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Mind always racing? Here’s why and how to stop racing thoughts

Mind always racing? Here’s why and how to stop racing thoughts

Reviewed by:
Michael Roman, MD
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June 22, 2024
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Do you ever feel like your brain just won't shut off? Your thoughts are flowing quickly, one after another, and it feels like you can't stop. It might feel like your mind is spiraling and you’re going down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts and worst-case scenarios.  

This seemingly never-ending mental chatter, known as racing thoughts, can make it impossible to enjoy the present moment. They can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere—but if it happens frequently it could be the sign of a mental health condition.  

Read on to learn more about exactly what racing thoughts are, their causes, and how to cope.  

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What exactly are racing thoughts?

Racing thoughts are when you experience a rapid and continuous flow of thoughts. Unlike the usual flow of thoughts that you have throughout the day, racing thoughts come on one after another at an accelerated pace. They could be about one topic, or they might jump around from one theme to another, without any logical progression. You might have a new thought before you even finished thinking through the last one.

These thoughts are often linked to worry, stress, and rumination. It’s common for racing thoughts to be negative thoughts. Your mind might feel like a whirlwind, and it can seem impossible to get the thoughts to slow down, let alone stop.  

What causes racing thoughts?

There are many possible causes of racing thoughts, ranging from acute periods of stress to chronic mental health conditions. They are commonly linked to anxiety and anxiety disorders, but you can experience racing thoughts even if you don’t have anxiety.  

Here are a few potential causes:

  • Stress and anxiety: Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Heightened periods of anxiety and stressful life situations can cause your mind to go into overdrive and result in racing thoughts, which usually will be centered around the stressor or stressor.
  • Anxiety disorders: If your anxiety is chronic, excessive, and interferes with daily life, you might have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or panic disorder can cause distressing racing thoughts often.  
  • Bipolar disorder: Racing thoughts can be a symptom of bipolar disorder, especially indicating a hypomanic or manic episode. Racing thoughts during a manic episode may also be accompanied by elevated mood, impulsivity, speaking quickly, and a decreased need for sleep.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Restlessness is a common ADHD symptom—and it doesn’t just manifest physically. Mental restlessness can show up in the mind as racing thoughts. This is especially common for adults with ADHD.
  • Insomnia: People with insomnia often complain of racing thoughts at night. When mental chatter won’t slow down or shut off, sleeping can feel impossible. Plus, the sleep deprivation that comes along with insomnia can lead to increased stress and anxiety, further fueling racing thoughts. Most racing thoughts at night are related to reviewing what was done earlier in the day or worrying about what needs to be done in the future

It’s important to identify your personal triggers. Can you notice a pattern of what causes your racing thoughts? Do they tend to occur during stressful times, or do they pop out of nowhere? Are you experiencing any other symptoms alongside the racing thoughts? Keep track of these factors so you can let your provider know if you end up seeking professional help.  

Racing thoughts vs intrusive thoughts

You may have heard the term “intrusive thoughts” and wondered how they’re different from racing thoughts.  

Racing thoughts refer to a rapid stream of thoughts that pile up quickly, one coming up immediately after the next. Your brain is creating thoughts excessively and quickly. Racing thoughts can be about anything, and the topics of the thoughts might bounce around.  

On the other hand, intrusive thoughts are unwanted, persistent, distressing, and disturbing in subject matter. They usually revolve around specific fears, themes, or concerns. While almost everyone experiences random intrusive thoughts here and there, most people can brush it off. But for certain people, intrusive thoughts become super sticky and cause a lot of distress. This is most common in two mental health conditions:  

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD is a condition categorized by distressing, excessive obsessions which cause a lot of anxiety, and compulsions, which are repetitive behaviors that temporarily decrease anxiety. However, compulsions fuel the OCD and keep the anxiety going. In OCD, intrusive thoughts are linked to the obsession. If you have a certain subtype or theme of OCD, your intrusive thoughts will typically fall into that theme. Intrusive thoughts can cause you a lot of anxiety, and you might perform a compulsion to try to neutralize the disturbing intrusive thought. Not every intrusive thought qualifies as having full blown OCD. "OCD" in this context refers to obsessive thoughts and/or compulsions that lead to dysfunction in one's life. Check out: Do I have OCD?
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma: Trauma survivors might experience intrusive thoughts, replaying memories surrounding the trauma they endured. These thoughts might also be related to flashbacks, which is when you feel like you’re reliving the trauma.  

How to stop racing thoughts

Racing thoughts can be extremely overwhelming, making it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand, relax, or have fun. Stopping racing thoughts is going to take work. Luckily, there are many different methods for slowing down your mind. Here are five practical strategies for effectively managing racing thoughts.

Mindfulness and meditation

A mindfulness practice helps you cultivate present-moment awareness. The goal isn’t to stop the racing thoughts. Rather, mindfulness is about noticing and accepting what’s happening in the present moment without judgment. This includes noticing any thoughts that pop into your head, emotions, or body sensations.

With time and practice, you will get better at noticing thoughts and letting them go rather than getting stuck on them. One of the most popular ways to practice mindfulness is through mindful meditation. If you’re a beginner, you can look up guided mindfulness meditations on YouTube or download a meditation app.  

Another way to bring yourself back to the present is through body scan techniques, which is when you concentrate on different parts of your body to feel for any pain and become aware of any unusual sensations.

Relaxation techniques

If you’re feeling super anxious, relaxation techniques can help calm you down and quiet your brain. A few examples of effective relaxation techniques are:

  • Deep breathing techniques:  Deep breathing can help calm your nervous system, slow your heart rate, and give you something to concentrate on other than your thoughts. A few specific deep breathing exercises include diaphragmatic breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, and pursed lip breathing. Experiment with different methods to see which is most effective for you.  
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR): This method pairs deep breathing with muscle relaxation by tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout your body. Start at your toes, squeezing and tightening these muscles as much as possible while inhaling. Hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale as you release the muscles. Repeat this process for all the muscle groups in your body and feel the tension melt away.​​

Grounding techniques  

Grounding is a way to ground yourself in reality, bringing yourself into the present moment when your mind feels like it’s somewhere else. You might find physical grounding techniques especially helpful since they can help you come back to your body when you’re stuck in a loop of racing thoughts. Some examples are:

  • Cold exposure: Dunk your face in a bowl of ice water, take a cold shower, or hold ice cubes in your hands.  
  • Eat something sour: Suck on a sour candy or bite into a lemon. The taste can give a little shock to your system, distracting your brain from your thoughts.
  • Use your sense of smell: Whether it’s a candle, soap, or essential oil, smelling something calming or relaxing can help quiet your mind.
  • 5-4-3-2-1: This method involves using all your senses to come into the present. Name five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste.  

Physical activity

Engaging in regular exercise can benefit your mental well-being overall. Exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, reducing anxiety and boosting mood. Lower anxiety levels, in general, can help you have fewer episodes of racing thoughts. Not to mention,  exercise can serve as a healthy distraction from mental chatter.

Therapy and medications

The most helpful tip for managing racing thoughts in the long term is to seek professional help. A mental health professional, like a licensed therapist, can help you identify the root causes of your racing thoughts, help you identify negative, unhealthy thought patterns, and develop healthier thoughts and behaviors. This is one of the main goals of a type of therapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A therapist can also help you learn relaxation techniques and coping skills that are best for you.

Additionally, if you have a mental health condition, you may benefit from psychiatric medication. A psychiatrist can diagnose you and determine if you’re a good candidate for medication. If you have an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, OCD, or PTSD, medication can make a big difference in your symptoms and quality of life.

If you’re looking for a psychiatrist to help you deal with your racing thoughts, consider Talkiatry. We’re a national psychiatry practice that treats a wide variety of mental health conditions. We provide virtual, in-network services so you can get the care you need from home. To get started, complete our free online assessment to get matched with a psychiatrist.  


Are racing thoughts a symptom of anxiety?

Yes, racing thoughts are a very common symptom of anxiety. They can be related to acute anxiety, in response to current life stressors, or chronic anxiety related to anxiety disorders like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

If I have racing thoughts am I bipolar?

Racing thoughts are a potential symptom of bipolar disorder, especially indicative of a manic or hypomanic episode. However, there are many other causes for racing thoughts. Having racing thoughts does not automatically mean you have bipolar disorder. Check out: Do I have bipolar disorder?

How do you calm a racing mind?

There are many ways to calm a racing mind. Try mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, grounding exercises, and physical exercises. If your racing thoughts are persistent, seek professional help from a licensed therapist or psychiatrist.  

Are there medications for racing thoughts?

There aren’t necessarily medications specifically made for racing thoughts. However, if you have a disorder such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, or an anxiety disorder, taking medication can help reduce your symptoms overall, including racing thoughts.  

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

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What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

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  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

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Michael Roman, MD

Dr. Michael Roman is currently a Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. He completed his adult psychiatry residency training at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Roman is a board-certified Adult Psychiatrist and a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Dr. Roman’s clinical practice centers primarily around medication management and psychopharmacological treatment approaches. He also specializes in a variety of psychotherapeutic modalities which he utilizes in conjunction with medication management in order to provide patients with the best possible treatment outcomes.

Dr. Roman’s curiosity for the studies of the human mind began with pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He was intrigued by the way our mind, body, emotions, and behavior were intertwined to comprise our everyday life experiences. His interest in the intricacy of the human mind was deepened in medical school, and he received his medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He completed his adult psychiatry residency training at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Roman treats a wide spectrum of patients, but his primary clinical focus is treating mood disorders, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and PTSD. Dr. Roman also specializes in treating substance use disorders and possesses clinical expertise in implementing high quality motivational interviewing and motivational enhancing therapy.

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