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Intrusive Thoughts

Experiencing Intrusive Thoughts

Have you ever been caught off guard by a random thought that enters your mind? Like driving to your destination and suddenly getting an image in your mind of you driving off the side of the road and your vehicle rolling over? Or maybe when you’re walking on a scenic trail and suddenly think about someone coming up behind you and harming you?

These thoughts can feel incredibly powerful in the moment. We can start to have an emotional response to that thought, such as feeling sad or scared. We can even have a stress response to that thought, such as feeling anxious, tense, or like we need to run for safety. These intense, unwanted, and sometimes scary images in your mind are called intrusive thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts are extremely common. Our minds are powerful in so many ways and they can imagine, create, hyper-focus, and distort information. While intrusive thoughts can feel scary in the moment, it’s important to recognize that they are not real. Thoughts are not facts, they’re just thoughts.

It’s also important to understand that intrusive thoughts by name are just that, intrusive. They’re not happening because of something you’ve done and they’re definitely not happening because you want them to happen.

Intrusive thoughts are a lot like an unwelcome guest that shows up to your house unannounced. This is important to acknowledge because intrusive thoughts can feel scary and make some of us question ourselves. For example, a common intrusive thought for women is a thought surrounding something happening to their child that they would consider their fault. This could sound like, “what if I accidentally drop my baby while I’m walking down the stairs?”. Having that thought does not mean you actually want to drop your baby, but quite the opposite. At times, these unwanted thoughts occur as a protective measure, because you don’t want them to happen.

If you’re having intrusive and unwanted thoughts, here are a few things you can immediately begin doing:

  1. Acknowledge in the moment when you have a thought that it is just that. A thought.
  2. Tell yourself that thoughts are not facts. Just because you think something does not make it real. (Example: You can think it’s Monday when it’s actually Tuesday)
  3. Remind yourself that you’re having that thought because you don’t want that thing to happen, not because you actually do.
  4. Challenge that thought. Ask yourself: “Is it true?” Or, “Is there really danger in the moment?”
  5. Tell yourself a more positive thought, such as “I’m safe” or “That’s an unlikely thing to happen”.

Sometimes our thoughts can feel so overwhelming that it’s hard to use these skills. If that is you, it may be helpful to gain some support to help you work through these thoughts and feelings. Reach out to us today to learn how we can help you achieve those goals.