5 Natural Ways to Calm Racing Thoughts

Racing Thoughts

Have you ever had a succession of anxious, racing thoughts? Do they replay something you’ve said or done or fixate on a certain happening, person, or subject? Do you feel unable to control them? Do these thoughts interfere with your ability to function normally?

Racing thoughts—accelerated, often repetitive thought patterns about a particular topic or multiple topics—are a common symptom of mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more. But they can happen to anyone in an anxious or stressed state.

Diaphragmatic breathing or deep breathing is a simple, powerful and effective exercise that can help calm racing thoughts quickly. Click To Tweet

If you struggle with racing thoughts, there’s good news. Research has shown a number of actions you can take to help calm your mind. When racing thoughts strike, take the following interventions out and use them as needed. Consider them part of your mental health toolkit.

5 WAYS TO CALM RACING THOUGHTS NATURALLY

1. Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing or deep breathing is a simple, powerful, and effective exercise that can help calm racing thoughts quickly. Controlled breathing has been shown to cause physiological changes that may include lowered blood pressure and heart rate, as well as reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood.

How does it work? Essentially, a series of deep breaths signals to your autonomic nervous system that you are safe, and it responds by shifting from the fight-or-flight response of your sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed, “rest-and-digest” response of the parasympathetic nervous system. This calms the mind as well as the body. Additionally, when you breathe deeply your mind focuses on one thing instead of the thoughts running through your head.

In a 2017 study, subjects who practiced a deep breathing technique regularly showed significantly increased sustained attention, decreased negative mood, and lowered cortisol levels (a marker for stress and anxiety). A more recent review of three studies found evidence of the calming effects of deep breathing such as slowed respiratory rate, lowered cortisol and blood pressure levels, as well as a reduction in perceived depression/anxiety/stress amongst participants.

Here’s a simple diaphragmatic breathing exercise most anyone can do:

  1. Sit or lie comfortably, and close your eyes
  2. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen.
  3. Inhale through your nose to the count of 4, feeling your abdomen expand.
  4. Hold your breath for 2 seconds.
  5. Exhale very slowly and steadily through your mouth for about 8 seconds. The mouth should be relaxed.
  6. Hold your breath for 2 seconds.
  7. Repeat 10 times.

2. Do Intense Physical Exercise

While most any kind of exercise will help boost mood, research suggests that intense exercise helps to make tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, more available in the brain, therefore increasing serotonin levels. Greater levels of serotonin have a calming effect on racing thoughts. Running, cycling, and swimming are all great examples of intense exercise.

Exercise is also well-known to calm anxiety levels—one major driver of racing thoughts. A study that focused on exercise as a treatment for anxiety found that regular exercise (several times a week) over the long haul calmed anxiety the most. Compared with low-intensity activity, moderate and high-intensity exercise routines contributed to greater reductions in anxiety.

Intense exercise initially spikes the stress response in the body. However, research indicates that following physical activity, people experience lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, which may further explain its calming effects on the mind.

In addition, intense exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which supports better overall cognition, memory, and brain health, according to the American Psychological Association. The very act of getting out for a run or bike ride (always wear a helmet to protect your brain!) may also provide a great distraction from racing thoughts, loosening the grip they have over your mind.

3. Engage in a Positive Distraction

Speaking of distractions, research shows there’s a great stress-reduction benefit in getting distracted by hobbies or relaxing activities, such as music, dance, recreational sports, spending time in nature, and more.

A Chinese study showed that college students who took breaks to engage in such activities were able to access more solutions and new perspectives in dealing with stressors and problems. Racing thoughts can often limit perception and make things appear negative with few if any solutions. It appears finding a distraction can take one out of the narrow-minded, often negative view racing thoughts present.

The key though is for the distraction to be healthy or positive in nature. Additional examples of healthy distractions include activities like cooking or trying out a new recipe, watching a comedy show, listening to an interesting podcast, coloring in an adult coloring book, or playing with your pet.

4. Shift Your Focus by Journaling Positive Thoughts

For some people experiencing racing thoughts, directed writing can serve as a calming force. In fact, one study involving a population of anxious people showed positive outcomes were associated with an intervention called “positive affect journaling.” Participants logged onto a study website and wrote a journal entry for 15 minutes on positive affect prompts (e.g., What are you thankful for? What did someone else do for you?) The study found that this type of writing can serve as an “effective intervention for mitigating mental distress.”

5. Question Your Racing Thoughts

Additionally, writing down what you are thinking and feeling—even all the negative thoughts—can lead to greater calm. There’s a benefit from simply giving a voice to the worries, and an even greater benefit if you take it a step further.

Take note of automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) in your writing. One easy way to recognize them is to look for common patterns. Look for “all or nothing” thinking when thoughts are either all good or all bad, or “always” thinking, characterized by words such as always and never, no one and everyone. These ANTs are usually untrue, and you can eliminate them by asking yourself the questions below. A study involving college students who suffered from distressing thoughts found reframing negative thoughts to be beneficial. These questions come from cognitive behavioral therapy and the work of Byron Katie:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it absolutely true—are you 100 % sure it is true?
  3. How do you feel when you have the thought?
  4. How would you feel if you didn’t have that thought?
  5. Choose a new, kinder, more constructive, positive, and accurate thought and meditate on this new thought.

WHEN RACING THOUGHTS RUN WILD SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP

If racing thoughts are keeping you up at night or are occurring for more than a few weeks, it’s time to reach out to a mental health professional. If you have or believe you may have any of the above-mentioned mental health disorders, it’s important to seek proper treatment to learn how to manage your mind.

Racing thoughts due to anxiety, OCD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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