So I was hanging out in a different neurodivergence forum and somebody asked about how to control racing thoughts. I figured my response might be helpful to people here as well so I figured I’d copy and paste it.
The original question was “Does anyone else try to use their racing thoughts and other nuances to good use? Instead of concealing or suppressing?”
My response is copied and pasted below:
I think for pretty much everybody, the speed of thoughts exists along a spectrum. It’s not like you’re thinking quickly or slowly, but more like you’re thinking really fast or sorta fast or slow or barely at all. How I “control” my racing thoughts depends on what speed they’re going at.
I have ADHD, so the “default speed” of my thinking is already quite fast. At this default speed it’s hard to focus on any one thing very long, especially if I find it boring. One of the major ways I deal with this is medication, specifically Adderall. I also try to make things a game and try to give myself some background stimulation, so to speak, so that my brain doesn’t get mad about having to do something boring. Writing an email to my advisor? Boring. Listening to music, stimming, and thinking about a book I was just reading while mentally constructing a fanfic about it? Less boring. So if I have to write an email to my advisor, I listen to my music, I bounce my legs or rock back and forth, I let my mind go where it wants, and just type out the email. Then a boring task becomes less boring. I also have an app on my phone that turns to-do lists into a game where task completion levels up your character and helps you fight monsters, that also helps make the mundane more engaging.
But that’s just the default speed.
If we call that a medium speed, there’s also “medium-high” speed to deal with. When that’s the case I really can’t do one thing for long. Best way to be productive when my mind is going at medium-high speed is to have 3 or 4 different “productivity stations” set up. Again, I’ll be listening to music and I’ll spend 5 minutes tidying up my room, then 15 minutes reading my textbook, then 15 minutes pacing, then 5 minutes checking email, then I’ll get a snack, then another loop or two through the productivity stations, then walk my dog, and so on and so forth. Basically giving my brain lots of stimulation from different tasks and interrupt the tasks with pacing and listening to music so my mind can go where it wants.
But that’s just medium-high speed.
If my mind is at it’s top speed, productivity doesn’t exist. There’s really no chance of me focusing on anything. During these times I just put on my headphones and listen to music, pace around, and let my brain ricochet from thought to thought as it pleases. This might be for 10 minutes, it might be for 3 hours. Eventually it stops and I read or watch t.v. or whatever. Medication helps a lot at reducing the frequency of this speed and putting me in control more.
Basically the best way for me to control my racing thoughts is to give myself outlets and other forms of stimulation (both mental and physical). Also, when my brain tells me focusing on something else is important, sometimes I can set a timer on it or just get it “out”. For example, earlier today I was studying and something in the textbook made my brain say “Hey, here’s a follow up question about something you just read. You should research this question.” And instead of going down that rabbit hole (which would have kept me from finishing the textbook chapter I was trying to get through), I made a note in my planner (I use a bullet journal, which can be helpful for ADHD brains) to explore that topic after the studying, and once it was written down my brain let me go back to focusing on my studying. A moment later, my brain said “You should write your girlfriend an email, that’d be nice” So I made a note to do that and was able to stop thinking about it.
Of course, sometimes such things aren’t options. If I get unusually fast thoughts in the middle of an in-person lecture (of course haven’t had any of those in awhile) I can’t just switch activities. That’s why I tried timing my medication doses to my lectures. But when I did get racing thoughts in the middle of a lecture, and it is bound to happen, I would focus on keeping taking notes. Note-taking is a mechanical process, it’s almost like a way to fidget, so I never had trouble focusing on writing down notes. The process of taking notes sort of forces you to also focus on what’s being said, so that was the best tool I found for that context.
Okay, so quick summary of how I control racing thoughts:
- Medication, it really does help for a lot of people.
- Give yourself physical and mental stimulation (this can be listening to music, stimming, thinking about other things, etc.)
- Jot down thoughts to get them out of your head.
- If you can, switch frequently between tasks at the speed that your brain wants to.
- Use note taking to “force” your brain to process information.
Hopefully there was something useful in here for others, though of course what works for me might not be what works for you.