Do you experience unwanted disturbing thoughts? Perhaps they feel like they come out of nowhere and you can’t get them out of your head.

For some people, when they feel intense anxiety, their mind pulls their thoughts into the worst ever thing they can imagine. These intrusive thoughts don’t mean you are a bad person. Instead, they are messages that you are experiencing extreme fear. It can feel very scary to have thoughts that don’t correspond with your own values.

When these thoughts keep reoccurring, they can feel very intrusive and trigger intense feelings of shame and fear.

Distressing thoughts can be an awful thing to experience. Try following these steps to help manage your intrusive thoughts.


Try to accept they are just thoughts, and, although they are almost impossible to control, the events being played out in your head are not real. 

When we try very hard to avoid thinking about something our brain often does the exact opposite. For example, you’ve probably heard the saying about pink elephants: if you are told to try not to think about pink elephants, the more you try, the more all your mind can picture is pink elephants! 

With intrusive thoughts, the more we try to avoid a distressing thought the more our brain keeps reminding us of it.

Accepting these unwanted thoughts doesn’t mean giving up and resigning to them. Rather, I would encourage you to try not to suppress or avoid them as this will make the thoughts stronger.


In learning to accept distressing thoughts it can help to try to stay in the present. Many people find mindfulness helpful for this. 

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that helps you focus on being and feeling in the moment. Activities such as guided breathing and imagery can help slow down and relax your mind. 

Many people report that mindfulness helps reduce stress and anxiety.

hands, nature, lake, trees


Sometimes intrusive thoughts can spiral and intensify causing you to experience heightened anxiety and panic attacks. 

The way you normally breathe will change as the anxiety increases in your mind and body, and regulating your breathing is one of the best ways to help yourself cope in this situation.

Breathe deeply and slowly through your nose and hold the breath for a few seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat this a few times and continue until you start to feel calmer.

Write thoughts down

If you have distressing thoughts in the middle of the night (or at any time!), it may help to write them down. For many people this can make the thoughts feel less intense and can help them get back to sleep. 

You don’t have to write a full-on journal; it may just be a few words that you then may decide to rip up or burn.

window, man, silhouette

Talk to a professional

If your intrusive thoughts are starting to take over your life and you’re struggling to cope, remember that help is out there. 

Talk to your GP and ask them to link you up with a mental health professional for more specialist support. The NHS usually recommend medication and/or talking therapies to help with distressing intrusive thoughts.

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Image of the author, Chloe Foster

Chloe Foster has a background in working in mental health and youth work. Today she runs Sussex Rainbow Counselling where she specialises in counselling LGBTQ clients online.

Chloe holds a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapeutic humanistic counselling from The University of Brighton. She is also an approved accredited registrant member of the National Counselling Society, and an accredited gender, sexuality and relationship diversities therapist with Pink Therapy.