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How to Stop Racing Thoughts When Your Mind Won’t Let Up

How to Stop Racing Thoughts When Your Mind Won’t Let Up
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If you could see a diagram of my brain and you could imagine every line was a thought, it would look like you’d given a room full of 4 year olds crayons and told them to draw on the floor of a huge room. I don’t think one thing at a time. As my family say “I think Auntie Winn”.

My Auntie Winn could think about 30 conversations at the same time and expect you to jump from discussing world politics to the qualities of a good rock cake in less time than it took to the boil the kettle. Apparently, I do that to my husband too, I can often hear him saying “I know you think we’ve had this conversation today, however I’ve a feeling you’re giving me an answer to a conversation we had last Thursday in the hot tub!”

So, racing thoughts and me are best friends, or are we?

I realized that while I can be thinking a thousand thoughts at once, I don’t suffer from overwhelm, how is that? How to stop racing thoughts?

In this article, I want to share how I silence my mind, create some space and why it’s so good to do personally and professionally.

Does Everyone Have Racing Thoughts?

Before I share these ideas, I want to share something that really shocked me.

I decided to ask my social media friends if they “suffered” from a racing mind as so many of my clients do. The response was a little alarming:

    100% of respondents said they felt overwhelmed with many saying they felt like their mind was crazy and “Switching off? What’s that!”

    From my over busy friends’ minds, it seems that it doesn’t just impact on your mind, it also impacts on your actions, what you get done in a day and even your ability to get a decent nights sleep!

    It really is time to get that mind to let up and give you some time isn’t it!

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    So how can we fix this?

    Here I’m going to share a few tools to help you put the brakes on, calm your mind and achieve more without letting any of the important thoughts slip through your head.

    How to Stop Racing Thoughts In Your Mind

    1. Listen to your mind – Think like a pro

    I realized that one of the skills I’ve learned since I became ill with Lupus is that, I’ve learned to think in the most powerful way possible.

    Every thought is processed. I’ve been using this practice for so many years and I appreciate that I don’t consciously do this anymore. However, at the start, you will have to structure your thinking. When I say processed, I mean I am aware of the nature of my thoughts. For instance:

      I could go on, however do you get the idea?

      Listen to what your head has to say and then process it. If you don’t take the time to learn to do this, then ask yourself what impact this could have on your brain space, actions and results?

      2. Calm the mind

        When you’ve learned to actually listen to all that chatter in your head, it’s time to calm the mind.

        Listening does not automatically equate to it all magically disappearing. And calming the mind doesn’t require a tropical paradise, a massage and the sounds of nature to achieve a bit of brain space.

        For some clients, they’ve discovered the fastest way to shut their brains up is to crank up the music, so they literally can’t hear anything except their favourite song.

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        For others, 5 minutes in the garden is enough to make them rethink. I wouldn’t say there’s only one thing that takes you to a calm place, I’d have at least 12 physical things you can do to calm your mind down.

        That way, whether you have a hyper mind with excitement, anger, too much going on or feeling completely overwhelmed by life, you have different ideas to work.

        3. The Hi, Welcome, Good morning Game

        For me, sometimes a walk under the big oak trees is enough; other times, I just find myself getting even more flustered as the thoughts fight for my attention. On those occasions I found this really simple exercise quietens my mind and makes me smile:

        It’s so simple and yet works every time for me. All I do is visualize 10 people that I’ve met that week and visualize the first word I said to them. I’ve usually said something like “Great to see you” or “Hello” or “Welcome to my event!”

        I love meeting people and I host many different kinds of events, so people are pleased to see me and we are looking forward to our time together. What a great set of emotions and feelings to recreate in my head.

        How could you use my welcome exercise to remind you of something in your week that makes you feel good? (This also works on ear worms too!)

        4. Focus the mind

        When a coaching client arrives, they tend to start our session by talking so fast that I’m not sure even they can hear half of what they’re saying! After about 20 minutes, they are out of breath like they’ve been for a run, and their shoulders seem a little lighter as they’ve dumped the contents of their head on to me.

        What is happening when a client does this is they are:

        • Becoming more aware of what is going on in their head. Sometimes actually hearing the truth for the first time themselves!
        • Putting everything in front of them metaphorically so they can work out what to work on and what to dump. I call it ditch it or deal with it. And it works wonders on “To do” lists too!
        • Noticing how everything in their head impacts on them — physically and emotionally.
        • Challenging the beliefs they are holding around their perception of reality.

        And that’s just for starters! Read on for the next step.

        5. Create a plan of action

        Once you can see what is going on, you can create a plan of action that moves you forward.

        Focus means “the main or central point of something, especially of attention or interest” and this is what you need to calm an overwhelmed head of racing thoughts.

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        While you may not have a coach to work with, create some ways to empty everything out of your head and focus on what you need/want to do. These could include:

        • Arrange to meet with a friend or colleague and agree that “without judgement” they will listen and not interrupt. Agree that you will donate an hour to enable them to do the same.
        • One Facebook friend told me that their “cure to a racing mind” was to “disappear to bed with a pen and notebook to write it all down.” While in theory that is a good idea, I asked them if this worked for them, and they said sometimes. Could that be because they’ve waited until bedtime to process everything and get it out, instead of dealing with it when it was really a problem? Journaling can store up a lot of negative emotion if we keep reading it, so pay attention to how your notes make you feel. Is it really beneficial to you or do you need to change the way you write?
        • Make the time to focus. Do you need to put it in the diary or will you natural make the time to do this?
        • Create a list of all the things you could do for all the things you have whirling around in your head. Make it a long list. Dismiss nothing.
        • Play the ditch it or deal with it game. So often what we think we should be stressing about is actually someone else’s definition of important, therefore ask yourself “does this really matter to me?

        6. Less on your to do list

        Years ago, people would answer “How are you?” with “I’m fine, thanks” or “I’ve had a bad cold but I’m getting better now, thanks!” However today’s reply is far more likely to be “Busy, how are you?”

        Busy is not an emotion or feeling!

          Many of us have a busy mind because we are so busy. More and more I’m being asked to help professionals and organization to create coach-able strategies to manage their time. Here’s a few of those ideas to help you with your racing mind:

          Stop over thinking things.

          We often over think how long a task that we hate doing is going to take and so put it off and thus it gets to stick around in your head!

          Set a timer and know how long a task takes. Many clients have been able to clear a whole task from their head because their perception of its impact on their day and productivity has been changed.

          Allow more time.

          Contrary to the first top tip, we also underestimate how long other things take to do.

          If you know a job will take an hour, allow 1.5 hours. This means if it doesn’t take that long, you’ve just made some brain space for yourself too, so it’s a win win situation.

          Choose your words wisely.

          Have you ever noticed how many sayings we have around words related to time? I really want some Me time. I never have the time. I know you’ve got a lot on, but make the time. I don’t want to spend my time telling you what to do, etc, etc.

          Ask yourself if your choice of words free up your mind or make it even busier?

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          Don’t get side-tracked.

          We all have alarms and reminders that ping up at us. Even our household appliance now bleeps at us saying “Hey, I’m ready, give me your attention!” Turn them off.

          If you know you have a lot on, choose what you can hear carefully. Just like the person turning the music up so they can’t hear their own thoughts. Our ability to process what is going on in our heads can be impacted on by the email ping or the notification sounds.

          I have seen presentations where we’ve been told the best course of action is Eisenhower’s matrix for time management, which asks you to place every task (or thought) into a grid. The blocks are labelled: Urgent, less urgent, important and less important.

          While I’ve seen clients create their own version of this to great success. I also seen new clients who have told me that it takes them hours to complete the grid and so they get no work done and end up with even more flying around inside their heads!

          That’s enough to drive anyone insane! What works for one person does not mean it will work for you. You could try relabelling Eisenhower matrix as my clients to make it personal to you, to encourage you to use it.

          Alternatively, there is an app for everything. What about finding an app that enables you to empty your head. I love Wunderlist for enabling me to create some space in my head. In this way, you can put to one side thoughts while you concentrate on what is important right now.

          7. Ditch that guilt

          And lastly, if you have a brain that is running away with you, ditch the guilt because I wouldn’t mind betting you’ll free up a lot of space with that 1 action!

          Guilt is one of those emotions that causes us to process things again and again and again. Look for the guilt in your thoughts, analyze why it exists and get rid of it.

          Final Thoughts

          It’s totally normal if you find your thoughts racing in your mind all the time. What you need to do is to really listen to your thoughts and take some concrete actions about those thoughts.

          Forcing yourself to silence those thoughts is not the most efficient way in the long-run. Time to face these thoughts and find what works best for you to deal with these racing thoughts.

          Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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          More by this author

          Mandie Holgate

          International Coach, Best Selling Author & Speaker inspiring people around the world to success.

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          Last Updated on July 20, 2021

          How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

          How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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          You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

          Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

          Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

          Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

          1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

          According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

          “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

          Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

          Warming up

          If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

          If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

          Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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          1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
          2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
          3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

          Stay hydrated

          Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

          To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

          Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

          Meditate

          Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

          Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

          Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

          Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

          2. Focus on your goal

          One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

          Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

          Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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          Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

          If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

          3. Convert negativity to positivity

          There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

          ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

          It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

          Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

          Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

          Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

          4. Understand your content

          Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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          However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

          “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

          Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

          Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

          One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

          5. Practice makes perfect

          Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

          In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

          Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

          6. Be authentic

          There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

          Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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          Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

          To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

          With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

          Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

          7. Post speech evaluation

          Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

          Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

          We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

          You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

          Improve your next speech

          As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

          Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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          • How did I do?
          • Are there any areas for improvement?
          • Did I sound or look stressed?
          • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
          • Was I saying “um” too often?
          • How was the flow of the speech?

          Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

          If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

          Reference

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