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Slow Anxiety's Racing Thoughts with Your Senses

Anxiety causes thoughts to race through our minds. Tuning into the senses helps pull us away from racing anxious thoughts and into the outer world.

Anxiety brings with it a seemingly endless list of struggles and frustrations. A very common frustration and, for me, incredibly bothersome is anxiety’s loud, unrelenting hyperactivity. The feeling of hyperactivity is sometimes related to anxiety's racing thoughts.

Relentless Racing Thoughts and Anxiety

When my son was younger, I once picked him up from a birthday party (well, that happened more than once, but this particular time stands out in my memory). A dozen or so six-year-olds were running like wild, screaming and chasing each other through an indoor playground. They, of course, didn’t have the playground to themselves, and there were scores of other children doing the same thing. Noise, ruckus, physical wildness—it was downright overwhelming. It struck me that this commotion was a representation of what constantly goes on in my head. Anxiety is one of the causes of these relentless racing thoughts.

Racing Thoughts Present in Anxiety of Any Type

  • In social anxiety, we fear being judged, mocked, and ridiculed. We wonder if we said the right thing or the wrong thing. We worry about our actions or lack thereof.
  • With generalized anxiety, we worry about all things imaginable, and the “what-ifs” race wildly through our heads.
  • When we experience panic attacks, we fear that which we are panicking about or, if we can’t identify a cause, we worry that we’re going crazy or, worse, dying.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder brings anxieties that won’t go away, won’t get out of our heads even when we perform compulsive actions to help get them out.
  • Specific phobias keep anxiety at the forefront of our thoughts, causing us to remain mired in fear.

Anxiety and Racing Thoughts Can Be Slowed with Mindfulness Meditation

No matter what type of anxiety we experience, the thoughts race hyperactively around our minds, and we can’t seem to get them to stop. Removing these frantic thoughts will go a long way toward reducing our anxiety. Take heed: we can, indeed, get anxious thoughts out of our heads and create relief, a sense of calm.

One way to do this is by turning our attention away from what’s happening inside our minds and focusing instead on what is happening outside of us. The technique is to focus on each of our five senses, in turn, really attending to what we’re experiencing.

It’s a form of mindfulness meditation, and while it’s not an instant cure for anxiety, it’s part of the process of healing. It’s something that can be done in any moment of intense anxiety to bring relief in that moment. When practiced over time, it has an even greater calming effect because your mind learns to turn its attention away from racing anxieties and calm itself in the sights, sounds, tactile sensations, smells, and tastes around you.

Tune in to the video as I describe the process of slowing anxiety's racing thoughts.

See Also:

Grounding Techniques To Combat Anxiety in PTSD Recovery

Connect with Tanya on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, her books, and her website.

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2014, July 23). Slow Anxiety's Racing Thoughts with Your Senses, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/07/engage-your-senses-disengage-anxiety



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

kelly aarnes
says:
July, 20 2016 at 10:31 pm
so i love mindful meditation the problem is when i come back to reality the mind begins racing again. i get triggered by sounds, smells. to much noise. a loud voice a whistle everything i eat in reponse to everything help

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 21 2016 at 12:23 pm
Hi Kelly,
My mind behaves in a very similar way. While I haven't discovered a "cure," I do know that this can be managed so it's no longer such a negative interference. Accepting it's presence rather than fighting with it or trying to avoid it is a helpful first step. Then, build on what works. Since you love mindful meditation, intentionally do it as you go about your day. Rather than just reserving time to sit and meditate (which of course you can do since you love it), practice mindfulness all the time. Use your senses to help you rather than hurt you. Notice what's happening around you to remind yourself of the present. Shift your thoughts away from the racing ones in your head to what is happening around you. Seek and create good things in your day, too. This is something that is very effective, but it does take time and practice to implement it automatically. Be patient with yourself. You can learn to put space between you and your racing thoughts.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Misty
says:
September, 5 2017 at 6:38 am
Have you found anything to help?
Alisa A Devlin, MD
says:
October, 3 2015 at 1:48 pm
Pretty much anybody can friend me, but I am on sabbatical/ retired/ writing a book, so I am a board certified Psychiatrist, but unlicensed n uninsured. I find most cases it is best to combine a medication with techniques taught (CBT) to the pt. I myself have several severe anxiety diagnosesPanic, PTSD...and treated severely ill patients with these problems. I would come home from work & run to the toilet to barf or have severe dry heaves. And this is with meds. If I had no meds? Oh my gosh. I'd be home in a ball in a corner. But I then had to go into my bedroom...the slow breaths in/ out of paper bag do help. I find distraction is an incredible help!! Slow your breathing down, that will help the heart to slow as so much is physical. TV is great..20 years ago I got my patients to start coloring. Now adult coloring books are the rage. It doesn't matter color, lines, markers etc. it's just for you. If alone, pop in a microwave meal. Like you're gonna cook!? Ha! But it is important to start to slow your body down. Get into Law nOrder, Blue Bloods..ok my choices...or more humor BigBang. WITH on demand you literally can watch anything. OFF the computer because that can be exciting, stimulating or hurtful. All you can get into. Also it's lighting will keep you awake, not slow you down. If you have a not-so- understanding family...DUH! Do not call them. They can wait. 2words-Voice Mail if they call you. If you do have a very, very, kind and non taxing relative/friend to call go ahead. But short sweet and get support. Overall, I say chill with the phone and do something you are sure will relax you. Like a bath. But if you need that reassurance... NOW ALL OF THIS SHOULD BE IN PLACE BEFORE YOUR FIRST EXTRA BREATH, OR FEELING OF A RACING HEART. THAT'S WHEN YOU TAKE THE MEDICATION, THAT WHEN THE ACTION PLAN STARTS -And this is worked out with your DOCTOR PLEASE, PLEASE A PSYCHIATRIST, BEFORE HAND.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 4 2015 at 11:47 am
Hello Alisa,
Thank you for sharing your helpful thoughts!
hussam
says:
October, 2 2015 at 3:11 pm
Thanks
Jyotiyprakash.M
says:
July, 26 2014 at 8:38 am
Very very good information .
mikeporter
says:
July, 26 2014 at 2:32 am
Great information

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