What it means to experience 'intrusive thoughts' and why they can be dangerous

You might have noticed some weird videos on TikTok lately – yes, weirder than usual.

People are punching uneaten cakes, shouting random insults and touching hot pans fresh from the oven.

Why? Well it’s all in the name of ‘giving in’ to intrusive thoughts. These are thoughts that pop into our heads out of the blue, without warning.

What if I just threw my phone out of the window? What if I said something really inappropriate in the middle of this meeting? What if I tripped that person up that’s about to walk past?

While many of the videos on TikTok are light-hearted, it’s clear that people relate to the idea, as #intruisivethoughts has been viewed almost 700 million times.

But experiencing intrusive thoughts – if worrying or scary – can be a genuine mental health issue, which can have a real impact on your daily life and dangerous consequences.

Metro.co.uk spoke to counselling psychologist, Dr Rina Bajaj, to get up to speed on intrusive thoughts.

What exactly are intrusive thoughts?

Dr Rina says: ‘We have between 70,000 and 100,000 thoughts a day and whilst the majority of these are automatic, we can also experience intrusive thoughts.

‘They can be sudden and involuntary and can feel negative or scary.’

And they’re more common than we think. ‘They can happen to most of us once in a while,’ says Dr Rina. ‘For example, “Did I lock my door?”, “Did I leave my hair straightener on.”

‘They can also happen randomly and catch us off guard, such as, “What if I got into a car accident right now?” or “What if I just lashed out in public right now?”‘

it escalated so quickly #impulse #impulsivethoughts #actingon #couples #asmr

Who experiences them?

Those with pre-existing mental health conditions may be more susceptible to intrusive thoughts than others.

Dr Rina says: ‘Individuals who have a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder ( OCD), anxiety, eating disorders or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may be more likely to experience intrusive thoughts more often.’

How can they affect us?

Some people are able to recognise that intrusive thoughts are simply random, and not a reflection of who we are. However, this isn’t always easy.

‘Intrusive thoughts can gain power over us when we attach meaning to them,’ says Dr Rina.

‘We may think, “This thought means that I’m a bad person” or “I have no control over my behaviour”.

What are yours?🫢

‘We may be focused on them, or repeatedly go over them, (known as rumination). They can also have an impact on our functioning or behaviour, such as causing us to become more socially isolated, or meaning we engage in over checking or over planning behaviour, as a way to manage anxiety or stay in perceived control.

‘These thoughts are also usually something that we don’t actually want to do, but fear that we may not have control over our actions – which can increase feelings of fear and distress.’

How to manage intrusive thoughts

If you’re worried about the impact that intrusive thoughts are having on your life then it’s important to speak to your GP or a mental health professional.

If they’re manageable, try these tips from Dr Rina:

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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