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. Good morning and thank you for a great article.

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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

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