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Stinking Thinking

Research has taught us that 99% of individuals experience intrusive thoughts at least occasionally and 13% of those individuals experience them frequently. You are not alone. While it’s normal to experience intrusive thoughts, you shouldn't be experiencing them with frequency. The problem occurs when we obsess about them. A person’s own life experiences influence our thoughts, even though they might seem random at first. For example, someone may see a news alert about a burglary. This news can subconsciously cause obsessive thoughts about someone breaking into their home, but those thoughts might not creep in until days later, long after we have forgotten about the news story.

Intrusive thoughts can be a sign of anxiety disorders or OCD. They can also come at different times of your life. For example, intrusive thoughts are a common complaint of pregnant and postpartum parents.


A big concern for many people with intrusive thoughts is the fear they may act them out, such as harming someone they love. People want to understand the meaning behind these thoughts and seek reassurance that they won’t commit them. These thoughts are not a sign of what’s to come, and there is no intent to act on them, no matter what your anxiety wants you to believe. With that in mind, try to let them pass freely through your mind – recognizing them, but not allowing them to consume you. By accepting intrusive thoughts as just another thought, you’ll become less likely to get stuck in them.

Intrusive thoughts come in a variety of forms, but some of the most common themes include:

  • Violence against self or other

  • Acting out sexually in inappropriate ways

  • Acting against one's religion or beliefs

  • Fear-based actions

Most people try to forget it about it. An experiment by Harvard University, showed us the flaw in this. Participants in the study were asked not to think about white bears for 5 minutes. The result? Participants thought about white bears an average of more than once per minute.

So what works?

Engage in a new activity. For example, try completing a puzzle or reading something or singing a song on the radio or running around the block or taking a shower. Fully immerse yourself in one activity that is unrelated to the thought. For example, if you’re having intrusive thoughts related to death, it wouldn’t make sense to divert your attention by reading a book about murder.

Keeping a log of your intrusive thoughts can help you understand what is going on. In addition to listing out your thoughts, record your mood, and quick notes about your day. Refer back to see if you can identify any patterns. Maybe these thoughts happen when you have a lot of free time, or perhaps they were after you watch a violent movie, having a stressful day at work, anticipating an uncomfortable conversation with a loved one. Tracking patterns helps pin down triggers.

Changes in your daily routine might help alleviate this stress response:

  • Getting a physical to determine if you have any homonal or other imbalances that need attention. Thyroid, Iron, Vit D and Magnesium are some examples.

  • Developing healthier eating and sleeping habits

  • Practicing yoga, meditation or mindfulness exercises

  • Taking walks, spending time in nature

If you notice yourself having intrusive thoughts more commonly in the morning, implement these activities as soon as you wake up. A shift in your mindset could break the cycle. Many people feel ashamed to admit they’re having intrusive thoughts or even experience feelings of guilt related to them. They attempt to deal with their thoughts on their own and keep them hidden from others. However, talking through your feelings with someone you trust can be extremely beneficial. By being open and vulnerable about how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing, you may develop a whole new perspective on your situation. There is hope to squash these thoughts and have more control over your head space.


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