We’ve all been there, that moment when our minds seem to have a mind of their own. Thoughts race, replay, and ricochet, leaving us feeling like we’re on an uncontrollable mental rollercoaster. These relentless thought patterns are commonly known as racing thoughts, and more often than not, anxiety is their driving force, according to Dr. Fairlee Fabrett, a psychologist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital.
Racing thoughts can be all-consuming, leading to constant worry about what’s pending, what’s been left undone, and what lies ahead. They might also manifest as obsessive reflections on the past, present, or future, trapping us in a never-ending cycle of unease and stress.
Breaking Free from Anxiety and Racing Thoughts
But how can you break this cycle and regain control over your racing thoughts? Here are five strategies that might provide you with some much-needed relief:
- Give Yourself Permission:
Paradoxically, racing thoughts often intensify when we stress about having them. By permitting yourself to experience them, you can reduce their grip on your mind. Dr. Fabrett suggests acknowledging that racing thoughts are just part of the mental noise that everyone encounters from time to time. This acknowledgment empowers you, making racing thoughts feel less daunting and more manageable.
- Get Mindful:
Practicing mindfulness can be a game-changer when it comes to altering thought patterns. Try focusing on your breath by counting each inhale and exhale with your eyes closed. This simple exercise can help you regain control over your thoughts. It’s especially useful before bedtime when rumination tends to peak. Practicing mindfulness during calmer moments can also prepare you for when racing thoughts strike.
- Distract Yourself:
When you catch yourself slipping into a cycle of repetitive worrying, make a conscious decision to divert your focus. Acknowledge your thought patterns and redirect your attention to an alternative activity like reading, listening to music, or calling a friend. Distracting yourself can be an effective way to interrupt the racing thought cycle.
- Get Moving:
Regular physical activity isn’t just a token piece of health advice; it’s a potent tool for alleviating anxiety. During a racing thoughts episode, try a brief burst of exercise like push-ups, jumping jacks, a short walk, or household chores. Physical activity not only breaks the racing thought cycle but also provides your mind with a fresh point of focus. Incorporating regular exercise into your routine can further help reduce anxiety and stress.
- Schedule Worry Time:
There are instances when allowing racing thoughts to run their course is the most effective approach. To achieve this, try scheduling designated “worry time.” When racing thoughts emerge, acknowledge them but remind yourself that it’s not the designated time to worry. Instead, choose a specific time to revisit and explore these thoughts later, without interruptions from other activities. Write down your thoughts, talk about them aloud, and dig into what makes you anxious. Confronting your anxiety head-on, but on your terms, can be a liberating experience. Set a time limit for worry time, say 10 to 20 minutes, and when that time is up, shift your focus.
If racing thoughts consistently disrupt your daily life or interfere with your sleep, it’s crucial to seek professional help. Dr. Fabrett emphasizes that recurring racing thoughts could be related to conditions like anxiety disorders, ADHD, OCD, trauma, or other mental health issues. Addressing these underlying concerns is the first step toward finding lasting peace and tranquility.
In conclusion, racing thoughts need not dominate your mind and life. By incorporating these strategies and understanding the root causes, you can gradually regain control over your thoughts and navigate your journey to inner calm and well-being.