8 Ways to Stop Racing Thoughts
If you have anxiety, chances are you’ve experienced racing thoughts! Racing thoughts are often thoughts that occur rapidly and spontaneously. For some, the thoughts are all connected to a central topic, while for others they seem random and on multiple topics. They can become overwhelming quickly and seem almost impossible to control. There are ways that will help though, so read on…
Let Me Count the Ways...
1. Focus on the here and now, rather than on either the future or the past. Anxiety will often lead you to think about horrible things that might happen in the future or to dwell on and magnify bad things that have happened in your past. If instead, you focus your attention on what’s happening right now, you can decrease your anxiety. The field of mindfulness encompasses this idea quite well and has several practices to help you with this. For instance, when you are watching a movie, put down your phone or tablet and focus fully on what’s happening in the movie. Or try a mindfulness walk. Again, put down your phone and focus on what’s occurring around you during your walk. Try to notice things in your immediate environment- what do you see? Smell? Hear?
2. Try a deep breathing exercise. Any of them will be helpful. A simple one to master is called square breathing and the technique is as follows:
1. Breathe out all the air in your lungs
2. Breathe in for a count of 4
3. Hold the air in for a count
4. Breathe out for a count of 4
5. Hold for a count of 4 before inhaling again
3. Try a simple mantra. Focusing on 1 simple, positive thought can help to calm your thinking and your emotions. Try one of these:
“It will be OK”
“Everything will be fine”
“I can get through this”
4. Exercise. Not only will exercise give you something different to focus on, but it will also help to balance the adrenaline and cortisol that anxiety and stress release into your body. One study showed that as little as 15 min of exercise can be beneficial. And, you can always make your exercise fun by choosing something that you enjoy. Think playing basketball with your bestie, swimming, rock climbing, bike riding, or playing tennis. Ex. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring repetitions.
5. Write down your thoughts. This one is especially good if your racing thoughts are keeping you up at night. Just keep some paper or a notepad near your bed and write down whatever thoughts are bothering you right before you turn off the lights. If nothing else, it allows you to dump all those thoughts onto a piece of paper so you will remember them in the morning.
6. Think of other options. With anxiety, you tend to either think in the future or in the past and when thinking in the future, people tend to catastrophize and think up the worst-case scenario. Instead, put your mind to thinking of more likely scenarios that can happen. For instance, if you get the thought of “I’m going to fail this test, then everyone will know I’m stupid. I’ll flunk out of school and won’t be able to get a good job. I’ll end up dependent on my parents forever!”. An alternate thought might be: Even if I fail this test, I’ll be able to talk to the teacher and see if he’ll let me do some extra credit. Worst-case scenario, I’ll have to take this class again, but will cost me some time and money, but doesn’t mean I’ll have to give up all my hopes for the future”.
7. Talk to your doctor about possible medications. Racing thoughts are a symptom of many different illnesses including ADHD, anxiety, depression, OCD, schizophrenia, and more. Your doctor can help you to figure out what’s going on and if any medications might help.
8. Use a distraction. Sometimes our minds get stuck like a broken record player and just keep repeating the same thought over and over again. If this happens, it can be very frustrating and can keep you from being productive or from getting your rest. Something to try is to distract yourself with an activity. The activities that work best are those that will hold your attention and will be specific to you. But think of any hobbies that you’ve enjoyed before, a game or sport that you find engrossing, even doing a crossword puzzle or word search might be enough to distract you from those persistent, racing thoughts.
If you have racing thoughts from anxiety, talking with a professional can help you learn new ways to cope. If you’d like to talk with me further about this topic, or would like anxiety treatment, please follow the link. I’d love to hear from you.