Racing thoughts are something that we may have encountered at some point when nerves are high. But racing thoughts that are persistent can present a problem. What exactly are racing thoughts? And what can we do to help cope with them? Keep reading to learn more.
What are Racing Thoughts?
If you find yourself frequently worrying, feeling restless and agitated, or experiencing intense feelings of fear or anger that overwhelm your ability to cope with your thoughts, you may be suffering from racing thoughts. It can also be especially hard to keep a positive mindset when you have racing thoughts.
Racing thoughts are a fast-paced bout of thoughts that seem to come quickly and out of nowhere. A racing thought can be negative, positive or neutral in nature. Some people describe this as experiencing something like free-floating anxiety, where they feel a general sense of uneasiness with no context for the experience.
A person might suddenly notice that they are experiencing racing thoughts because it is an abrupt change from feeling content or calm. This can be disconcerting , as they may find themselves suddenly cast adrift in a storm of uneasy feelings and concerns.
Key Symptoms of Racing Thoughts
If you have racing thoughts you may feel like:
- Your mind is in overdrive
- You aren’t able to slow down your thoughts.
- Your mind isn’t able to “shut off,” and you can’t fully relax.
- It’s difficult to focus on anything else.
- You are repetitively thinking about a problem
- You are catastrophising, or thinking of worst-case scenarios.
Racing Thoughts Examples
- I have a big test/presentation coming up and I’m going to mess up or get it wrong.
- I can’t believe I said X, I must have sounded so silly .
- I wonder what they are thinking about me. I think they hate me.
- I deserve nothing.
What Causes Racing Thoughts?
There are multiple reasons why someone might experience racing thoughts. Typically this occurs when a person feels overwhelmed with worry, fear or even anger. It’s possible to become so caught up in these feelings that they feel out of control. Racing thoughts can be distressing because they seem impossible to turn off.
Racing thoughts can be one of the early warning signs of poor mental health or an underlying mental health problem.
Someone might experience racing thoughts because they are repeatedly going over the same problems or challenges. This type of behavior could be described as repetitive negative thinking, which occurs when an individual goes round and round thinking about the same negative issues. Even if they try to think of something else, their mind constantly returns to the original topic.
For example, someone who is experiencing racing thoughts because of repetitive negative thinking might go over a conflict at work again and again, turning it over in their mind. They may worry that they did or said the wrong thing, even though they may have discussed it with their manager. People who are experiencing negative thinking due to low self-esteem may fixate on past embarrassments or mistakes. They might also think about what they perceive to be wrong with them, instead of recognising their positive attributes.
In the workplace, racing thoughts can often be caused by burnout. You can help to prevent this by learning how to spot burnout in its early stages and reaching out to get the right workplace mental health support.
Related Reading: Managing Cognitive Distortions
Racing Thoughts: How To Cope
The 54321 Technique
The 54321 technique helps focus the mind on something other than your racing thoughts, bringing you back into the present moment and helping you cope with your emotions.To practise the 54321 technique in times of distress, name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. The idea being that it helps you calm your nervous system.
Focus on Your Breath
Racing thoughts can be a symptom of anxiety, which can be alleviated with mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness can be used wherever you are, any time of day.
When thoughts are racing, it’s easy to get caught up in a chaotic spiral, unable to catch a grip of the present moment. One of the simplest ways to practice mindfulness in this situation is to turn your attention to your breath. Really focus on the sensations of your breathing, from the air entering your nose all the way down to it filling your lungs. You can also utilise breathing techniques or mindfulness apps like Headspace to help with this.
Utilise Cold Water
According to the TIPP (Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, Paired Muscle Relaxation) distress tolerance technique, reducing your temperature can help calm your nervous system and its accompanying racing thoughts. You can do this by splashing cold water on your face or back of your neck to cool yourself down. Utilising the other parts of this technique (intense exercise, paced breathing and paired muscle relaxation) makes this especially effective.
Journalling can help you manage anxiety and reduce stress and is a widely used tool in the mental health community. When your thoughts are racing, it can be hard to grasp how you’re really feeling about a situation. You can use a journal to ‘brain dump’ all of your thoughts, then take a step back and find some distance from them. You can even rip the page out and throw it out afterwards if you find this process helpful.
Practice Simple Affirmations
When your thoughts are racing, a simple mantra or affirmation can be effective at focusing your mind and calming you down. Try repeating one (or a few) of the suggestions below out loud, or create your own affirmations to utilise when your thoughts start to feel out of control. Here are a few simple affirmation suggestions for racing thoughts:
- I am safe and in control.
- This will pass.
- I am capable of overcoming whatever challenges come my way.
- Tomorrow is a new day.
Boost Your Understanding of Mental Health & Wellbeing
Boosting your understanding of mental health and wellbeing is a key step to help take preventative measures to your racing thoughts. There are many ways you can do this, including:
- Completing a Mental Health First Aid or Mental Health Awareness course.
- Reading mental health books.
- Engaging in the mental health community on social media.
Enquire About Workplace Mental Health Support
The way your company approaches mental health at work can have a huge impact on your anxieties and racing thoughts. Poor mental health awareness and support at work can lead to burnout, a leading cause of workplace racing thoughts. Does your workplace offer mental health support or mental health first aid training? If they don’t, it might be time to approach management or HR with an enquiry about doing so. Company-wide mental health training, alongside a safe and supportive company culture around mental health, is something that employers should be open to. Don’t be afraid to speak up for your mental health needs in the workplace!