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*Disclaimer: I do not have personal experience with intrusive thoughts, so the following piece is drawn strictly from other resources.

According to NBCNews, 94% of people have faced intrusive thoughts at least once in their lives. While I wouldn’t consider myself to fall within this percentage, such a sweeping number suggests a need for a deeper understanding, especially for those of us without personal experience. Intrusive thoughts are a silent battle that many are fighting, so it’s important to remain knowledgeable on how to identify them, as well as how to respond.

Harvard Health defines an intrusive thought as “unusual for you…uncharacteristically violent,” or “bothersome.” These sorts of thoughts are often associated with anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but are not limited to people affected by these feelings. Anyone can experience an intrusive thought, and understanding its many complexities is the first step in the coping process, whether for yourself or a peer.

Impulsive V.S. Intrusive: Knowing the Difference– In an age of technology and media, it’s easier than ever to become almost desensitized to certain words and phrases, as they’re thrown around and misused. While this can have a positive impact in terms of awareness, the true struggle of mental illness can get lost in the shuffle of relatable posts. Most often confused with intrusive thoughts are impulsive thoughts, which are far more frequent and common within the general population. Revive Research found that impulsive thoughts usually have a specific trigger, such as an uptick in emotion or stress. Additionally, they are brief and far less recurring than intrusive thoughts. They both cause the affected individual to feel out of control of their thoughts, but intrusive thoughts are said to be more aggressive and omnipresent than impulsive thoughts, which can be more easily regulated. Ultimately, it is very easy to use the two interchangeably. However, they are different and should be responded to as such. Knowing how they vary can change the way in which you respond, so be sure to have an understanding of where both originate. 

Reality and Regulating–  Cognitive therapy can be tailored to the needs of a person with intrusive thoughts. Though this can deeply aid help them in finding new responses and coping mechanisms, it cannot put an end to intrusive thoughts. Because there is no single identifiable root, mental health professionals don’t have a set solution outside of providing these coping strategies. Many therapists recommend mindfulness in the form of meditation or journaling, as acknowledging the thoughts and making them manageable is a huge step in approaching regulation. 

Responding– If you recognize that a loved one is experiencing intrusive thoughts or they approach you seeking comfort, always be sure to avoid minimizing their feelings. There is no way to completely understand what another person is going through when experiencing these thoughts, but being a listening ear is a great step towards showing your support for them. Furthermore, remaining calm and helping them to ground themselves in the things they can control may also help. It’s important to remember that every situation is different, and asking what a friend needs to feel better is never a bad thing! 

Intrusive thoughts are not something I have much experience with. However, with a little bit of research and an open mind, I feel much more aware of what many others go through and experience. If you feel that you or a friend may be struggling with intrusive thoughts, all of the research you need is at the tips of your fingers. Having company when you reach for it may not be a bad idea, either. Finding a social circle or support system is so important in any mental health journey, and utilizing this support can make a world of difference. Always remember that you are not alone in your journey with intrusive thoughts, as they are far more common than you may have assumed. 

Works Cited:

Harvard Health Publishing: Managing Intrusive Thoughts,and%20might%20lessen%20their%20frequency.


Mind UK: Recognize and Understand Compulsions,they%27re%20struggling%20right%20now.


Revive Research Institute: Intrusive vs. Impulsive Thoughts,also%20be%20frightening%20or%20undesirable.


WebMD: What are Intrusive Thoughts?


NBC News: Most People Have Unwanted, Worrying Thoughts