Racing thoughts can make it hard to relax or sleep. To overcome racing thoughts, you can practice acceptance, self-kindness and cognitive distancing, among other techniques. These methods can help you slow down your mind and improve emotional coping.
Remember when you were a child and you had to listen to grown-ups all the time? Sometimes, this can happen between your brain and you, too – it can chatter away endlessly, just like those grown-ups did when you were young.
We call this racing thoughts. That incessant speech-making and stream of words is the advice our brain gives – unsolicited – to us at every waking hour. It’s like our own minds have taken on the role of supreme family member, constantly advising us to do this or that, often in a contradictory back-and-forth.
“Take the trash out now.” “No, do it later.” “But if you don’t leave now, you’ll be late!” “No, check that you have everything for today, do that first!” “What about the trip to the pharmacy?” “That can wait.” “No, you need your medications now!”
The worst part? It can feel like you have no power to stop it. But that’s not necessarily true.
How to “Defuse” Racing Thoughts in Everyday Life
The mind is like a thought-producing machine – thinking is what it’s programmed to do. But when the brain is sending its opinions constantly, this is thinking without resolution – you’re experiencing mind racing.
We are supposed to respond by filtering the thoughts, selectively choosing some and rejecting others. Otherwise, we become enmeshed in a tangle of non-sequitur thinking that leads to confusion and inaction – precisely the opposite of what is needed to begin challenging our circuitous thinking.
But there is a technique that helps us soothe and cool the brain. It allows us to lower the volume – because we don’t want the brain to switch off entirely!
This technique is the buffer that keeps the useless thoughts at bay, and enables us to choose and emotionally profit from the ones we do select. It’s called selective interplay.
What Does Selective Interplay Have to Do with Racing Thoughts?
Our best functioning selves are dependent on selective interplay. On the filtering that allows us to select the “golden” thoughts from among the “gray” ones.
This selective interplay technique is broken into five parts:
- Acceptance that the brain chatters. You need to be aware that sending a stream of messages is what it does. Once we understand that our brain will always create thoughts, we can begin to work with the brain, not against it.
- Practicing self-kindness—daily. By reassuring the brain that its input is valuable but not essential, we show gratitude for its contributions, but do not bow down to them in non-questioning subservience.
- Practice cognitive defusion. This is a way to escape racing thoughts. Stand apart and examine your thoughts from a mental distance, even in the moment. You don’t have to obey every thought you have. In fact, you should detach from many of them, and see yourself apart from the brain’s need to think, think, think. Remember: not every thought is real, true, or requires action.
- Resist social expectations – which cannot always be fulfilled anyway. Our self-story doesn’t always cohere with the social environment. What is good and right for you at this moment may not reflect the wider social view. Be at ease with this dissonance. Make the best choice for yourself as an individual, even if your view counters wider society. Social values and opinions are for the group, but reacting to your brain’s messaging selectively is for you.
- Catch automatic thoughts. The brain will generate thoughts that repeatedly encourage you to pursue its dictatorial line of thinking, leading to more unhelpful thoughts. Catch yourself in the act! The sooner you recognize that one thought is often a trap set to spring another unhelpful thought, speak up to your brain. A better thought – more useful and positive for you – will soon arrive. Follow this new optimistic thought into sensible, practical action.
Transformative Power Helps You Take Control of Racing Thoughts
Unless you take charge, the brain will just keep messaging in a vacuum. But if you use the five parts of the selective interplay technique above, it will transform you into being the controller of your brain rather than the other way around.
When this happens, your mind racing will calm and soothe, and more beneficial thoughts will pass into your conscious mind. This occurs because many of the automatic negative thoughts will have been caught early and stopped from entering a negative obsessive cycle.
Successfully “de-fusing”’ from your brain’s chatter requires work – daily practice – to cease the endless, complex rumination that leads to nowhere but more thinking. Recognize your brain’s advice with gratitude, but “de-fuse” yourself from its commands. When you do, you will be ready to choose your own thoughts, and positive action will follow naturally.
Consciously shaping your thinking is the hard part. The rest – the practical choices and decision-making – will seem like child’s play.
Want help dealing with your mind racing or other issues?
Are your racing thoughts threatening to overpower your mind? Do you struggle to apply coping techniques during emotionally stressful situations?
Having a strong support system can make all the difference in quieting that inner voice. Our therapists at Deep Connections can help you explore the sources of negative thoughts in your life and develop new tools to manage your stress and anxiety.