By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Racing thoughts may be a daily reality for you or an occasional annoyance. Racing thoughts are common for people with anxiety when they’re facing a stressor. They’re also common in bipolar disorder, ADHD and other medical conditions, according to Marla Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders.
For instance, anxious thoughts may be a string of worries. Deibler shared this example:
“I don’t have a date for the party tomorrow. I can’t go by myself. What will everyone think? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have a date? That’s it. I’m not going. But everyone will wonder where I am. I should go. Oh, I don’t know what to do.”
Racing thoughts can be overwhelming, confusing and distressing, Deibler said. They can hinder your ability to concentrate and accomplish daily tasks. They can hinder your memory and sleep, she added.
Various strategies, thankfully, can help to calm and quiet racing thoughts. Below, Deibler shared five tips.
1. Refocus on your senses
Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Notice how your body feels along with what you hear, see and taste. “Allow the thoughts to come and go, as part of, but not the entirety of, your experience,” said Deibler, director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC.
Avoid judging or responding to your thoughts, she said. “Observe them as they run through your mind, turning down their volume so that other senses may also be experienced more fully.”
2. Imagine “leaves on a stream.”
Sit comfortably, and close your eyes, Deibler said. Imagine leaves floating on the surface of a stream. “For each thought that comes to mind, allow that thought to take its place on a leaf and float down the stream. Allow those thoughts to come and go, without responding to them.”
Deibler suggested listening to this guided “leaves on a stream” exercise.
3. Breathe deeply
According to Deibler, “Deep diaphragmatic breathing triggers our relaxation response, switching from our fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, to the relaxed, balanced response of our parasympathetic nervous system.”
She suggested slowly inhaling to a count of four. Fill your belly first, moving up to your chest. Gently hold your breath for a count of four. Slowly exhale to a count of four. Repeat this cycle several times, she said.
4. Practice guided meditation
Guided meditation also helps to calm your body and your mind, Deibler said. She likes this meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn. (YouTube offers an array of practices from Jon Kabat-Zinn and other meditation teachers.)
5. Practice progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that activates your body’s relaxation response. It includes tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. This video has a guided practice.
Deibler also suggested this link, which offers additional mindfulness exercises.
Again, racing thoughts can feel overwhelming, sabotaging your sleep and ability to focus. Practicing mindfulness and relaxation exercises can help to calm your body and your mind, quieting racing thoughts and helping you refocus.
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