Do you ever have random, unwanted thoughts appear erratically in your mind? These thoughts appear out of nowhere and often get stuck in your head. At times, they even cause distress and make you feel anxious. Such thoughts are known as intrusive thoughts.
It is estimated that intrusive thoughts affect more than 6 million individuals in the United States alone. If you feel that you are one of those 6 million people, you may be wondering how to stop intrusive thoughts. The answer is simple. You can always go for in-person or online therapy for intrusive thoughts and learn how to deal with them.
What Are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and repetitive thoughts that can enter our mind at any time without warning. They can be disturbing, distressing, or violent. They can also be sexual thoughts or behaviors you find repugnant.
Some examples of intrusive thoughts are:
- Thoughts about safety and risks, such as your loved one being fatally injured or passing away, or the thought of you hitting someone while driving.
- Sexual thoughts, such as doubting your sexual orientation and sexual identity, or about sexual behavior like having sex with a child even though there are zero chances of you acting on them.
- Doubts about whether you’ve turned off the stove, replied to someone the right way, or whether your partner is cheating on you.
- Memories of the past, triggered by your surroundings. It can be the setting, scent, or something else which can cause the event to flash itself in front of you as sounds or images, causing your heartbeat to race.
- Concerns about catching germs or falling sick, leading to behaviors like excessive cleaning, frequently washing hands, excessive sanitization, etc.
Intrusive Thoughts and Anxiety Disorders
Intrusive thoughts are normal and harmless if you can ignore them. The problem arises when you try to fight them. When people desperately try to fight off these thoughts, they end up fueling them instead. As a result, these thoughts stick around for longer.
Because almost all of these thoughts are ego-dystonic (thoughts and feelings that are not with your self-image or belief), they can severely impact your mental health.
It is crucial to note that having intrusive thoughts is not a disorder by itself. They are a symptom that manifests itself in different mental disorders. Let’s go over some of these mental disorders and the role of intrusive thoughts in them.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a common, long-term disorder marked by uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that can lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Reports suggest that in the United States, approximately 1 in every 40 adults and 1 in every 100 children are affected by OCD. Furthermore, in any given year, 1.2% of U.S. adults aged 18 or over report having OCD.
Intrusive thoughts play a vital role in OCD, often determining how severe it can be. OCD intrusive thoughts are more intense and complicated compared to intrusive thoughts without OCD. The thoughts cling to your mind, and you frequently fear that they won’t go away until you find a way to alleviate your anxiety.
The distress to eradicate the OCD intrusive thoughts results in compulsive behavior. For example, someone who constantly thinks about contracting germs might wash their hands frequently, or someone who constantly feels that they are not a good parent might spend hours on Google searching for tips on how to be a better parent.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a mental disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Individuals diagnosed with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings about their traumatic experience, lasting long after the event. They might relive the event via flashbacks or nightmares. Furthermore, they may experience sadness, fear, anger, or detachment. They may avoid situations or people who remind them of the traumatic event and may have strong adverse reactions to seemingly harmless things, such as a loud noise or an unintentional touch.
According to studies, approximately 8 million adults in the U.S. have PTSD in any given year. Moreover, 1 in every 13 individuals will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.
Intrusive thoughts in PTSD can manifest themselves as dramatic images from the incident, such as the face of an attacker or the sight of blood. It can also be hearing similar sounds, such as gunshots or explosions if PTSD was due to a terrorist attack or a shooting incident. Furthermore, they can trigger other symptoms of PTSD that can worsen the situation.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is marked by uncontrollable worry about daily occurrences and situations. As a result, people with GAD are often restless, anxious, and afraid. Since these people worry a lot, they are also prone to intrusive thoughts that can trigger other symptoms, such as headaches, trembling, nausea, emotional distress, palpitations, and the inability to fall asleep.
Since intrusive thoughts are symptoms of several mental disorders, you must treat them as a red flag and seek professional help to stop them before they become uncontrollable and take control of you.
How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts
There are several ways to deal with intrusive thoughts. Some are routine-based activities, whereas other options include undergoing different types of online therapy for intrusive thoughts.
Intrusive thoughts result in anxiety, fear, restlessness, heart palpitation, and other physiological and psychological changes. Meditation can help you regain your posture and calm, dramatically reducing the impact of intrusive thoughts.
Journaling refers to a written account of your thoughts, emotions, and feelings. It helps you track your intrusive thoughts and their intensity. Over time, it will also help you discover the pattern of your thoughts and their triggers. Writing them down means that you are not pushing these thoughts away but acknowledging them, thereby reducing their impact. Journaling is an effective way of tackling general anxiety.
Since intrusive thoughts are often the result of restlessness, stress, and anxiety, different medications are prescribed to reduce the impact of intrusive thoughts. Serotonin and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are included in some prescriptions. The two are commonly used to treat depression, anxiety, and other related mental disorders. However, medications take time to start working, and results may take up to 10 weeks to appear.
4. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT assists patients in comprehending the impact of their thoughts on their behavior. This therapy includes both cognitive and behavioral analysis. Cognitive analysis examines thoughts and ideas, whereas behavioral analysis examines reactions to thoughts. CBT therapists attempt to change the way we think and react to situations.
According to research, CBT is the most effective treatment for people suffering from depression and anxiety. After 5–15 sessions, CBT alone is 50–75% effective for overcoming depression and anxiety.
5. Exposure and response prevention (ERP)
CBT includes exposure and response prevention therapy. Exposure is the deliberate exposure of oneself to intrusive thoughts, objects, and visuals that cause anxiety. Response prevention prevents a person from engaging in compulsive behavior in response to these thoughts. The therapy begins with the patient making a list of the ideas, images, or objects that cause fear and anxiety. Then, the patient is exposed to the defects that have been marked. The length of treatment is determined by one's ability to overcome anxiety by controlling it. It aims to desensitize the patient to intrusive thoughts by emphasizing response prevention.
Are You Tired of Intrusive Thoughts?Try Online Therapy Today
Can Online Therapy Help Me?
Online therapy for intrusive thoughts is just as effective as in-person therapy. It is a great way to deal with intrusive thoughts, especially when you have a strict schedule to adhere to. Mental health professionals are rapidly shifting to online counseling, given its benefits:
Online counseling does not require you to travel to your therapist’s office. As a result, it saves the time spent commuting. You only need to connect to the internet for your session.
2. More comfortable
For therapy to be effective, the patient must be comfortable with their surroundings. And nothing is more comfortable than being in the place of your choice. With online therapy, you can easily carry out your counseling sessions at home, on a trip, or in your office. Furthermore, you can book your session at a time that suits you and your schedule.
3. Best therapist at your fingertips
Unlike traditional therapy, online therapy does not require you to travel. As a result, you can book an appointment with the best therapist for you, irrespective of your location. Furthermore, you have several options to choose from, and changing therapists becomes easier since all of it is online. This means that you will always have someone that’s right for you.
Under normal circumstances, intrusive thoughts are powerless and meaningless. What makes them powerful is your perspective towards them. If you fixate on them or have a desire to act on them, they can have a powerful negative impact on your life, and online therapy for intrusive thoughts is one of the most effective ways to deal with it.
Our therapists at DoMental create a safe space to ensure that you are comfortable. They understand that every individual is unique and do their best to create an effective treatment plan for you. With DoMental, you will always have someone for you, no matter where you are. Reach out to professional help, and you won’t be disappointed.