Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, upsetting thoughts that cause fear and anxiety. These thoughts are not within our control and are not based on reality or a person’s wants or feelings. In fact, they typically go against a person’s morals and beliefs. Many people feel shame and embarrassment regarding their intrusive thoughts. They also wonder if their thoughts are “normal”. As a result, individuals suffering from frequent intrusive thoughts may avoid seeking treatment.
Research has shown that individuals with and without anxiety have the same content of thoughts; however, individuals with anxiety have a negative and fearful response to their thoughts whereas individuals without anxiety have a neutral response to their thoughts. When you respond to a thought with fear, the thought gets stronger. Your brain wants to protect you from the thought so it becomes hypervigilant and will remind you of the thought frequently in an effort to push it away. This keeps the thought at the forefront of your mind. Unfortunately, trying to not think about something will inevitably make you think about it more.
Below are a few examples of common thoughts that have been reported by individuals with and without anxiety.
- Swerving into traffic
- Running a car off the road
- Hurting or insulting someone
- Bumping into someone
- Accidentally leaving an appliance on
- Leaving your home unlocked
- Swearing in public
- Causing a public scene
- Wrecking something
- Catching a disease
- Negative thoughts about yourself, such as: I am not good enough
- Flashback to something unpleasant from your past
Exposure response prevention (ERP) is the gold-standard for treating intrusive thoughts. Reach out to a qualified anxiety specialist today to learn how to overcome intrusive thoughts!