Racing thoughts keeping you up at night? You can try deep breathing or meditation to quiet your mind and get a good night’s rest.
Does it feel like your brain never turns off? Do you have trouble relaxing because of overthinking and worrying?
Have you ever laid in bed wondering “Why can’t I fall asleep?” or tried unsuccessfully to quiet your mind for a few minutes?
Rest assured, you’re not alone. A busy or racing mind can happen to anyone, and it could have many different causes.
Knowing the reasons why you can’t shut off your mind can help you determine the best ways to try to quiet your mind.
There are some common factors that may make it feel as though your brain never turns off.
Stress is one of the “usual suspects” when you can’t seem to stop thinking. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, and cortisol helps you stay alert. This means that your brain stays alert, too — even when you don’t want it to.
Cortisol can also cause physical symptoms of anxiety that can keep you from relaxing or sleeping. Things such as a faster pulse and higher body temperature can keep you wakeful.
Some types of stress that can cause an increased cortisol release include:
- a big transition in life such as changing jobs or moving
- a demanding work or school environment
- conflict with another person
- financial worries
- a packed schedule with little downtime
- being a caregiver
- juggling more responsibilities than you have time for
- upsetting current events
- major health concerns
- dealing with grief and bereavement
These or other stressful experiences recently could be causing your brain to stay alert and thinking all the time.
Mental health conditions
The cause can sometimes go beyond stress. Certain mental health conditions are known to make it harder to shut off your brain.
- Anxiety disorder. Anxiety can cause unpleasant thoughts and physical symptoms and contribute to the overproduction of cortisol.
- Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder involves extreme shifts in mood and activity levels. It’s characterized by extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). During a manic episode, your thoughts may seem to go 100 miles per hour.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some people with ADHD find that their minds are always working and seldom quiet.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Repetitive, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts are major symptoms of OCD.
- Mixed depression. Depression with mixed features includes some manic symptoms but not enough to meet the criteria for bipolar disorder.
Research from 2011suggests that people with depression with mixed features may be more likely to have trouble with racing thoughts than people with major depressive disorder (MDD).
Some substances make it harder for your brain to calm down.
Caffeine is a common substance that people use to stay wakeful and alert. Many of us enjoy caffeine in coffee, sodas, and chocolate. But it can keep us alert when we’d rather power down our thinking.
Some substances such as cocaine and methamphetamines can cause racing thoughts.
Even some prescription medications can keep your mind from settling. If you experience an increase in racing thoughts after starting a new medication, consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional.
It may be a good idea to discuss any possible side effects of any medication before taking it, so you’ll know what to expect.
Not being able to shut your mind off can feel very unpleasant.
It keeps you keyed up even when you want to relax. You may find it hard to feel present in situations that you want to soak up and enjoy. When your mind is racing you might:
- find yourself cycling through the same thoughts over and over but never getting any closer to “solving” the problem or concern
- relive memories of past mistakes, imagine worst-case scenarios, or have thoughts of doing something that you would never actually do in real life
- lie awake at night wishing that you could turn the “off” switch on your brain and go to sleep
A racing mind may come along with the physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweating, trembling, a fast heartbeat, and a flushed face.
Sometimes, it might feel like your brain is being hijacked. Even when you realize you’re overthinking, acknowledge that it isn’t productive, and try to will the thoughts away, they just won’t stop. It’s as if the thoughts have a life of their own.
Even though you may feel little control over your thoughts, there are things you can do to help slow your racing mind and get ahead of this problem.
Consider trying these strategies to help quiet your restless mind.
Even brief periods of distraction may be very helpful in slowing down racing thoughts. In a
Find soothing activities
Try to choose something that you find soothing and enjoyable. This might be a warm bath, meditation, a relaxing yoga routine, or a calming book. It might be a good idea to also avoid screen time when you need to calm down.
Write down your thoughts
Some people find that writing down a thought allows them to let go of it. If you dwell on something that you’re afraid to forget, making a note to yourself may help relieve the worry.
If you have unresolved emotions about an event, journaling may help you feel free from it.
Schedule “thinking” time
Scheduling time to think and problem solve can help. If you know you’ll deal with your thoughts at a certain time, you may feel free to let them go the rest of the day.
Finding ways to tune in to the present moment is a great way to quiet racing thoughts. You could try yoga, meditation, body scan meditation, or deep breathing.
Deep breathing exercises may be particularly helpful. A
Seek professional help
Sometimes do-it-yourself efforts aren’t enough. If racing thoughts are still interfering with your life, consider seeking help from a healthcare or mental health professional.
Therapy or medication may be required to turn down the volume of constant thinking.
Many of us have experienced times when our brains didn’t seem to shut off.
Whether it’s running over your schedule for the next day or rewinding the day and finally remembering that task you forgot to do at work, racing thoughts can keep you from quieting your mind and falling asleep at night.
Your ruminating thoughts could also be a symptom of a mental health condition such as OCD, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder.
Finding ways to challenge negative self-talk and stop those ruminating thoughts can help you shut off your brain. Some strategies that may help include deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
If your ruminating thoughts are interfering with your daily life, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional. They can help determine if any underlying conditions are the cause and if any treatment is necessary.