Strategies to Help Stop Racing Thoughts When You Have Anxiety or Depression
There are many ways to quiet your mind and stop racing thoughts when your brain seems to never shut off.
It is important, however, to understand that there are many mental health conditions associated with debilitating racing thoughts:
- Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Bi Polar disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
There are also medical conditions and certain medications that can have an impact on your thought process.
Although there are many ways to gain control of your thoughts, it is NEVER a good idea to try and diagnose yourself, nor to treat yourself at home when you have persistent discomfort that is leading to dysfunction in your daily functioning.
Why do I have racing thoughts?
Without an evaluation from a professional, it is impossible to answer that question.
Some basic questions you may want to consider are:
- am I taking any new medications?
- have I stopped taking any medications?
- do you have any medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism?
- have things changed in my life recently?
- have I been feeling stressed?
- have I been getting enough sleep?
- have I been using drugs or alcohol?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, I encourage you to speak to a professional about your symptoms to rule out whether or not there are underlying reasons or conditions that may be contributing to your racing thoughts.
Mental health and emotional wellness is not black and white
When it comes to mental health, which includes your racing thoughts, there is no black and white. It is complex, and there is no one specific therapy or treatment that is the absolute perfect answer for treating it. If we think about going to the doctor when we have a broken arm. A broken arm is going to require x-rays, a cast, and time to heal. That is black and white.
With anxiety and depression and other disorders, even though there are theoretical models that are essential, some are more effective than others. In addition, each person is unique and, therefore, what works for one person may not work for another.
We can all make suggestions, but it is important to know where you are getting your information from before applying it, and it is always recommended speaking to your primary care physician or a mental health professional first.
1. Apply mindfulness activities into your daily and evening routine
Mindfulness facilitates a non-judgemental and accepting approach to exploring our thoughts and emotions. When we begin utilizing mindfulness strategies, we can bring ourselves back into the present moment.
It is important to understand, using mindfulness practices can be relaxing, calming, and help you get to a place where it is easier to focus. However, it isn’t something that should be used as a way to “cure” yourself or to try doing therapy on yourself.
Some mindfulness approaches are not as effective for some mental health conditions as they are with others. Studies show, however, mindfulness for anxiety has proven to be effective. Mindful activities in and of themselves are not “therapy” nor should they be viewed that way.
With that being said, incorporating mindful activities into your daily and evening routines can be beneficial to help you refocus, return to the present moment, and slow down your thought process.
Mindfulness activities to begin your morning routine
- Listening to encouraging songs
- Maintain a gratitude log
Mindfulness for stress management
- Adult coloring pages
- Deep breathing exercises
- Walking or other light exercise
Mindfulness for depression
Because depression involves low self-esteem, low self-confidence, awfulizing situations, and lack of motivation, using mindfulness in conjunction with psychotherapy is more effective than using as a stand-alone.
Depression is often associated with negative thoughts, and cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective treatment model for treating this condition.
The most effective mindfulness strategies to help with negative thinking associated with depression:
- Self acceptance
- Deep breathing
- Guided meditation
- Walking meditation (recommended by the Mayo Clinic)
Mindfulness strategies when you have racing thoughts at night
The key to calming your thoughts at bedtime is relaxing your muscles. These activities can help release tension and calm your mind so you can fall asleep.
- Taking a hot bath
- Listening to gentle music
- Deep breathing
- Remove yourself from anything stimulating such as TV, computers, cell phones, or tablets. If you MUST use electronics, dim your screen lighting
- Listen to guided meditation
- Body scanning
- Encouraging Christian worship music
- Reading books before bedtime
2. Challenge your thinking
When our minds are racing, sometimes we have irrational thinking, meaning our thoughts are based on our own truths and the world around us looks like a negative place. This includes people and our situations.
Our irrational minds tell us many things that are not true and often are the anchors for our fears and worries.
However, when we dispute irrational beliefs (DIBS), we explore our thoughts. When done daily and consistently we can gain an understanding of how irrational some of our overthinking is.
- Challenge your thoughts by asking yourself, “what facts do I have that tell me these thoughts are true?
- Ask yourself, “Is this thought making me feel the way I want to feel?” If not, what thought will?
- What is the situation? Think about what parts of the situation are out of your control. Now think about what you can control. Focus only on those things today.
- Think about the reasons you cannot be in control makes you fearful. Why?
- Make a list of pros and cons
- What are 3 thoughts you have right now? Think about 3 things for which you are grateful
- Make a pocket-sized stop sign and color it bright red with the word THINK on it. When you feel anxious, pull it out. Look at it. Observe it.
- Think about how you want to feel. Think 5 thoughts that match how you want to feel
Related article: The Power of Positive Thinking and the Benefits for Mental Health
3. Focus on realistic and obtainable goals
Since having racing thoughts interferes with our concentration, bringing our minds back to our goals can empower us, motivate us, give us direction, and can redirect our minds. When we focus on purposeful and positive things instead of negative thoughts that overwhelm us, our mind is calmer, and our overactive thoughts slow down.
When we are anxious, it is often because circumstances arise and we feel powerless. Rather than focusing on the things within our control, we spend time beating our heads against a wall trying to control things we cannot change.
Focusing on our goals will shift our mindset to the things we can manage ourselves. By focusing on things we CAN control, we BECOME more in control. Not only does setting give direction, it promotes self-confidence and self-esteem. It is important, however, to make sure your goals are realistic. Setting your goals TOO high can be counterproductive and derail your ability to stop overthinking.
- What is your goal for the day? Focus on only one thing you need to do to reach your goal. When you are done, move on to the next, focusing only on the goal
- Make a to-do list. Focus your day only on what is on your list. If something comes up and interferes with your list, say no. Cross everything off you accomplished.
- How are your thoughts helping you reach your goals?
4. Journal for your mental health
Journaling is an outlet for our thoughts. Let’s face it, a lot of people don’t understand how we feel when we feel anxious. A journal is a private place to express ourselves in a non judgemental way. If we date our entries, we can reread them months or even years later, and will see our growth.
It is encouraging and empowering to reflect where we used to be and compare where we are today. For me, I often laugh at myself when I go back to my old journal entries because I realize how silly some of my overthinking used to be. I also have a good cry sometimes when looking back at old situations and how much stronger I have become.
Journaling for mental health prompt examples
Journaling prompts for mental health are limitless. Some journals include prompts, and some do not. I use a combination of different types of journals because I like to use separate ones for different aspects of my life.
Related article: Review of the 5 Best Bullet Journals for Beginners
- Write yourself a love letter
- Write a letter to your anxiety.
- Make a list of your fears. Where are they coming from?
- Circle a recurring thought in your mind and write about how it makes you feel, and how you respond when you have that thought. What are some things you could say to yourself the next time you have that thought? How might you respond differently?
- Write down a scripture about anxiety or fear and memorize it. Write about what it means to you
- Write down a favorite quote and memorize it. Why do you like this quote? What does it mean to you? How will you apply it to your life?
- Listen to a favorite song and have an internal conversation about why it is your favorite. Write about your conversation
- Maintain a mood tracker, and identify triggers. Also, write about things you will do when your anxiety or depression is triggered and your mood declines.
- Write about how you feel about yourself accomplishing your goals. What will you do to stay motivated?
- Make a list of 5 things you are grateful for today
Use habit trackers to change daily habits
When we have racing thoughts, we spend a lot of time focusing on them. Our minds get messy and cluttered and we behave according to what is going on in our heads. We can stop our racing thoughts by changing little things.
Examples of habits to include in a mental health journal habit tracker
- Fast from media 3 days per week
- Call a friend daily
- Take a hot bubble bath every night before bedtime
- Go for a bike ride every Saturday
- Hug your children twice a day
- Hug your spouse everyday
- Watch a comedy movie every Sunday
- Watch the movie “Patch Adams” and journal your thoughts and feelings for 1 month
- Shut your phone off or put it on mute for 1 hour each day
- Take a walk and as you do, breathe slow, deep breaths. Do this daily.
- Agree to everything (as long as it is SAFE). When you find yourself disagreeing, question yourself, why. “Do I have to be right? How does being right benefit me?”
- Make a list of “habits” you would like to change. Hold yourself accountable and also see your progress.
- Give yourself 3 compliments several times during the day. Are you able to do this? If not, what is interfering with it? What will you do to remove the interference?
- Breathe 3 deep breaths before answering the phone or a text
- Set a timer to go off every hour during the day. When the timer goes off, take deep breaths in and out for 1 minute
- Yoga for 5 minutes in the morning
- Light exercise 3 days per week
- Eliminate processed foods from your diet 5 days per week
- Sleep 6 hours per night
- Drink 3 bottles of water per day
- Say hello to a stranger each time you enter a store
These are only some examples, but definitely think they can be a great start for you. In my journal, ME: A Self Awareness Journal for Women, there is a 12 month habit tracker to get you started.
5. If you are not doing these 3 things, anxiety relief will be impossible
- Practicing good sleep hygiene – Sleep plays an important role in our mood. Getting 6-8 hours of sleep consistently can help reduce your anxiety, give you more energy, increase your productivity, and boost your mood
- Eating balanced meals. According to Harvard Medical School,when we eat better, we feel better.. By making healthier food choices and limiting processed foods from your diet, you can drastically improve how you feel and reduce anxiety. I can attest to this. I lost 84 pounds in a short period of time simply by changing my diet. I felt healthy, my skin was healthy, and my moods were much more stable. Consider discussing this with your physician, especially if you have health issues.
- Reducing your stressors. The fewer stressors we encounter, the less likely we are to feel anxious. Of course, some stressors are out of our control. Consider eliminating unwanted stressors from your daily routine.
6. Seek therapy
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a replacement for therapy. If you have symptoms including irritability, sleep problems, unable to stop overthinking or slow down your thoughts, lack motivation, worry excessively, feel hopeless and sad frequently, and/or you have other symptoms that are interfering with your life, please seek therapy right away.
Related article: How to Find a Therapist for Your Anxiety and Depression.
In addition, If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 9-1-1.
Other related articles you may be interested in relating to anxiety and fear:
- Anxiety: Our Internal Alarm System – a very short article giving a non clinical, simple description of what anxiety is
- How to Overcome Fear: 5 Bible Verses for Anxiety – a faith-based approach for overcoming fear and anxiety
- How to Find a Therapist for Your Anxiety and Depression – a guide for helping you find the right therapist to treat your anxiety and depression
- 12 Tips for Bouncing Back From Blogger Burnout – useful tips for burned out bloggers. These tips are also useful for job burnout.
- Battling Fear and Finding an Identity That Last – a faith based article by Macy Thoughts
I would love to know if any of these ways to stop your racing thoughts were helpful for you. Leave a comment below and share which ones work best for you.