I admit to having racing thoughts. When anxiety flares, my thoughts race uncontrollably at dangerous speeds. I’m sure I’m not the only person who hates this with a passion. Thankfully, it’s possible to tame these racing thoughts. Don’t get me wrong; the brain is a wonderful thing. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to live. That doesn’t mean we always love what it does, though. (When I was little and got myself into this trouble or that, my mom would always tell me, “Tanya, I love you, but I don’t love what you did.” To me, my brain is like that. I love it, but I don’t always love what it’s up to.)
Usually the trouble that it’s up to is creating such a high volume of thoughts and anxieties that I end up losing track of them. Oh, they’re there. It’s almost as though I can feel them pushing and shoving and tumbling and bouncing off my skull. Sometimes they go so fast that I can feel the heat increase, like molecules of water bubbling and bursting as they explode into steam.
When this happens, it’s usually effective for me to grab the thoughts, one by one, as they streak by. Then, with a thought tight in my grip, I can deal with it: examine it, counter it, develop a plan to overcome whatever stress, worry, or anxiety is involved. However, this approach doesn’t work when thoughts race so rapidly that I can’t even tell what I’m thinking. I can feel them, but I can’t understand them.
These are the times when I tell my brain, “I love you, but I don’t love what you’re doing.” And then I remember that my brain and I aren’t exactly separate entities. That means that we can work together to tame the racing thoughts so I can go back to identifying and analyzing those anxious thoughts and using reason to make them shrink. For this to happen, the thoughts have to calm down.
Tips for Taming the Racing Thoughts of Anxiety
- Be mindful of the moment. Anxiety’s racing thoughts are usually about the past and/or the future. (What if…, Why did I… I should’ve said…, etc.). When thoughts begin to race so much that they really can’t even be identified, we’ve lost sight of what’s happening in the moment. Intentionally focus on what is going on right now, what you are doing and what’s happening around you. Pay attention to it. The present moment acts like a speed bump for those racing thoughts of anxiety.
- Enlist the help of all of your senses. It’s hard to concentrate on any one thing when anxiety has thoughts zinging. This is where the senses come in. Rather than simply telling your brain to stop (as you probably know, this isn’t very effective), ignore your thoughts and turn instead to your senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Taste? Be purposeful. Look for something beautiful to study with your eyes. Fully attend to the sounds around you. Do this for all of your senses, including taste. Eat something and savor it (and use your other senses to fully experience it). Going for a sauntering walk is a great way to tune in to your senses.
- Get your creativity on. What better way to give the racing thoughts an outlet than to go all art-ninja on them? Don’t worry about skill or results. Just do! Color, draw, paint (even better – finger paint), sculpt with clay or Play-Doh, write a poem, write a story, play an instrument if you have one, make a craft. The possibilities are numerous. The act of creating completely shifts the mind and how it’s thinking and processing. You just might find that you are calmer, more focused, and even happier after some creative time.
- Organize or clean. When my head is chaotic, everything seems jumbled and cluttered and overwhelming. Digging in and straightening up my external environment helps slow down my internal one.
These are but a few suggestions for taming the racing thoughts of anxiety. Believe it; you absolutely can quiet your mind and calm anxiety.