughts can also be a symptom of an eating disorder, where you worry extensively about how food will affect you physically. In PTSD, the intrusive thoughts might be based around a traumatic event and can trigger PTSD symptoms, like a racing heart and sweating. In people with OCD, intrusive thoughts become out of control and affect daily life. The intrusive thoughts are called obsessions, and the repetitive actions taken after the intrusive thoughts are called compulsions. 

For example, someone with OCD may worry about whether they locked their door and what could happen due to an unlocked door — those are intrusive thoughts or obsessions. The resulting compulsion is to repetitively check that door to make sure it's locked. 

Intrusive thoughts are nothing to be ashamed of, and behavioral therapy, medications, or both can help. In addition, Healthline states other medical conditions — Parkinson's disease, dementia, or a brain injury — can also cause intrusive thoughts. Make an appointment with a mental health specialist to determine the cause. 

Here are some tips for dealing with intrusive thoughts. 

Dealing with intrusive thoughts

There are some things you can do to help with intrusive thoughts. If you worry about your intrusive thoughts and fight them, you're giving them power. Learning how to treat them as boring thoughts can help them go away (via the ADAA). Of course, making your intrusive thoughts go away isn't going to happen overnight. It's going to take some time to retrain your brain to not pay much attention to them. 

The ADAA recommends labeling your intrusive thoughts. When one pops up, remind yourself that it's just an intrusive thought and allow it to go away with time. Avoid trying to make it go away, as this will make it worse. Just let them come and go. Remember that they are out of your control and not something you're doing on purpose. You may experience some anxiety, and that's okay. Pause what you were doing, label the intrusive thoughts as such, and continue about your day. 

Remind yourself that intrusive thoughts are unintentional and not important or interesting. Remember that these thoughts may return, and repeat the process of pausing, labeling, and continuing what you were doing. Avoid worrying about them, trying to push them away, or trying to figure out a meaning (via WebMD).