ADHD Intrusive Thoughts: ADHD Symptom Spotlight

Demi Aspey
8 mins read
Aug 27, 2023

You're settled into a cosy corner of your home office, a cup of coffee, and the day's to-do list before you. 

Just as you're about to dive into the first task, a flood of random thoughts gushes into your mind: 

  • What if I made an error in the report I submitted last week? 
  • Did I accidentally leave the stove on? 
  • Why on earth did I say that during the team meeting yesterday?

Hello, ADHD intrusive thoughts! How you doing?

These thoughts can be WAY more than distractions.

For those of us with ADHD, they can be persistent, overwhelming, and deeply unsettling.

Take it from me, someone who battles them every single day!

But before we get into it, here's a POSITIVE thought: You are NOT your thoughts. 

You are the observer of your thoughts, and there's a significant difference between the two.

What are ADHD Intrusive Thoughts? 💭

Intrusive thoughts, in the context of ADHD, refer to unsolicited, involuntary thoughts, images, or feelings that emerge spontaneously within one's consciousness. 

While most people will occasionally grapple with such thoughts, for those with ADHD, they can be far more recurrent and difficult to brush aside.

Some research suggests there is a strong correlation between ADHD symptoms and the presence of intrusive thoughts, underscoring the intricate neurobiological mechanisms in play.

Our brains are constantly on the go, connecting the dots and going on tangents. It's no wonder we traverse an abyss of everything all at once.

It's exhausting, and I've found always rears its not-too-pretty head at the most unfortunate of times.

ADHD intrusive thoughts rearing their head

Understanding the Link Between ADHD and Intrusive Thoughts 📌

As you may know, ADHD has a complex relationship with many traits.

The pairing of ADHD and intrusive thoughts is unsurprisingly no different.

But a few other “folks” are contributing to the "intrusive project":


Many people with ADHD frequently grapple with heightened anxiety.

Anxiety creates a heightened emotional state, and intrusive thoughts are its biggest fan.

With anxiety's "guidance", fleeting concerns can become relentless ruminations.

ADHD intrusive thoughts and anxiety meme - Bernie Sanders asking for reassurance

Executive Function

ADHD impacts our brain's executive functions.

These functions are the good eggs in charge of organising, managing, and prioritising thoughts.

When these functions are compromised, controlling or dismissing those pesky intrusive thoughts becomes even more challenging.

The Manifestation of Intrusive Thoughts in Adults with ADHD 🫨

For adults with ADHD, these intrusive thoughts can manifest as sudden, overpowering concerns about past actions or potential future events.

Often, these thoughts might have little to no basis in reality, but they can feel incredibly immediate and genuine.

Our neurodiverse brains are magnificently creative, so you can bet they get straight to drafting stories of grandeur that would even give George R. R. Martin heart palpitations. 

Winter is coming? More like an abundance of ADHD intrusive thoughts is coming! 

ADHD intrusive thoughts are coming meme

Common Themes of ADHD Intrusive Thoughts 🔬

Intrusive thoughts, particularly in the context of ADHD, can revolve around a myriad of themes:

Performance anxieties: 

Excessive and undue concerns about work, tasks, or general performance.

ADHD intrusive thoughts related to task overthinking meme

Interpersonal interactions: 

Overanalysing past conversations, interactions, or fearing perceived judgments.

I think we've all fallen victim to replaying ten-year-old conversations in our heads while trying to fall asleep!

ADHD intrusive thoughts and overthinking meme

General fears and phobias: 

Thoughts about personal safety, well-being, health, or unexpected life events.

Let me share a little personal insight:

I used to work in a very...let's say, fragile environment.

After every meeting, I'd constantly obsess over whether I'd embarrassed myself or said something stupid. 

When receiving a new email, I'd instantly assume I've made a mistake, or someone was mad at me.

Each day, I always worried about job safety or if the powers that be were considering giving me the chop.

These powerful thoughts greatly disrupted my well-being, diminishing my self-esteem and clouding my daily life. Turns out, the environment was also the issue!

But on top of this, I struggle with ADHD intrusive thoughts the most in relationships.

While ADHD may cause manifestation, anxiety, past trauma and self-esteem issues are the source. 

And trust me, these thoughts will return with a vengeance until you locate where they originate from!

Unravelling the Origins of Intrusive Thoughts in Adults with ADHD 🧵

Emotional (dys)Regulation's Part

Now, you might be surprised to learn that a defining characteristic of ADHD is difficulty regulating emotions. It often gets brushed aside as the emotional factor of ADHD isn't considered an "official" symptom for diagnosis. 

But ask any well-versed ADHD practitioner, and they'll tell you it's one of the MOST common traits.

It's been heavily linked to why many people, especially women, get misdiagnosed with other mental health conditions.

ADHD intrusive thoughts and emotional regulation quote

Emotional challenges make it arduous to manage or sidestep powerful feelings or thoughts. 

An inability to manage and process emotions can amplify these thoughts, ensnaring individuals in a debilitating cycle of negativity.

Any related reactions or outbursts further add to the list of topics from where ADHD intrusive thoughts can breed. 

The Amplifying Effect of Stress

Stress acts like a magnifying lens for intrusive thoughts.

For someone with ADHD, the added challenge of managing daily tasks can amplify stress levels, further intensifying these unwarranted thoughts. 

A staple of reactiveness for those of us with ADHD is the compounding of stress multiplied by intrusive thoughts.

It has been noted that what we eventually react to is often not the source of our anger, distress or upset.

Past Experiences, Traumas, and Memories

Dr. Gabor Mate, an expert physician, argues that while the development of ADHD might have a genetic component, it is determined by our environment and the impact of trauma and stress in particular.

Previous adverse experiences or deep-seated traumas can act as potent triggers, resurfacing memories and associated feelings when least expected.

It's where I struggle the most.

You develop a life script, and you can bet your mind will do everything to stick to it.

Sadly, the script's initial drafts are more of a tragedy than a hero's story.

My therapist actively encourages rewriting our life scripts. The past cannot be changed.

We can only learn from it and move forward.

Let go of what we have been conditioned to believe about ourselves and craft a new path based on self-appreciation, confidence and resilience.

The Role of Executive Function & Attention Regulation

With ADHD, impaired executive function means an added struggle in diverting attention away from these intrusive thoughts, making them all the more dominant.

Once the ADHD intrusive thoughts arrive, you can become hooked on them for hours, days, and sometimes weeks. 

Neurobiological Considerations

The very nature of ADHD, rooted in variances in brain structure and functionality, can influence the patterns and intensities of our thoughts. 

Yes, we can't fully change our brains, but hope is not lost.

We have more control than we believe.

We must master recognising intrusive thoughts, allowing them to stop by but promptly showing them the door if they start causing trouble!

Examples of ADHD Intrusive Thoughts 👀

Persistent Worries

These are recurring thoughts about potential negative outcomes or disasters with little to no basis in reality.

The Torrent of Racing Thoughts

An unstoppable flow of random thoughts that seems impossible to regulate or slow down.

The Spiral of Negative Self-talk

A continuous inner monologue that diminishes one's capabilities or exaggerates perceived flaws.

Strategies to Counteract ADHD Intrusive Thoughts 💪

Recognise and Address Your Triggers

Where do these thoughts come from?

Go deeper to equip yourself with strategies to avoid or better navigate certain situations.

Avoidance won't work. 

It's also beneficial to acknowledge these thoughts, devoid of judgment, facilitating better processing.

Let them have their say.

Sometimes, they might only be showing up because they are beckoning you to heal something. 

Other times, they may result from old habitual beliefs and thinking.

Allow them some space and reassure them that you're in control and appreciate their concern, but you have this.

The Power of Visualisation

When assailed by a negative thought, make a conscious effort to imagine a positive or neutral outcome.

Reason with them.

Put your mediation hat on, see the thought for what it is.

What if it's the worst outcome? Okay, but what if it's the best outcome? 

And if the thought is true, can you do anything to change the outcome positively?

If not, it's useful to accept it and move on.

Seek Constructive Distractions

Engage in absorbing activities or hobbies that demand your full attention, offering a respite from intrusive thoughts.

Exercise, hang out with loved ones, go for a walk, listen to music, write in a journal - whatever takes your fancy.

The key is it must be a positive distraction!

Embrace the Present: Mindfulness Techniques

Rooting yourself in the present can significantly reduce intrusive thoughts' grip over you.

ADHD intrusive thoughts might seem like a crystal ball of future situations, but they are scam artists.

Unless your name is Dr. Strange, the likelihood of predicting future outcomes is low. 

Take time to breathe properly to return to the present here and now.

Count five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. 

You can also try Deepwrk's body doubling app and check in with our ADHD coworking community.

Be mindful of meeting others where they are emotionally, openly communicate and see if anyone can offer strategies to stay anchored in the present moment.

Positive Thoughts 💜

We have millions of thoughts a day.

It's no surprise that many of them aren't based in the real world.

As I said at the start, we are NOT our thoughts.

Have the confidence to tackle unhelpful thoughts head-on and be brave in locating their source.

Treat yourself with compassion, be willing to question your negative beliefs, and tell it to be on its way if it doesn't bring you peace.

💡Final advice: Make peace with the past and only look back to see how far you've come.

It's changed my life completely.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are my intrusive thoughts indicative of OCD or ADHD?

While both conditions can present intrusive thoughts, their origin, patterns, and associated behaviours can differ. Seeking a healthcare professional's insight is crucial for an accurate diagnosis.

Navigating the challenges of ADHD and the associated intrusive thoughts doesn't reflect one's worth or capabilities. 

Harnessing the right strategies, accessing resources like Deepwrk's accountability partner app, and leaning on supportive communities can make this journey more manageable. 

Always remember, you are infinitely more than a collection of your thoughts.

What can I do to mitigate my ADHD intrusive thoughts?

There are several strategies, from recognising triggers to mindfulness practices and positive visualisations, that can help tame these thoughts.

Could ADHD medication alleviate intrusive thoughts?

Some medications primarily prescribed for ADHD symptoms might indirectly positively impact intrusive thoughts. However, it's paramount to consult a medical professional for tailored advice.

Is it common for people with ADHD to experience intrusive thoughts?

Absolutely. Many individuals diagnosed with ADHD often grapple with intrusive thoughts more intensely and recurrently than those without the disorder.

Should I feel guilty about having intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are a universal human experience and don't reflect on one's character. Feeling guilty for something beyond one's control is unwarranted. We need to be mindful of acting upon intrusive or negative thoughts. Learn to combat them or let them go.

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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.