Hey there, PTSD warriors! It’s been a minute, but I am finally getting back into the bandwagon of writing, and it feels so good. Let’s talk intrusive thoughts. You know the drill—those uninvited guests that gatecrash your brain, messing up your day, and sometimes, your whole week. But what if I told you that you could learn to control them rather than the other way around? Let’s dive into some information and hopefully find some useful ways to let intrusive thoughts know they don’t own the place. Last time I touched on a bunch of coping mechanisms was through my books and online guide, but let’s delve into some of it here.

Intrusive Thoughts Unmasked

Ever had a thought that’s like that piece of gum stuck to your shoe? You didn’t ask for it, but it’s just clinging on. Yep, we’re talking about intrusive thoughts, those relentless mental uninvited guests that can mess with your mojo.

Think of your mind as a garden and intrusive thoughts as the weeds. They pop up without an invitation, ruin the view, and make it hard to focus on the pretty flowers (aka your desired thoughts).

  • Unwanted: You didn’t RSVP these thoughts; they just show up.
  • Persistent: Like that person at the party who just won’t take a hint, they hang around.
  • Distressing: They’re not just annoying; they can genuinely make you feel bad.

Why Do They Happen?

The million-dollar question! Often, intrusive thoughts are symptoms of underlying issues like anxiety or other PTSD related ailments. Sometimes they’re random neurons firing off. But for sure, anxiety tends to make them worse. Either way, they’re not a reflection of who you are and you can find a way to control them through a system that works for you.

Types of Intrusive Thoughts

Not all intrusive thoughts wear the same mask. Here’s a quick rundown of the ones I believe cause the most trouble and disguises they can take:

  1. Obsessive Fears: From contamination fears to social anxieties.
  2. Worst-Case Scenarios: Thinking something awful will happen, like a car crash or illness.
  3. Taboo Thoughts: Things that you’d NEVER act upon but shock you for even thinking them.

1. Obsessive Fears: The Unwelcome Guests

Real-Life Example: Germophobia in Social Gatherings

Imagine you’re at a friend’s party. Everyone’s having a great time, but all you can think about is whether people washed their hands before diving into the communal chip bowl. This kind of obsessive fear can make social events stressful rather than enjoyable. You might find yourself avoiding parties or making a beeline for the hand sanitizer every 10 minutes.

2. Worst-Case Scenarios: The Drama Queen in Your Head

Real-Life Example: The “Something’s Wrong With the Plane” Thought

You’re on a flight, and there’s a minor bout of turbulence. For most, it’s a little bump on the road—err, in the sky. But your mind? Oh, it’s scripting an action-packed disaster movie. You’re convinced that something catastrophic is going to happen. The reality is, turbulence is often routine and harmless, but the thought alone can make the entire flight a white-knuckle experience for you.

3. Taboo Thoughts: Your Mind’s Own Shock Jock

Real-Life Example: Inappropriate Thoughts at Serious Events

You’re at a solemn event, like a funeral. It’s a time for reflection and respect. Then, out of nowhere, your brain conjures up a wildly inappropriate joke or thought. You’re stunned. “Why would I even think that?” you ask yourself. These are taboo thoughts: shocking, socially unacceptable, and entirely unbidden. Even though you’d never act on them, their very presence can leave you questioning your character. I am 100% guilty of tons of taboo thoughts, but I have learned to manage them and, more importantly, not share them out-loud with others so they don’t think I’m a lunatic.

The Sneaky Impacts

Why is it important to find ways to manage intrusive thoughts? Because they can affect other aspects of your personal and professional life. So, while you’re busy dealing with these thoughts, they’re also up to some undercover business, like:

  • Mood Swings: You’re up; you’re down, you’re all around. All thanks to these pesky thoughts.
  • Concentration: Imagine trying to read while someone yells random words at you. Yep, that’s what these thoughts can do to your focus.
  • Sleep Issues: Now imagine being exhausted, trying to fall asleep, but these thoughts really want to keep you awake. Ugh.

1. Mood Swings: The Emotional Roller Coaster

Real-Life Example: The Case of the “Happy-Sad-Happy” Day

Let’s say you’re having a wonderful morning. You got a good night’s sleep, the coffee tastes amazing, and work is going smoothly. Then, out of nowhere, an intrusive thought creeps in: “What if I get fired?” Just like that, your mood plummets. An hour later, a colleague compliments your work, and you’re flying high again. Your day becomes a series of ups and downs, all centered around the uninvited thoughts that sneak into your mind.

2. Concentration: The Master of Distraction

Real-Life Example: The “Missing 15 Minutes” in a Meeting

You’re in a crucial team meeting. The boss is laying out the strategy for the next quarter. You need to be dialed in, but intrusive thoughts about a personal issue keep disrupting your focus. As a result, you zone out and miss important details. Later, you find yourself scrambling to catch up or clarify points you should’ve caught in the first place.

3. Sleep Issues: The Midnight Troublemaker

Real-Life Example: The “3 a.m. Worry Fest”

You’ve had a long day. You’re physically tired, and all you want to do is catch some Z’s. Just as you’re drifting off, intrusive thoughts start parading through your mind. “Did I lock the front door? What if I lose my job? Why did I say that awkward thing in 7th grade?” Despite being exhausted, these thoughts keep you tossing and turning, making restful sleep a distant dream.

Managing vs Eliminating

Spoiler alert: You may not be able to completely eliminate intrusive thoughts, but you can become a pro at managing them, even in the most challenging situations. That’s where the coping mechanisms we are about to talk about come into play.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – The Thought Wrangler

CBT is like having a life coach for your thoughts. It teaches you to identify those sneaky negative patterns and challenge them. Ever catch yourself thinking, “I’m going to mess this up?” CBT helps you flip that to, “I’m going to give this my best shot!” It’s all about learning the language of your mind.

CBT isn’t just the MVP; it’s the whole dream team. It helps you identify, challenge, and change those haunting thoughts. Let’s break it down:

  1. Thought Logging: Take out your “Thought Journal.” Yes, give it a cool name, so it feels less clinical. Whenever a wild intrusive thought appears, write it down. The idea is to disarm the thought by making it visible.
  2. Question the Thought: Act like a detective. Grill that thought. What’s the evidence? Is it logical? Most times, you’ll realize it doesn’t hold water it you take a moment to breathe and analyze it.
  3. Replace: This is the creative part! Re-frame that negative into something positive. Instead of “I can’t do this,” how about “I’ll give it my best shot”?

Mindfulness – The Zen Zone

If your mind is a browser with 101 tabs open, mindfulness is hitting that “close all tabs” button. It’s a practice that teaches you to focus on the here and now, not the “what ifs” of tomorrow or the “should haves” of yesterday. Whether you’re washing dishes or walking in the park, it’s about being fully engaged in that moment.

Mindfulness is like the best chill-out lounge for your mind. Here’s how to make the most of it:

  1. Deep Breathing: Simple yet powerful. Each deep breath you take is like hitting the ‘mute’ button on intrusive thoughts, even if just for a moment.
  2. Body Scan: Start from your toes and move upwards, paying close attention to how each body part feels. This mental journey can serve as a brief vacation from intrusive thoughts.

Medication – The Invisible Shield

Some folks are wary of medication, but sometimes it’s a game-changer. SSRIs, antipsychotics, and other meds can dial down the intensity of your thoughts.

  • Consult Your Doctor: Don’t just pop pills willy-nilly. Consult your healthcare provider for the right medication and dosage for you.

Embrace a Routine – Your Personal Fortress

Routine is like setting a rhythm for your life. Without it, your days are like a band without a drummer—chaotic and hard to dance to. A stable routine gives you a framework, making it easier to slot in healthy habits, allocate time for self-care, and fend off those intrusive thoughts with a “Sorry, I’m booked.”

Routine is more than just a schedule; it’s your personal line of defense.

  1. Morning Routine: Kick off the day with a set pattern. Make your bed, have a healthy breakfast, and maybe sneak in some stretches.
  2. Evening Routine: Wind down your day in a similar fashion. A set bedtime and a calming activity can work wonders.

Support Network – The Unsung Heroes

You don’t have to battle intrusive thoughts alone.

Picture this: you’re racing in the Grand Prix of Life. Your support network is your pit crew, ready to fix a blown tire or just top off your emotional fuel. These are the folks—family, friends, therapists, or support groups, heck! even strangers —who help you get back on track when you’re veering off course.

  1. Talk it Out: Sometimes, saying the thought aloud to a trusted friend can diminish its power.
  2. Support Groups: These are safe spaces where you can share and learn coping strategies from people who get it.

Bonus Tip: The Power of Movement

Staying active is the unsung hero in this battle against intrusive thoughts. Exercise isn’t just about toned abs and flexing in the mirror; it’s also mental magic. Working out releases endorphins, your body’s natural mood lifters. Think of them as tiny cheerleaders in your bloodstream, chanting, “You’ve got this!” Exercise is a legit stress-buster and a great way to divert attention from intrusive thoughts.

  • Quick Workouts: Even a 10-minute high-intensity workout can flood your system with endorphins, making you too feel-good for intrusive thoughts to bother you.
  • Walks: Don’t like the high-intensity stuff? Neither do it. It makes my heart erratic, so I take long walks. You can start with short ones and then increase as you go.

And there you go! You’re now equipped with an arsenal of coping mechanisms to fight those intrusive thoughts. As always, consult your healthcare provider for tailored advice.

Rock on, warriors! 🌈

Diana Giorgetti
Diana Giorgetti

Diana Giorgetti is a multiple trauma survivor, author, idea brewer, problem solver, professional freelancer, and web-designer. A graduate of the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University with degrees in Psychology and Education Law, she is passionate about helping others, scuba diving, and writing (though not necessarily in that order). She lives in Miami, Florida with her two children and three dogs. She is the author of "The Fundamentals of PTSD: A Guide to Disemboweling the Disorder and Reclaiming Your Life," "PTSD & Relationships: A Survival Guide to Love and Be Loved," and "The PTSD Warrior Healing Mindset: Changes in Habits and Routines to Help Retrain the Brain After Trauma," and she's working on her fourth self-help book. You can find Diana's books on Amazon: amazon.com/author/dianahelps