What are intrusive thoughts?
The Mayo Clinic says an intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.
Let me make that a little more simple.
You’re driving along and you’re in the middle of crossing a bridge and your brain has a pop-up window that says “I wonder what would happen if I just drove off the side of this bridge.” That is one example of an intrusive thought. They can even be even more alarming. Maybe you’re at a sleepover and your brain starts to think about how easy it would be to injure or murder someone in their sleep.
Yes. They’re creepy.
And yes. They are incredibly common. 2% of the population worldwide have unwanted thoughts like this. I know 2% doesn’t sound like much, but that’s roughly around 150 million people.
The biggest reason they cause distress isn’t always the disturbing thought itself. It’s more so due to questioning oneself afterward. We tend to read into things more than we need to. What does it mean? Am I a bad person? Do these thoughts make me a terrible person? Am I going to hell for this? Etc.
What I have to say is: You are not your thoughts.
How do you let go of intrusive thoughts?
- Recognize and be aware of the thought without judgement.
- Remind yourself that the thought is just that – a thought.
- Remember that you do not have to act on these thoughts.
- They do not define you. Repeat that to yourself.
- Practice self-soothing and self-care.
- If needed, reach out for support.
Intrusive thoughts can be symptoms to bigger mental health illnesses such as Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety, or Bipolar Disorder. If you find yourself overwhelmed by these types of thoughts, I recommend reaching out to a medical professional.
Leave a comment below if you’ve ever dealt with intrusive thoughts. How did you react or respond to them?