This article explains the relationship between anxiety and racing thoughts.
The Racing Thoughts / Racing Mind anxiety symptoms are often described as:
The racing thoughts anxiety symptoms common descriptions:
- Your mind is racing and it seems as if there is nothing you can do to stop it.
- Your mind is racing so fast that you have a million thoughts a minute.
- Your mind is racing so much that you can’t focus on any one thing.
- Your brain feels like it is wired with electricity and, as a result, your thoughts are racing a million miles an hour.
- Your thoughts are racing so fast you can’t stop them.
- You have a million ideas all at once.
- Your racing mind never shuts off.
- It feels like your mind is pulling you in several directions at once.
- The moment you think of one thought another thought replaces it faster than you can finish the first one.
- You have a million thoughts happening all at the same time.
- You have so many thoughts happening all at once that you can’t focus on anything.
- You have so many thoughts happening all at once that your head feels like it is about to explode.
- Your thoughts are racing so much that you feel dizzy at times.
- It feels like your head is spinning because your thoughts are racing so much.
- It feels as if your head is about to explode because of how fast your thoughts are racing.
And much more.
Racing thoughts can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may experience racing thoughts once in a while and not that often, have them off and on, or have racing thoughts all the time.
The racing thoughts anxiety symptoms may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
Racing thoughts can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.
The racing thoughts anxiety symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. They can also come in waves where your thoughts are racing strong one moment and ease off the next.
The racing thoughts anxiety symptoms can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
The racing thoughts anxiety symptoms often seem more disconcerting when undistracted or when trying to rest or go to sleep.
The racing thoughts anxiety symptoms can also feel stronger upon waking up in the middle of the night. They can also feel very strong first thing in the morning after waking up and shortly after waking up from a nap.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including Racing Thoughts anxiety symptoms.
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What causes racing thoughts anxiety symptoms?
There are six main causes of racing thoughts anxiety symptoms. Three of the most common are:
1. Active stress response
When we think we are in danger (apprehensive behavior, worry, fear, anxiety, etc.), the body activates the stress response (also referred to as the emergency response). The stress response causes the body to secrete stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted locations to bring about immediate changes that enhance the body's ability to deal with a threat - to either fight with or flee from it - which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.
In addition to the many effects stress hormones have on the body, they also stimulate the body. This stimulation effect also affects the nervous system, which includes the brain.
Research has found that stress hormones cause an increase in activity in certain parts of the brain. This increased activity can cause an increase in thought generation. Increased thought generation is typically experienced as racing thoughts.
Consequently, racing thoughts can last as long as the body is experiencing an active stress response. Once the active stress response ends, the body’s stimulation diminishes and along with it, the increase in thought generation. Racing thoughts subside as the active stress response ends and the body returns to its normal level of stimulation.
For more information about the many changes stress responses cause, Recovery Support members can read the section entitled “Hyperstimulation And Its Effects” in Chapter 14.
2. Stress-response hyperstimulation
When the body isn’t overly stressed and/or stimulated, the activity level in the brain is normal. This results in a normal level of thought generation.
But when the body becomes overly stressed (stress-response hyperstimulated), such as from overly apprehensive behavior, brain activity can increase and remain increased as long as the body is hyperstimulated. This can cause the increase in thought generation to persist. As long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated, we can experience racing thoughts as a consequence.
Again for more detailed information, Recovery Support members can read the section entitled “Hyperstimulation And Its Effects” in Chapter 14.
Many anxious people have developed a habit of doing everything quickly. Their actions, mannerisms, activity levels, walking, talking, and so on, are all done in a hurry. In fact, the pace of their lives is often so fast most others have difficulty keeping up. This fast pace stems from fast thinking. As their pace increases, so does the body’s level of stimulation - the body produces stress hormones to meet the demand of our activity.
This type of behavior and the body’s level of stimulation become a habit over time. Consequently, the faster they go, the more stimulated the body becomes, with one fueling the other. If these anxious people don’t make time to balance their high activity with rest, it’s often not long before hyperstimulation occurs.
So having a habit of doing everything quickly is another cause of increased stimulation, which can result in racing thoughts.
Increase in stimulation can cause an increase in thought generation.
We explain the other three causes of racing mind in the Recovery Support area under the symptom ‘Racing Thoughts’ in our Symptoms section (Chapter 9).
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How to get rid of the racing mind anxiety symptoms?
While the racing thoughts anxiety symptoms can be annoying, distracting, and even bothersome, they aren’t harmful. They are generally just another indication that the body is experiencing an active stress response and/or is overly stressed (hyperstimulated). Therefore, there isn’t any need to worry about this symptom. For anxious and/or overly stressed people, racing thoughts is not an indication of a serious mental illness.
When racing thoughts are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the active stress response and its changes. As your body recovers, your racing thoughts should subside as your body returns to its normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. This is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
When racing mind is caused by stress-response hyperstimulation, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where this symptom is eliminated. Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered, the racing mind symptoms generally subside.
There are reasons why the body can take a long time to recover once it has become hyperstimulated. We explain all this in the Recovery Support area.
You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about this anxiety symptom. When your body has recovered from the stress response and/or persistently elevated stress, racing thoughts completely disappear.
When racing thoughts is caused by a fast-paced approach to life, adopting a more relaxed approach can reduce the body’s stimulation level, which can reduce and eventually eliminate racing thoughts.
Worrying about racing thoughts is counterproductive to eliminating it (since worry stresses, and therefore, stimulates the body). If you are having difficulty containing your worry, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists, coaches, or counselors. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder and what seems like unmanageable worry.
Play the clip below for Jim Folk's commentary about the Racing Thoughts anxiety symptoms. Jim Folk is the president of anxietycentre.com.
Racing Thoughts are common symptoms of elevated stress, including the stress overly apprehensive behavior can cause. Jim Folk experienced almost all anxiety symptoms during his 12 year struggle with anxiety disorder.
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- Free online anxiety tests to screen for anxiety. Two minute tests with instant results. Such as:
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Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.
anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including the Racing Thoughts anxiety symptoms.
2. Folk, Jim and Folk, Marilyn. “The Stress Response And Anxiety Symptoms.” anxietycentre.com, August 2019.
3. Hannibal, Kara E., and Mark D. Bishop. “Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2014.
4. Justice, Nicholas J., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Like Induction Elevates β-Amyloid Levels, Which Directly Activates Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons to Exacerbate Stress Responses.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 11 Feb. 2015.