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How to Stop Obsessive and Intrusive Thoughts

Obsessive and intrusive thoughts can have a profound negative effect on a person’s efforts to live a healthy, satisfying life. In today’s post, we discuss several aspects of these unsettling mental images, including what causes them, what they can feel like, and how to get rid of intrusive thoughts.

What Are Obsessive and Intrusive Thoughts?

Before we can explore how to get rid of intrusive thoughts, it can be helpful to review what these types of thoughts are and why they occur.

Obsessive and intrusive thoughts are unwanted, disturbing mental images that can be difficult to dispel. These types of thoughts often occur over and over again, typically with little to no warning, and they can be sources of considerable emotional anguish. 

Examples of intrusive thoughts can include:

  • Sudden fear that you may harm yourself or someone else, such as by steering your car into a crowd of pedestrians
  • Sexual or pornographic imagery that causes you to experience revulsion, guilt, and/or shame
  • Blasphemous thoughts that run counter to your religious beliefs
  • Intense worry that you forgot to lock the door, turn off the stove, or perform some other basic household safety task
  • Negative self-imagery, which can include repeatedly thinking that you are failure or not deserving of love and support
  • Apprehension about accidentally blurting out something obscene, blasphemous, or otherwise inappropriate when meeting a person or being introduced to a group
  • Mentally reliving traumatic or otherwise horrific experiences from your past

It is important to understand how distressing obsessive and intrusive thoughts can be. 

Many people wonder if they forgot to lock the door, worry about embarrassing themselves, or have sexual thoughts, all without experiencing any significant emotional pain. The difference between these everyday musings and intrusive thoughts lies in their frequency and intensity. 

For example, a passing concern about locking the door is much different from persistent fear that your house will be broken into, and all your belongings will be stolen, because you failed to perform a basic task. And an occasional sexual thought is not the same as recurring, upsetting images that you can’t get out of your head.

Causes of Intrusive Thoughts

In the effort to decide how to get rid of intrusive thoughts, it can be valuable to identify the cause of these unpleasant images. 

As is so often the case when discussing mental health concerns, there is no single underlying cause of all intrusive thoughts. In some cases, a mental health disorder may be to blame, while in other cases certain experiences or external influences may be responsible.

Here are a few examples of factors that increase a person’s risk of developing obsessive and/or intrusive thoughts:

How to Get Rid of Intrusive Thoughts

The best approach for dealing with obsessive or intrusive mental images can vary depending on several factors, including what type of thoughts you have been having, what may have caused these thoughts, and how they have affected you.

With these caveats in mind, here are a few suggestions for how to get rid of intrusive thoughts, or at least manage them in a healthy manner so they are no longer a disruptive force in your life:

  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness encourages you to be fully present in the moment, and to acknowledge both your feelings and your environment without judgement or immediate reaction. When intrusive thoughts arise, mindfulness can help you observe them and then allow them to pass. Practicing mindfulness can also help you understand that you are not controlled by your thoughts or emotions.
  • Keep a journal: The simple act of recording your thoughts and experiences in writing allows you to view them from a slight distance or a different perspective. This can lessen or remove the power that your intrusive thoughts have over you. Journaling can also help you notice trends or patterns that you may not have otherwise realized. For example, if you discover that you frequently experience intrusive thoughts in certain types of situations, this can help you to understand what might be causing them to occur.
  • Talk to someone you trust: Isolation can exacerbate emotional distress. Don’t let your intrusive thoughts rob you of essential interpersonal support. Sometimes, simply talking about a problem can help you put it into proper perspective and find an appropriate solution. Also, talking about your struggles with someone you trust can help you eliminate any shame, guilt, or stigma that you have been feeling. 
  • Get professional help: Self-care and the assistance of friends or family members can make a significant positive difference in your life. But there are times when a concerted effort and the support of loved ones simply aren’t enough. If your attempts to dispel or manage your intrusive thoughts haven’t provided ample relief, you should never be ashamed about seeking professional help.  

Treatment Options for Intrusive Thoughts

Treatment for intrusive thoughts can take many forms, depending on a range of individual factors. When you are evaluating your options, you should focus on finding a provider who can assess the full scope of your needs, then develop a personalized plan to address both the cause and effects of your intrusive thoughts.

Certain prescription medications may be able to provide some relief, but therapy is typically the main focus of treatment for intrusive thoughts.

Many people who have struggled with obsessive or intrusive thoughts have benefited from cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. This short-term, solution-focused approach is based in part on the view that emotional and behavioral problems often result from maladaptive thought patterns and dysfunctional beliefs.

During CBT sessions, you can learn how to identify these concerns and replace them with healthier ways of thinking and acting. CBT can also help you set specific, measurable, and achievable goals, so you can assess your progress and identify areas where you may need additional guidance.

Other services that may be beneficial include eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, Spravato treatment, and neurofeedback. Remember: There is no perfect path toward freedom from intrusive thoughts. Your goal should be to find the path that’s right for you.

Get Help for Obsessive or Intrusive Thoughts in Atlanta

If your life has been disrupted by obsessive or intrusive thoughts, please know that you are not alone, and help is available. Peachtree Wellness Solutions offers a full continuum of customized care for adults who have been experiencing a wide range of mental and behavioral health concerns. 

At our mental health treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, your options include residential treatment, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient care. In each of these programs, you can expect to receive personalized service and compassionate support from a team of highly skilled professionals.

At Peachtree Wellness Solutions, we understand how difficult life can be when you are dealing with obsessive or intrusive thoughts, and we will work diligently to help you find your path toward a healthier and more hopeful future.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.