Trigger warning – mental health, post-partum, anxiety, stress, intrusive thoughts, harm thoughts
Welcome to the second Mental Health Monday post and thank you for all the feedback from last week! I decided to write this post a few weeks ago following a conversation with a friend. She told me about some of the thoughts she had experienced as a new mum of falling down the stairs when holding the baby. This had recently come up for her again after being asked to hold a friend’s baby.
I immediately identified these as intrusive thoughts, and she seemed to experience relief when sharing them, even though it is now years later, as she realised they were really common. I then listened to one of my favourite podcasts, MotherKind and Zoe did an episode on this exact topic – so then I really had to write about it as I wanted to share this and help people understand what they are and how common they are.
I think a good place to start is defining what these kinds of thoughts are.
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts, impulses or mental images that often cause significant anxiety, stress and impairment within an individual’s ability to function. These thoughts may surround the fear of committing an act one consider to be harmful, violent, immoral, sexually inappropriate, or sacrilegious.peaceofmind.com
Four out of five people will experience intrusive thoughts at some time or another. They are particularly common in new parents with 91% reporting experiencing them.
They are often in two different forms –
Intrusive thoughts are not talked about and so many people feel that there must be something wrong with them when they have them, yet almost all of us will experience them at some point in our lives. In the current Instagram driven world of perfection we are fed on a regular basis, these types of thoughts can make us feel like we are going mad and that we must be horrible people and terrible parents.
The feelings of distress caused by these thoughts is one reason they stick around. Most thoughts enter our heads and leave again just as quickly, without us even noticing. The fact that intrusive thoughts cause this distress and leave us feeling guilty and shameful, indicates that they do not indicate a risk of you harming your baby or acting on these thoughts.
Obviously, post-partum psychosis is a serious mental illness and is classed as a medical emergency. You can find out more about that on the Tommy’s website
Hopefully the fact I have written this post and you can see that intrusive thoughts are extremely common will have already helped ease your mind a little. The reason intrusive thoughts can upset us so much is because they often lock on to the things we love the most Knowing this will help you understand why these thoughts are attaching themselves to certain things in your life,
Leave your front door and your back door open.
Allow your thoughts to come and go.
Just don’t serve them tea.Shunryu Suzuki
The way to tackle intrusive thoughts is to treat them like any other thought we have. By not fearing them, you are not giving them the power to make you feel the guilt and shame that they bring. Accept the thought, acknowledge them and then let them go. Don’t overthink them, don’t try and figure out what it means because this is just giving the thought more attention than it needs. By understanding that they will come up and cause us to feel uncomfortable, but they will pass, is really important.
One way of coping when experiencing intrusive thoughts is to use avoidance. This again is giving the thought the power. You are feeling guilty for something you haven’t even done. Every time you change your routine or behaviour, the thought will come up again. This will not stop the thoughts, but rather it will keep the cycle going.
Talking to someone may also help. As in my situation, my friend just got so much relief from being able to open up to me and realise she was not the only person having these thoughts and she was not going crazy. Intrusive thoughts can lead to OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Depression and Anxiety and if you feel your intrusive thoughts are getting on top of you, speaking to your GP or another healthcare professional (perhaps a health visitor if you are a new parent) may be beneficial. They may be able to suggest a suitable talking therapy or medication to help.
Some of these topics I could write about all day and still only be skimming the surface of, but I hope that Mental Health Monday is really helping some of you. I have a huge range of topics to talk about but if any of you have any ideas about what you would like to see me cover, please pop them in the comments below or email me at thespooniemummy@hotmail,.com. Wishing you all another safe week in lockdown,
This is a great idea. I’ll try and remember, if brain fog behaves. Thank you for sharing this information, intrusive thoughts affected me a lot as a new mum, especially when I suffered with PND. Are you aware of maternal mental health awareness week starting 4th May?
Yes, I have it written in my diary. Not sure what topic to do for it yet but Mental Health Monday post will be geared towards that! X
As someone who suffered for 6 years from OCD that revolved around intrusive thoughts and invisible mental compulsions, thank you for raising awareness. Had I known this was a symptom of a treatable mental illness and not a flaw in my character, I would have sought help sooner, been spared so much pain, and not had to diagnose myself. Awareness is so important!
Thank you so much for sharing that. I am glad you have been able to seek help for it now but sorry it took so long. Intrusive thoughts are a huge part of OCD and they can come before as a warning or as a symptom once you have it. My partner also struggles with OCD so know how stressful it can be. Hope you are well x
I’ve been having Intrusive thoughts since my first child’s birth, I had post natal depression but refused help because I was ashamed of myself for getting low (Its bizarre to me now thinking I did that) Recently I had my 2nd baby and those thoughts become horrific to the point I thought I was a psycho deep down and would wake up one day wanting to kill someone. I got help through my GP and turns out that these intrusive thoughts developed into ‘Harm OCD’ which then got worse, anxiety crept in then depression. I feel better now after 2 weeks on medication. Its so important that people don’t feel ashamed to speak up as sometimes we just need help to get balanced through therapy or medication its OK to accept help x
So pleased and proud that you have shared this and got help. I’m sure this will help so many reading this! Keep up the great work will be thinking of you xx
Thanks for spreading awareness on intrusive thoughts. I’m not a new parent, but I’ve struggled with intrusive thoughts too–mostly during times of change in my life. Which makes me wonder if times of great change in general leads to intrusive thoughts.
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Absolutely that makes sense! Big changes can cause many different mental health issues as we try and adjust to something new. I hope you are doing well at the moment and keeping safe x
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