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Anxiety, Stress & Coping
September 3, 2023
4 Tips to Help Cope with Intrusive Thoughts

Jenna Lamontagne

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Uncovering Ways to Take Back Control of Your Thinking

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What Are Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are often unwanted and involuntary thoughts that can feel disturbing or distressing. Sometimes intrusive thoughts can occur repeatedly causing emotions of powerlessness over these thoughts. The nature of intrusive thoughts can feel out of character or go against your beliefs and can include violent or graphic depictions. Some examples of intrusive thoughts may include harm to self or others, a loved one dying, or violent acts.

Causes of Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts can be associated with mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress like symptoms but can also occur without the presence of mental health concerns. In an article produced by Anxiety Canada (2023) according to several well conducted studies; intrusive or strange thoughts are experienced by close to 100% of the population. These can range from mild/odd to graphic/horrifying. Intrusive thoughts can be an experience familiar to many of us so how can we cope with these kinds of thoughts?

How to Cope With Intrusive Thoughts

Meditation and affirmation

One of the main goals of meditation is to calmly observe thoughts, emotions, or sensations without judgement while working to let them go with the ebb and flow of breath. Breath work can be a powerful tool in managing thoughts, emotions, and sensations brought on by intrusive thoughts. Meditation usually requires a quiet place to practice and just a few spare moments of your time. There are a variety of meditation applications out there to try or just “go rogue” and make meditation your own.

Positive affirmations can help to combat the negative nature of intrusive thoughts and can build up to offer encouragement and motivation. Some affirmations that may be helpful in stopping intrusive thoughts may include:

  • I have the power to choose what I think about
  • I am in charge of my mind, and I choose positivity
  • I am safe and my loved ones are safe, nothing bad will happen to me/us

“Riding the Wave” of discomfort

This is a simple yet powerful mantra that can help you to regain power over your thoughts and help to re-center yourself and you’re thinking. It can be helpful to look at intrusive thoughts as a wave of discomfort that will pass- just like a wave in the ocean- just as a wave is not permanent-this thought is not either. Take the power back from the intrusive thought at hand and use a simple mantra such as this to help work through the thought.

Spend time with a pet or loved one

Being around animals/pets or someone you love, and trust can be incredibly calming when trying to tame an anxious mind. This can help offer healthy distraction from the intrusion of the thoughts at hand, offering love and support from cherished people or pets. There have been numerous studies showing the benefits of interacting with animals can actually help lower the stress hormone, cortisol, which plays a large role in varying mental health concerns. Snuggling up with, petting, or getting your pet outside for a walk offers spectacular benefits to calming intrusive thoughts to help regain power over your mind.

Therapeutic support

Seeking support through therapy with a trained professional in providing counselling is a wonderful way to explore intrusive thoughts in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. Working through intrusive thoughts with your therapist can be helpful in learning the tools and skills necessary in seizing overwhelming thoughts. Therapy can help get to the root of issues that may be impacting intrusive thoughts thus allowing you to cope with intrusive thoughts with ease. If you already have a therapist- be sure to share the overwhelming and intrusive thoughts with them- you are not alone!

Intrusive thoughts can feel like they are taking over and are overwhelming, scary, and real- the emotions that accompany these thoughts can be significant. First, remember that intrusive thoughts can be common, many people experience them and there are many ways to combat thoughts of this nature. Be sue to add these tips to you safety plan or tool kit when navigating intrusive thoughts.


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