One aspect of my life with anxiety and depression is dealing with intrusive thoughts all the time. It doesn’t matter what time or place, and it doesn’t depend on the activity I’m doing, but every now and then I have unwanted thoughts that get stuck in my brain. And I’m not alone – it is estimated that over 6 million people in the United States deal with intrusive thoughts each year, and those are just the people who feel comfortable telling their doctor about them. But what exactly are intrusive thoughts and how can we tell when we are having them? Let’s sum it up.
What are intrusive thoughts?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, intrusive thoughts are “frozen thoughts that cause great distress. They seem to come out of nowhere, arrive with a shower and cause a lot of fear. “These types of thoughts don’t seem to come in for any reason, but our brains tend to hold onto them. In fact, ADAA also refers to them as “unwanted” intrusive thoughts. Examples include doubts about choices we make, relationships we maintain, our identity, or more serious things like intrusive thoughts of violence against ourselves or others.
Healthline defines intrusive thoughts in a similar way:
“Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that seem to get stuck in the head. They can cause distress as the nature of the thought can be disturbing. They can also recur frequently, which can make your concern worse. “
How much power do intrusive thoughts have?
This is where things get a little complicated. The intrusive thoughts themselves do not always cause the greatest damage to our psyche. Instead, it is the ways in which these thoughts can disturb and torment us that give them strength. Intrusive thoughts make us think that you unconsciously want to do the things that are invading your brain. Even if you really don’t want to, if you dig deep enough, make these intrusive thoughts think these thoughts are part of you. This is a myth that persists despite evidence to the contrary, but when you’re caught in a spiral of thought it’s hard to spot.
It is clear that intrusive thoughts have a lot more power than we give them. Whether it’s the thoughts themselves, our reaction to them, or how they affect our daily activities, intrusive thoughts make their presence very well known.
Recognize intrusive thoughts
So how do we know when intrusive thoughts are popping up in our brain? For one, intrusive thoughts can be symptoms of mental disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders (in addition to other mental illnesses). If you’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness, it may be a way to manifest itself. Another way to spot intrusive thoughts is by acknowledging the thought and asking if you want to think about it. When we know the difference between these thoughts, we can tell which thoughts are our own and which are intrusive.
Now that we’ve broken down those intrusive thoughts, the next post in this two-part series explains how we can try to get a grip on them.
While some people have intrusive thoughts every now and then, others live with them for years. I still struggle with intrusive thoughts every day! But I want to hear from you. Have you ever experienced intrusive thoughts? How was it? Let me know in the comments below!