Managing intrusive thoughts - Harvard Health - Deepstash
Managing intrusive thoughts - Harvard Health

Managing intrusive thoughts - Harvard Health

health.harvard.edu

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Intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts

  • It seems to come out of nowhere — a strange, disturbing thought or a troubling image that pops into your mind. It might be violent or sexual, or a recurring fear that you’ll do something inappropriate or embarrassing. Whatever the content, it’s often unsettling and may bring on feelings of worry or shame. The more you try to push the thought from your mind, the more it persists.
  • Sometimes intrusive thoughts are associated with a mental health disorder. They are also common in post-traumatic stress disorder. But many people who experience these thoughts don’t have a mental health disorder.
  • Intrusive thoughts are often triggered by stress or anxiety. They may also be a short-term problem brought on by biological factors, such as hormone shifts.

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What intrusive thoughts mean

While intrusive thoughts may be disturbing, they aren’t harmful or a sign that you have a secret desire to do the things that popped into your mind.

People are often too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it.

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Identifying intrusive thoughts

There are some signs to look for:

  • The thought is unusual for you. An intrusive thought is usually very different from your typical thoughts.
  • The thought is bothersome, something you want to push out of your mind.
  • The thought feels hard to control. Intrusive thoughts are often repetitive and won’t go away.

When these thoughts emerge, try taking the following steps:

  1. Identify the thought as intrusive. 
  2. Don’t fight with it. When you have an intrusive thought, just accept it.
  3. Don’t judge yourself. Know that having a strange or disturbing thought doesn’t indicate that something is wrong with you.

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When to seek help

See a mental health professional if unwanted thoughts are starting to disrupt your daily life, particularly if they’re impairing your ability to work or to do things you enjoy. However, even if intrusive thoughts aren’t affecting your life in a significant way, you can still see someone to get help.

Intrusive thoughts can also be managed by addressing the underlying problem, such as anxiety, stress, or a personal history of trauma. While it may be helpful to share the particular thoughts you are having, keep in mind that even if you aren’t comfortable talking about them in detail, a therapist can still help.

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CURATED BY

juhic

Engineer for manufacturing systems

How to identify and manage intrusive thoughts.

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