How to Handle Intrusive Thoughts

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Credit to flickr.com user openDemocracy. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Trigger Warning: Suicidal ideation.

“Intrusive thoughts are my best friends!” -My mother

Intrusive thoughts are part of the human condition. They are thoughts that everyone has that are inappropriate, bothersome, or downright dangerous, that feel out of your control. Surveys given to healthy college students revealed that they had all thought about harming people close to them or engaging in sexual violence. Suicidal thoughts are also common.

This does not mean that those college students wanted to hurt anyone, even themselves! Quite the opposite. These thoughts are not impulses, they’re just thoughts, and they’re usually easy to dismiss for most neurotypical people. But for people who suffer from mental illnesses, these thoughts can become an obsession.

These sorts of thoughts dramatically affect my day to day life. I often have–and dismiss–thoughts about driving into oncoming traffic, or what would happen if I fell down the stairs. Another thought I suffered a severe amount of anxiety from was due to the fact that I had to take a rectal temperature from my febrile infant. My intrusive fear was that the thermometer tip would break off inside of her. Dread clenched my belly and my heart turned to ice; I was unable to take the temperature in that manner.

I’d like to stress that these thoughts happen to everyone. Sometimes they can create a negative feedback loop in anxious individuals, by feeding into their fears and causing more.

There are a few ways to deal with intrusive thoughts:

  • Recognize that you are in control of your impulses
  • Know that these thoughts are automatic and ignorable
  • Accept the thought. Don’t try to push it away, as that only makes the obsession worse. These thoughts will go away on their own
  • Breathe deeply until your anxiety leaves

This can all be very difficult, but after a few weeks of trying, you can see improvement. I hope that these tips will help you conquer your intrusive thoughts the next time they strike!

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