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Recovery can't wait

Intrusive Thoughts

Have you ever had a completely inexplicable thought pop into your head? Something bizarre or unpleasant – something you’d never truly consider acting on? Maybe you try to push it out of your mind but it somehow keeps coming back?

This is what’s known as an intrusive thought. While everyone deals with intrusive thoughts every now and then, constant intrusive thoughts could be a sign of a deeper problem.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how to handle intrusive thoughts, especially if they seem constant.

What Are Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts, also known as impulsive thoughts or obsessive thoughts, are images or ideas that seem to come into your head unprompted.

It’s important to note that intrusive thoughts are to some extent normal, as everyone experiences this occasionally. However, constant intrusive thoughts can become obsessions, reducing one’s quality of life..

These obsessive thoughts can be difficult to manage or eliminate, not to mention a source of distress. They can also be indicative of an underlying mental health issue, such as clinical anxiety, OCD, PTSD, or depression.

Trauma in particular can be a cause of constant intrusive thoughts. People suffering from PTSD may experience intrusive thoughts related to a past trauma. They may also engage in negative self-talk related to the traumatic event.

Why Does it Feel Like I Constantly Have Intrusive Thoughts?

Constant intrusive thoughts could be a sign of a mental health issue, particularly PTSD.

People who have experienced trauma can become preoccupied with avoiding further trauma at all costs. Constantly on guard against further trauma, their minds will race with thoughts related to possible future danger. Ironically, this only causes them to re-experience trauma on a regular basis.

Additionally, trauma can itself physically alter the brain, which can predispose a person to constant intrusive thoughts.

How to Handle Constant Intrusive Thoughts

Handling constant intrusive thoughts can be challenging, but with the right approach and support, individuals can learn to manage these thoughts more effectively.

Here are some tips to cope with constant intrusive thoughts:

  • Recognition — Acknowledge that intrusive thoughts are a common mental occurrence and are not a reflection of your character or desires.
  • Practice Acceptance — Accept that these thoughts may occur, rather than trying to suppress them which can often intensify the frequency and distress.
  • Journaling — Write down your thoughts in a journal. Documenting intrusive thoughts can help in recognizing patterns and triggers, which can be beneficial in therapy.
  • Avoiding Triggers — If certain situations or substances like caffeine or alcohol trigger intrusive thoughts, try to minimize exposure to these triggers.
  • Physical Activity — Regular exercise can help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can in turn reduce the frequency and intensity of intrusive thoughts.
  • Sleep and Nutrition — Maintain a regular sleep schedule and a balanced diet to support your mental and physical well-being.
  • Connect with Others — Talk to someone you trust about what you’re experiencing.

While all of these things will help, you aren’t expected to get through this alone. If you are dealing with constant intrusive thoughts, seek professional depression treatment.  A qualified depression therapist can provide evidence-based treatment, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Can Treatment Get Rid of Intrusive Thoughts?

The cornerstone for managing constant intrusive thoughts often lies in behavioral health treatment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular has been found to be quite effective in managing obsessive thoughts. CBT helps individuals identify and change maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors.

Through CBT, individuals can learn to stop constant intrusive thoughts, or at least lessen them and reduce their emotional impact. Research shows CBT for OCD has up to a 75% efficacy rate.

For conditions like OCD, medications, such as SSRIs, may also be used.

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Therapy for Trauma

Therapy for trauma can be helpful if the underlying cause of the impulsive thoughts is due to PTSD. There is a subset of CBT called trauma-focused CBT, or TF-CBT, that can help address this.

Another form of trauma therapy is EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is often used for trauma-related intrusive thoughts, helping to process and integrate distressing memories.

During EMDR, the therapist helps the individual process distressing memories by guiding them to make specific eye movements while recalling the memories. The goal is to change the way these memories are stored in the brain, thereby reducing and potentially eliminating the distress they cause.

Holistic Therapy

There are holistic therapy approaches that can be helpful in addressing constant intrusive thoughts:

  • Mindfulness and Meditation — Mindfulness meditation can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them.
  • Yoga — Yoga can promote relaxation, physical well-being, and mindfulness, which can be helpful in managing symptoms of anxiety and intrusive thoughts.
  • Breathwork — Engage in breathing exercises to manage anxiety and stress. Deep breathing can provide immediate relief from the distress caused by intrusive thoughts.

While treatment may not eradicate intrusive thoughts entirely, it can significantly lessen their impact and provide individuals with the tools and strategies to manage them effectively. The combination of a structured treatment environment, evidence-based psychotherapies, and holistic practices can offer a comprehensive approach to managing and alleviating intrusive thoughts.

Intrusive Thought Treatment at South Coast Behavioral Health

For those struggling with constant intrusive thoughts, South Coast Behavioral Health is here to help.We offer dual diagnosis treatment that is intended to address mental health issues and any related substance abuse problems simultaneously.

Treatment for substance abuse takes place along an entire spectrum of care. Along that entire spectrum are various behavioral therapies, support groups, and the use of medically-assisted treatment (MAT).

These levels of treatment are, in order, as follows:

Residential Treatment in California

After successfully completing medical detox, you’ll move to inpatient treatment in Orange County California. There, you’ll receive medically-assisted treatment and dual diagnosis treatment to deal with any cravings or co-occurring mental health issues you may be battling.

We also offer residential treatment facilities in Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Huntington Beach for those who desire gender-specific treatment. There, patients get round-the-clock medical attention and monitoring while living at the institution full-time.

In addition to individual and group counseling and medication management, you’ll also have access to leisure activities and family support services.

Partial Hospitalization in California

Most clients start substance abuse treatment with South Coast in our residential treatment program. After completing that, many desire something that still provides structure and support, but with extra space and time to oneself. For that, we offer Partial Hospitalization in Newport Beach.

A step down from inpatient care but with more structure than conventional outpatient programs, partial hospitalization offers a good balance for those looking to ease back into normal life. Clients can receive care five to seven days a week for a number of hours each day, returning back to their homes in the evening.

This way, they can recover without putting their daily lives completely on hold, receiving intense therapeutic interventions like group and individual therapy, skill development, and medication management as necessary.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment in California

For those leaving inpatient residential treatment or partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are yet another gradual step forward on the road to recovery.

With a focus on group therapy, individual counseling, and education, clients undergoing Intensive Outpatient Treatment in Newport Beach can meet three to five days a week. Each session lasts three hours.

This level of care requires the least amount of attendance at a facility.

Start Today

If you or a loved one are struggling with constant intrusive thoughts but wonder how long counseling takes or have other questions, call us at 866-881-1184 or contact us here. Our highly qualified staff will be happy to help give you an idea on what to expect, as well as help verify your insurance and assist with any other questions you may have.


Pierce Willans
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT