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How To Manage Intrusive Thoughts and ADHD

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Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a complex mental health condition marked by persistent inattention, impulsive behavior, and other fluctuating symptoms. These symptoms can make it difficult to maintain stable relationships, perform well at work or school, and lead to other issues.

Many people with ADHD experience intrusive thoughts where they overthink or obsess about issues that are either nonexistent or not as serious as they may believe. These intrusive thoughts can become incredibly disruptive to daily life, making it challenging for someone with ADHD to regulate their thoughts, focus, and attend to their responsibilities.

If you struggle with intrusive thoughts due to ADHD, Klarity is your resource for relief. Our network of ADHD specialists provides online treatment that targets your specific concerns so. Just complete our 2-minute mental health assessment to schedule an appointment and meet with a healthcare provider within 48 hours.

Types of Intrusive Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are unpredictable both in what they are about and when they are triggered. While intrusive thoughts can be about anything, there are a few key subjects they tend to center around. Identifying these subjects is central to understanding why these thoughts occur, and it’s the first step toward finding relief from harmful lines of thought.

Intrusive Sexual Thoughts

Individuals with ADHD often struggle with having a sex drive that is much higher or lower than others. This makes maintaining a healthy sexual relationship with a partner difficult and can contribute to intrusive sexual thoughts. 

These thoughts can be distracting, especially if they occur at an inappropriate time or place, making it difficult to complete work or feel comfortable in social situations.

Intrusive Violent Thoughts

Intrusive thoughts caused by ADHD can also be violent in nature, often spurred by feelings of anger. Just as ADHD makes it difficult to control sexual desires and compulsions, it also makes it challenging to regulate your anger and other related emotions. 

These intrusive thoughts can be particularly harmful, as acting on them could have serious consequences. It’s essential that you don’t let violent intrusive thoughts go unchecked, so they don’t continue or worsen.

Catastrophizing Intrusive Thoughts

With ADHD comes heightened feelings of anxiety, and this anxiety often manifests as catastrophizing intrusive thoughts. 

For example, you may have catastrophic thoughts before a large public event that shift from one unlikely situation to another. You may think you’re going to embarrass yourself in some way, then you may think someone is going to physically harm you, and then your thoughts could continue to snowball from there.

For many people with ADHD, intrusive thoughts about the worst-case scenario are commonplace. And getting ahead of these catastrophizing thoughts is often easier said than done.

Why Are Intrusive Thoughts So Common In People With ADHD?

Intrusive thoughts are so central to the ADHD experience due to one of the hallmark ADHD symptoms: inattention. People with ADHD can overanalyze situations to the point where they develop a false sense of what’s happening and act impulsively.

This inability to balance inattention and overthinking makes ADHD difficult to navigate. With proper treatment, you can find stability and establish healthier thought patterns.

Common Causes of Intrusive Thoughts

The root cause of intrusive thoughts can often be challenging to identify. They typically connect to how someone feels, so if you’re particularly sad or angry, you’re more likely to have intrusive thoughts in line with those emotions. Some of the most common causes of intrusive thoughts are listed below.

Periods of High Stress and Vulnerability

Periods of high pressure can lead to intrusive thoughts that can worsen your stress. If you’re working on an important project at your job, for example, you may have intrusive thoughts about what would happen if the project isn’t well received. And those thoughts can lead you to imagine this project determines the fate of your career when, in reality, the stakes are much lower.

Intrusive thoughts can also occur in situations where you feel vulnerable. Returning to the previous example from work, if you’re receiving constructive criticism, you may feel vulnerable and take the critique personally. You may overthink it to the point where you apply the criticism to your own self-worth and discourage yourself from pursuing similar projects in the future.

Periods of Isolation

When intrusive thoughts are an issue in your daily life, periods of isolation can cause you to hyper-fixate on those thoughts. Without anything to distract you or someone to tell you that your thoughts are likely irrational, it can be challenging to get yourself away from cyclical ideas and false perceptions.

After Traumatic or Stressful Events

Even if you aren’t in an actively stressful situation, you may still experience intrusive thoughts due to past stressful events. This is where many catastrophizing intrusive thoughts come into play, as ruminating on a traumatic or stressful event may lead you to believe you’ll relive it for the rest of your life. 

How To Prevent Intrusive Thoughts

While it may seem impossible to prevent intrusive thoughts with how sudden and unexpected they are, there are ways to regain control of your mind. Like anything, it takes practice and dedication to find relief from this disruptive symptom of ADHD. Some of the best ways to prevent intrusive thoughts are listed below.

Identify Your Triggers

Although some intrusive thoughts may feel random, they are often triggered by some kind of stimulus. Identifying your triggers can play a significant role in overcoming intrusive thoughts, as you’ll learn how to avoid them and prevent them from happening in the first place.

Remain Calm

Whenever you do have intrusive thoughts, it’s essential to remain calm. These thoughts are just information about how you’re doing in that moment. If you allow yourself to panic, your thoughts will likely become more severe to the point where they spiral out of control. The more you can remain calm, the more likely your intrusive thoughts will pass without disrupting your day.

Find a Distraction

An effective way to avoid intrusive thoughts is by redirecting your attention elsewhere. If you find that you’re focusing too much on one negative thought, try doing something like playing a game or writing in a journal. By switching to an activity that requires focus, you’ll have fewer opportunities to focus on your intrusive thoughts.

Allow Intrusive Thoughts To Pass and Fade Away

If you have an intrusive thought that is violent or sexual, one way to prevent them from taking hold of your mind is by simply letting them pass. For many people, so long as they don’t act on their thoughts, they’ll fade away with time as other distractions arise. However, it may take longer for some than others, and letting an intrusive thought pass can eventually show that it’s not worth thinking about.

Receive ADHD Treatment

If you want to get to the source of your intrusive thoughts, ADHD treatment can help. ADHD is often exacerbated by instability in brain chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin. ADHD medication can stabilize these chemicals and make you feel mentally at ease.

Behavioral therapy can also be an effective form of ADHD treatment, teaching you healthy coping mechanisms to address your symptoms.

Klarity Can Help You Get Treatment for ADHD to Resolve Intrusive Thoughts

If your intrusive thoughts and other ADHD symptoms disrupt your daily life, help is available on Klarity. 

We connect you with ADHD specialists who can provide treatment online, so you don’t have to worry about going to the doctor’s office. Meet with a healthcare professional within 48 hours, get the prescriptions you need, and find relief from your intrusive thoughts.

Mental health support is here on Klarity. Take this brief self-evaluation and schedule an appointment to meet with a mental health expert today to start your ADHD treatment journey.

Sources

Abramovitch A, Schweiger A. “Unwanted intrusive and worrisome thoughts in adults with Attention Deficit\Hyperactivity Disorder.” Psychiatry Res. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19570581/

Beth Main. “ADHD and Obsessive Thoughts: How to Stop the Endless Analysis.” ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-and-obsessive-thoughts-too-clingy-insecure/.

Camille Noe Pagán. “Is ADHD Causing Your Sexual Problems?” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/adhd-sexual-problems.

Caroline Maguire, MEd, ACCG, PCC. “I Can’t Stop Thinking About It.” CHADD. https://chadd.org/adhd-news/adhd-news-adults/i-cant-stop-thinking-about-it/.

Jacqueline Sinfield. “How to Stop Overthinking When You Have ADHD.” Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-stop-over-thinking-3868209.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adult-adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350878

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