Intrusive thoughts. If you have struggled with an anxiety disorder of any kind, you know how torturous intrusive thoughts can be. They seemingly appear out of nowhere and, in your heightened state of anxiety, you fixate on them, even though you don’t want to, even though they’re bothersome, even though they frighten you.
Out of all my symptoms, this one was probably the one I disliked the most at the height of my struggle with my anxiety disorder. It was the hardest symptom for me to just passively accept, and if you know about anxiety disorders, you know passively accepting symptoms is the best way to get rid of them. Sounds counterintuitive, I know.
Here’s a little bit about my own experience with intrusive thoughts. First of all, I’ve learned that intrusive thoughts can be about any subject really. They can come in the form of “what ifs” or scary images. They can often be so bizarre that they make you feel like you must be losing your grip on reality. They can feel confusing and consuming and I used to always try and figure out why I was having them or what was causing them, until I learned that most of the time they are just a product of stress hormone overstimulation and sometimes a reflection of our core fears.
The first time I experienced this symptom, I completely freaked out. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me because of the nature of the wacky thought/fear that popped into my head, seemingly out of nowhere. I was on my honeymoon and I had this bizarre thought/fear that I might lose control and do something awful to myself or my husband. The thought shocked me to say the least and quickly caused a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe and started crying and shaking. I thought I needed to be committed, that I must be going insane because what sane person has a thought like that? Surely I must be losing it. Was I dangerous?
For months after, I continued to have an onslaught of weird, intrusive thoughts, and they continued to torment me. The thoughts varied from subject to subject. What if the earth falls out of orbit? What if God doesn’t exist? What if I’m a psychopath and I get locked up in prison? What if I’m going blind? What if I lose control of my car and drive off this bridge? What if I don’t love my husband, my dog, my mom? Sometimes, the thought would just be a frightening image popping into my mind and it would play over and over.
Looking back at this list…the thoughts seem so ridiculous and I wonder how I could have ever been afraid of them, but when you are in that heightened state of fear your brain has trouble rationalizing. Everyone experiences these kinds of bizarre thoughts from time to time, but most of the time they are so fleeting and if the person isn’t overly stressed, the thought simply comes and goes without even being noticed.
The best thing you can do is to tell yourself the thought is just a thought and doesn’t mean anything significant. Let the thought come and do your best to go about your business. Don’t set off your alarm system. Easier said than done, I know.
Another way to look at it: The thought is not a reflection of who you are. I was listening to a podcast called “The Calmer Year” (highly recommend for anyone suffering from anxiety) and I remember the host, Chloe Brotheridge, saying, “intrusive thoughts are actually typically the opposite of who you are.”
She went on to say that that’s why they scare us so much…because the thoughts are out of character for us. We worry about what the thought means about us. Take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t reflect anything about who you are as a person.
I am extremely sensitive to violence and I like to be in control. I believe in God and know He holds the world in his hands. I am fiercely loving and loyal to my family and friends. The thoughts mentioned above were both a normal reaction of my overstimulated nervous system and they scared me because they were so out of character, my brain and body’s way of saying, “Hey! Slow down! I’m tired and stressed and need a break!”
So, the next time an unpleasant thought pops into your head, no matter the content, remember that it’s only a thought and probably the opposite of who you are. It means nothing significant about your character. It means nothing significant, period.