Have you ever noticed that you can’t shut your brain off, that it’s going a mile a minute, or you’re stuck on a loop and can’t stop thinking about one particular thing? Maybe you can’t fall asleep because your brain keeps going and going and going. It can be really frustrating, even distressing, right?
If you’ve experienced this, you already have an idea of what it’s like to experience something called “racing thoughts.” Racing thoughts are persistent, often intrusive thoughts that you just can’t shake. They can also manifest as an inability to focus, jumping from one thought to another in rapid succession. Racing thoughts are a symptom of several mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and OCD, and they are also a symptom of sleep deprivation, use of “uppers” like amphetamines, and even hyperthyroidism.
However, racing thoughts can also simply be a sign of stress; anyone can experience them. Perhaps they manifest for you during a craving for alcohol, or a bout of racing thoughts triggers a craving—either way, we know that we know that racing thoughts can be really harmful for our alcohol-free life. It’s important to address them when they arise and learn how to prevent them in the future.
How to deal with racing thoughts:
Brain dump: Get it all out with pen and paper. Empty every single thought in your brain onto paper, and arrange from there if necessary. This can be especially helpful if your racing thoughts seem to be stemming from overwhelm or a busy schedule.
Movement: help your body diffuse some of that frenetic energy by moving. Do some jumping jacks, go for a walk, or even just shake your body to release a little energy. This may also help distract you from the racing thoughts in addition to expelling energy.
Breathe and meditate: alternatively, if movement doesn’t seem to help, find stillness and begin reconnecting to your breath. Perform a box breathing exercise: inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts. Repeat 5 times.You can also use a mantra to focus your attention on your breath. A popular Kundalini meditation uses the Sankrit phrase sat nam, meaning “truth is my essence.” On an inhale, chant “sat” (“saaaaat” with a long “a”) either verbally or mentally. As you exhale, chant “nam” (“naaaam” with a long “a”). This brings your focus to the mantra and breath and away from the racing thoughts. Any mantra will work: you can choose “peace,” “om,” “light,” or whatever word or phrase aligns with you and your current situation.
Talk to a doctor or mental health professional about persistent racing thoughts. There may be an underlying health condition causing these thoughts, or there may be therapeutic interventions that can help.
Star, K. (2020, October.) Panic Disorder and Your Racing Thoughts. Verywell Mind.
Virginia, K. (2018, October.) Kundalini 101: The Powerful Meaning of Sat Nam. Yoga Journal.