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What are Intrusive Thoughts and Where do they Come From?

Have you ever thought about something that disturbed you or interrupted your peace? Did it ever sound like, you’re not good enough to achieve your goals? These fleeting thoughts that cause distress and are often unprompted are known as intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are not uncommon, and in fact, studies have shown that more than 94 percent of people have experienced intrusive thoughts at least once in the last three months.

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted or repetitive thoughts usually creating disturbing or graphic images that can interfere with your daily functions. “Most people experience intrusive thoughts through trauma, past events and regrets,” says Evelyn McGee, Therapist at Centerstone. “These thoughts stem from the rational voice and it is thinking of the worst possible outcome that could happen.”

Some of the reasons people tend to shift to this thinking is due to previous paranoid behaviors, learned behaviors, traumatic experiences, severe stress or potential psychosis. An important distinction to make is that some intrusive thoughts are normal, and we all have something in our lives that might provoke those thoughts. Intrusive thoughts become worrisome when they begin to impact one or more of your daily functions, they threaten physical harm to you or others, and when you feel extreme discomfort.

When you experience intrusive thoughts, it might be hard to determine what you feel and what is real. “Intrusive thoughts are merely assumptions, not facts,” says McGee. You can follow these methods to help minimize intrusive thoughts and help your mental health in the process:

  • Ground yourself. Take these moments to amplify your senses. Focus on your surroundings, and describe things as they appeal to the five senses. Tangible things will help you stay grounded and aware.
  • Challenge your thinking. “Ask yourself, is there another explanation to my thinking, or will this matter a month or a year from now,” says McGee. This is a way to engage the thought and acknowledge that it’s present but to really challenge the overall existence of it. It’s another way to ask, what am I really feeling?
  • Relaxation techniques. Try to focus on your breathing, and utilize other calming skills like music, or any other engaging hobby that brings you peace. Take part in mindfulness activities like examining nature or describing something beautiful.
  • Seek help. “There’s a belief that you shouldn’t talk about intrusive thoughts because people will assume things about you,” says McGee, “Some don’t want to be labeled as having a mental illness.” When you find yourself struggling more, it is important to know that receiving help will benefit you. Find your own way to get the help or reach out to a trusted individual in assisting you on that journey.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their intrusive thoughts and mental health, Centerstone can help. Call 1-877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) for more information.

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