How to Cope with Racing Thoughts at Work
For those with bipolar disorder, episodes of mania/hypomania cause racing thoughts at work that make it difficult—if not, impossible—to do your job. For me, racing thoughts are a mix of bursting creative ideas and intrusive onslaughts of useless and unrelated mental chatter. As you can imagine, this makes it difficult to work. I'm either too busy trying to keep up with my ideas or too distracted and overwhelmed by the never-ending chatter. I get frustrated by my inability to focus, irritated by disruptions, and the chaos in my brain leaves me completely drained. For me to get any work done with racing thoughts, I need to carve out an environment that eliminates as many triggers as possible.
Know the Triggers for Racing Thoughts at Work and Plan to Avoid Them
When your mind is full of racing thoughts at work, external stimuli can potentially trigger more unwelcome thoughts. Using headphones or earplugs can be helpful for this. I find listening to ambient music or nature sounds through noise-canceling headphones is a great way to shut out external noise that is only adding to the chaos in my head. Whatever your preference, eliminating outside distractions will make it easier to center your focus on the task at hand.
Break down tasks
With the mental fatigue that accompanies racing thoughts, any manner of work can feel overwhelming. Try breaking down tasks into short bouts of undivided attention followed by a break or reward. This is the idea behind the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method where you set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on one task. When the timer goes off, take a five-to-10-minute break. After four 25-minute periods, take a longer break of 20-30 minutes, or whatever you're able to manage. Breaking down tasks this way can help minimize mental fatigue and improve productivity.
Consider Your Work Environment to Manage Racing Thoughts at Work
Can you be open about your bipolar?
If you work with a team or in an office, being open with colleagues when feeling edgy or overwhelmed can help to reduce anxiety or guilt you may be feeling when irritable, distracted, or off your game. I know when I'm working extra hard to tune out racing thoughts and concentrate at work, the slightest disruption or setback can send me spiraling with stress or irritability and then I feel guilty or ashamed for being so miserable to be around. So, if you work in a place where you're comfortable being open about your bipolar disorder or mental health struggles, try keeping your work associates in the loop. Kindly explain your situation and let them know how they can support you.
What if you can't be open about your bipolar?
On the other hand, not everyone is fortunate enough to work in a place where they're comfortable being open about their mental health or they work in a people-oriented position and have to interact with strangers. Honestly, I wish I had better habits to offer when faced with this, but I don't. When I'm in either of these situations while dealing with racing thoughts at work, and not even my co-worker's support makes much difference, I pretend to have a migraine.
No, I shouldn't have to do this, but not everyone is up-to-speed on just how real and impairing mental illness can be. You can be sure, however, that most people are willing to accommodate a migraine, something they consider a "physical illness" (mental illness is physical, by the way). I'm not suggesting anything here. I believe in being open about mental illness; it's an important step in breaking taboos and raising awareness. But sometimes, we just have to do what we need to survive the day. For me, that's occasionally pretending I have a migraine so no one will question whether I'm actually sick.
Coping with racing thoughts at work is hard, but taking steps to learn your triggers makes it possible to carve out an environment that will accommodate this aspect of hypomania/mania. Figuring out what works best for you and putting it into an action plan will make these episodes a little more bearable to go through at work.
Cawthorne, N. (2019, October 9). How to Cope with Racing Thoughts at Work, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, October 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/workandbipolarordepression/2019/10/how-to-cope-with-racing-thoughts-at-work
Author: Natalie Cawthorne
As a person with anxiety, I struggle to deal with intrusive thoughts. I will definitely be giving these tips a shot. One of them, the Pomodoro Technique, has really worked for me more often than not.