Like a perpetual loop in the mind, racing thoughts can invade your sense of peace and be extremely destabilizing. These types of thought patterns tend to feed on themselves, one thought leading to the next and then the next, all connected by the common thread of worry, fear, or sadness. When racing thoughts are so pervasive that they crowd out rational thoughts, it can lead to serious impairment in functioning.
The thing about experiencing these racing thoughts that makes it so harmful is the amount of negative energy they produce. So much time, thought, and energy could be used for productive activities, yet these pessimistic thought patterns suck the life out of us. The constant barrage of stressed out thinking leads us to feel so defeated that there is no productive energy left.
When attempting to find a solution for the constant stream of racing thoughts it is important to first understand what all is feeding them. What kinds of triggers or stressors are revving up the occurrence of racing thoughts? Are you going through a serious life event? Are you not getting sufficient sleep? Is your diet contributing to the anxiety or depression? Understanding the backdrop that allows the racing thoughts to proliferate and keep you off balance is key to breaking the pattern and reclaiming emotional wellness.
About Racing Thoughts
We know that experiencing unending thoughts of gloom and doom are not healthy for us. The connection between mind and body is a powerful one, which means that by allowing the disturbing thoughts to run amok you are putting your health at risk. The unending flow of negative or anxious thoughts can also disrupt daily functioning by zapping energy and keeping you spinning without moving forward. At work this can have profound negative effects, as deadlines are missed or projects stand still.
So what exactly causes us to get into the rut of these racing thoughts in our heads? There is a common thread that seems to run through these kinds of thought patterns: the sense of loss of control in your life. On a subconscious level, clinging to these thoughts keeps us engaged in the perceived dilemma or problem, which gives us a false sense of control over the issue. In reality, the distress caused by entertaining such thoughts is self-defeating, as the anxiety just feeds on itself.
Several mental health conditions can contribute to this symptom of racing thoughts. These include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder,
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
In addition to the mental health conditions, some medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, sleep deprivation, or certain medications can also cause the racing thoughts.
How Anxiety Disorder Can Cause Racing Thoughts
The predominant feature of all anxiety disorders is a sense of having no control over the fear-inducing situation, which can lead to the ongoing racing thoughts. Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that are characterized by intense worry or fear. In addition to racing thoughts, other general symptoms of anxiety include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shallow breathing, hyperventilating, shortness of breath
- Edginess, jumpiness, restlessness
- Insomnia, sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Difficulty concentrating
How Depression Can Cause Racing Thoughts
Depression can also be the central issue involved in having racing thoughts. There may be disordered thought patterns that exaggerate the situation and keep one stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, or there might be issues that have yet to be adequately processed, such as loss and grieving, that contribute to the racing thoughts. Depression symptoms include:
- Sadness and hopelessness
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Slowed thinking and movements
- Feelings of shame or guilt
- Loss of interest in your hobbies and favorite activities
- Suicidal thoughts
How Lifestyle Choices Contribute to Racing Thoughts
There is a clear connection between diet and mental health, and some foods have been identified as beneficial for mental health. To get some relief from the onslaught of recurring racing thoughts, focus on plant-based, organic, clean food sources. Diets should be rich in antioxidants, like berries and beans, and magnesium, such as quinoa, black beans, almonds, and spinach. Other good dietary choices should include:
- Salmon, mackerel, tuna—are all high in omega-3 fatty acids
- Tumeric, a spice that contains curcumin
- Yogurt and kefir
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Chamomile tea
- Green tea
Exercise is another essential treatment element for getting a better grasp on anxiety or depression. Science has shown that physical activity, when done on a consistent basis, can significantly bolster mental health. According to Sarah Gingell Ph.D. quoted in Psychology Today, “The simple act of focusing on exercise can give us a break from current concerns and damaging self-talk.” Cardio-specific, or aerobic, activities, such as cycling, swimming, hiking, running, or walking can cause the body to produce endorphins, a brain chemical that naturally improves our moods and lifts the spirit.
While engaging in exercise, neurotransmitter production is also increased, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These aid in improving concentration, memory, and sleep quality, further improving quality of life. In addition to the mental health benefits, exercise helps regulate stress by regulating cortisol levels, the key issue involved with anxiety disorder.
Quality sleep is another lifestyle issue to focus on. It seems all the day’s burdens unload on us just as we are trying to relax and get some sleep, and our minds just won’t shut off. Try taking a warm bath with some lavender oil before bedtime. Limit electronic device use by shutting these off an hour before you want to go to sleep. Also, resist drinking alcohol or eating heavy meals in the evening.
How to Achieve a Calm Mind Through Holistic Activities
A holistic approach to mental health takes into account all aspects of the individual, considering not only the diagnosis and symptoms, but emotional and social factors as well. By integrating holistic methods into the overall treatment plan a more comprehensive approach to healing will improve the clinical outcome. This is due to the intrinsic and inseparable connection between the mind and the body.
- Mindfulness. Research has shown the efficacy of practicing mindfulness for managing anxiety. Mindfulness involves focusing on your breathing, paying attention to the process of inhaling and exhaling of oxygen. As you cultivate a more relaxed state of mind you will find yourself fully present in those special moments, accepting them in a nonjudgmental way.
- Meditation. Meditation helps us increase awareness of the present moment or activity, training the mind to achieve a calm and relaxed state. There are different types of meditation to explore until you find the one that fits. Guided meditation apps are readily available to assist the individual in focusing on mental images that bring about a sense of serenity and calm.
- Deep breathing. By carving out time for deep breathing, you can curb many of the effects of daily stress and anxiety. Take a very slow, deliberate breath, filling your lungs as full as possible, then hold the breath for the count of five, before slowly releasing the breath to the count of five, exhaling as much as possible. Do this five times in a row and feel the stress drain from your neck, shoulders, and face.
- Journaling. Many times the process of rehashing worrisome thoughts over and over is a means of processing the associated emotions. Instead of ruminating over a conflict that occurred with someone that or fear of losing a job, write down these concerns in a journal. Journaling is an excellent way to parse out feelings and sorting out what is really at the source of the negative emotion.
- Get organized. One of the common reasons for engaging in constant racing thoughts is the fear of forgetting something important. Maybe you are worried about meeting a deadline or getting to an appointment and you keep thinking about it as a way of helping to remember it. Instead, try some organizational skills that will unburden your mind by offloading the upcoming due dates or appointments to a ‘to-do’ list or an organizing app.
Getting Help for Racing Thoughts
If still plagued with racing thoughts after accessing the above holistic and lifestyle interventions, it is advisable to visit a mental health professional who can provide more intensive treatment. Depending on whether the underlying issue is anxiety or depression, the treatment will address the diagnosis and the specific features. These mental health conditions require a two-pronged approach:
- Medication. The doctor will prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication (benzodiazepines), or mood stabilizers like lithium depending on the diagnosis.
- Psychotherapy. The most popular type of psychotherapy for either anxiety or depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT the individual learns how to change the distorted internal messaging that results in the anxiety or depression symptoms, and then the racing thoughts. Both individual and group therapy sessions provide opportunities to learn new thought-behavior patterns that can help mitigate the fears or triggers that fuel the symptoms.
Treatment for anxiety or depression can be obtained in a variety of settings, including private practice, outpatient programs, day programs (also referred to as a partial hospitalization program), or residential treatment.
The Treatment Specialist an Online Resource for Mental Health Conditions
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource library for information and data in the fields of mental health and substance use disorders. Our expert team offers free assistance for individuals seeking information about a mental health issue that might be related to the racing thoughts, and can help you to understand your treatment options. For more information about our free services, please contact The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.