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What Are Intrusive Thoughts and How Do We Cope With Them?

Have you ever had thoughts pop into your head out of left field that completely shock you? It’s the type of thought that makes you think, “Where did that come from? That’s not me!” If you’re experiencing this regularly, you could be experiencing intrusive thoughts and you’re not alone.
The Association for Depression and Anxiety estimates more than 6 million people in the U.S. are suffering from intrusive thoughts. These thoughts are often unwanted thoughts or images that pop into your head out of nowhere and are sexual, violent, or socially unacceptable in nature.
Let’s dig into some concerns with intrusive thoughts and how someone suffering from depression or anxiety can cope with them.

What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?

Almost surprisingly, having intrusive thoughts doesn’t mean something is wrong with your brain or that you’re suffering from a mental health condition. However, it’s important to note that people living with anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are prone to intrusive thoughts.

Can Intrusive Thoughts Cause Harm?

Those who suffer from intrusive thoughts often worry that the thought itself means they are likely to commit the act or there is something inherently wrong with them. The reality is this could not be further from the truth. These are not red flags or warnings, despite how they may feel.
People who experience intrusive thoughts end up stressing over them because they are at odds with who they really are. The reason these thoughts keep showing up and staying in our minds for so long is because of the effort put behind trying to banish them. In short, the more you think about them, the longer they stick around.
In some instances, someone can become so obsessive about the thoughts that they engage in compulsions (repetitive behaviors) in an effort to try and dispel the thoughts. This usually presents itself as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

What is the Best Way to Handle Intrusive Thoughts?

The key is learning how to cope with intrusive thoughts when they do appear. As stated earlier, the more you dwell on the thoughts, the longer they stick around. Here are a few different ways you can cope with intrusive thoughts:
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This style of therapy is shown to help people suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addictions. When dealing with intrusive thoughts, CBT can help someone learn to reframe how they think of the thoughts.
  • Coping mechanisms to try at home: When an intrusive thought shows up in your mind, try to follow this practice:
    • Label the thought as intrusive
    • Remind yourself they are automatic junk thoughts that do not mean anything
    • Do not try to push the thought away; instead accept it
    • Pause and give yourself time for the thought to pass
    • Continue what you were doing before
    • Acknowledge that the thoughts may return
    • Continue what you were doing before
  • Meditation and exercise: In addition to coping with thoughts, some suggest that regular exercise and meditation practice help decrease the likelihood of intrusive thoughts.
 
Regardless of whether you’re seeking treatment for the intrusive thoughts or trying to cope at home, remember that the harder you fight the thought, the stickier it becomes.
If you’re ready to seek treatment for intrusive thoughts with CBT, schedule your initial appointment with Core Recovery in North Phoenix, Arizona today.

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