Do You Have Repetitive, Undesired, or Intrusive Thoughts and Urges?

Intrusive Thoughts

When you’re driving, do you obsessively imagine ramming your car into the one ahead of you? Do weird sexual images pop into your head at the most inappropriate times? Every time you walk into a store, do you envision yourself shoplifting something? Even though you may never intend to actually follow through on these actions, the unwanted thoughts can be very distressing. Why can’t you just stop thinking repetitive, undesired, or intrusive thoughts? It likely has to do with an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus.


Why can’t you just stop thinking repetitive, undesired, or intrusive thoughts? It has to do with an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus. Click To Tweet

The Anterior Cingulate Gyrus and Intrusive Thoughts

Deep in the middle of the frontal lobes in your brain rests the anterior cingulate gyrus or ACG. This part of the brain and surrounding areas of the frontal lobes were found to be involved with shifting attention in a 1991 study. The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that when the ACG is overactive, people tend to struggle to shift their attention and are more prone to obsessive thinking patterns and getting stuck on intrusive thoughts.

The problem is that an overactive ACG also makes you more likely to focus on those thoughts, increasing their intensity and ramping up anxiety. This kind of obsessive thinking can be immensely destructive to a person’s emotional well-being. Repetitive, intrusive thoughts are some of the hallmark signs of obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders (OCSD), more commonly known as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

In some people, obsessive thinking leads to performing compulsive behaviors as a way to cope with anxiety-inducing thoughts. People can get stuck on behaviors such as hand-washing (stuck on fears about germs), eating disorders (stuck on food issues or poor body image), or addictions (obsessively drinking or doing drugs).

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Obsessive Thinking

While many people experience intrusive thoughts from time to time and may even be concerned about it, they have the ability to put these thoughts aside and move on. Some may even experience looping thoughts regularly or everyday routines, but they don’t interfere with work, school, or home life.

People with OCD have repetitive, undesired, or intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and urges (compulsions) that cannot be controlled. In the U.S., about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 200 children are affected by OCD. The obsessive thoughts often are thematic in these areas:

  • Germs and contamination
  • Symmetry
  • Religion
  • Sexual ideation
  • Aggressive impulses
  • Fear of harming or killing others

Getting Unstuck from Obsessive Thinking

The good news is that you can get unstuck from obsessive thoughts. Calming an overactive ACG can help. Taking nutritional supplements that boost serotonin (a brain chemical that is often low in people with too much activity in the ACG) and eating a diet that is higher in complex carbohydrates and lower in protein are strategies that can help restore the ACG to healthy function. Managing your day-to-day thoughts and behaviors can also have a powerful effect on your brain chemistry.

One study conducted by UCLA psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz used PET scans (similar to brain SPECT imaging) to measure treatment with obsessive disorders. It revealed that when patients were treated with anti-obsessive medication, the overactive parts of their brains tended to calm down. It showed that medications help heal the dysfunctional patterns of the brain. Yet even more remarkable, it showed that patients who were treated without any medication but with behavior therapy had normalization in the ACG and basal ganglia. In other words, changing behavior can also change brain patterns!

At Amen Clinics, an exercise that helps patients to overcome “stuck” thought patterns is called “thought stopping.” Here’s how it works:

  • Notice when you are stuck and say “STOP!”
  • Distract yourself and come back to the problem later.
  • Thinking through answers before automatically saying no.
  • Writing out options and solutions when you feel stuck.

There’s no need to suffer from repetitive, obsessive, or intrusive thoughts, and you can learn additional strategies to get control of your thinking from a qualified mental health care professional.

Obsessive thinking, OCD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. How much cost- I make 25000 a year . Medicare and Excellus taken out. Can’t afford much have grandkids and often sick daughter here. This has been a problem all my life, I so wish could get help, affects me being able to do many things.

    Comment by Gina Volk — January 17, 2022 @ 3:45 AM

  2. I have the simtomsand be treated without results

    Comment by Aida Hernandez — January 17, 2022 @ 5:21 AM

  3. Good morning and thank you for a great article.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — January 17, 2022 @ 5:22 AM

  4. These types of behaviors seem to be common with individuals with ADHD. Would your suggestions help individuals with ADHD?

    Comment by Eduardo Montecino — January 17, 2022 @ 5:34 AM

  5. I have many addicted patients that report these types of thinking patterns. Is there any supplement that works well to inhibit these thoughts?

    Comment by Deb Sharp — January 17, 2022 @ 5:41 AM

  6. Didn’t Freud have success with Psychoanalysis in OCD?

    Comment by richard y. saffir.MD — January 17, 2022 @ 7:37 AM

  7. Something to add… for many intrusive thoughts also have an intrusive mental image. 1. Say no to the thought and image. 2. replace the thought with something positive that gives power over the intrusive thought. 3. Think of a positive/pleasant mental image to replace the intrusive one. This has worked well for my clients. I had a child client with anxiety & obsessive thoughts regarding insects & bugs. Using these techniques he was able to over come the fear, obsessive thinking, and anxiety regarding bugs.

    Comment by Dawn — January 17, 2022 @ 8:23 AM

  8. What type of medication or supplement works well for the intrusive thought. I have struggled with this for many years and desperately want some relief

    Comment by Ashley — January 17, 2022 @ 8:48 AM

  9. Dr Amen!
    Thanks for sharing this information.
    In my Brain Health Assessment Report (My Brain Type is 14), I need high quality protein to boost mood and positive thinking, for example, focus, etc.
    But in the case of the ACG problem, you suggest a “low-protein diet” to restore ACG to healthy function.
    I can’t stay in focus and I have OCD problems.
    Should I have a high or low-protein diet?
    A fraternal hug!
    Sandro Bender

    Comment by Sandro Bender — January 17, 2022 @ 9:05 AM

  10. Can you give some more specific examples of ways to stop the thoughts and replace them?

    Comment by Sue — January 17, 2022 @ 10:05 AM

  11. I am so glad I’m not the only one who has these thoughts. The thoughts are sooo distracting & make me feel like a terrible person. Some are so disgusting. Also negative, judgemental, critical,prideful, vain just to name a few. I am taking 30 days to a better brain. I will definitely put this in my gratitude list for today. I would love to have more material to read on this condition.
    Thank you. Dana Barton

    Comment by Dana Barton — January 17, 2022 @ 11:34 AM

  12. I don’t have intrusive thoughts quite that bad. I am in recovery suffering from substance use disorder. I had literally done the drinking and party scene in my 19-24 years of age. I broke my ankle and had surgery. That is where I discovered pain pills. Opiates. It has been a 20 year battle and still going. I’ve been in recovery since 2009, brief relapse in 2015, now I’m on MAT. The withdrawals scare the crap out of me and the fear of losing everything I’ve worked so desperately for. That’s why I remain on mat. I do not like depression medication. It makes me numb. Anxiety meds do too. So I’m stuck for now. I am considering a nutritionist if my insurance will cover it. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated and considered

    Comment by Dena — January 17, 2022 @ 11:50 AM

  13. I was sitting in the woods and a negative thought came to me, really scary one. I had a blue jay feather I had found on the ground in my hand. When I got that negative though I visualized the blue jay feather floating up into the air taking that thought away. Not five seconds after thinking that, a flock of turkeys landed fifty feet from me and started pecking on the grouond. I thoughtr “Those turkeys are pecking up the remains of the negative thought.” AMAZINGLY my negative thoughts diminished and I felt calm. Every time since then when I have a negative thought or scary “daymare” oppisite of a nightmare, I send it up in the air with blue jay feathers and then watch the turkeys come and eat up the rest of the thoughtl IT REALLY WORKS FOR ME.

    Comment by Bob — January 17, 2022 @ 3:59 PM

  14. What are the actual supplements you can take to stop the intrusive thoughts.

    Comment by Chadd — January 17, 2022 @ 6:14 PM

  15. Hello Gina, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics offers consultations and different types of evaluations based on the needs of the patient. For information regarding pricing, insurance, and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 18, 2022 @ 3:14 PM

  16. Do you have any suggestions for OCD related to blinking and swallowing? Also what supplements to take? Thanks!

    Comment by Julie — January 19, 2022 @ 3:41 AM

  17. Anyone here experience obsessive thoughts around food (when you ate, how much, how much you’re allowed to eat now et al)? These thoughts now extend to what supplements were or were not taken. The thinking occurs before being able to consume the next meal. This takes up a lot of time which needs to be spent being productive with work & enjoying life.

    Comment by Pia Chelton — January 19, 2022 @ 1:26 PM

  18. Hello Julie, thank you for reaching out. There are several of blogs that discuss OCD on the Amen Clinics website that you may find helpful. You can find them here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 19, 2022 @ 4:40 PM

  19. I got this compulsive thinking bad. Being a farmer you think 3 days in advance. Now I over do it, I’m out of control.

    Comment by Mark Dubben — January 19, 2022 @ 8:56 PM

  20. I have Uncontrollable Urges to Binge Eat. I spend $20 -$30 a day buying Fast Food. I have been on Keto diet, allowing me to lose 100 lbs in 18 months. Keto diet is low Carbs High fat and Protein, totally opposite of the Dietary aid you mentioned. Is there a correlation between OCD and Keto?

    Comment by Max — January 20, 2022 @ 8:13 AM

  21. You mentioned supplements that could help. I’ve had this issue before, ex. Driving my car off a bridge etc. (Not suicidal) years ago but they went away . Within the last 7mths or so the images that plague me are vile! 😑 I want them gone! What are the supplements? I have used imagery and redirection. It might help temporary but it’s not a permanent fix. A supplement to help would be awesome!

    Comment by Kymberly — January 20, 2022 @ 11:12 AM

  22. For a long time I have wondered what was wrong with me. This article explained it. I wish I could afford to be a patient but fund’s are too tight. Can you give other ways to stop the problem?

    Comment by Judy Johnson — January 21, 2022 @ 11:03 PM

  23. I really appreciate Dr Amen for sharing such valuable information. I’ve had OCD most of my life. It is a monstrous, immemsely comlex type in which my mind desperately tries making sense of “how we process vision”, these are questions reserved for Gods, yet because of ocd, i’m obligated to continue suffering. I would not be alive if it weren’t for GOD given supplements. These are the ones that provide enough relief for me to move on: St Johns Wart, Tryptophan, 5-htp, and recently, I discovered new research shows NAC to be also very helpful because of the implications of GLUTAMATE in the brain. Blessings, please dont give up, new science looks promising; if i can do it, so can you!

    Comment by francisco — January 25, 2022 @ 5:52 PM

  24. Hello Kymberly, thank you for reaching out. You can find Dr. Daniel Amen’s recommended brain-directed supplements here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 26, 2022 @ 9:24 AM

  25. ERP NOCD online treatment affordable and does take insurance…supplements trying 5thp and next going to try inositol. Hope this helps I have had OCD all my life.

    Comment by Joanne — April 1, 2022 @ 5:21 AM

  26. OCD is best treated with ERP – Exposure and Response Prevention. That is the gold standard of treatment. While there is not a cure for OCD, is it highly treatable and you can learn to manage it and live a full life.

    Comment by Dani — April 1, 2022 @ 8:40 AM

  27. I have suffered for years…Had a couple bad accidents which I think contributed…Would like to try anything

    Comment by Chris Powell — April 1, 2022 @ 10:03 PM

  28. i have ocd; Friend's sis, post partum-killed her baby; my babies were lil; so I LIVED daily w FEAR, i'd do that too; my other friend too; i'm having cathartic emotions, reading this, sitting here CRYING!! i can't recall if i did or not share w friends, but lived w them-even when kids grew up; Hate-e those ugly thots; religious too, Always, God will strike w lightning, so to speak; & cleaning; Most grateful for catharsis, Dr Amen's article. & Yes, re ANTS & Images. THANK You! Thank you! Thank you!

    Comment by teresa baumgartner — November 30, 2022 @ 11:11 AM

  29. Acceptance to intrusive thoughts is key to overcoming OCD, in my opinion. In a world where we are bombarded with negative images and information daily, it is no wonder we can easily get stuck on negative intrusive thoughts when the creep in. But no thought is all bad or all good. Accept that a thought is a just a thought and has no value in who you are as a person, your character or that you will actually have or do whatever it is. Start the ritual of taking the thought out of your head by writing it down on a piece of paper and crumbling it up and throwing it in the garbage. It is empowering the symbolism this gives.

    Comment by Nancy — April 17, 2023 @ 6:54 AM

  30. TMG!!!! trimethylglycine!! BrainMD sells it. It’s $12 or $13!!!!!

    Comment by Joan — October 6, 2023 @ 9:25 PM

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