Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Can Anxiety Cause Intrusive Thoughts

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Mindfulness To Overcome Irrational Thoughts

What Are Intrusive Thoughts and How Can You Deal with Them

Experts recommend starting with mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of recognizing when you have anxiety and then trying to also recognize all of the symptoms and thoughts that go with it.

For example, when you have anxiety and then suddenly you have a negative thought, don’t act on it right away. Instead, sit and write the thought down and try to understand how likely it is. Focus on both the thought itself and the other, more balanced thoughts you could have. It may help to consider what someone else might think in the same situation.

It can be difficult to just stop irrational thinking on a dime, especially if you have been having these anxious, irrational thoughts for a long time. This is especially true because in the moment the thoughts may feel rational, which complicates the ability to overcome it without help. Thats where it may be useful to talk to someone. If you can identify the irrational thought and what causes it, you may be able to integrate techniques that can help you manage it both now and in the future.


Irrational thoughts are behind most forms of anxiety, but some people have very irrational thoughts that are, in some ways, an anxiety symptom. There are some strategies that can help you control those thoughts, and addressing anxiety will decrease how much those thoughts affect you.

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Could Ocd Be The Cause Of Your Stress And Anxiety

You have probably heard people casually refer to themselves or someone they know as having OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder, usually in reference to a quirky behavior they have related to being very clean or organized. But the term is often misused and misunderstood. OCD is a very real mental health disorder.

OCD stands for obsessive compulsive disorder. According to Dr. Jenys Allende, Executive Director for Mental Health Staffing at Legacy Treatment Services with locations throughout the state, including Northfield. OCD is a disorder which has intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety or stress. There may also be compulsions, which are mental or physical behaviors that an individual feels compelled to perform.

Dr. Allende gives the example of someone who is walking gingerly with a cake in their hand and you think for a moment of hitting the cake out of their hands.

What are the symptoms of OCD? Dr. Allende said those with OCD have compulsions or rituals which are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the individual feels driven to perform in relation to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly or to achieve a sense of completeness.

The most common categories for people with OCD

  • Cleaning Fears of contamination and cleaning rituals
  • Symmetry Symmetry obsessions and repeating, ordering, and counting compulsions
  • Forbidden or taboo thoughts Examples include aggressive, sexual, and religious obsessions, and related compulsions

Possible Mental Health Disorders To Watch For

Sometimes, thoughts go beyond being intrusive.

Unwanted, repetitive thoughts could be a sign of OCD. With this type of anxiety disorder, you have recurring, unwanted thoughts you canât control. You may also have the urge to repeat certain behaviors or actions over and over again.

Delusional thoughts, like thinking someone is always watching you or wants to hurt you, can be a sign of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. If you have these thoughts, talk to a psychiatrist for diagnosis and treatment options.

All these disorders can be treated with medications, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two.

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Try To Detach From Your Thoughts

We tend to take our thoughts far too personally and over-identify with them, says Dr. David Helfand, PsyD, a licensed psychologist specializing in couples therapy, neurofeedback, and brain mapping in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.

Think about the last time you had an itch on your arm or leg. Did you think that you were that itch, or that it somehow indicated that you were a terrible person? Probably not, he explains.

You may find it helpful to take a similar approach with your thoughts. Instead of telling yourself a negative story based on that thought, try to remember that its temporary and it will pass. Thoughts are not facts, reassures Helfand.

Recognize The Difference Between Thought And Reality

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A big concern for many people with intrusive thoughts is the fear they may act out on a dark intrusive thought, such as harming someone they love. They want to understand the meaning behind these thoughts and seek reassurance that they wont commit them.

However, intrusive thoughts are what they suggest just thoughts. These thoughts are not a sign of whats to come, and there is no intent to act on them, no matter what your OCD or anxiety wants you to believe.

With that in mind, accept these thoughts as mere thoughts when they arise. Let them pass freely through your mind recognizing them, but not allowing them to consume you. By accepting intrusive thoughts as just another thought, youll become less likely to worry about them over time.

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I Know Someone Who Is In Crisis What Do I Do

If you or someone you know is having thoughts about wanting to die or is thinking about hurting themselves or someone else, get help quickly.

  • Do not leave a person who is in crisis alone.
  • Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK . You also can text the Crisis Text Line or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. These services are confidential, free, and available 24/7.

Causes Of Intrusive Thoughts

Any person may have unwelcome thoughts because the human brain is capable of imagining an infinite variety of events and problems, says Needleman. This ability enables us to visualize incredible accomplishments, like going to the moon or creating the internet, in the same way that it allows us to think of unwanted circumstances.

Some mental health conditions may cause individuals to have intrusive thoughts, such as OCD, PTSD, or depression. According to Dattilo, anxiety tends to be the root cause of intrusive thoughts, but traumatic brain injuries may also trigger symptoms of OCD.

Note: Intrusive thoughts of a sexual nature are often inappropriate and taboo, involving children or animals, or having incestuous or violent themes. It affects about 13% to 21% of people with OCD. Aside from anxiety and psychological distress, frequent sexual daydreaming and greater openness to sex and sexuality may also increase its likelihood.

Some individuals might engage in counterproductive behaviors like suppressing the thought or avoiding situations that trigger it.

According to Needleman, this can make intrusive thoughts more frequent and intense, and even prevent individuals from seeing that their catastrophic fears don’t really come true. It’s highly important to seek treatment for intrusive thoughts.

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Approach The Thought With Curiosity

Not all of these tips will be practical in every situation. But one thing you can always try to do is reframe the intrusive thought youre having.

Consider observing your thoughts without judgment, and approaching them with curiosity by turning your attention to how your body responds to certain thoughts that may arise.

Distressing thoughts could be your brains way of processing something.

Examples Of Intrusive Thoughts: About Death In Relationships During Climax And Violent In Nature

How to deal with intrusive thoughts and anxiety

Dr. Reese describes one of her own intrusive and alarming thoughts: when her son was a baby, she couldnât stand at the top of her stairs without getting an image of dropping her son and seeing him get hurt. She had no wishes to harm her child, and felt terrified at this thought!

She also gives a few other examples of intrusive thoughts that you may have had once or twice:

âPerhaps youâve suddenly had the image of pushing someone off a train platform, kicking a dog, yelling in church, jumping out of a moving car, or stabbing someone you loveâ .

She goes on to note that, as we know by now, such intrusive thoughts are perfectly normal. If you have a hidden desire to do any of these things, thatâs a different story, but having crazy thoughts pop into your head now and then is not abnormal.

Dr. Elaine Ryan at the Mood Smith website offers a sort of typology of intrusive thoughts that she has noticed in her work. She lists the following categories and examples:

Intrusive thoughts usually fall into one of these categories, but they may be on an entirely different topic or in a different realmâthe important thing that separates an intrusive thought from a run-of-the-mill thought is that it is distressing to you and that youâd probably rather not have the thought!

The Calm Clinic uses a different method to categorize intrusive thoughts, but it overlaps with Ryanâs typology quite a bit. They note three general categories:

  • Unwanted memories
  • Violent thoughts
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    Intrusive Bizarre Thoughts When Anxious

    People who are chronically anxious are in a highly sensitive state. They are over-sensitive to comments made by others, their own thoughts and equally to their own fearful reactions. Everything is magnified in the mind of an anxiety disorder sufferer.

    Chronic high levels of anxiety produce many physical symptoms that a person is not comfortable with. The sufferers are often only aware that they are trying to control the physical manifestations of their anxiety.

    When intrusive thoughts start popping up uninvited, sufferers will begin to think that they must be going crazy and definitely out of control. Already tired from the physical repercussions of their anxiety, they often find the thoughts the hardest thing of all to accept and deal with.

    The thoughts can be the weirdest and most frightening thoughts you can imagine. They feel totally out of place and shock a sufferer. Years ago when I had panic disorder and was exhausted and sensitive, I would get strange thoughts popping up quite regularly.

    About Anxiety And Irrational Thinking

    Many people with anxiety have severe problems with anxious and irrational thinking – thoughts that many know are irrational, and yet they struggle to convince themselves of the more logical and reasoned response.

    These unhelpful thoughts may have contributed to the development of anxiety. The cognitive perspective of anxiety states that certain types of irrational thoughts – such as appraisals, interpretations of events, catastrophic thinking , and other thoughts that are logically irrational may lead to difficulty coping and the development of anxiety symptoms.

    In addition, the person that is experiencing these thoughts may not even be aware of it. They may just experience the emotional and physical responses and need to identify what the thoughts are and why they are occurring. That is one of the reasons that cognitive behavioral therapy is so useful.

    It is also arguable that anxiety can create its own irrational thoughts. When a person is on edge, or experiencing an anxiety attack, the chances of experiencing irrational thoughts may increase.

    Anxious Thoughts May Be Behavioral And Genetic

    Anxiety is a condition that involves both physical and emotional consequences. It is caused by – and causes – feelings as though things are out of control, fearing various problems that may not even exist, and worrying about things more than is helpful.

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    How To Cope With Intrusive Thoughts

    • Recognise that you may have had strange thoughts before becoming highly anxious, but they now have a magnified meaning because of your anxiety. Accept this.
    • Learn all about how adrenaline affects your anxious state. To understand is half the battle.
    • Look at this as nothing more than anxiety trickery or the bluff of anxiety.
    • Change your reaction to no reaction, not in the fearful sense at least. This is easier said than done, but as ridiculous as it sounds, try to learn to smile at these thoughts. Know that to give them no importance can break the chain of producing yet more adrenaline, by way of the anxiety they produce.
    • Dont fight the thoughts. Let them be there, quietly and with as much nonchalance as you can muster. Accept willingly and give them permission to be there.
    • Engage in normal activity as much as possible when you have accepted the thought. Distraction will not work alone but will merely put off the inevitably of repetition. A nod of acceptance and then moving on with activity is the best way forward. Only you will know if you are truly accepting.
    • Tell yourself that you are in control and your intrusive thoughts only mean something if you give them importance.

    How Anxiety Causes Irrational Thoughts

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    • In many ways, most thoughts with anxiety can be described as irrational.
    • Particularly unusual or irrational thoughts are typically a symptom of chronic or severe anxiety.
    • Different types of anxiety cause different types of irrational thinking.
    • Psychologists recommend writing down and addressing the thought, rather than pushing it away.
    • Countering irrational thoughts though anxiety reduction strategies is an important step for managing anxiety in the long term.

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    Letting Go Of The Shame And Guilt

    However, some people may still blame or criticize themselves for intrusive thoughts, thinking it means theres something deeply wrong with them. This can cause even more anxiety.

    This is a common issue for postpartum women. Understandably exhausted, many women will have intrusive thoughts like, What if I just threw my baby out of the window?

    Terrified of thinking something so awful about their child, these women may be frightened to be alone with their children or feel extreme guilt.

    In reality, Psychology Today reports that new moms often have these scary thoughts because parents are wired to look out for threats to their child. But obviously, for new mothers it can be disturbing and isolating.

    Fraga explains the most common misconception of these thoughts: that the thought, especially if its a worrisome one about harming yourself or someone else makes you a bad person. Having these thoughts doesnt mean you have a mental health condition either.

    While some women can immediately dismiss these thoughts and move on, others will fixate on them, just like I do. Sometimes, this is a sign of postpartum depression, which affects millions of women each year.

    Either way, postpartum women should remember that the existence of these disturbing thoughts isnt proof that you want to hurt your child. However, you should talk to your healthcare provider if youre concerned.

    Also, when I meditate and exercise regularly, the intrusive thoughts tend to appear less often.

    Using Meditation For Intrusive Thoughts

    You can also try meditation for intrusive thoughts. Itâs another evidence-backed and calming method of accepting and simultaneously letting go of your unwanted, distressing thoughts.

    Mindfulness meditation is an excellent tool for helping people cope with a lot of issues and improve their quality of life. OCD is no differentâmindfulness meditation has results to offer.

    It can help the sufferer recognize and understand her thoughts, find out where theyâre coming from, and figure out a solution to the brainâs intent focus on the less savory or pleasant images it calls forth. Itâs all about recognizing your thoughts, allowing them âin,â then allowing them out again and sending them on their way.

    According to the Eco-Institute, mindfulness taps into your subconscious â90%â and allows it to clear out and promote healing instead of further pain and fear .

    To give mindfulness a try as a treatment for OCD, follow George Hofmannâs instructions here:

  • Keep your attention on your breath and be fully aware in this momentâof sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and thoughts.
  • Acknowledge each thought as it pops up, let it go, and return to your breath. Donât analyze it, dwell on it, or ruminate over it, just let it come into your head and slide right back out.
  • If youâre having trouble, try labeling the thoughts.
  • The intent of mindfulness for OCD is to stay aware of what is going on around you, as well as what is going on inside you.
  • Practice, practice, practice!
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    Icipating In Clinical Research

    Clinical trials are research studies that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others may be better helped in the future.

    Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct many studies with patients and healthy volunteers. Talk to your health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you. For more information, visit NIMHs clinical trials webpage.

    Why Disturbing Thoughts Are Hard To Stop

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    So if these thoughts are normal, why do those with anxiety struggle to stop them while those without anxiety seem to have no problem? We already mentioned the idea that anxious brains are more prone to reliving negative thoughts and creating new ones, but a far greater problem is known as “thought suppression.”

    Studies have shown that those that try NOT to think about something actually end up thinking about it MORE than if they didnt try to do so. Time and time again, studies on those trying to suppress a thought have shown that suppressing it brings it out more than someone that doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.

    Why this occurs isn’t entirely clear. It’s likely that it takes more mental energy to try to fight a thought than it does to avoid it, and the act of trying to avoid the thought actually causes you to pay more attention to it and make it more prominent in your mind.

    Nevertheless, attempted thought suppression is one of the key reasons that these types of thoughts continue and recur. It’s why those with obsessive compulsive disorder often struggle to stop their thoughts, and why those with anxiety find that the same thoughts keep coming back more intensely.

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