Coping With Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are completely normal – but if they impact your quality of life and cause severe distress and compulsive behaviours and/or compulsive thought patterns, you could be experiencing OCD. Here are some things I’ve learned about coping with intrusive thoughts :

  • Intrusive thoughts are completely normal – As shocking, scary, or taboo they might be, intrusive thoughts are completely normal. Nearly everyone experiences intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts say nothing about you as a person: they’re not secret desires, they’re just your brain generating random stuff. Intrusive thoughts are basically like junk emails, but in your brain.
  • You are not your thoughts, and thinking isn’t doing – Your thoughts aren’t who you are. Your thoughts also aren’t facts. Having weird thoughts says nothing about your character or your value as a person. Thinking about something isn’t the same thing as doing that thing, and thoughts hold no moral value. Having violent thoughts, for example, does not make you a violent person; thoughts are not actions.
  • Trying to stop intrusive thoughts from popping up is counterproductive – Intrusive thoughts are automatic, and a part of how your brain functions. It’s impossible to stop them from popping up, and focusing on *not* thinking about something makes you think about it more. If I tell you to not think about a pink elephant, you’ll probably think about a pink elephant right away. You can’t stop intrusive thoughts, but you can reduce how much they bother you by learning to not respond to them.
  • Learning to tolerate uncertainty plays a big role – Sometimes we feel like we’ll feel better when we reach absolute certainty about whatever it is that’s bothering us. However, finding perfect certainty is not the point. There will always be a new “what if”, especially if you’re struggling with OCD. Instead, learning to embrace and tolerate uncertainty and the discomfort it brings without trying to be absolutely certain about something is often the key for managing intrusive thoughts.
  • Intrusive thoughts don’t have to ruin your day – It’s common to feel like intrusive thoughts can’t show up when we’re supposed to be having fun, spending time with our family or friends, or going on a holiday. It’s important to know that intrusive thoughts might show up- and that it doesn’t have to ruin your day. Learning skills that allow you to let intrusive thoughts come and go without you fixating on them is much more beneficial than feeling like your day is ruined when you experience an unpleasant thought.
  • If your intrusive thoughts cause severe distress or anxiety, it could be a sign of OCD – Intrusive thoughts are normal, and having them isn’t automatically a sign of a problem. However, if they impact your quality of life by causing severe distress and anxiety and lead to compulsive behaviour or thought patterns in an effort to reduce anxiety and uncertainty, you could be experiencing OCD.

OCD is characterised by a preoccupation with intrusive thoughts that causes intense anxiety, and compulsions (either behavioural, e.g. checking or seeking reassurance, or mental, e.g. ruminating) are performed to temporarily ease this anxiety. If you feel like you might have OCD, good news: it can be effectively treated and managed. The gold standard treatment for OCD is ERP therapy (exposure and response prevention) which helps you break the obsession-compulsion cycle.

What else would you add?


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Stacy says:

    You called this correct! 🎯🎯🎯🎯FOR SURE! I have just learned how to master keeping “those” thoughts at bay. I’ve learned to try to keep thoughts of any, intrusive, negative, or thoughts that could lead to an Unproductive Cycle, much like with an OCD- Type Behavior….. Ince the Behavior is recognized, it can be corrected with hard work.
    Thanks for the Like on my first post back, it was encouraging to get likes from several of my WordPress Fam! 🙏🏼

    Liked by 1 person

    1. GS says:

      Thank you for visiting my blog. I enjoyed reading your post. Glad you liked the post.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stacy says:

    Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

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