Food for Thought:

A Tool for Wellness

Dealing with "Intruders" in the Mind


Kathrina Cann

3/1/20244 min read

Food For Thought
Food For Thought

Our minds are complex and fascinating, constantly generating thoughts and ideas. However, not all thoughts are welcome guests. Sometimes, our minds can be invaded by intrusive thoughts, which can be similar to an unwanted intruder breaking into our mental space. These thoughts can be distressing, disruptive, and difficult to control. In this blog post, we will explore what intrusive thoughts are and provide some tips on how to manage them effectively.

What are Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are involuntary, repetitive, and unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses that pop into our minds without our consent or control. They can be anxiety inducing, distressing, disturbing, bizarre, or even violent in nature. Most people experience intrusive thoughts at some point in their lives, but for some individuals, these thoughts can become persistent and cause significant distress.

Similarities to Intruders

When we think about intrusive thoughts, it can be helpful to imagine them as unwanted intruders in our minds. Just like an unwelcome guest, these pesky thoughts can show up uninvited, disrupt our mental peace, and make us feel uncomfortable. They can be persistent and hard to get rid of. It is not your fault they showed up and you may feel helpless once they are there, but the reality is there are safety precautions and strong holds you can put in place to prevent unwelcome guests from getting in at all. And if they do slip through, there are actions you can take to manage and deescalate the situation. Managing intrusive thoughts requires understanding, patience, and effective strategies. Let's explore some tips to help you take control of these uninvited guests:

1. Recognize and Accept

The first step in managing intrusive thoughts is to recognize and accept that they are just thoughts and do not define your reality. Remind yourself that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts to some extent, and they are a normal part of the human experience. It's also important to acknowledge that the emotional reasoning which often goes hand-in-hand with intrusive thoughts is a type of cognitive distortion: just because you feel like something is going to happen, doesn't mean it will. A common example of an emotionally charged, anticipatory intrusive thought might be, "Oh no, I am such an idiot! I said the wrong thing to my partner, now they are finished with me for sure." This thought may bring with it feelings of dread, anxiety, and low self-worth. Through recognizing and acceptance, we can notice that this is a thought, not necessarily reality, and thereby lessen our accompanying feelings of anxiety or fear. More on cognitive distortions in a later post!

By accepting the presence of the thought without judgement, you can reduce the anxiety and shame associated with them.

2. Reframe and Challenge

When intrusive thoughts arise, it can be helpful to reframe and challenge them. Instead of getting caught up in the content of the thought, try to view it as a passing mental event. Remind yourself that thoughts are not facts and do not necessarily reflect current circumstances. Question the validity of the thought and challenge its accuracy. Ask yourself if there is any evidence supporting the thought or if it is just an irrational fear or worry? Perhaps you find your mind wandering to a thought such as, “I just know my boss will not like my presentation, I’ll never get that promotion.” You could practice a realistic, positive reframe such as, “I can’t predict what my boss will think, but I know I will do my best.” Or if you find the all too familiar imposter syndrome intrusive thought of, “People are going to find out I am not capable (or competent, or prepared, or [fill in the blank]),” you may try a positive affirmation such as, “NO ONE is perfect or knows everything, I am doing the best I can.”

By reframing and challenging intrusive thoughts, you can weaken their power over you.

3. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for managing intrusive thoughts. By practicing mindfulness, you can develop a non-judgmental awareness of your thoughts and emotions. Instead of getting entangled in intrusive thoughts, mindfulness allows you to observe them without reacting or attaching meaning to them.

Engage in mindfulness activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or body scans to cultivate a sense of calm and detachment from intrusive thoughts. You may imagine these thoughts as leaves blowing by in the wind: you notice them and allow them to pass. Over time, mindfulness can help you develop a healthier relationship with your thoughts.

4. Seek Support

If intrusive thoughts are causing significant distress or interfering with your daily life, it may be beneficial to seek support from a mental health professional. A therapist can provide guidance, support, and evidence-based techniques to help you manage intrusive thoughts effectively. Nourished Minds Therapy specializes in helping individuals build their skillsets around managing stress inducing thoughts and feelings.

Reach out to a trusted friend or family member as well. Sharing your experiences can provide validation and a sense of relief. Remember, you are not alone in this, and there are people who care and want to support you.

5. Engage in Self-Care

Taking care of your overall well-being is crucial when dealing with intrusive thoughts. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and a sense of fulfillment. Practice self-care regularly by exercising, eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and engaging in hobbies or interests. By prioritizing self-care, you can strengthen your resilience and create a positive environment for managing intrusive thoughts.

Remember that intrusive thoughts are a common experience. With patience, self-compassion, and support, you can develop the resilience to navigate through intrusive thoughts, regain control of your mental space, and lead a life without the weight of these unwelcome guests.