Intrusive Thoughts: Why We Have Them and How to Stop Them

Written by Resurchify | Updated on: February 20, 2023

Intrusive Thoughts: Why We Have Them and How to Stop Them

Did you know that the average person has around 12-60 thousand thoughts per day? A study by the National Science Foundation found that 80% of those can be negative thoughts.  the brain is wired towards negative thinking, this goes back to the human response of fight or flight and the need for survival. As environments and people change, the brain often gets left behind. 


Intrusive ideas are ones that come on suddenly and are not voluntarily chosen. They are often depressing or frightening, and many have the impression that they have little control over them. People who suffer from mental health issues like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to have these kind of thoughts (OCD). Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that seem to come from nowhere. They can be disturbing and unpleasant. A person usually feels unable to control these thoughts and may find they distract from daily tasks.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), intrusive thoughts are involuntary and have no bearing on reality or a person’s desires. People do not act on these thoughts, and they typically find them shocking and unacceptable. Intrusive thoughts can be persistent and cause significant distress. Often, the harder people try to rid themselves of these thoughts, the more they persist and the more intense they become.

Technically, an intrusive thought could be positive, but it’s more often than not the negative ones that we notice. An example might be a sudden panic that you’ve left the oven on and your home is going to burn down. The sort of thing that we all think about from time to time. We might not think of it as ‘unwanted’, because it’s just a thought that we quickly forget about. There is minimal evidence to support the assumption that intrusive thoughts represent unconscious needs or wishes, as some traditional psychological theories have claimed. However, some researchers have found support for this hypothesis. Because of this, the majority of modern psychotherapy approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT),

Which is the subfield to which also belongs, feel that the fundamental source of intrusive thoughts is often merely random or unknown. Considering that we have a wide spectrum of ideas during the course of a day, it is not surprising that we may, sometimes, have ones that are disturbing or frightening. Even while there isn't always a logical explanation for intrusive thoughts, there are situations when traumatic experiences might be directly responsible for them.

For instance, one of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is having recurring dreams or unsettling thoughts about the horrific event months or even years after it took place.

When unwanted and intrusive thoughts become frequent and disturbing, it is important to consider how one perceives and responds to the thoughts in this circumstance. This phenomenon, which has been referred to for decades as "thought suppression," describes the process by which a person intentionally raises the probability that a thought will reoccur in their consciousness by increasing the likelihood that the idea will be eliminated or ignored.

What Causes Intrusive Thoughts?

Remember, intrusive thoughts are normal. If we accept that they’re just random thoughts, then what causes them is simply the constant bubbling-up of ideas and memories in our busy brains. By talking to people, psychologists can sometimes identify reasons why individuals might be sensitive to the content of certain intrusive thoughts – perhaps as a child they witnessed a fire or a violent attack. Later in life, there are times when we’re all supersensitive to certain thoughts and, hence, we’re more likely to take notice of them. After becoming a parent, for instance, we might be hyperaware of safety issues.

Even if we aren't now going through it, at some time in our lives, every one of us will go through it. People who suffer from anxiety are more likely to acquire this reaction over time, which is an indication that their brain is trying to handle too much information at once.

It isn't always the outcome of a real issue; sometimes we simply ignore it because the intensity of it is so tremendous that we can't manage it any other way. Sometimes it is the product of something else entirely. When your brain processes information in this way, it is next to impossible to think properly and critically evaluate everything you say and do.

The longer time passes without exposure to sunshine and the more challenging it is for you to trust your innate senses when it comes to matters of self-preservation, the more powerful these ideas will become.

Continue reading this article to learn how to silence the disruptive ideas that are running through your head and prevent yourself from falling into a deep rut where you are unable to stop thinking or make progress on any given day.

Even when we are not actively thinking about them, some aspects of our lives, such as recurring memories or intrusive thoughts, continue to be present. It’s stuff like ideas that pop into your brain while you're doing something else, and they keep occurring even when you try to push them away. It may be the ideas that are running through your brain right now, or it could be the things that are occurring around you.

When we have these ideas, we need to be conscious of how they make us feel as well as the consequences that they have on the rest of the world. For us to be able to create a change in the world, we need to be actively involved with the notions that we are exposed to.

"Intrusive notions" are things that we keep thinking about even though they don't seem to want to leave our heads. Because they are classified as "Intruding Thoughts," it should come as no surprise that we do not wish to entertain them. We need to deal with them right now to successfully prevent problems in the future. One approach that might be used to accomplish this goal is to divert your attention away from the category of Intruding Thoughts for a short period and then return to it after the break.

You'll have a much easier time focusing on the problems at hand if you do that. Any significant intrusive thoughts should be discussed with a supervisor or leader who is quickly reachable in an emergency. Various strategies may assist you in developing new habits and reducing the frequency of negative thoughts, even if they cannot be eliminated. Your mind is experiencing something known as intrusive thoughts, which are ideas that you do not want to have there.

It's possible that these ideas are not yours to begin with and are instead being imposed on you by someone or something else. It's possible They may bet aren't true, either to themselves or to the world.

Most importantly, they are not worth the time or effort that you spend into finding a solution toneir problems since they are not significant enough. If you are experiencing them, you should make every effort to stop having them before they become too severe or before you have too many of them.

What can you do to prevent them? This is a question that cannot be answered definitively since the method that is most effective for putting a halt to them varies from person to person.

The Practise Of Mindfulness Practice

  • One of the fundamental tenets of mindfulness is cultivating the ability to impartially notice one's own thoughts without passindgement or allowing oneself to get emotionally entangled in the process of doing so.
  • Since of this, adjusting your connection with intrusive thoughts may be an effective method of coping with them because you are not denying that the ideas are there; rather, you are focusing on changing your relationship with them.
  • To begin meditating, you do not need any specialized tools; rather, all you want is some free time and, if at all possible, a calm location in which to meditate.

Know Your Tigger’s

  • Because there are some persons, some persons, settings, and situations haveoff additional negative thoughts, it is essential to be aware of them. It's possible that interactions with your supervisor or making significant life choices are what trigger your tendency to be too critical of yourself or to question the value you assign to yourself. When you are aware of the things that set off your negative thought patterns, you may take preventative measures and feel more in control of your thoughts, rather than relapsing into old destructive thought patterns.
  • It is also important to recognize the cognitive distortions that you tend to repeat the most, such as the ones stated above.

Write it Out

  • Writing down how you're feeling allows you to not only get your ideas out of your head but also to have a deeper understanding of those emotions. Most of the time, you aren't even conscious of how pessimistic your thoughts are.
  • Negative thought patterns may become ingrained over time, and most of the time you won't even realize it's happening. You will have a much easier time identifying the aspects that call for your attention if you write them down first.
  • You may also question them after they are written down to see whether or not they are factual and whether or not they have any relevance. In such cases, get rid of them or replace them with more optimistic ways of thinking.
  • It is recommended that you write in your journal first thing in the morning when you first wake up since this is the best moment to record your train of thought on paper.

Recite a Mantra

  • Reciting a mantra or a positive affirmation is a terrific technique to bring yourself out from beneath the negative ideas that are clouding your mind and into the present moment.
  • You may say it if you have the feeling that something negative is about to enter your life, or you can repeat it many times during the day in order to form the habtontrating on the positive things in your life.
  • You are free to choose any term or phrase that would assist you in returning your attention to the here and now and encourage you to concentrate more on the good aspects of life.
  • The following are some recommendations to consider:
    • I choose peace
    • I have what I need.
    • Just doing my best is enough.

Take Professional Help

  • Obsessive thinking is a natural aspect of the human condition; nevertheless, it is also a symptom that may be associated with a number of other mental several most notably obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as a variety of other anxiety disorders.
  • Get in touch with a mental health expert if you feel that you are having troubling and persistent obsessive thoughts, or even if you simply want a little bit of an additional push to manage your obsessive thinking.
  • They are able to aid in the diagnosis of OCD, provide you with expert assistance with concerns relating to intrusive thought, and, if required, give you medication.
  • You may also acquire a better grasp of how underlying disorders may be contributing to compulsive thoughts by taking a clinically-backed OCD exam or anxiety disorder evaluation. Both of these tests are available online.

Recognize the Pattern and Name Them

  • In order to put an end to obsessive thinking once and for all, it is essential to first recognize the unwelcome intrusive thoughts that are occurring. Although it may seem straightforward, understanding how to put a halt to intrusive thoughts is really a little more challenging than it first appears.
  • According to Virgo, "before we can modify our patterns, we first need to identify them." When we find ourselves in a cognitive rut, it's common for us to fall back on old, reliable routines.
  •  It's a habit, much like chewing your nails or checking social media every few minutes, so it occurs without you even realizing it. If you find that you are ruminating too much, tell yourself, "Stop!" the next time it happens.

Consider a Bedtime Routine

  • A pattern that you follow every night before bed might help your brain link particular activities with sleep, which in turn can help you wind down more quickly. If you find that your mind is highly active, consider writing down your ideas.
  • It could provide some catharsis in the present and relieve some of the strain you're feeling to recollect whatever it is you're thinking about.
  • The key to having better sleep is to regularly engage in activities that help you feel more grounded and at ease.

Try Binaural Tones

  • It's possible that listening to binaural tones, which are a series of two tones with slightly different pitches that are played at the same time in each ear, would be useful for you.
  • Research published in 2019 discovered that using binaural tones in conjunction with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) noises may both help you fall asleep and increase the quality of sleep you get after you do fall asleep.
  • 'It may not be an immediate treatment, so give it ten minutes or so before determining whether or not it works for you,' advises Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, a therapist in Minnetonka, Minnesota. "Give it ten minutes or so before choosing whether or not it works for you,"
  • It's possible that beginning with this song that's popular on YouTube may be a nice idea.
  • The key, according to him, is to prevent oneself from engaging in activities like as "doom scrolling," checking Facebook for the thirty-first time, or Googling solutions to issues.
  • "By just concentrating on music that is relaxing and peaceful, you may take your mind off of things that are stressful and away from screens so that you can get some sleep,"

Consider Puzzle Games

  • According to some research, engaging in visuospatial activities—which are defined as those that require you to utilize your memory and analytical skills—can assist with intrusive thoughts.
  • According to the findings of research conducted in 2022, playing Tetris may lessen the severity of the anxiety caused by intrusive thoughts while also lowering the frequency with which they occur.
  • Other activities that need visuospatial ability include the following:
  • putting together or rearrangement of furniture
  • Solving a puzzle
  • creating a picture collage
  • Putting together Lego models, reorganizing the contents on a shelf, and making your bed are all good activities.

Try Looking At Things Differently

  • If you wish to get rid of unwelcome ideas that keep popping into your head, you may find it beneficial to look at the problem from a more distant perspective.
  • Benach states, "I like to ask my clients a series of questions," and the phrase may be found in the following sentence: "I like to ask my clients a series of "There's a good chance that the answer is going to be yes for the first two questions, but it's going to be no for the rest of the questions.
  • It definitely helps to put things into perspective when you think about it that way."

Try To Pose The Following Questions To Yourself

  • Is this going to be important in the morning?
  • When is it exactly one week from now?
  • When will it be one month from now?
  • What will we be doing in one year?

Strategies To Avoid Or Minimise

It is vital to be aware of a few tactics that may appear obvious but eventually prove to be counterproductive when dealing with intrusive thoughts. Many individuals use these strategies, but it is necessary to be aware of them.


  • It is normal for a person to instantly change their attention and make an effort to avoid thinking about an unwelcome intrusive idea when it first enters their consciousness.
  • However, this rapid diversion just serves to reinforce your mind's inaccurate threat assessment and the erroneous belief that intrusive thoughts pose a threat, which in turn leads to increased anxiety and an increase in the number of intrusive thoughts that are experienced.
  • Keep in mind that you should not divert your attention until after you have briefly recognised and verified the ideas as well as your sentiments toward them. Only then should you focus on anything else.


  • Many individuals, when presented with a string of unwelcome intrusive thoughts, acquire the habit of looking for reassurance from other people, generally a spouse, parent, or close friend.
  • This is a common response to the anxiety that is caused by the intrusive thoughts. Seeking reassurance may make a person feel better in the now, but it really makes the situation much more difficult in the long term.
  • You are giving greater credence to the fallacy that your intrusive thoughts are harmful and troublesome when you approach others for solace and reassurance.
  • This, in turn, increases the likelihood that you will continue to struggle with these kinds of ideas in the future. Instead of searching for reassuring words from someone else, try quickly reminding yourself that intrusive thoughts are neither harmful nor a problem, validating both the ideas and your own experience, and then assertively redirecting your focus to something else.

Concern Or Other Types Of Negative Self-Talk

  • Negative self-talk, such as worry and rumination, reinforces the same threat interpretation via a 'fight' response.
  • This means that it does so by attempting to fix or eliminate the thoughts, in contrast to the unhelpful strategies of distracting yourself or seeking reassurance, which signals danger through a behaviour known as 'flight' – that is, by attempting to flee from your intrusive thoughts.
  • When we worry about the probable implications of our intrusive thoughts or ponder about what those ideas imply, we continue to support the mistaken perception that our thoughts are hazardous.


Even though they may be upsetting and unpleasant, unwelcome intrusive thoughts are neither hazardous nor an indicator that you are going to engage in harmful behaviour. In point of fact, anxiety often manifests itself in the form of these symptoms. When faced with unwelcome intrusive thoughts, resist the tendency to instantly divert yourself, to seek for reassurance, or to fall into patterns of negative self-talk such as anxiety and rumination. Instead, focus on finding ways to alleviate the stress caused by the intrusive thoughts. The most effective method for dealing with unwanted intrusive thoughts is to accept that you will have them. This involves recognising that the thoughts are bothersome and unwelcome, but not actually dangerous; validating the thoughts as well as your understandable emotional response to them; and finally, redirecting your attention to something else in a gentle but assured manner. Simple activities such as sketching or writing down intrusive ideas and setting aside a period of time on purpose to reflect on them at a later date are effective ways to lessen the emotional impact of these types of thoughts.

Keep in mind that we're talking about mental routines here, and as such, there are no quick remedies. It is typical for your mind to 'pull' you back to the idea while you are practicing techniques like noticing and validating an intrusive thought before diverting your attention. You should prepare to try this several times.





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