What are weird thoughts during anxiety?
Experiencing anxiety is very common. In fact, over 40 million adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder every year. When someone has anxiety, it can cause them to have unusual or strange thoughts that might seem "weird" to others. Understanding some of the common weird thoughts during anxiety can help normalize the experience.
- Common Types of Strange Thoughts with Anxiety
- Why Does Anxiety Cause Weird Thoughts?
- How to Cope With Unusual Thoughts from Anxiety
- Examples of Weird Thoughts with Different Anxiety Disorders
- When to Seek Help for Anxious Thinking
- Tips for Coping with Weird Anxious Thoughts
Frequently Asked Questions About Weird Thoughts With Anxiety
- Why do I have bizarre thoughts even though I've never had them before?
- How do I know the difference between regular thoughts and weird anxious thoughts?
- Can weird thoughts be a sign of going crazy or losing your mind?
- Do weird thoughts mean I'm a bad person?
- How often do people with anxiety disorders have strange thoughts?
- Can certain medications help with weird anxious thoughts?
- Will I always struggle with odd thoughts if I have anxiety?
- Should I share my weird thoughts with loved ones?
- When should I consider therapy for disturbing thoughts?
- What’s the most effective way to respond to weird anxious thoughts?
- Resources used to write this article
Common Types of Strange Thoughts with Anxiety
There are many different types of odd or irrational thoughts that people with anxiety often have. Here are some of the most common categories:
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, disturbing thoughts that seem to come "out of the blue." They are inconsistent with the person's true character and desires. Intrusive thoughts are one of the hallmarks of anxiety disorders, especially OCD.
Common intrusive thoughts with anxiety include:
- Fear of unintentionally harming others
- Sexual thoughts that seem abnormal or distressing
- Violent or horrific imagery
- Taboo religious thoughts
- Fear of behaving inappropriately
Even though the content of intrusive thoughts often distresses people, they are harmless. The anxiety causes the person to read meaning and importance into thoughts that aren't reflective of reality.
Anxiety can also lead to deep, existential questions and fears about life, death, and the nature of reality. These philosophical thoughts are unsettling because they challenge people's usual understanding of the world.
Existential weird thoughts with anxiety may include:
- Questioning the meaning of life
- Feeling that life lacks purpose
- Fear of death or dying
- Feeling that the world is unreal or imaginary
- Concerns that everything one knows is false
While existential concerns are common, in anxiety they become excessive, negative rumination. The abstract nature of existential thoughts makes them difficult to resolve.
Magical thinking refers to believing that one's thoughts, words, or actions can influence events in ways that defy the normal laws of cause and effect.
Anxious magical thinking may involve:
- Believing your thoughts can make bad things happen
- Avoiding certain words or numbers to prevent harm
- Thinking you attracted illness or misfortune through negativity
- Feeling your anxiety will manifest physically if you think about it too much
This type of thought process is considered an anxiety-driven cognitive distortion. In reality, thoughts alone cannot cause bad outcomes.
Many people with anxiety experience irrational health-related thoughts, known as hypochondriasis. This involves an intense preoccupation with fears about having a serious undiagnosed illness.
Common hypochondriacal thoughts include:
- Interpreting normal bodily sensations as symptoms of disease
- Fearing trivial anomalies like spots or swallowing difficulty signal serious problems
- Thinking every headache is a brain tumor
- Googling symptoms and believing the worst-case scenario
- Assuming the likelihood of developing a condition with no rational basis
Hypochondriacal thoughts are often referred to as "catastrophizing" normal bodily functions. In anxiety, the mind latches onto the possibility of illness in the absence of real evidence.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Weird Thoughts?
There are several explanations for why anxiety manifests in strange thoughts:
- Hypervigilance - Anxiety puts the brain on high alert for potential threats. This makes people over-focus on insignificant thoughts and sensations that wouldn't grab attention otherwise.
- Negativity bias - Anxious individuals tend to have an inherent bias towards negative interpretation. Harmless thoughts get perceived as dangerous or distressing.
- Feelings of losing control - Anxiety sufferers often feel their mind is being "taken over" by foreign thoughts. This causes further distress.
- Overthinking - Anxiety promotes excessive rumination about potential problems. Overanalysis leads to unrealistic thinking patterns.
- Misdirection of fight-or-flight response - Anxiety activates the body's primitive survival response when no real threat exists. Strange thoughts help justify the physiological reaction.
- Cognitive distortions - In anxiety, emotionally-charged thoughts override logic. This allows unreasonable thinking to flourish.
- Uncertainty intolerance - Not knowing the meaning of odd thoughts can provoke further anxiety. The mind searches for explanations to reduce uncertainty.
How to Cope With Unusual Thoughts from Anxiety
Despite how vivid and intense they feel, the weird thoughts accompanying anxiety are not dangerous in themselves. Some strategies to manage them include:
Recognize Thoughts as Symptoms
Remind yourself that the strange thoughts are just manifestations of anxiety - they do not have significance beyond that. Labeling them as symptoms can help disempower the thoughts.
Accept and Let Them Pass
Don't try to fight or suppress the thoughts, as this gives them more attention and power. Instead, accept that they are occurring as a result of anxiety. Let them come and go naturally without judgment.
Focus on the Present
Bring your focus to your immediate external environment using your senses. Look around and note what you see, listen for ambient sounds, feel your body's contact with the ground, etc. This grounds you in the present and pulls attention away from your thoughts.
Reality-Test Your Thoughts
Check in with whether your anxious thoughts align with reality. Ask yourself - are they plausible, probable, and evidence-based? Does thinking this way help or harm you? Reality-testing puts space between you and your thoughts.
Talk Back to Your Thoughts
Don't allow anxious thoughts to go unchallenged. Talk back rationally about why they are illogical and overly catastrophic. Imagine responding with compassion, as you would to a friend who needs reassurance.
Keep Moving Forward
Don't get sidetracked trying to resolve every weird thought. Let them go and continue to move forward with your day and focus on meaningful activity. The thoughts will pass more readily once anxiety reduces.
Seek Help From Your Support System
Speaking to trusted friends and family can provide perspective when you feel alone with your anxious thoughts. Sharing the thoughts with others helps externalize and defuse them.
If intrusive thoughts become very frequent or distressing, seeking help from a mental health professional can also be beneficial. Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy focus on addressing thought patterns contributing to anxiety. Some medications may also be appropriate for relieving obsessive thoughts and rumination.
Examples of Weird Thoughts with Different Anxiety Disorders
The type of irrational thoughts experienced can vary depending on the specific anxiety disorder:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- "What if I lose my job and end up homeless?"
- "I'm going to get sick because I touched that doorknob."
- "My heart is beating too fast - I must be having a heart attack."
Social Anxiety Disorder
- "Everyone will think I'm stupid if I talk."
- "I don't fit in with anyone here."
- "People must be judging my appearance."
- "This dizzy feeling means I'm going to faint."
- "I'm going to lose control and embarrass myself."
- "I must be going crazy."
- "If I don't count to 10, something terrible will happen."
- "I need to keep washing my hands or they'll become contaminated."
- "I'm a horrible person for thinking that."
- "I can't trust anyone because they might hurt me."
- "I'm permanently damaged because of my trauma."
- "The world is a completely dangerous place."
- "The mole on my skin looks cancerous."
- "This headache is going to cause a stroke."
- "I must have a serious illness that doctors are missing."
The specific thought content can be highly variable between individuals. But the underlying theme of irrationality and improbability remains consistent.
When to Seek Help for Anxious Thinking
Occasional strange thoughts from anxiety are not necessarily a problem. However, you may want to consider seeking professional mental health support if:
- The thoughts are very frequent, persistent, and difficult to dismiss
- The thoughts significantly disrupt your daily functioning and ability to concentrate
- You engage in compulsive or avoidant behavior to cope with the thoughts
- The thoughts heighten your overall anxiety and distress
- You fear you might act on certain disturbing thoughts
- The thoughts heighten depression, hopelessness, or suicidal thinking
A licensed therapist can work with you to decrease anxious rumination and respond to thoughts in a more balanced, constructive way. Medications may also help if obsessive thinking is severe.
Tips for Coping with Weird Anxious Thoughts
- Remember that the thoughts are just manifestations of anxiety, not reality.
- Practice letting the thoughts pass through your mind without reacting or judging.
- Focus on external sensory details like sights and sounds instead of internal thoughts.
- Question whether the thoughts are logical and evidence-based.
- Talk back rationally and compassionately to counter the thoughts.
- Stay focused on constructive life activities instead of trying to "resolve" every thought.
- Confide in trusted loved ones to help externalize the thoughts.
- Seek therapy if the thoughts become unmanageable or heighten other mental health issues.
Experiencing odd or irrational thoughts is very common with anxiety disorders. Intrusive thoughts, existential concerns, magical thinking, and hypochondriacal fears are some examples. While the content of the thoughts differs between individuals, the overall theme remains the same - anxiety distorts thinking to expect exaggerated threats.
Strange thoughts can be scary when one feels unable to control them. But they do not define a person or their character. With anxiety management skills and therapy, most people can learn to let go of anxious thinking patterns and regain perspective. Recognizing that the thoughts are simply a product of mental distress, and do not signify danger, is the first step.
What are weird thoughts during anxiety?
- Anxiety commonly causes strange, irrational thoughts like intrusive thinking, existential concerns, magical thinking, and hypochondriacal fears.
- The biology of the anxious response explains the thought distortions - hypervigilance, negativity bias, feelings of losing control, overthinking, and the fight-flight response misfiring.
- Coping involves recognizing the thoughts as just anxiety, letting them pass, focusing externally, reality-testing, talking back rationally, staying active, and seeking help if needed.
- Specific thought content varies by individuals and disorders. But the theme of exaggerated perception of threat remains consistent.
- Occasional strange thoughts are normal, but may warrant help if they become very disruptive, persistent, and distressing.
Frequently Asked Questions About Weird Thoughts With Anxiety
Why do I have bizarre thoughts even though I've never had them before?
Having strange, intrusive thoughts is very common with anxiety even if you’ve never experienced them before. Anxiety distorts thinking and causes exaggerated threat responses. The content of the thoughts is less important than recognizing they are a symptom of your anxiety and don’t define you.
How do I know the difference between regular thoughts and weird anxious thoughts?
Regular thoughts have a logical basis, relate to your actual concerns and interests, and align with your core values. Weird anxious thoughts often feel intrusive, distressing or unacceptable, and are exaggerated or implausible. Anxious thoughts tend to grab your attention against your will.
Can weird thoughts be a sign of going crazy or losing your mind?
No, strange thoughts by themselves are not an indicator you are losing your mind or grip on reality. The vast majority of people with anxiety experience odd thoughts without actually becoming psychotic. Recognize them as a manifestation of anxiety unless other more severe symptoms emerge.
Do weird thoughts mean I'm a bad person?
Not at all. The content of weird anxious thoughts is not reflective of who you really are. Having an unacceptable thought does NOT mean you will act on it or that you secretly harbor dark desires. Anxious thoughts are meaningless intrusions, not insights into your character.
How often do people with anxiety disorders have strange thoughts?
Most people with diagnosed anxiety have frequent unusual thoughts, especially those with OCD or panic disorder. In a study of OCD patients, 94% reported experiencing intrusive thoughts. The prevalence underscores these thoughts are related to anxiety itself, not individual flaws.
Can certain medications help with weird anxious thoughts?
Yes, medications like SSRIs, SNRIs, and benzodiazepines may curb anxious thinking patterns for many people. They balance brain chemistry linked to rumination and obsessive thoughts. Therapy techniques are also crucial for changing thought habits long-term.
Will I always struggle with odd thoughts if I have anxiety?
Not necessarily. Many people find their strange thoughts fade as they recover from anxiety through lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication if needed. Reducing overall anxiety levels lessens thought distortions. However, intermittent unusual thoughts may persist and require ongoing skills to manage.
Should I share my weird thoughts with loved ones?
If you're comfortable doing so, confiding in close family and friends can help provide perspective and show you’re not alone. Sharing anxious thoughts with trusted loved ones helps demystify them and reinforces that others have bizarre thoughts at times too. Avoid over-sharing if it makes you very self-conscious.
When should I consider therapy for disturbing thoughts?
See a therapist if your odd thoughts are very frequent, upsetting, and difficult to cope with on your own. A professional can provide cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness techniques to reduce anxious rumination. If thoughts heighten depression or thoughts of self-harm, or prevent normal functioning, definitely pursue help.
What’s the most effective way to respond to weird anxious thoughts?
Don’t react with too much alarm and try not to obsess over the thoughts or their meaning. The most effective approach is to accept the thoughts as temporary anxiety symptoms, turn your attention externally to the present moment, and redirect your mental focus onto constructive activities.
Resources used to write this article
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2014). Strange thoughts? Don't panic. https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/strange-thoughts-dont-panic
Hirschtritt, M. E., Bloch, M. H., & Mathews, C. A. (2017). Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Advances in diagnosis and treatment. JAMA, 317(13), 1358–1367. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2017.2200
Mancebo, M. C., Eisen, J. L., Grant, J. E., & Rasmussen, S. A. (2005). Obsessive compulsive personality disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder: Clinical characteristics, diagnostic difficulties, and treatment. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 17(4), 197–204. https://doi.org/10.1080/10401230500295305
Purdon, C., & Clark, D. A. (1994). Obsessive intrusive thoughts in nonclinical subjects. Part I. Content and relation with depressive, anxious and obsessional symptoms. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 32(8), 713–720. https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7967(94)90001-9
Wheaton, M. G., Abramowitz, J. S., Berman, N. C., Riemann, B. C., & Hale, L. R. (2010). The relationship between obsessive beliefs and symptom dimensions in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48(10), 949–954. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2010.05.027