Do you struggle with racing thoughts?
Racing thoughts can take over your life and stop you from focusing on what really matters: your loved ones, the moment, or even your dreams and goals for the future. Racing thoughts can hijack your happiness, derail your productivity, and stop you from really showing up in a way that is reflective of your true self.
When my stress was at its worst, my thoughts were overwhelming, distractible, and intrusive. I had so many projects but such poor focus, I felt like I was constantly putting out fires.
Have you ever felt that way?
The good news is that there are effective strategies to stop racing thoughts.
If you want to feel calm, enjoy improved focus, and if you are ready to send your racing thoughts backstage and get your life back from racing thoughts, you’re in the right place.
In this article we are going to talk about:
While racing thoughts commonly occur with anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other medical conditions; you do not have to have a medical or mental/emotional condition in order to experience racing thoughts. In fact, there are many reasons your brain may be running on overdrive.
One of the key steps towards stopping your mind racing is to identify why your mind is racing to begin with.
Let me share with you a story:
Emily is the brand leader for a large company that she founded and owns. She has a massive social media presence, a large staff that coordinates conferences, publications, marketing, direct to business and direct to consumer relations. While Emily now has experts managing the different aspects of her business, Emily continues to be intimately involved in many of the inner workings of her company. Armed with an analytical mind, a keen ability to multitask, and many cups of caffeine each day, Emily has been described as a “machine,” in her energy and perseverance. But the Emily that sat across from me in my office revealed the flip side of the coin. When Emily went home at night, her brain continued to analyze, and multitask. Her thoughts became less exciting and more intrusive. Her blood pressure rose, and her hours of sleep declined. Emily was feeling “burned out.” She expressed a feeling of being “wired and tired.” Her thoughts raced, she had heart palpitations, and her creativity was plummeting.
Do you resonate with any of this? Feeling wired-tired, burned out, heart palpitations, racing thoughts?
What do you feel when your thoughts are the most out of control?
Untethered, Emily’s high-achieving traits fueled what turned out to be the dead end that ultimately forced her to slow down, re-evaluate her choices and re-train her brain.
The good news is that Emily turned the page in her chapter, and you can too.
There are many different (drug-free!) approaches for racing thoughts and I’ve consolidated
the best 6 tips for stopping racing thoughts.
A brain that is producing repetitive, annoying, intrusive, and disturbing thoughts is stuck in a record groove. It’s like a short circuit. In order to move out of this groove, we need to give the brain a little nudge, just like when the needle on the record gets stuck.
The most effective way to nudge the brain out of a loop is to engage the brain stem. The brain stem responds to stimuli, which we can find described in the 4S Model from the ACT Method. The 4S model includes: Scent, Scene, Sip, and Stimuli.
Scent: Changing the stimuli going into the nose will trigger a cascade of responses to the olfactory nerve, which is cranial nerve #1. Often scent can be used as a “reset button,” and you can use this to your advantage.
If you are getting stuck in intrusive thoughts or repetitive thoughts, inhaling a new scent can bring you out of your brain and into your body. I like to use therapeutic essential oils for this purpose. One of my favorites is clove, another is lavender, or citrus. You can simply sniff the oil, or apply it under your nose, on your wrist, or apply to the temples.
Learn more about the other tips in the 4S model by reading our blog Beat Anxiety In 3 Simple Steps.
Your brain is designed to be clear, sharp, and multitask when stress is high. But when this biological response goes out of control, like in the case of Emily, we see symptoms of anxiety, panic, OCD or insomnia.
One of the best tips for racing thoughts is to direct that excess cognitive energy out through the body. My favorite strategy is to use “sprint-burst” exercise. This is where you exercise vigorously for 30 seconds, and then allow your heart rate to return to normal for a few minutes. Repeat several times or until you notice your thoughts slowing down.
The sprint-burst approach is particularly useful because you are training your nervous system to spike and drop; so that when you need this ability most, your brain and body will know what to do.
A brain left to its own devices will produce all sorts of thoughts. Have you ever got a song stuck in your head? This is also referred to as an earworm. Ear worms are particularly annoying at bedtime, when you’re trying to fall asleep but Rick Astley’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up” is rolling around in your brain.
In this example, we have to replace the thoughts (or song) with a new mantra. One way to do this is by resting your gaze on a fixed spot and repeating a mantra on the inhale and exhale. For example, look at a tree, or a stone on the ground, and inhale “It’s,” and exhale, “Okay.” Playing music in the background may offer additional benefit.
Have you heard the phrase: “What you resist will persist”? Trying to ignore our thoughts is one of the reasons the brain messages can become repetitive and intrusive. Because it believes that what it is sharing is important and cannot be forgotten. Writing down your ideas and thoughts is a strategy to directly address what is coming up: Intentionally write it down, and then redirect or distract the brain.
Brain dumping in particular, is a strategy by which we write down everything that is coming into our thoughts. Whether it makes sense or not. Get it all out, put it on paper, and then put that paper away for safekeeping. This will help you directly deal with the thoughts instead of avoiding them, get things out of your head, and then mindfully put that thought away until you are ready to deal with it.
There are several cool reasons to breathe with bubbles. First of all, bubbles are great. Who doesn’t like bubbles? Second, we make bubbles by blowing slowly – which requires regulation of the breath. And thirdly, we get to see the outcome of our efforts; aka: A shiny pretty bubble.
I like to recommend you carry a small bottle of bubbles with you. If you feel anxious, irritable, hypomanic, restless or if your thoughts are starting to run out of control. Go outside, pull out your bubbles and slowly breathe the stress and overwhelm into the bubble.
If you don’t have bubbles, you can *imagine* blowing bubbles. Slowly exhale for 4 counts. Hold at the bottom for 4 counts. Inhale for 4 counts. Hold at the top for 4 counts.
This exercise will regulate your nervous system, increase your heart rate variability, and slow down your thoughts.
When you have anxious thoughts, repetitive thoughts, intrusive thoughts, and overwhelming thoughts you need to first address them, and then release them.
Let’s go back to the bubbles. As you exhale, exhale the thought into the bubble. Mindfully imagine breathing in, directing the air to the part of the body that feels the most amped, and exhale that feeling or image into the bubble. Then, release the bubble and watch it float away in the air, carrying that thought or tension with it.
You can do this with actual bubbles, or practice the mindful exercise. All you simply do, is inhale your breath into the thoughts, or disturbing physical sensations, and exhale them into the bubble, release that bubble and watch it get carried away.
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