Racing thoughts are quick-fire, repetitive thoughts that centre around a particular topic or situation. Although they are often associated with anxiety, panic attacks or other mental health conditions, they can also happen to anyone under duress or when experiencing high levels of stress.
Racing thoughts may be replays of painful events from the past. They may involve obsessing about things that might go wrong in the future. Or, they may be associated with habitual thinking patterns such as worry, indecisiveness or self-criticism. They may be a daily occurrence or an occassional annoyance.
This type of unhelpful thinking, in which the mind goes round and round in circles – reaching no conclusions and offering no resolution – can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. It can affect our ability to concentrate, disrupt sleep and prevent us from being present in the moment.
Due to the close connection between body and mind, racing thoughts tend to produce rapid and shallow breathing patterns. Taking deep conscious breaths can help to calm the mind. Use counting to keep the in and out breaths roughly equal in length. If you breath in to a count of 3 or 4, breath out to a similar count.
Another option is to use the phrases ‘breathing in’ and ‘breathing out’. Thoughts will continue to arise and grab your attention and that is OK. Simply notice that they are there and gently come back to the breathing and the counting, over and over if need be.
2. DROP YOUR RESISTANCE
The natural response when we have unpleasant thoughts racing around in our heads is to want to get rid of them. Ironically, it is the tendency to label them as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ – our resistance to them being there – that gives them so much power over us. Fighting them is like adding fuel to the fire. It only serves to make them stronger.
As you slowly breathe in and out, acknowledge that the thoughts are there and notice any resistance to them – your desire to get rid of them, for them to go away. What happens if you drop your judgement and allow them space to be there? What happens to a sad thought or a worry thought if you don’t mind that it is there?
3. FOCUS ON BEING PRESENT
Racing thoughts pull our attention into the past and future …replaying past scenarios over and over or projecting imagined future outcomes. Through keeping our attention fixed on the present moment, we rein the mind in and prevent it from wandering, prevent it from causing us trouble.
Focusing on the breath is one way of achieving this. You can also focus on the physical sensation of your feet on the floor or listening intently to the sounds in the room. Mindfulness is great tool to learn for helping us to overcome racing thoughts. The mind can only be focused on one thing at a time. Focusing on the present moment stops unhelpful thinking in its tracks.
4. USE A CALMING PHRASE
When your mind is flooded with activity, substitute the crowd of thoughts with one simple phrase such as “All is Well,” “Peace,” or “OM,” a mantra commonly used in India.
When your thoughts are racing – stop, take a deep breath, drop your resistance to them being there (there is nothing bad happening) and gently introduce your phrase. The mind may well start racing again straight away and that is OK. Let it do its thing. Keep bringing your focus back to the phrase. Giving the mind something concrete to focus on will stop it from wandering.
"Leave the mind in peace to do its thing and it will leave you in peace to do yours" - from Kick the Thinking Habit
5. QUESTION YOUR THOUGHTS
Racing thoughts often centre around beliefs such as: “ I am a failure,” “People don’t take me seriously,” or “John must think I am stupid.”
Beliefs are not facts. Learn to question these often unfounded
assumptions through asking yourself: “Do I know for sure that this is
true?” Is most cases, the answer will be: “No.” Look for evidence to
support the opposite. How do you feel when you believe what the mind is
saying? How do you feel if you don’t believe it?
If your tendency is to worry and to dwell on gloomy predictions for the future, ask yourself: “Do I know for certain that this is how things will turn out?” Again, the honest answer will be: “No, I have no idea what might happen in future.” Don’t believe everything the mind tells you. You may discover it tells a lot of lies!
Return To The Top Of This Page: Racing Thoughts
Return To The Homepage: Finding Happiness