Stress is an inevitable part of life. Work, family, personal goals, or many other things can cause stress, and sometimes that stress can result in serious health problems. One of these problems is racing thoughts, which can stress you out even more, and even keep you from sleeping at night. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to stop racing thoughts.
What Are Racing Thoughts?
Racing thoughts are a spiraling chain of thoughts that lead from one idea to the next. These are usually negative thoughts, and most of the time they are untrue. They can be related to work, money, relationships, and more.
Racing thoughts, also known as rumination, is where the mind plays out the worst case scenario expecting to result in a better outcome. When the scenario doesn’t result in a better outcome, the mind plays out the worst case scenario again, usually with no resolve. It’s a negative effect of the mind’s natural inclination to problem-solve.
Racing thoughts usually start with a single negative thought and then jumps to another negative thought. This chain leads to a thought spiral that can get out of control. Often these thoughts are related to finances and work stress, but can be just about anything. It’s important to remember that these thoughts are often untrue, or exaggerations of reality.
What Triggers Racing Thoughts?
The leading cause of racing thoughts is stress. When work, finances, and personal commitments pile up, your thoughts can turn to play out the worst case scenario. While there’s nothing wrong with being prepared for things not going well, racing thoughts tend to play out unrealistic situations, and can trap you in a downward spiral.
Too much work without enough relaxation, tight finances or family struggles are common causes of thought spirals. Some mental disorders like bipolar disorder or Post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to racing thoughts. Some people can even experience different ways of racing thoughts without any outside stress or disorder. Racing thoughts are a common result of stress and are able to be treated and prevented with a number of tactics.
Insomnia and Other Negative Effects of Racing Thoughts
Racing thoughts can make you even more stressed out, can increase your anxiety, and reduce your productivity. Rarely do they actually help you think of your situation clearly, and instead make you think of your work life or personal commitments as more daunting than they actually are. They are even one of the most common causes of insomnia, which can affect your health even more through sleep deprivation.
The increased stress and loss of sleep from racing thoughts can have adverse health effects, including increased blood pressure, or an impacted immune system. You may even have trouble focusing at work and may be irritable and cranky. These effects can create a positive feedback loop, making you more susceptible to experiencing more racing thoughts.
Ways to Stop Racing Thoughts
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to stop racing thoughts. Disarming the thought spiral and calming yourself is the most important thing to do, so try these tips and ways to stop racing thoughts:
1. Focus On the Present
Racing thoughts tend to have you thinking of your future plans, worries, and more. This takes all of the stress from the future and puts it on you in the present. If you find yourself beginning to think of your future plans, take a moment to focus on what you’re doing right now.
Whether you are at work or at home, focusing on the present helps you to slow your thought spiral down. Focusing on your work at hand can be relaxing and productive, making you less likely to return to your thought spiral.
2. Take a Deep Breath
Breathing can often become quick and shallow during a thought spiral, causing more anxiety and accelerating your racing thoughts. Taking a slow, deep breath can break this momentum and help you to calm down. Continue to breathe slowly until you feel you are completely calm.
Breathing exercises are a common holistic health remedy, so consider practicing deep breathing cycles. When paired with meditation, deep breathing exercises can help prevent recurring instances of racing thoughts, and help reduce stress and anxiety overall.
3. Repeat a Mantra
Coming up with a mantra and repeating it can help stop racing thoughts. It can be a simple, meaningful phrase that can soothe you, distract you from your negative thought spiral, and help you remain calm afterward.
Mantras can even be useful outside of racing thoughts, helping you to remain focused at work, or dedicated to your personal struggles. Mantras can be deeply meaningful, so experiment with different phrases that help you get on top of your responsibilities.
Writing forces you to slow your thinking down, which can really help with racing thoughts. You can write down your thoughts as you have them, or you can try to write down the problems that they are addressing. If your thought spiral is about finances, try writing out your financial situation. If it’s about a work project, try writing down a schedule for the project.
Writing things out can help you plan ahead, which can lower your overall stress. Practice writing your schedule, projects, and more down to help stop yourself from becoming too overwhelmed. You may even find yourself finishing your projects faster and more efficiently.
5. Practice Cognitive Distancing
Cognitive distancing is the practice of separating yourself from your thoughts. When you begin to have a thought chain that feels unrealistic or overwhelming, remember that the thoughts aren’t real. Cognitive distancing will help you prevent a thought spiral from progressing, and can soothe you once you’ve separated yourself from the thoughts.
It may take a few attempts to work up the strength to fully separate yourself from your thoughts. If you suffer from frequent episodes of racing thoughts, though, you may find yourself able to effectively stop a thought spiral through cognitive distancing.
6. Be Proactive
If you frequently experience racing thoughts, it can help to recognize the beginning of a thought spiral. If you notice the start of racing thoughts, take action to stop them. Distracting yourself, changing what you’re thinking about, or any other technique can be vital to proactively handle racing thoughts.
Being proactive can even include reducing your overall workload. Overworking yourself has been shown to have many negative health effects according to Time Magazine, so reducing anxiety and unhealthy stress in your life comes with a number of health benefits, including a reduced likelihood of experiencing racing thoughts.
Hobbies are excellent outlets for stress, pent-up energy, and boredom. This can lower stress to begin with, preventing racing thoughts, and can be a distraction if you’re starting to have a thought spiral. Hobbies also tend to be low stress, so they can add more soothing thoughts to your thought chain.
Hobbies can have other health benefits, depending on what they are. Physical activities like biking or exercise can improve your fitness, while creative hobbies like writing or art can provide a creative outlet. These benefits are good for both your physical and mental health, further reducing your likelihood to experience racing thoughts.
Meditation is a highly valuable mental health tool. Whether it’s meditating regularly to prevent racing thoughts or meditating during a thought spiral to stop them, it’s an invaluable resource. Meditation focuses on inward contemplation, and achieving serenity, and comes with many other benefits.You can meditate by sitting quietly and focusing on your thoughts, or in a variety of other, more active ways.
Meditation can be a simple activity that you fit in your free time at work, or it can be a dedicated part of your schedule. Some people experience different benefits, so experimenting with inflection and meditation can help you figure out what form of meditation helps you cope with stress.
9. Distract Yourself
Sometimes the best solution to stop racing thoughts is to stop thinking altogether. Finding a distraction is easy, and can even be productive and healthy in addition to stopping a thought spiral. Watching a movie, doing some chores, working on your hobby, or any activity that distracts you can stop a thought chain.
Distracting yourself from a thought spiral can be one of the most immediate ways to stop racing thoughts. Taking your mind off of your work, money, or family will make you less stressed, and can help you separate yourself from a negative thought chain.
10. Eliminate Stress Before Sleep
Racing thoughts tend to occur when you’re trying to sleep. Without anything keeping you occupied, you’re left to your thoughts, which is prime for thought chains to start. This can be made even worse if you’re working right up until bed, so eliminating stress before trying to sleep will help stop racing thoughts.
Taking an hour before bed to stop working, avoid looking at your phone, and relax will help you stay calm and de-stressed before sleeping. This will help prevent insomnia induced by racing thoughts, ensuring a full night of sleep. This can reduce your stress, making you better equipped to take on your day.
11. Stay Calm
It can be easy to panic when all you can think about is the worst case scenario of things, but this will make a thought spiral worse. If you recognize racing thoughts, staying calm will make stopping them much easier. It isn’t easy, but remaining calm and rational will be the quickest way to slow down and disarm a thought chain.
Reducing stress and anxiety in your life will make remaining calm during a thought spiral easier. When you’ve remained calm, you’re better able to asses the situation. From here, you can take the best steps to stop your racing thoughts.
Racing thoughts can prevent you from taking on your work, financial, and personal responsibilities, and can make you feel anxious and uncomfortable. Disarming a thought spiral is important, and can prevent you from falling further into a mental pit. Focusing on yourself and remaining calm will help to stop your racing thoughts so you can move on to a more productive day.
It’s important to find a balance between work and relaxation, and racing thoughts could be a sign of an imbalance. Recognizing and eliminating the causes of your racing thoughts will make you overall happier, and make you less likely to experience racing thoughts.