Racing thoughts occur when a persons’ mind is filled with a constant stream of fast moving thoughts. Those with ADHD often struggle with racing thoughts, making it difficult for them to complete tasks and focus on responsibilities. These may be caused by a multitude of factors and can negatively impact a person’s daily functioning. However, there are ways to address racing thoughts both through professional treatment and on one’s own.
What Is ADHD?
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity, and disorganization. ADHD symptoms often present in early childhood, but continue to impact a person into adulthood. ADHD is considered to be a neurodivergent condition and symptom exhibition will vary from person to person.
Common symptoms of ADHD include:
- Easily distracted
- Difficulties focusing
- Time blindness
Racing Thoughts in ADHD
While racing thoughts are not always experienced by those with ADHD, they are a common occurrence. They may include rapid cycling thoughts about tasks that need to be completed or seemingly random progressions of ideas.
Racing thoughts may occur at any time of day, but can be especially challenging to deal with at night. A person with ADHD may replay the day’s activities in their heads repeatedly or focus on what they did or did not accomplish earlier.
Common examples of ADHD racing thoughts include:
- Thoughts won’t slow down
- Feeling the need to complete tasks immediately
- Moving from one task to another rapidly
- Focusing on future responsibilities
Are Racing Thoughts a Sign of Bipolar Disorder?
Racing thoughts may be a sign or symptom of another mental health disorder. For instance, racing thoughts are particularly present in those with bipolar disorder who are experiencing a manic episode. However, it is important to note that experiencing racing thoughts does not indicate the presence of the disorder, or any for that matter. Racing thoughts can impact anyone, regardless of their mental health standing. For this reason, consider seeking the guidance of a professional if you are unable to cope with your racing thoughts. They will help determine the root cause of your symptoms.1
What Causes Racing Thoughts in ADHD?
A person with ADHD might experience racing thoughts for a variety of reasons. The first and foremost is that a common symptom of ADHD includes mental restlessness and distractibility. This can be further impacted by one’s environment and responsibilities, resulting in increased racing thoughts. If a person is overstimulated by their surroundings, to-do lists, or obligations, their mind can easily become filled with fast-moving thoughts regarding these factors.
ADHD racing thoughts may be caused by:
- Distractibility: Those with ADHD can be easily distracted, making it difficult to focus on one task at a time. This can result in racing thoughts regarding the long list of tasks yet to be completed.
- ADHD paralysis: A person with ADHD may experience bouts of ADHD paralysis, which can result in increasing thoughts regarding the task that has not been started yet.
- Perfectionism: A person with ADHD may feel especially hyperfixated on completing a task in order to meet their own or others’ expectations. This can lead to racing thoughts about ensuring they fulfill their responsibilities well.
- Overwhelm: Those with ADHD may take on more tasks then they can handle, which can lead them to experience racing thoughts about their obligations.
9 Tips for Coping With ADHD & Racing Thoughts
While it is difficult to navigate ADHD and racing thoughts, there are ways to cope with challenges as they occur. Adopting healthy coping mechanisms can allow a person to address their mental clutter and overwhelm. There are ways to experience relief, calm, and restfulness. Taking time to address your symptoms will help to improve your work performance, relationships, and overall well-being.2
Below are nine number tips for coping with ADHD and racing thoughts:
1. Find a Distraction
When your thoughts are racing, it’s really easy to get caught up in the cycle. It’s often important to find something to do that steers your attention away from racing thoughts. This can include simple activities such as going for a walk, journaling, or even reading a book. Sometimes finding a distraction can actually help you get back on track and focus on important tasks.
2. Fix Your Routine
Have you checked your routine recently? If your routine has shifted or you don’t currently have one, you may benefit from taking a step back to explore how your daily activities are impacting your mental well-being. For example, sleep impacts a person’s mental health in many ways. If you’re finding that racing thoughts are keeping you up at night, you may consider creating a bedtime routine that helps you relax before lights out. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule can positively impact you throughout your day, which in turn can help you feel better able to tackle your responsibilities.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness allows a person to remain present in the here and now, rather than focused on the future or things that they have no control over. However, mindfulness doesn’t only need to be practiced during times of overwhelm. Engaging in mindfulness throughout the day helps build one’s ability to remain calm. Those with ADHD can benefit from this practice, as it can help them feel more in control of their thoughts.
4. Exercise Regularly
There are many benefits of exercise as it releases endorphins and increases a person’s happiness. When individuals are more relaxed after a good workout, overwhelming thoughts may be greatly decreased. Additionally, exercising is a great distraction when experiencing racing thoughts. Regular exercise can be in any form that works best for you and your schedule. Find something that you enjoy and make an effort to stay consistent.
5. Engage in Meditation
Meditation for those with ADHD is helpful as it encourages a person to focus on emptying their mind of all thoughts and enter a space of calm. By engaging in meditation, a person is able to suppress their racing thoughts and shift their mental focus. It can be helpful to start with a meditation app or guided meditation.
6. Use Thought Stopping Techniques
Thought stopping includes the use of cognitive interventions to interrupt thought patterns that might cause intrusive thoughts. This is done by capturing, acknowledging and addressing the thoughts at hand. This allows a person to make sense of where their thoughts are coming from and how these thoughts can impact their behaviors. By addressing the thought at its root, an individual is able to stop cycling through racing thoughts.
7. Recognize Your Triggers
Do you know what your anxiety triggers are? Identifying these can help you prevent racing thoughts, as understanding when you feel most anxious allows you to avoid these situations or practice coping skills when needed. You can track your patterns in a journal and revert back to them when you are experiencing racing thoughts.
8. Laugh When Possible
The saying goes, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Take time to find fun activities or sources of joy when you are experiencing racing thoughts. Or, when you’re in a state of calm, look back at previous racing thoughts from a place of humor. Sometimes, we may feel overwhelmed by certain thoughts in the moment, but can look back in hindsight and see the silliness in these thoughts.
9. Practice Breathwork
Practicing breathwork can help you in the moments when you feel out of control of your thoughts. Breathwork includes the purposeful control of your breath. By engaging in breathwork, you are able to both calm your anxieties and regain a sense of control.
Treatment Options for ADHD & Racing Thoughts
Treating ADHD often includes a multifaceted approach of therapy and medication. If a person is experiencing frequent and bothersome racing thoughts, it is important for them to address this symptom. Finding a neurodiverse-affirming therapist is especially beneficial throughout treatment, as they will have experience in treating ADHD. A mental health professional will work with you to determine a treatment plan that addresses both your ADHD symptoms and racing thoughts.3
Treatment options for racing thoughts and ADHD include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT for ADHD is beneficial as it focuses on changing negative thought patterns that can contribute to catastrophic thinking and racing thoughts. CBT allows a person to recognize their thought patterns and make efforts to change them.
- Medications: There are many medications for ADHD that can help a person experience calm. It is important to take these prescriptions as prescribed by a doctor.
- Group therapy: Group therapy puts a person in contact with others who are experiencing similar symptoms and learn healthy ways to cope with their condition.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT incorporates mindfulness techniques. These can help a person with ADHD feel calmer throughout the day, thus decreasing racing thoughts.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): Sometimes, racing thoughts may stem from past traumas. For those with ADHD who experience this symptom, EMDR can help them identify the triggers behind their thoughts.
Racing thoughts in ADHD are difficult to deal with, but there are effective ways to cope with and treat them. Finding the approach that works best for you will help you live a healthier life. Working with a mental health professional can be especially beneficial. For those with ADHD, it is possible to experience relief from racing thoughts.