Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that get stuck in your head. Sometimes these thoughts can be harmless, but in other cases, they can be incredibly disturbing and even violent. Oftentimes, these obsessive thoughts may indicate underlying mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Intrusive thoughts can appear out of nowhere and cause anxiety, compulsions, and disruption of your daily routine. These thoughts are given power when you become fixated on them and they start to interfere with your mental wellbeing as well as your daily life.
There are several types of intrusive thoughts ranging from OCD intrusive thoughts to thoughts that simply provoke anxiety. The common types include:
OCD is a disorder commonly associated with intrusive thoughts and compulsions. Alongside these obsessive thoughts, the individual may become compulsive and feel the need to participate in compulsive behaviors. Additionally, those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience intrusive and frightening thoughts regarding their traumatic event.
Even so, the cause of intrusive thoughts is relatively unclear. They become a problem when they get in the way of your daily living routine and make it difficult for you to participate in life activities. The thoughts themselves may stem from anxiety or other underlying mental health disorder. If they do become a problem, it is critical to seek professional assistance.2
Even though intrusive thoughts can be virtually any thought that is repetitive and causes stress to the individual experiencing it, some common examples of intrusive thoughts that fall into the categories discussed above include:
When distinguishing between a regular thought and intrusive thought, note that intrusive thoughts are involuntary and the individual may feel they have little control over them. That is why it is essential to develop appropriate coping skills to manage OCD urges.2
For those who experience disturbing or disruptive thoughts that lead to compulsion, you may look for ways to manage the thoughts and compulsive behavior. While receiving assistance from a mental health professional is likely the best course of action, there are some ways that you can help push the thoughts away.
To manage these thoughts, you should try participating in some of the following coping mechanisms and strategies:
Because intrusive thoughts generally coincide with a mental health disorder, several conditions may cause intrusive thoughts alongside other mental health symptoms. Some of the conditions that generally experience obsessive thinking include:
It is also vital to distinguish the difference between addiction vs obsession because an individual who suffers from a substance abuse addiction may also experience some intrusive thoughts about the other symptoms that they have. Furthermore, addiction is a comorbid disorder with several other mental health disorders including anxiety and depression.
OCD intrusive thoughts or other types of these thinking patterns can be persistent and cause distress or anxiety. While many of these thoughts are involuntary by the participant, there are some things to watch for when you are looking for signs of incoming intrusive thoughts. These signs include:3
While mental health conditions are closely associated with intrusive thoughts, other conditions may result in intrusive thoughts. These compulsive and obsessive thoughts can be a symptom of other health issues such as:4
There are some treatments for unwanted thoughts that have proved to be helpful. While managing this condition is best done by first working with a licensed therapist or mental health professional, there are some ways to manage OCD intrusive thoughts on your own.