Mental-Cognitive Symptoms

Examples of Disturbing Thoughts From Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Examples of Disturbing Thoughts From Anxiety

While anxiety has a lot of physical symptoms, it's often the mental ones that are the most bothering. That's because your mind can only focus on so many things at once. Often you can still go about your day with weaker legs and a slightly sped up heartbeat, but it’s hard to go about your day and make decisions while your mind is flooded with anxious thoughts. It can feel as if there isn’t space to fit any other thoughts or feelings.

When these thoughts are disturbing it can be even worse, because it can cause you to judge yourself and almost always causes significant additional anxiety. In this article, we'll explore causes and solutions of these disturbing thoughts.

Types of Disturbing Thoughts

All people have the occasional disturbing thought. When you have anxiety your thoughts can feel hard to control. Anxiety affects how you respond to the thoughts, and causes reactions that can actually create more anxiety and more thoughts.

There is more than one type of disturbing thought, and the idea of a disturbing thought is completely subjective. For some, the thought may be violent, sexual, or otherwise. For others, it may be something as simple as believing they forgot to lock the door, or that someone doesn't like them. All of these thoughts are intrusive, they appear unexpectedly and are unwanted.

When people discuss disturbing thoughts, they're usually talking about those that would not seem acceptable to other people - thoughts that they feel ashamed about, because they think it means something terrible about their character. Examples of these types of thoughts include things like:

  • Violent sexual fantasies about family members, animals, strangers, etc.
  • Wishing to do illegal activities or other acts that would get them into trouble.
  • Nightmares or frightening daydreams about fears and phobias, like spiders.
  • Thoughts about death, injury, or kidnappings.
  • Reliving frightening events you had in the past.

Remember, there is no "wrong" disturbing thought, since these thoughts are subjective. Even if a thought does not relate to something typically thought of as dark or unpleasant, the person may experience it as disturbing, like the idea that they are going to be late for work. These thoughts are no less upsetting to the people dealing with them. But the above list are the most common types of thoughts that people would generally describe as "disturbing."

Causes of Disturbing Thoughts

What's interesting is that in general, the cause of disturbing thoughts is "nothing." It is possible for something in your past to relate to negative thought like this - especially in the event of trauma - but that doesn't necessarily mean that your specific thoughts were caused by much of anything.

The reality is that everyone has the occasionally weird or disturbing thought, though we don’t always share them. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you or that you are going to actually do something unacceptable. Our minds are creative and often think up unexpected and inappropriate ideas, such as thinking about stepping in front of a car whilst waiting to cross a road.

The main difference between those who have anxiety and those who do not, is that those who are anxious tend to attach a lot of significance to having these thoughts. So when you have a disturbing thought, it tends to be extremely consuming. You feel terrible about yourself, you worry about what the thought means and try hard to avoid thinking about it or otherwise compensate for it.

Those with anxiety have a tendency to analyze the thought, rather than simply let it be and move on. Anxiety actually causes this in several ways:

  • Anxiety is known to make negative thoughts easier for the brain to remember. The more time you spend going over a particular thought, the more it is likely to stick in your mind.
  • Anxiety makes people worry about what it means to them, and this again leads to more focus on the thought and making negative assumptions.

Anxiety is about fear, and these thoughts are both generate and fueled by fear. They're unlikely to be caused by much of anything - only reacted to with fear and then brought back by fear. It's possible that your thoughts are associated with biological changes and it's possible that you've experienced things in your life that have made you more likely to have these types of thoughts, but generally they're simply normal thoughts that receive a reaction that continues to cause them to affect you.

Why Disturbing Thoughts Are Hard to Stop

So if these thoughts are normal, why do those with anxiety struggle to stop them while those without anxiety seem to have no problem? We already mentioned the idea that anxious brains are more prone to reliving negative thoughts and creating new ones, but a far greater problem is known as "thought suppression."

Studies have shown that those that try NOT to think about something actually end up thinking about it MORE than if they didn’t try to do so. Time and time again, studies on those trying to suppress a thought have shown that suppressing it brings it out more than someone that doesn't seem to have a problem with it.

Why this occurs isn't entirely clear. It's likely that it takes more mental energy to try to fight a thought than it does to avoid it, and the act of trying to avoid the thought actually causes you to pay more attention to it and make it more prominent in your mind.

Nevertheless, attempted thought suppression is one of the key reasons that these types of thoughts continue and recur. It's why those with obsessive compulsive disorder often struggle to stop their thoughts, and why those with anxiety find that the same (or similar) thoughts keep coming back more intensely.

How to Stop Disturbing Thoughts

So how does one stop disturbing thoughts? Eventually, you'll have to manage your anxiety. Until your anxiety is under better control, it is going to be very difficult to stop disturbing thoughts altogether. But in the meantime, consider the following:

  • Don't Be Afraid Remember, disturbing thoughts mean absolutely nothing about you as a person, even if they are graphic, illegal, violent, or scary. Thoughts are simply thoughts, and even the most psychologically healthy people have strange thoughts. You need to make sure you're not afraid of these thoughts anymore. You have anxiety - these thoughts are natural - and trying to control or avoid them actually often makes them harder to deal with.
  • Write Them Out Any and all recurring thoughts - even if they're not necessarily stress inducing or disturbing, and especially if they occur before sleep - should be written out as well. The mind relaxes on trying to remember things when it knows they're in a permanent place, so when you write them out you effectively tell your brain it doesn't need to focus on them as much.
  • Mental Distractions Distractions are an incredibly important part of coping with stress in the short-term and can reduce the effects of negative thoughts. Do your best to try to keep your brain as active as possible. Exercise, go do fun things with friends, and try to be as mentally busy as you can be.

If you try these things, you'll likely find that over time you'll be able to successfully reduce at least the frequency of the thoughts or your reaction to them, even if you cannot necessarily stop the thoughts completely. If disturbing thoughts continue to trouble you, discussing them with a trusted person or even a therapist may also provide some relief.

What you still need to do is make sure that you're learning how to manage your anxiety as best you can, because thoughts may always occur but how they affect you can be changed.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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