How to Challenge Intrusive Thoughts?

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Our brains can be a seemingly endless oasis of thought. Sometimes, those thoughts are cohesive and productive. Other times, they can be intrusive and downright disturbing. It is the latter that becomes concerning.

When intrusive thoughts start to enter your mind, they have the potential to be disruptive. But with a better understanding and a few tips, you can challenge those intrusive thoughts and put them to bed.

What Causes Invasive Thoughts?

Before we can learn how to challenge intrusive thoughts, we must first gain a better understanding of what they can entail. It is normal to have them from time to time, but when they become a regular thing, it can lead to obsessiveness over them.

Intrusive thoughts are typically associated with anxiety disorders as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder. They can be random in nature, but our own experiences or reactions to certain events can have a major influence over them as well.

Intrusive thoughts can come in a wide array of forms, but there are some more common instances. They are often fear-based thoughts. They can revolve around themes that involve engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviors, performing acts against your religion, or committing violence on yourself or towards others.

This leads to the question: what can be done to reduce or even stop those intrusive thoughts?

Don’t Suppress Them

The most common answer that most people would have in terms of how to challenge intrusive thoughts is to simply suppress them or avoid thinking about them. But most of the time, the opposite effect takes place, resulting in you thinking about those things even more.

Instead of trying to divert your attention away from those intrusive thoughts, try to divert your attention instead. Maybe partake in an activity that requires your focus, like a crossword puzzle. Just make sure that you are not switching between several tasks at one time.

Make sure to fully immerse yourself in the activity in question and make sure that it can’t be linked back to those intrusive thoughts. So, if you have thoughts related to death, maybe reading a book about murder is not the best idea.

Recognize Triggers

What most of us don’t realize is that those “random” thoughts are not entirely random. What we do with our day-to-day lives can have a major impact on the thoughts that we have. Keeping track of these intrusive thoughts through a journal or notebook can be a great way to identify potential patterns as they emerge.

Not only should you be listening to your thoughts, but keep a record of the day itself as well as your overall mood. You will notice things appearing as you refer back to those notes, finding patterns that can help to provide clarity for some of those thoughts.

Maybe intrusive thoughts tend to pop up more when you have free time. Maybe they come when you watch shows or movies with violent themes. When you can track those patterns, it can help you determine where the underlying issue stems from.

Separate Reality from Thought

One of the biggest concerns that people with intrusive thoughts have is that they may act them out. Most of the time, this involves acting out thoughts of harming someone, particularly someone that they love. The goal is to understand the meaning behind the thoughts and to reassure them that it won’t happen.

But the thing about intrusive thoughts is that they are just that—thoughts. Having thoughts is not a sign of things to come. It is not an intent to act on them, no matter what your anxiety or OCD may be telling you. Thoughts can be diverse and sometimes scary without having to manifest them into action.

Keeping that in mind, accept those thoughts as simply thoughts when they do pop up. They are okay to think about from time to time so long as you recognize that they are no more than a thought. When you can accept those intrusive thoughts as just a thought, it is less likely that you will become worried about them over time.

Talking it Out

Having intrusive thoughts can make some people feel shameful. Some even have feelings of guilt related to intrusive thoughts. Instead of sharing what they are feeling with other people, there is a perception of having to keep everything quiet.

That said, talking out your feelings can be hugely beneficial for your overall mental health. By sharing these thoughts, being vulnerable, and sharing what you are going through, you can gain a different perspective on the entire experience.

It may be easier to talk to a stranger, a therapist for instance, than it would be to talk to a loved one. However you do it, talking things out can help give you peace of mind.


Intrusive thoughts in a moderate capacity are something that everyone deals with. But when they become a normal part of life, it is time to take steps to challenge those thoughts and push them away.

With a few helpful tips—mainly being able to recognize the difference between reality and thought while being able to identify triggers—you can take those invasive thoughts and remove the power they may have previously had.


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