Some days I have a hard time relaxing. I’m vegging out on the couch, or reading the powerful words of a particular book. And then the thoughts, like rows of soldiers, march in. Some days I can’t get to sleep. My mind, unfortunately, never came with a pause button, and on those nights, it decides to keep going.
My mind plays the same tracks on repeat: This long list of stuff needs to be done. Yesterday. Don’t forget about the dishes in the sink. And the 8,000 unanswered emails. And the dirty floors. And the thank-you cards. And that thing you were wanting to organize. A year ago. Don’t forget that your book isn’t good enough. Oh, and everything that can go wrong, in general, will likely go wrong. Rinse. Repeat.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Sometimes we can’t relax, we can’t take a nap, we can’t enjoy what we’re doing because our thoughts go to a negative place, and they start racing. Each other. NASCAR style.
You, too, might have thoughts of everything you need to accomplish. Or maybe you struggle with thoughts about the past or the future. Either way, the thoughts rush out, as though they’ve been held captive for years and are finally free to bombard you. And bombard they do.
In her book Hunger, Hope & Healing: A Yoga Approach to Reclaiming Your Relationship to Your Body and Food author Sarahjoy Marsh shares six valuable exercises that I think can help.
Hot Tea Mug
Fill a tea mug halfway with hot water. Hold it with both hands where it isn’t too hot. Bring your attention to the mug’s temperature and texture. “Specifically, observe how immediately your hands respond to the temperature of the cup, as well as how they experience the different temperatures of the upper part, the handle, and the bottom part of the mug,” Marsh writes. Focus on the temperature of the cup as it cools. You can lift a finger or your entire hand, and then place it back. Again, focus on how the temperature changes as you do this.
Texture as Teacher
Pick an object with a specific texture. Marsh suggests a stone or scarf or something smooth or bumpy. Without moving your hands, focus your attention on the texture. Then start moving your hands around to feel the texture. Immerse yourself in the tactile experience of this object. If your mind wanders, just bring it back to feeling the texture.
Hot and Cold
Take a 5-minute hot shower. Then turn on the cold water for 30 seconds. Repeat this a few times, and finish up with cold water. If you can’t take a shower, use this technique to wash your hands. Or apply a warm to hot washcloth on your face. Then splash cold water on your face.
Refocus your attention on your surroundings. For instance, you might count the number of petals on a tulip, or floorboards between you and the door. Or pay attention to the sounds around you, everything from birds chirping to horns honking to rain hitting your window.
Shaking Off Cobwebs
Stand up, and start vigorously swinging both your arms from the front to the back, from the back to the front. Every time you swing your arms to the back, make your hands into fists. Exhale through your nose. As you swing your arms forward, spread your fingers wide. Inhale through your nose. Do this for at least 1 minute. “Then let your arms swing and slow down to stillness. Take a deep, long inhalation through your nose and completely exhale out your nose.”
Raised Heart Rate
Do something simple to raise your heart rate. Marsh suggests everything from jumping jacks to walking up a steep hill to bouncing up and down.
Racing thoughts can stop us from relaxing and taking good care of ourselves. Thankfully, there’s a variety of strategies for refocusing and calming our frenzied minds. The above are just some tools you can try. Experiment with what works for you (which might be different in different situations).
And try not to get caught up in these thoughts. Acknowledge their presence, and then try a technique. We don’t need to fight with our thoughts. We can observe, acknowledge and try to move on.
What types of racing thoughts swirl around your mind? What helps you deal with racing thoughts?