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Anxiety And Its Connection To Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts come unbidden, and they can be very concerning. These persistent thoughts often feel shameful, and those who experience them tend to keep them a secret. A characteristic of intrusive thoughts, however, is that the harder you try to get rid of them, the harder they persist. We have closely linked these involuntary thoughts with anxiety, as well as depression, PTSD, and OCD.

Intrusive thoughts are typically unpleasant and sometimes repulsive. They can be about violence, sex, religion, or relationships. Examples of intrusive thoughts are:

  • Fear of infidelity

  • Constantly questioning your faith

  • Thoughts of harming loved ones

It’s important to understand that people do not want to act on these intrusive thoughts. They are worth discussing and examining, though.



How are intrusive thoughts connected to anxiety?

Because intrusive thoughts can be so disturbing, few people share them. They often bring up feelings of guilt and embarrassment. Someone with clinical anxiety is more likely to judge themselves harshly for their intrusive thoughts. They tell themselves it makes them bad and dangerous.

Interpreting these thoughts in such a negative way feeds a cycle in which the intrusive thought becomes stronger and the person’s anxiety is triggered again. Someone with anxiety is less likely to dismiss these thoughts and move on with their day. They are more likely to obsess about intrusive thoughts and cannot distract themselves.

Why does suppressing negative thoughts strengthen them?

Suppressing negative thoughts, also called thought suppression, often has a rubber band effect. By pushing the thought away, someone may cause it to stay around for longer. This is another vicious cycle that feeds into anxiety. Suppressing the thoughts causes someone to continue trying to repress thoughts, and that leads to even more distressing thoughts.

An initial intrusive thought happens with no effort. When you try to suppress it, you’re dedicating mental resources to that passing thought. This feeds the thought, bringing it closer to the conscious mind, strengthening it.

Why is it important to unpack intrusive thoughts?

Recognizing that these thoughts arise as a defense mechanism is a large part of learning to control them. They happen when our minds are afraid. If you dissect these thoughts with compassion and curiosity, you can discover the trigger beneath them. The first step is to identify the thought as intrusive. This self-awareness allows you to question your thoughts further. Some questions to ask yourself while experiencing intrusive thoughts are:

  • Is this a fact?

  • What assumptions am I making?

  • Am I using this thought to cast judgment on myself?

  • What strengths do I have in this situation?

  • How much control do I have over what I’m worried about?

Questioning your intrusive thoughts invites your logical brain into the conversation. This is something that takes practice, especially if we connect intrusive thoughts with our anxiety. Asking yourself about the intrusive thought gives you an opportunity to stop the cycle of anxiety and insecurity.

Coping with anxiety and intrusive thoughts

After naming the thought as intrusive, you can begin coping with the anxiety the intrusive thoughts cause. An effective means of doing this is to continue with the task you were doing when the thought entered your mind. This helps you maintain a sense of control because you aren’t letting the thoughts dictate your day. It’s a small way of owning your power.

No one has to tolerate intrusive thoughts. There are treatment options. The help of a professional therapist and a proper diagnosis can provide relief. Some tips for coping with intrusive thoughts are:

  • Practicing mindfulness

  • Identify the thought as intrusive

  • Remember they are involuntary

  • Allow yourself to question it

  • Remind yourself that it is not a reflection of you

With counseling, it’s possible to tame these intrusive thoughts. We can discuss effective strategies for closing down the cycle and how to re-engage with your logical mind.

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