Panic Disorder and Your Racing Thoughts

a panicked man

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People with anxiety disorders are often troubled with racing thoughts. People with panic disorder may find that racing thoughts are interfering with their overall well-being and functioning. Read ahead to learn more about panic disorder and racing thoughts, including tips on how to stop racing thoughts.  

What Are Racing Thoughts?

Racing thoughts involve quick transitioning of thoughts or thinking. Such thoughts can rapidly jump from one idea to the next, sometimes in ways that seem unconnected or illogical. Racing thoughts can feel overwhelming and out of one’s control. They can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety, making a person feel keyed up and unable to relax.

Racing thoughts can make it difficult to concentrate and complete tasks. Such fast thought patterns might even keep a person up at night, potentially contributing to sleep disorders.  

Racing thoughts are often associated with mania or hypomania in bipolar disorder, often accompanied by a flight of ideas. However, the experience of racing thoughts can also be part of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and phobias. For people with panic disorder, racing thoughts are often consumed by negativity, self-defeating beliefs, and worry.

Medications are sometimes used to treat these symptoms, but other approaches can also be helpful. Here are some ways to deal with racing thoughts.

Get Support

Racing thoughts can be very difficult to manage on your own. If racing thoughts are interfering with your life, you may want to consider attending psychotherapy. Through psychotherapy, you can work with a mental health specialist to develop ways to manage your racing thoughts and other panic disorder symptoms.

Your therapist may also recommend that you attend group therapy. Through group therapy, you can expect to meet with a facilitator plus other clients who are dealing with the same or similar issues.

Group therapy can help you to overcome feelings of loneliness while sharing experiences and exploring coping techniques with others who can relate to your symptoms. Group therapy may also provide you with tips and techniques to get past racing thoughts. 

Aside from professional help, it may also be useful to have a trusted friend or family member to turn to when racing thoughts seem unbearable.

Sometimes just having a person to talk with can assist you in slowing down your thoughts. Enlist a loved one to be someone you can call when racing thoughts or other symptoms take over.

Think about if you have a friend or family member who is good at conversation or always seems to make you laugh. You may not even need to tell the person that you are troubled with racing thoughts. Just having a friend or family member to turn to may be all you need to keep your racing thoughts under control.

Write It Out 

Writing exercises can be a positive and proactive way to deal with your racing thoughts. All you need to get started is paper, a pen, and a little bit of your time.

Try setting aside 10 minutes a day to simply write out all of your thoughts on paper. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling, just get your thoughts on paper and out of your head.

Include as many details as you can, writing out all the different thoughts that have been racing through your mind. You can also use writing as a way to track your racing thoughts and progress for overcoming them. For instance, you can keep a diary to record your mood, symptoms, and anxiety levels, also marking down how frequently you experienced racing thoughts each day.

Additionally, you may want to track your panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms. If practiced over time, tracking can help you uncover potential triggers and sources of stress that may be contributing to your racing thoughts.

Channel Your Energy

Racing thoughts can make you feel scattered and unfocused, however, but it possible to use that mental energy and channel it into a hobby or other task. When racing thoughts are taking over, bring your awareness elsewhere. For example, you can try to bring your attention to a good book or flip through the pages of a favorite magazine.

If you enjoy creative endeavors, activities such as painting, collage, or crafting, may help take your awareness off of your thoughts and into the artistic process. Or perhaps you have an interest in other hobbies, such as cooking, photography, or woodworking.

When you participate in something that you are passionate about, you may find your energy becomes more steady and focused. 

When seeking out ways to refocus your energy, also consider physical exercise. Engaging in a regular exercise routine has been shown to help reduce stress levels. Exercise has also been found to decrease anxiety-related tensions felt throughout the body. You may find that exercise calms your mind and allows you to feel more in control.

Exercise can come in many forms, such as going to a local gym, taking an aerobics or yoga class, or jogging in the park. Even simply taking regular walks may help you clear your head and relax your racing thoughts.  

Breathe and Meditate

Your breath can be a powerful tool in helping you feel calm and stop racing thoughts. When racing thoughts are distracting you, take control through a deep breathing exercise.

Deep Breathing Exercise

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, keeping your face relaxed as you fill your belly with breath.
  • Hold the breath for a moment and then gradually exhale it all out through your mouth.
  • Keep repeating these steps, noticing how refreshing and relaxing it is to take deep breaths.

Once you have deep breathing down, you may want to consider adding mindfulness meditation to your breathing exercise. This relaxation technique can assist in deeply relaxing and bringing your attention back to the present moment.

While meditating, racing thoughts will occur, but through mindfulness, you can learn to accept and detach from these thoughts. Mindfulness meditation affords you the opportunity to face your racing thoughts without reacting, which can eventually allow you to break free from them.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.