ADHD Intrusive Thoughts

ADHD and Intrusive Thoughts: What You Need to Know

If you are someone who has ADHD, you may be more prone to intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that pop into your head and cause a great deal of anxiety. They can be disturbing and make it difficult to focus on anything else. I understand how distressing intrusive ideas can be, as I've had trouble controlling my thoughts before.

In this blog post, we'll look at how ADHD and intrusive thoughts are linked, as well as how you can get help.

Published on
18/11/2022
Updated on
7/2/2023
estimated reading time
minutes

Reviewed by

Dr. Guia Canonizado - Custorio

Mental Health Professional
In this Article
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An Intrusive Thought & ADHD Brain: Overthinking Stuff Does Not Help

Having a predominantly inattentive brain can produce thoughts that are obsessive and repetitive. A person with an Inattentive Type of ADHD can have their mind wander somewhere else and ignore everything that is happening in their natural world. The thoughts of a hyperactive ADHD brain, for example, might be more aggressive or intrusive than the thoughts of a neurotypical brain. These are some of the ADHD symptoms that the brain can experience.

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An intrusive thought means that a person is thinking about something that can be irrelevant, unproductive, and even dangerous to themselves or other people. These negative thoughts are generally baseless and can cause stress. Intrusive thought loops are defined as overthinking, which entails increased brain activity and the contemplation of useless and negative ideas. However, these issues may affect anybody, not just people with ADHD.

But when a person with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has intrusive thoughts, what could happen?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Affects How Your Brain Works

Even if someone has inattentive ADHD or a hyperactive ADHD brain, their thoughts are likely to be distinct from those without the condition, according to research. The brain networks of a person with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are wired differently, causing an effect on the executive functions of the brain. These executive functions are responsible for the body's working memory, decision-making, self-control, andreasoning.

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Executive functions are “a set of cognitive skills thatenables self-control and managing behaviors”

These cognitive processes are regularly associated with problems in planning, prioritizing tasks effectively, paying attention to details, concentrating on work or schoolwork for long periods without getting distracted and controlling impulses. The corresponding brain networks are also responsible for how one thinks, acts, and feels.

Intrusive thoughts for an ADHD brain might be intense because of the person's poor control over their thoughts. These negative thoughts can sometimes be persistent and can stay longer. If not acknowledged well and contained, the disturbing thoughts that you might have can produce related disorders and comorbidities that can further affect your well-being.

Intrusive Thoughts And How It’s Also Connected To ADHD

Anxiety is a prominent symptom of ADHD, but it is also the main symptom of PTSD, phobias and panic disorder. Now, worrisome and intrusive thoughts are two cognitive features of anxiety, hence they are already part and parcel of ADHD spectrum of symptoms. However, they are not exclusive to ADHD just as anxiety is not exclusive to ADHD. Intrusive thoughts are associated with other mental health disorders such as Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Also, please note that not all people who experience these thoughts have a mental health disorder; they can also exist in individuals who do not experience mental health issues.

Now that we know that intrusive thoughts may occur with ADHD and other mental health conditions, it’s crucial to identify some comorbid conditions that can further contribute to having these thoughts.

The following may be comorbidities to ADHD:

Anxiety

Like mentioned earlier, anxiety is a prominent symptom of ADHD. Furthermore, reports say a person with ADHD is likely to have an anxiety disorder.

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. One of the features of anxiety is the presence of intrusive thoughts. In simple terms, anxiety precedes intrusive thoughts. In fact, anxiety frequently triggers these thoughts, not the other way around.

Intrusive thoughts: maybe it is poisoned?

If not appropriately addressed, anxiety can lead to other mental health disorders such as depression or substance use in an attempt to cope and even self-harm or suicide.

The Mini ADHD Coach Medical Advisor says: Anxiety can be exacerbated by the persistence of intrusive thoughts. People with anxiety disorders frequently experience recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns and they may avoid certain situations out of worry.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is another condition highly associated with intrusive thoughts, and it can also be an ADHD comorbidity.

Bipolar Disorder, formerly referred to as Manic Depression, is a condition in which the individual experiences extreme and unusual mood swings – low or depressive state and mania. The manic state of someone with Bipolar Disorder manifests as either mania or hypomania, the latter is a milder form. Intrusive thoughts are often seen in. People who have Bipolar Disorder may experience intense anxiety episodes which can trigger intrusive thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts: is this a bleach aftertaste
The Mini ADHD Coach Medical Advisor says: The cause or origin of Bipolar Disorder is chemical imbalance in the brain and not because of intrusive thoughts. This imbalance causes the symptoms of depression and mania; and intrusive thoughts can be a symptom of depression. For example, delusional thoughts, such as thinking someone is out to get you can be a sign of Bipolar Disorder.

Depression

It is known that individuals with ADHD are likely to have an anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, or other comorbid psychiatric disorder. Remember that anxiety, which often go hand in hand with depression, triggers intrusive thoughts which can exacerbate ADHD and can lead to various mental health conditions if left untreated.

The American Psychiatric Association states that several factors can play a role in the development of depression, such as biochemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, personality, and environmental factors. In other words, multiple triggers can cause depression. When a person with ADHD has depression, they may feel bad for themselves and have trouble with the sadness and negative feelings that take control of their mind.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Although two different conditions, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder may occur together. Studies showed that children with autism affected by ADHD tend to be more disorganized and unfocused than their peers, which can be very problematic for them. This is because the ADHD symptoms can make the social interactions of these children even harder to handle. When an individual with autism is overwhelmed by anxiety, intrusive thoughts can occur and to calm themselves, they resort to “stimming”or self-stimulating behaviors.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is another disorder that is closely linked to intrusive thoughts and ADHD. The American Psychiatric Association defines Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted (intrusive) thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions); and to get rid of the thoughts, they feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).

This means that someone with this condition has repetitive thoughts running through their mind frequently, which can cause them distress and interfere with their logical reasoning. OCD and ADHD have similarities because both conditions are linked with the brain's executive functions, which refer to “a set of cognitive skills that enables self-control and managing behaviors”.

Intrusive ideas may aggravate the symptoms of ADHD.  Suppose a person has mild ADHD with only a few distressing, intrusive thoughts. In that case, their symptoms will be slightly noticeable, and they can still function normally in society. However, those with moderate-severe forms of ADHD have more intense thoughts that can significantly interfere with their daily lives. These people spend most of their time worrying about the intrusive thoughts they experience, affecting their performance at school, work, and even in personal relationships.

Intrusive thoughts: Violent or Disturbing
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Let's Talk More About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Having obsessive thoughts in an ADHD brain is quite common, but the problem arises when you cannot control these thoughts. These intrusive thoughts can trigger certain behaviors that are often considered unusual or inappropriate, making it hard for the person to interact with others. In essence, people with ADHD can experience more obsessive-compulsive behavior due to their brain's constant struggle with controlling themselves and their actions.

Some ADHD group members have said that they often have thoughts of self-harm, sexual acts, or violence running through their minds. ADHD can cause these types of intrusive thoughts because it weakens the brain's executive functions responsible for controlling your emotions and behaviors. This is why people with OCD who also has ADHD can typically have more cases of intrusive thoughts than those with another comorbidity.

The Mini ADHD Coach Medical Advisor says: The cause of OCD is more than just a single intrusive thought. It should be a disabling thought that prompts the individual to do repetitive actions (compulsion) in an attempt to get rid of this/these thought/s.

International OCD foundation suggests six types of intrusive thoughts that happen when someone has OCD. These include: aggressive, sexual, religious, somatic (related to body image), obsessive thinking, risky behaviors, and scrupulous thoughts.

ADHD is one of the most common comorbidities of OCD in children. Studies show that the link has something to do with deficits in response inhibition common to both disorders. In OCD, deficits in response inhibition could be caused by the overflow of intrusive thoughts, whereas in ADHD, it might be due to a lack of inhibitory control leading to an impulsive response.

Adults who have both ADHD and OCD symptoms can make the brain more sensitive to emotions, and this often causes a heightened stress response which can make a person feel tensed, anxious, and depressed.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and ADHD

When a person with an ADHD brain has enough of the hurtful things thrown at them, they  can sometimes feel the need to escape and "run away" from it all. This form of mental health condition is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and usually occurs after an individual has experienced a traumatic event. These instances can include physical assault, life-threatening accidents, war, natural disasters, or other horrifying incidents that put their lives in significant harm or danger.

Everybody can have intrusive thoughts

PTSD is a mental health condition that makes a person "relive" painful moments from the past, which results in feeling anxious all over again whenever they see certain things or have thoughts related to their traumatic incident. ADHD and PTSD can happen simultaneously because of a person's impaired executive functions, which refer to “a set of cognitive skills that enables self-control and managing behaviors” thus allowing intrusive thoughts to take over. ADHD brains that suffer from PSTD cannot stop thinking about their past trauma,which sometimes results in feeling mental distress, physical discomfort, and emotional numbness.

Also, please note that anxiety, which triggers intrusive thoughts, is one of the symptoms of PTSD. In fact, PTSD-related anxiety is reported to be severe.

Steps to Overcome Intrusive Thoughts

The American Psychiatric Association suggests techniques available to help you form a coping mechanism for intrusive thoughts. People with ADHD frequently have an "outside-the-box" thinking style that allows them to create and apply new ideas to help them solve difficulties and learn new things. ADHD individuals may need adifferent approach to lead and concentrate their minds on occasion.

to manage them i try to see these thoughts as a weird visitor in a shop, I recorgnize them and accept them

Research suggests that regular mindfulness meditation for adults with ADHD can significantly decrease the severity of their intrusive thoughts. Mindfulness meditation is an all-natural spiritual training method that teaches people how to be aware of what positive and worthwhile ideas they have, as well as which negative and useless notions they are thinking. There's considerable evidence that doing meditation for 15 minutes a day can increase focus, productivity, and creativity. Mindfulness meditation also improves your brain's cognitive capabilities and reduces any physiological stress caused by obsessive thinking.

to manage them i try to see these thoughts as a weird visitor in a shop, I wait for the thought to leave and then watch it leave.

But if you aren't a fan of meditation, sitting still, and having more thinking time for yourself, there are still ways to overcome intrusive thoughts. There's no harm in trying these steps:

  1. Acknowledge and recognize that having intrusive thoughts are a regular part of your daily life. Even people without ADHD can experience having these disturbing thoughts.
  2. Accept that these obsessive thoughts or negative emotions are going to stay for a while. Welcome every intrusive thought you think of, and don't try to resist them and break free.
  3. This, too, shall pass. Remember that every time these thoughts visit you, they will all pass as they are just part of your brain activity. They won't last long and will fade soon.
  4. Don't try to change your intrusive thoughts, and make it a point not to label them as "bad." At the same time, remember that some intrusive thoughts can be violent and can cause self-harm.
  5. Watch the intrusive thought leave and expect them to come by again. These intrusive thoughts are repetitive, and they will always come back as long as you don't learn to control them.

Aside from these steps of overcoming these negative thoughts, you can try to stop overthinking by doing something else to occupy your mind. When you're under pressure, it's easy for negative things or ideas to crowd your head. You could work on something that has nothing to do with whatever is bothering you. You could restore the response inhibition function in your ADHD brain by doing something else.

You can do things such as playing a video game and being entertained for hours, or you can try to exercise to get your mind off of the intrusive thoughts. Doing sports or even yoga is good for clearing out the negative energy that intrusive thoughts can bring. You can also do arts and crafts, read a book while drinking some coffee, play with your pet dog, play an instrument while singing to keep yourself distracted. Surrounding yourself with a pleasant external environment can also help you get through your intrusive thoughts.

If you still struggle to control these obsessive thoughts and heightened brain activity, you may refer to your mental health expert for proper treatment. The treatment can be done through therapy sessions for ADHD to reduce the symptoms of intrusive thoughts. It is important to seek professional help. There are plenty of mental health treatments to help anyone struggling with negative thoughts. For instance, there are sources saying that despite being a risky treatment to ADHD, stimulants can also reduce frustration, improve self-regulation, and increase effortful behavior

Conclusion

Intrusive thoughts are a part of everyone's life, but they can be especially prevalent in those with ADHD. If you find yourself struggling to control these thoughts, there are things you can do to ease yourmind. With proper assessment, guidance, and treatment from a qualified mental health professional, you can learn to manage intrusive thoughts and not let them control your life.

If you're struggling with intrusive thoughts, know that you're not alone. These types of thoughts are common, and there are ways to manage them. Don't hesitate to reach out for professional help if the intrusive thoughts are causing significant distress in your life. With treatment, you can learn to control these thoughts and live a happy, healthy life.  🌷🧚‍♀️🌟💖

ADHD & Intrusive Thoughts

ADHD and Intrusive Thoughts: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What can I do to stop my intrusive thoughts?

There are numerous things you can do to prevent these unpleasant ideas from popping up. You can engage yourself in mindfulness meditation, cognitive reframing, and distraction techniques.

How long will the effects of intrusive thoughts last?

According to available data, there is no set time frame for how long intrusive thoughts last. It varies from person to person depending on a variety of factors, including the underlying mental health disorder, the severity or intensity of anxiety, and individual coping strategies. If they become persistent or cause significant distress, professional treatment is recommended.

What should I do if my intrusive thoughts are about harming someone?

If your thoughts involve harming yourself or others, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Situations like these are considered as psychiatric emergencies and local emergency services should be contacted right away.‍

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