January 30, 2024

Navigating Unwanted Thoughts: Understanding and Managing Intrusive Mental Visitors


Let’s dive into the subject of intrusive thoughts – those unexpected mental intruders that drive us to distraction (literally) or catch us off guard. Whether unsettling, distressing, or just downright odd, these thoughts are a common part of the human experience. In this blog we’re looking at what intrusive thoughts are, explore their origins, and delve into ways you can manage them.

What are intrusive thoughts?:

Intrusive thoughts are spontaneous and unwelcome and arise without invitation. Ranging from mildly disconcerting to intensely vivid, these thoughts can be a regular occurrence for many, particularly those grappling with conditions such as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, we ALL have thousands of thoughts a day – around 60000 in fact – and many of them can be negative.

Overthinking – Rumination

Rumination is a form of intrusive thoughts where we’re engaged in involuntary, compulsive thinking. We can get stuck in negative thought loops and uncomfortable emotions and rumination tends to involve repetitive thinking about negative past events, problems, or concerns.

You might find yourself constantly thinking about what you could have done differently and beating yourself up about it. Worrying about the future – maybe an important event or meeting is looming. Instead of focusing on being ready for it, you might find yourself constantly worrying about how it might go wrong.

Understanding Why We Have Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts can be traced back to the intricate processes of the brain, perpetually handling information, memories, and emotions. The mind’s endeavour to assess potential threats or challenges can give rise to these involuntary, and sometimes distressing thoughts.


The Beach Ball Example

Fighting with our thoughts can make them more prominent and can make us assume the content must be important, so we hang on to them and we try harder to make sense of them.   It’s like trying to hold a beach ball under water – the more we try and push down, the strong it pushes back to the surface and the energy it takes to keep that ball under water is immense.  Keeping that ball under water can takes up lots of your energy and attention, meaning you have very little left to do anything else.  It’s the same with thoughts…most of which are JUST thoughts – NOT facts.  

Advice for Managing Intrusive Thoughts:

Embrace Mindfulness Techniques

Engage in mindfulness practices like deep breathing, meditation, or grounding exercises to anchor yourself in the present moment, redirecting your focus from intrusive thoughts.

Challenge Negative Beliefs:

Actively question the legitimacy of intrusive thoughts, evaluating their alignment with your true values and beliefs. Recognising their irrationality can diminish their influence.

Seek Professional Advice or Help

If intrusive thoughts significantly impact your daily life, consider seeking guidance from a mental health professional. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has proven to be very effective in addressing and managing intrusive thoughts.

Share to Get Support

Share your experiences with trusted friends, family members, or support groups. Open dialogue fosters understanding and can contribute to a supportive network.

Cultivate Self-compassion

This is a biggie! Intrusive thoughts are a shared human experience so approach yourself with kindness, avoiding self-judgment, and acknowledging that thoughts do not define your character.

You are not alone

While intrusive thoughts may be a challenging aspect of mental life, understanding, self-compassion, and proactive coping strategies can significantly reduce their impact. Remember, seeking support is a courageous step toward maintaining mental well-being, and navigating the complexities of the mind is a journey well worth taking. You are not alone, help is available.