Racing thoughts are a stream of thoughts that come quickly, one after the other. They may be about one subject or many different unrelated things. Racing thoughts have the power to completely take over a person’s mind, leaving them unable to focus on anything else.
Racing thoughts rapidly move in a sequence, often ending in a worst-case scenario. Some people may hear them as a voice that they cannot ignore, but they may merely be subtle, background noise in the brain.
There is no single cause of racing thoughts. They can be triggered by high stress, lack of sleep, medications, and some medical conditions. Fortunately, treating underlying health conditions or coping techniques can be effective in reducing or calming them.
Fast facts on racing thoughts:
- People who do not have a mental health condition can have racing thoughts.
- Several mental health conditions can make a person more prone to racing thoughts.
- Once the cause has been identified, a person can receive the treatment they need.
Mental health conditions causing racing thoughts may include:
- bipolar disorder
- panic disorders
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- amphetamine addiction
- hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
When not caused by an underlying health condition, racing thoughts are more likely to happen during times of high stress. Severe lack of sleep and certain medications may also increase the risk of racing thoughts.
There are ways to control racing thoughts and reduce their occurrence. It may take time and practice to master these strategies, but they can be useful for managing racing thoughts at any time.
1. Focus on now, not the future or the past
For some people, racing thoughts stem from something that has not happened and may never happen. Other people focus on things that happened in the past, which cannot be changed.
People who experience racing thoughts should take every effort to think about what is happening right now. Saying to themselves:,”I won’t worry about the past or the future, I’ll focus on what I can control,” is a good place to start.
2. Take deep breaths
The body’s natural panic response is to speed up the heart and breathing rate. This may happen when the mind begins racing. Slower, deep breaths can reduce the body’s stress response and promote a feeling of calm, helping to quiet or stop racing thoughts.
Deep breathing can be done anytime, without any particular training. Just breathing in for 3 seconds and out for 5 to 10 seconds is a simple way to accomplish this.
3. Think about other options
Because racing thoughts often end up in a worst-case scenario, it can be easy to get wrapped up in disaster. This can lead to a vicious cycle of more anxiety and continued racing thoughts. A person whose mind is racing may wish to tell themselves that this worst-case scenario is not going to happen.
They can think about other, more desirable options that are more likely to occur. Instead of, “I’ll get fired for that mistake,” change the thought to, “Everyone makes mistakes, and I’ll do what I can to make it right.”
4. Use mantras
Mantras are simple words or phrases that people can repeat to calm the mind. They can be particularly useful in times of panic and racing thoughts. Phrases such as, “I can get through this,” or “It will be okay,” can be helpful.
Mantras allow the mind to focus on one simple thought that is positive or encouraging. This turns the mind away from its racing thoughts.
5. Try distractions
A favorite hobby, especially one that is calming, can quiet the mind and help a person focus on something other than racing thoughts.
Coloring books are a popular option for reducing stress and offer a calming distraction. Painting, gardening, cooking, or playing an instrument are other possibilities.
Regular physical activity improves mental well-being and may be helpful during an episode of racing thoughts.
Numerous studies have shown that exercise can have mood-boosting power.
If a person feels racing thoughts developing, walking, jogging, or similar activities may help to settle the mind.
7. Inhale lavender essential oil
Lavender has a reputation for being calming, and some research backs up this claim.
A study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand found that inhaling lavender essential oil can calm the mind and quiet brain activity.
Because many mental health conditions can cause racing thoughts, it is important to seek the advice of a doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any issues.
Anyone who experiences repeated episodes of racing thoughts, signs of ongoing depression, anxiety, ADHD, sleep problems, or other mental health issues should talk to a doctor.
There is no single treatment for racing thoughts, but some options include:
- Prescription medication, therapy, or both for a diagnosed mental health condition.
- Sleep study, medications, or lifestyle changes for sleep problems.
- Medication or surgery for people with hyperthyroidism.
- Counseling, therapy, or other treatment for amphetamine addiction.
- Changing medication or dosage if a particular medicine is causing racing thoughts.
Eating the right foods could improve overall mental well-being and help reduce racing thoughts and mood disorders. Many studies have been carried out on the link between food and mental health, and the following diet changes may be helpful:
Eat low-glycemic foods
Low-glycemic foods are usually low in sugar and high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. They help stabilize blood sugar levels and may help improve mental health. Good examples include lean meats, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains.
High-glycemic foods, on the other hand, cause a rapid rise (and subsequent crash) in blood sugar. High-glycemic foods include high-sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods. These types of foods may make mental health conditions worse and should be avoided.
An article in Case Reports in Psychiatry suggests that high-glycemic foods play a role in symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can trigger racing thoughts.
Focus on foods high in antioxidants
Most fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants, which help fight oxidative stress (cell damage) in the body. An article in Current Neuropharmacology suggests that oxidative damage could play a role in depression and anxiety.
As such, healthcare professionals recommend antioxidants as one possible way to help control symptoms of these mental health conditions. High-antioxidant foods include berries, beans, nuts, citrus fruits, and apples.
Get a daily dose of magnesium
Foods high in magnesium may have a calming effect, and deficiency in this mineral could lead to anxiety, according to an article in Neuropharmacology. Good sources of magnesium include spinach, almonds, quinoa, tofu, and black beans.
Though racing thoughts may be a reaction to a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, they can also be a sign of an underlying health condition. Most of these health conditions require the guidance of a doctor or mental health professional for ongoing management.
Regular checkups with a doctor, including a discussion of a person’s mental wellness, are essential to help prevent and treat problems that can lead to racing thoughts. Finding the cause of the racing thoughts is the best way to preserve a person’s mental well-being and to avoid these unsettling or frightening episodes.