Calming racing thoughts is definitely a skill I want to brush up on. After the past week with the dilemma of my daughter, my stupid dog, and my husband’s brush with job loss anxiety, my sleep has been difficult and it’s hard to be in a room alone with myself during the day.
Last night I was exhausted but I woke up at the bright hour of 4:30 am. My mind was off to the races and I could not turn it off and go back to sleep.
So here it is 6am and I am writing this because I am determined to do something about calming racing thoughts today. I have let my thinking get out of control and it’s time to put a stop to this…
And it’s not just at night, my mind is racing during the day too.
I found a really interesting article in Men’s Health magazine (November 2011 , p.28) that helped me shed some light on the issue of racing thoughts:
Living in the Moment- Waste of Time or Good Approach to Life?
If you’re open to feeling happier, then yes—seize the moment. (And don’t worry: You don’t have to chant mantras or burn incense.) A recent study in Science found that people spend 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than the activity they’re actually involved in, and this mental wandering makes them more unhappy than people whose minds don’t wander.
“If you’re not focused on whatever you’re doing, your mind enters a thought stream, a narrative in which you reflect on the past and plan for the future,” says Ronald Seigel, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems. “That thought stream is often sullied with regret and worry, raising your stress levels.”
I found it comforting to read that the general population spends literally almost half their time mentally wandering. So this tells me that overthinking, racing thoughts and the like are not something that only plagues anxious people. It seems to be a very common trait among humans, wouldn’t you say?
My guess is that for an anxious person like me, I get that mental wandering and then take it to an extreme. So while someone who is not technically anxious feels unhappy, regret and worry when their thoughts wander, my reactions are similar, but to a much more disturbing degree.
The article goes on to say the following:
To better align your mind and body, focus on a sensation rather than a thought whenever possible, says Seigel. For instance, the next time you’re eating, put your fork down between bites and focus on identifying different flavors….
So the natural conclusion to calming racing thoughts would be to focus on the present and be more in tune to sensations rather than thoughts.
This makes sense. I am picturing the “thought stream” of racing thoughts visually as a stream of water in my imagination. Maybe I can choose not to go in it. It is a choice right?
So what I can do instead is focus on my body sensations. Ok, yeah I have done this before. In fact, this is in essence what I do when I used the teachings of Claire Weeks to help me learn how to go to sleep with anxiety (see this post on Anxiety and Sleep). I got so good at this a while back I was sleeping like a baby every night. But then I fell out of practice.
I also wrote a post awhile back on a grounding exercise to reduce anxiety where I learned to focus my mind on my feet and my breathing. I went back and re-read that this morning and honestly I feel better now. You may want to re-read it too. I also feel better because frankly I’m too exhausted right now to have any wandering, irrational, anxiety thoughts.
Benefits of Calming the Mind
I certainly don’t need to be a doctor to state the obvious, but honestly once the racing mind stops, the anxiety does tend to get better. There are tons of documented benefits of living in the present, such as less stress, lower blood pressure, increased enthusiasm, self confidence and (as stated above) happiness.
But I really feel comforted because I already had the answer to calming my racing thoughts, I just forgot it 🙂
That is also part and parcel of being human, anxious or not. We tend to forget things unless we commit them to memory and do them over and over again. (Or at least I do.)
Focusing on the present will *force* me to stop over thinking things. Today I am wearing a good ol rubber band on my wrist. Know why? I can gently snap it every time my mind starts wandering off into dangerous territory (like the past or the future) I learned this simple but effective technique years ago in a book I read.
I am doing so well with my gentle exposure therapy that it is almost becoming second nature. That makes me feel so good. It also tells me that I can surely tackle learning how to calm my racing thoughts too. Its simply a matter of remembering to use my grounding exercise and inner body awareness to help bring me back to the present. And doing it again and again and again…
Yesterday is History
Tomorrow is a Mystery
Today is a Gift,
That’s why its called the Present!
Time to give myself a nice little gift today and stay in the present. I also hopped over to my favorite hypnosis downloads site and found a great addition to my library: Stop Obsessive Thoughts hypnosis download. I have my iPod dock right next to my bed so I can listen to this in a jiffy the next time the need arises.
Yes I will learn to ground myself. I know it will take time- and I’m ok with that. In the mean time, I want something to have on hand for the next time I forget what to do when my thoughts are keeping me up and making me feel horrible with worry. You can check out this hypnosis download here.
I wish you peace,