How to Calm Your Racing Thoughts:… | Center for Growth Therapy

How to Calm Your Racing Thoughts: Mindfulness Therapy

Charlotte — Intern therapist

How To Calm Your Racing Thoughts: Anxiety Therapy in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe,NM Mechanicsville VA

We’ve all been there: laying awake at night or having trouble concentrating on anything because of unwanted racing thoughts, trying everything we can to just push them out of our heads and to get our mind to focus on anything else. Maybe this was after a nightmare, maybe you are worried about a performance review the next day, maybe there is some thought you keep having that is scary to you or causing you to feel shame. But trying to calm your racing thoughts and get your mind off of them isn’t working. No matter how many sheep you count or how much you remind yourself how many hours you have left before you have to wake up or submit something for work, that pesky thought keeps creeping back. So, how do you calm your racing thoughts?

There is a saying that fear and shame grow in the darkness and shrink in the light. This basically means that if we try to ignore or get rid of unwanted thoughts or feelings, they will only grow, and if we just acknowledge them, they will shrink. Anxiety, fear, and shame are all interconnected in that they are widely unwanted feelings. We are conditioned to avoid them because they feel uncomfortable and harmful. Who wants to feel that? But ignoring them can create a vicious cycle, as the energy we spend on avoiding, ignoring, or pushing them out of our heads creates more fear, which just causes us to think about them more.

So, how do you bring these thoughts into the light to calm your racing thoughts? You don’t have to scream them from the rooftops or even share them with someone else. You just need to acknowledge that they are there. It can be terrifying to think about even letting them loose in your mind, so you can even just set aside a couple minutes to acknowledge them. Giving them some airtime doesn’t mean they will take over your life or start a snowball effect. Below are some strategies to calm your racing thoughts.

Ways To Calm Your Racing Thoughts: Anxiety Therapy in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe,NM Mechanicsville VA

Below are some techniques to calm your racing thoughts. Not every strategy will work for everyone, this is just a place to start. For longer term solutions, seeking anxiety therapy can help.

Acknowledge thoughts as visitors in a room:

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  1. Get yourself in a comfortable position - lying down or sitting, preferably in a quiet room. Close your eyes.

  2. Visualize yourself sitting in a blank but comfortable room with two doors, one on the wall to your right, one on the wall to your left.

  3. As a thought comes up in your mind, imagine it entering the room. Look at that thought and acknowledge its presence. You can even say “hi” or “I acknowledge you” or “thanks for coming”

  4. Imagine it leaving the room and move on to the next thought.

  5. Continue doing this with each thought, one at a time.

*Sometimes a thought may come back around into the room, but try to focus on one thought at a time and let it leave the room.

*If you ever feel like your thoughts are moving too fast in and out of the room or coming in two at a time, take a minute and look around the room you have imagined. What color are the walls? Are there windows? What is the chair you imagine sitting in like? Then, when you feel ready, invite each thought in again.


Thoughts as leaves:

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  1. Get yourself in a comfortable position - lying down or sitting, preferably in a quiet room. Close your eyes.

  2. Visualize yourself on the bank of a river or creek. What does it sound like? Is there a breeze? Is the warmth of the sun on your face?

  3. Now, imagine each thought you have as a leaf, one at a time. When a thought comes in your head, imagine picking it up, holding it, as a leaf, in your hand. Look at it. Imagine what it feels like, how heavy it is. You can also put a label on it if you would like.

  4. Once you’ve spent time thinking about it, imagine yourself leaning down to the river or creek and placing the leaf in it.

  5. Then, imagine the water carrying it away.

  6. Repeat this with each thought that comes into your head.

*If you ever feel like the thoughts are coming too quickly, return to observing the environment you’ve created by the river. Then, when you feel ready, turn your attention back to your thought leaves.


Thoughts as a monster:

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It is suggested to close your eyes for this, but not necessary. This one is especially helpful if you are having a lot of negative thoughts or going down rabbit holes.

  1. Think of all the thoughts that are causing you distress. Name each one, whether it be out loud, in your head, or on paper.

  2. Imagine each thought making up one part of a monster. Maybe one is a hand, one is its shirt, one is its head, etc.

  3. Visualize that monster. What does it look like? What is is wearing? What does it smell like? Is it making any noises?

  4. Now visualize standing across from it, but there is a pit in the middle.

  5. Imagine you are playing tug of war with this monster. The monster, aka your unwanted thoughts, is trying to pull you into the pit of being stuck with racing thoughts. You are trying to resist these thoughts and generally having racing thoughts. But, the more you pull, the more energy you exert and the harder it is to fight these thoughts. So, what can you do? No one is making you play tug of war. You can drop the rope.

  6. Imagine yourself dropping it. What happens? Well, the monster, who is still pulling, falls into the pit, loses the game, and you are no longer fighting it.

* If you find that this visualization is helpful, it can be effective to physically grip your hands and then extend them flat, as if you are letting go of a rope whenever you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.


Sit with and Explore the Thought with Curiosity:

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This requires acknowledging that your thoughts are not truths and are not tied to your identity.

  1. Get yourself in a comfortable position - lying down or sitting, preferably in a quiet room. Close your eyes.

  2. As a thought comes up, focus on it. Just on the original thought, not any other thought it may cause.

  3. Observe the thought. What does it consist of? What is it attached to? What feelings does it stir up? What bodily sensations are you feeling? Are you trying to resist those feelings? What do you think having this thought and these feelings say about you? What would it mean if that was true?

  4. Then, let the thought wash over you. Let yourself think it and feel the feelings it creates. Try to focus only on the original thought.

  5. Remind yourself that thoughts are not truths and move on to the next one.


Observe The Chaos:

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  1. Close your eyes.

  2. As thoughts swirl around in your mind, try to sit back and observe them. If you want, you can imagine them as paper whizzing around, like the booths in game shows or daytime TV shows that blow cash in the air while a person tries to catch as much as they can, or like the Hogwarts envelopes that fly out of Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle’s fireplace in the first Harry Potter book/ movie. You could also imagine they are running a race or are kids playing tag.

  3. Regardless, sit back and observe all the thoughts running through your mind as if you are watching a movie and you are a member of the audience.


Troubleshooting:

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If you are having difficulty with these exercises to calm your racing thoughts, here are a few things you can do before returning to them.

  1. Get out of bed for 15-30 minutes.

  2. Focus on your breathing. Put your hand on your stomach and pay attention to the air filling your body and causing your stomach to expand and your hand to raise.

  3. Do the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breathe in through your nose while counting to 4. Then hold your breath and count to 7. Then exhale through your mouth while counting to 8 and making a whooshing sound.

  4. Exercise.

  5. Drink herbal tea.

  6. Take a walk.


If you are struggling to calm your racing thoughts, a good long term solution is to seek anxiety therapy. Therapists at The Center for Growth are here to help. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment, please call (215) 922-5683 x100 or you can self schedule an appointment here. We have offices in Philadelphia, PA, Ocean City, NJ, Mechanicsville, VA, and Santa Fe, NM.

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