Intrusive Thoughts and Depression

Intrusive thoughts are the numerous irrelevant thoughts that occur to a person in any given situation. The unpleasant nature of these thoughts can lead to several disorders and conditions that affect the mental health of a person. Excessive and frequent occurrence of intrusive thoughts in a person invariably results in depression.

Image Credit: / Shutterstock
Image Credit: / Shutterstock


Depression is a type of mental disorder that negatively affects the way one thinks, feels, and reacts to a situation. Depression can be either long-term or temporary and is often associated with feelings such as sadness and loss of interest in real life, both of which have the capability to depress a person’s mood and/or efficiency at work. Depression can hinder concentration and contribute to keeping the person stuck on a particular thought or past incident.

Depression is among the most common mental disorders and affects over 260 million people around the world.

Types of depressive thoughts include:

  • Difficulty in making decisions or concentrating on an activity.
  • Continuous sense of guilt and worthlessness
  • Constant thoughts of death or committing suicide
  • Change in physical activities
  • Frequent loss of energy and feeling of laziness
  • Not eating or eating too much
  • Lack of sleep or sleeping too much
  • Continuously feeling sad without a reason

Repetitive intrusive thoughts

Repetitive thoughts are the major causes of mental depression. People who suffer from depression often get stuck with a single or even several of intrusive thoughts that arise frequently. These types of repetitive intrusive thoughts are known as 'rumination'. People who easily get upset and brood over a problem again and again in their daily life are called ruminators.

For instance, when a person is facing a problem, the right way to go about it is to solve or overcome it. However, the ruminator takes an exceedingly long time over it, studying and analyzing it for hours. He repeatedly thinks about the problem and forgets to find a solution for it. At this point is when the repetitive thoughts turn problematic. If a situation pushes one into a bad mood, repeatedly thinking about it will upset the person and stop all of their activity for as long as the thought stays with the person.

Recent research has demonstrated that people with repetitive intrusive thoughts are at a greater risk of developing depression and anxiety; therefore, the baseline cause of both of these disorders is often intrusive thoughts. Moreover, these individuals often face a difficult time in relieving themselves from the problem and overcoming their thoughts.

OCD3, Ep1: Living with Intrusive Thoughts, Pure O

Impact of intrusive thoughts on depression

Both anxiety and depression are interlinked. Some people may have depression and then develop anxiety, whereas another person who suffers from anxiety might develop depression. Additionally, it is also common for a person to have anxiety and depression concurrently.

Generally, intrusive thoughts play a vital role in creating anxiety that eventually leads to depression. For instance, the sudden death of a loved one can cause depression, which may gradually improve as the days pass. However, repeated intrusive thoughts of that incident may create anxiety. Anxiety plays an important role in further worsening the depression.

Types of intrusive thoughts in depression

Some examples of intrusive thoughts in depression may include:

  • Evaluating oneself in extremes; i.e., black and white and no gray
  • Picking out the negatives every time, and reckoning only adverse things will happen to them
  • Having a specific terrible experience in mind and assuming all activities will end up in the same way
  • Thinking too much and even pointing out negative aspects in a positive situation
  • Trying to read others’ minds to assume what they think about them
  • Predicting a negative future, and considering it as their fate
  • Viewing small mistakes in a magnified manner
  • Believing their intrusive thoughts to be true
  • Assume a huge responsibility and predicting it to have a negative outcome

Overcoming intrusive depression thoughts

Although it is not very easy to neglect depressive thoughts, there are some common alternatives that can help one avoid such thoughts from plaguing them. These include:

  • Making a note or writing down the thoughts may help in reducing anxiety
  • Visualizing and understanding the thoughts might help in reducing the fear
  • As soon as intrusive thoughts arise, divert to other activities like exercising or talking with friends
  • Increase the problem-solving ability and act boldly
  • Identify the time, place, or incident that causes these thoughts and avoid them
  • Meditation
  • Talking to oneself in a positive way and giving encouragement to oneself will provide confidence in facing the thoughts next time
  • Accepting these thoughts will minimize their frequency


Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 18, 2021

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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  1. Heather Havens Heather Havens United States says:

    This article conflates cognitive distortions with intrusive thoughts. Cognitive distortions are exaggerated conclusions about an individual and his/her circumstances that are not supported by external evidence, though they do not rise to the loss of contact with reality that accompanies delusions. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or images that an individual finds distressing and/or disturbing. These unwanted thoughts are known as obsessions. While cognitive distortions may perpetuate or worsen depression and anxiety symptoms, they are not the cause of clinical depression or anxiety. These conditions are neurobiological and frequently require a combination of medication and therapy. When treating anxiety and depression, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which an individual challenges cognitive distortions, can be enormously beneficial, but may not be adequate to alleviate symptoms entirely.

  2. May Not May Not Germany says:

    The other comment on this site explains it in greater detail. This article is complete and utter horseshit. I find it unbelievable that this random person with a university bachelor in PHARMACY gets to write about shit she doesn't know anything about. Any idiot can go to a university for a few years and graduate, i don't see how that qualifies them for writing an article about such a serious and common issue that hundreds of thousands of people will read. Just thinking about some poor soul who is trying to find some help, reads this travesty of an article and believes it makes my gut twist. Fuck me in the ass with s pogo-stick the internet is a dangerous place.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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