All of us have experienced, at least once, that horrible sensation of our thoughts spiralling out of control, down a route we never could have foreseen. Unfortunately, racing thoughts, which most people experience in situations of extreme stress, is a regular reality for many like those with bipolar disorder, ADHD and other such medical conditions. Whether a daily occurrence or an occasional inconvenience, the experience is rather unpleasant either way, leaving one feeling distressed, overwhelmed and confused.
Marla Deibler, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders and explains how such thoughts can be triggered by a string of simple worries that combine together to race out of our control, rendering us incapable of concentrating on daily tasks. Such thoughts interfere with accomplishing necessary tasks, our memory and even sleep.
Dr. Deibler recommends certain practices for those suffering from racing thoughts; these practices are also applicable for those who do not necessarily experience racing thoughts on a regular basis but would like to practice healthy thinking, to maintain a clear mind and avoid such spells of anxiety in stressful situations.
When faced with the distressing situation of out-of-control thoughts, it helps to refocus one’s senses. Deep breaths with eyes closed tend to work instantly in somewhat calming the body. The idea is to embrace the thoughts, while focusing on other calming actions like breathing. It is important to concentrate on not judging the thoughts, but merely observing them. It is a way of turning down the volume, if you will, instead of trying and failing at muting the thoughts altogether.
The scientific explanation behind deep breathing as a calming agent is that deep diaphragmatic movement triggers a relaxation response in our bodies, enabling our nervous system to switch from the fight-to-flight system to a more relaxed and balanced parasympathetic nervous system. A good rule of thumb is inhaling and exhaling at a steady count of four for each step.
For a long-term control on thoughts, Dr. Deibler, also the Director at The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC, recommends regular practice of some form of meditation or progressive muscle relaxation , in order to train the body and mind to be calm at will. The experience of having no control over one’s thoughts is very disarming and, fortunately, we can all take steps to establish a certain degree of control over our minds and bodies to prevent unwarranted disruptions in our everyday lives.