How to Stop Intrusive Thoughts: 5 Key Ways You Need to Know

intrusive thoughts
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Almost everyone has passing thoughts that are repulsive, frightening, or just plain bizarre. There is nothing odd about this. Although people experiencing such passing thoughts somehow get stuck and start repeating themselves. They start forming elaborate patterns of internal dialogue to get rid of these thoughts.

These unwanted intrusive thoughts demand attention, elicit anxiety and embarrassment, and frequently result in questions about sanity, control, intentions, character, and safety.

Are you also plagued by such distressing thoughts that appear randomly and effectively manage to disrupt your day-to-day life? Instead of trying to get rid of them, you should treat them as just thoughts. In order to do the same, it’s essential to learn why they are caused and how you can stop or manage intrusive thoughts.

What are intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts can be characterized as those that intrude upon your ongoing thought process. They startle you with attention-grabbing content or imagery and affect your daily life.

Intrusive thoughts appear out of nowhere, with a whoosh, and cause a lot of concern. Unwanted intrusive thoughts frequently contain sexual, violent, or socially undesirable images.

People who have unwelcome intrusive thoughts are terrified of committing the acts they imagine in their heads. They also worry that the ideas are implying something negative about themselves.

The content of the thoughts, no matter how persuasive, is useless and irrelevant. These aren’t fantasies, desires, or urges; they’re unwelcome ideas. They are sustained and intensified exactly because you do not want them and your efforts to stop them.

It is common knowledge that ordinary passing thoughts that affect someone negatively, that violate their beliefs or values, or that disgust them – those thoughts are most likely to become stuck in their minds.

This is precisely because of the efforts made to get rid of them, argue with them, or neutralize them, whether through internal dialogue, ways of attempting to reassure oneself, or by developing avoidance behaviors.

Types of intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts can take many forms, but here are a few of the most prevalent ones:

  1. Using violence or causing injury to one’s self or others
  2. Taking part in sexually improper activities
  3. Crimes of blasphemy or acts against one’s religion
  4. Fear-inducing ideas

Repetitive concerns about relationships, minor and large decisions, sexual orientation or identity, intrusions of thoughts about safety, religion, death, or worries about matters that cannot be answered with certainty are examples of unwanted intrusive thoughts.

Some of them are merely strange ideas that don’t make any sense. Unwanted intrusive thoughts can be quite outspoken, and many people are embarrassed or concerned about them, so they keep them hidden.

Why do people experience intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are egodystonic and express wishes that oppose your values, unlike egosyntonic thoughts that express wishes aligned with your values.

Intrusive thoughts and disorders

Often intrusive thoughts are linked to a mental health disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD). In this, intrusive and obsessive thoughts become bothersome and trigger repetitive or compulsive behaviors to avoid them.

Although those with OCD are more likely to have more graphic, violent, or inappropriate intrusive thoughts, those with anxiety are more likely to get lured in by less intense (but no less undesirable) intrusive thoughts.

People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are more likely to be concerned about the safety of a loved one. People who suffer from a social-specific anxiety disorder may find it difficult to forget about a moment when they made a mistake or said or did something dumb.

When a person with anxiety is confronted with an unwanted thought, they often react in the worst way possible: obsessing over it, attempting to eliminate it from their minds, and inadvertently giving it power that it didn’t have before.

People who have an eating disorder may also be victims of intrusive thoughts. Their ideas have the potential to harm their physical health. People with eating disorders are usually concerned about the physical effects of food on their bodies. As a result, there is a lot of anxiety about eating. Additional actions, like purging, may be exhibited to stop the thoughts.

Even when there is no evident source of distraction, difficulty paying attention is a classic symptom of ADHD. Some people with ADHD have trouble focusing, but many also have intrusive, repeated, or unsettling thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts are also common in post-traumatic stress disorder, which is brought on by a life-threatening or severely stressful incident like an accident or a violent attack.

Intrusive thoughts and compulsive thinking are common in those diagnosed with bipolar illness. Obsessive thoughts and worries can disrupt sleep or, even worse, lead to hazardous or dysfunctional actions by absorbing all of your attention and leaving you unable to concentrate.

Many persons who have similar disturbing thoughts might not always have an underlying mental health condition behind them.

Other factors play a role in whether or not thoughts become stuck. One phenomenon is known as entanglement. This is essentially about how you interact with your thoughts. Some people can approach their thoughts with a detached observational mindset.

They don’t take the jumble of numerous channels of thinking too seriously; they can laugh at silly thoughts or stand aside and not get engaged when socially or personally inappropriate thoughts arise.

They recognize and accept that much of what goes through people’s heads is essentially garbage – sometimes noisy, sometimes distracting, but always devoid of worth or purpose.

Others believe in a variety of popular myths, such as the belief that every thought has a hidden meaning, that ideas may compel people to behave, or that our thoughts are genuinely under our control (when actually only our attention to them is under our control). The concept

Another aspect is what we call mental stickiness. Periods of stress in one’s life, as well as everyday situations such as exhaustion, illness, or expected conflict, might momentarily make one’s mind stickier. Knowing what makes your mind stickier will assist you to recognize when you should try to be unaffected by your own thoughts.

Unwanted intrusive thoughts can also be a temporary condition caused by biological reasons like hormone changes.

The human brain will only exert the effort to offer up an intrusive thought about something you care deeply about and which the brain fears may be threatened.

What should be your outlook?

Intrusive thoughts do not reflect your hidden desires. Experiencing an unwelcome thought does not make you “deranged” or “depraved”.

The only thing unhealthy about your experience of these negative thoughts is if you try to ignore them instead of accepting intrusive thoughts and trying to find the underlying problem.


You can distinguish intrusive thoughts from regular ones if they characterize the following signs or symptoms.

An intrusive thought is usually distinct from the regular one. It is an unexpected notion for you. The unwanted thoughts are also unpleasant in nature. It could be an invasive thought if a thought is bothering you and you want to get it out of your head.

Intrusive thoughts tend to repeat themselves and refuse to go away. The more you consider it, the more anxious you become and the worse your ideas become. These thoughts might also be difficult to control. It is preferable to learn to accept intrusive thoughts and identify the underlying issue rather than battling them.

Speaking with a healthcare physician is the initial step toward a diagnosis. They’ll go over your symptoms and medical history with you. They may perform a comprehensive physical examination as well as a preliminary psychological evaluation in some circumstances.

They may refer you to a mental health expert if they identify no physical issue that could be causing your intrusive thoughts. These people have been taught to detect the signs and symptoms of a variety of conditions that might induce intrusive thoughts, such as OCD and PTSD.

You and your therapist will work together in one-on-one sessions to identify the thoughts that arise and how you respond to them. This will assist them in arriving at a diagnosis and determining whether or not there is another possible cause.

When to seek help

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If unwelcome thoughts are starting to interrupt your everyday life, see a mental health professional, especially if they’re affecting your ability to work or do things you enjoy.

Even if intrusive thoughts aren’t significantly harming your life, you can get treatment from a professional. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one method that mental health practitioners frequently use to assist people to control intrusive thoughts.

The approach may assist you in shifting some of your general thought patterns, allowing you to better regulate and reduce the frequency of unpleasant ideas when they do arise.

Intrusive thoughts can also be controlled by treating the underlying issue, such as anxiety, stress, or a trauma background. While it may be beneficial to express your specific views, keep in mind that even if you aren’t comfortable talking about them in length, a simple conversation with a healthcare giver can assist.

How to manage intrusive thoughts

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Getting entangled with unwanted intrusive ideas, worrying about them, striving against them, and attempting to reason them away reinforces them. They become stronger as a result of attempting to evade them. Leave your ideas alone, as if they aren’t even worth thinking about, and they will soon go away.


A doctor may prescribe medicine to help you balance the chemicals in your brain. This is common for several mental health issues. Antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are among the prescription medications available.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

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There are numerous types of talk therapy that can help those who do not want to rely on medication, whose doctor does not recommend medication, or who have lesser cases of intrusive thoughts.

Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment (CBT), is one of the most prevalent and commonly utilized types of therapy, and it can be used to treat a wide range of issues. CBT, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, can be as beneficial as medicine for many people, or may even provide additional advantages for those who are already taking medication.

CBT assists clients in developing skills for coping with undesirable and negative thoughts and feelings, as well as guiding them through the development of good coping mechanisms.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

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Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on accepting your ideas and feelings as they are rather than attempting to alter them. This acceptance, in combination with mindfulness and the development of more flexible thinking, assists persons who suffer from undesirable thoughts in accepting that they have them but not allowing them to consume their minds.

Exposure and Response Prevention

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is another type of CBT that is very helpful for treating OCD. This kind of treatment entails repeatedly exposing the client to the source of his or her fear without allowing any compulsions.

The goal is to convince the client that he or she can face their fears and that eventually, the fear will be realized to be unjustified. Though the ideas may not go away completely, ERP is very effective in turning obsessive and all-consuming thoughts into minor annoyances.


For intrusive thoughts, you can also try meditation. It’s another evidence-based and relaxing technique for embracing and letting go of undesirable, stressful thoughts at the same time.

Mindfulness meditation is a fantastic tool for assisting people in coping with a variety of challenges and improving their overall quality of life. Mindfulness meditation has shown to be effective in the treatment of OCD.

It can help the sufferer notice and comprehend her thoughts, as well as figure out where they’re coming from and how to deal with the brain’s insistence on focusing on less savory or pleasurable imagery. It’s all about acknowledging your thoughts, letting them “enter,” then allowing them to “exit” and go on.

Self-help: Other ways to manage intrusive thoughts

Some other ways for changing your mindset and getting rid of unwanted intrusive thoughts include:-

  • Label these as “intrusive thoughts.”
  • Remind yourself that these are involuntary ideas that you have no control over.
  • Accept the thoughts and allow them to enter your mind. Make no attempt to force them away.
  • Float and practice letting time pass you by.
  • Keep in mind that little is more. Pause. Allow yourself some time. There is no need to hurry.
  • Expect the thoughts to resurface.
  • Allow the anxiousness to be present while continuing to do whatever you were doing before to the intrusive thought.

What to Avoid

>Do not in any way, interact with the thoughts.

>Don’t try to expel the negative thoughts from your mind.

>Avoid attempting to decipher what your thoughts “mean.”

>Lastly, don’t try to check to determine if this is “working” in terms of removing unwanted ideas.

These strategies might be time-consuming and difficult to implement. However, anyone who continues to use them for a few weeks will almost certainly see a reduction in the frequency and intensity of unwanted intrusive thoughts.

To know more about intrusive thoughts you can check out this article.


While at times contributed by guest authors, our content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. We pride ourselves on our high-quality content and strive towards offering expertise while being authoritative. Our reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students. 

Do note that any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


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