19 Ways to Calm Racing Thoughts in a Minute or Less

Wiggling your toes, strategic doodling, listening for secrets -- try these techniques to stop a stress spiral in its tracks.

Image by  Evgeny Gromov/ Getty Images

It’s time for bed but your brain won’t stop whirring. You’re heading into an important meeting and feel your mind spiraling. What do you do?

We often talk about the longer-term habits and behavior changes that help us live happier, healthier, and more purposeful lives. But sometimes you need in-the-moment strategies for an infusion of calm.

We asked Thrive Global’s contributor community which short mental and physical tactics they swear by to quiet a racing mind. Which of these will you try?


Roll your shoulders

“My trick is to bring my shoulders forward, up and back in a circular motion slowly. I do this once only. Instantly, my chest opens, my back is straighter, my posture is better, and I feel calmer. All the tension in my neck and shoulders goes away and my head is clear.”

—PM, teacher, Ireland


Doodle strategically

“When I get anxious, I grab a sheet of paper and do a visual brain dump. I draw circles for major thoughts and have branches for smaller, related thoughts. I don't think about it, I let it flow and soon, I get everything out of my mind that's holding me back, conscious and subconscious. A theme usually emerges that holds the key for me to move forward effectively.”

Crystal Kadakia, digital workplace culture consultant, Atlanta, GA


Play a word game

“By captivating your attention with something else you can change the channel of what you're focusing on. For example, picking a word and seeing how many other words you can think of starting with the first letter of the original word.”

Lauren S. Tashman, PhD, CMPC, mental performance coach, leadership advisor, and organization consultant, New York, NY


Listen for secrets

“I tell my clients to shift from 'thought generating mode' to 'listening to your thoughts for a secret' mode. I developed this technique during my training, when a young man with active psychosis came into my office terrified by what his auditory hallucinations were telling him. When I asked him to listen to them and tell me what they were saying, rather than try to push them away, he turned to me in surprise. ‘They stopped!’ he exclaimed. The old adage, 'That which we resist persists' is a scientifically correct truism when it comes to your mental health.”

Lara Fielding, clinical psychologist, Los Angeles, CA


Place your hands on your heart

“When my thoughts decide to run a wild west wind sprint, I've begun to take a big deep breath and place both hands over my heart. It brings me back to my body and to the present moment. I continue to take deep breaths with my hands over my heart until the dust settles.”

Joanna Ball, freelance communications professional, Washington D.C.


Change your visual focus

“Stress and anxiety affect our vision, but it can also be used the other way around. Playing with your visual focus can help you relax. When you are feeling anxious, try to close your eyes slightly. By changing your perspective, you emotionally detach from an event and relax your mind. Similarly, completely closing your eyes increases your focus — shutting our eyes frees up brain power and increases memory and attention. When I share this during my workshops, people find it very useful.”

Gustavo Razzetti, change leadership consultant, Chicago, IL


Get lost in a song

“When my mind starts to race, I turn on great music. I put the volume on loud and try to lose myself in the music. I like 70’s-80’s rock, and it calms my mind when I’m anxious.”

Tomi Diane Riley, communication and facilitation consultant, San Fransisco, CA


Count the objects around you

“Counting things around me tends to work when my mind is racing. Sit down and take a calming breath. Then look around you and count the things in your immediate environment that are similar. For example, I count all the squares, circles, things that are green, blue, etc.”

Michael Thomas Sunnarborg, career coaching, Minneapolis, MN


Recall a heart-warming memory

“When I get anxious, I think of my childhood and the home I grew up in. It gives me strength and hope to overcome life's challenges. I am very grateful for my parents' upbringing as it is the core of my confidence that I have power over what I feel.”

Diana Madibekova, lawyer, Kazakhstan


Try 6 slow exhales

“I close my eyes and breath in deeply, until I can’t anymore, and then release the air slowly. I do this 6 times and I am overcome with a surprising sense of calm and clarity. When closing my eyes isn’t an option, I do my best to be slow and tune into those deep breaths so I can remain collected no matter the situation.”

Michaela Guzy, founder, host and executive producer, New York, NY


Tap into the power of scent

“When my mind starts to race, I inhale a whiff of lavender essential oil to calm the nervous system and inspire peace and calm. Simply open the bottle and inhale. Or place a couple drops in your palms or the inside of your wrists, rub them together, and bring them up near your face. No need to dilute it.”

Amy Leigh Mercree, author, Tampa, FL


Close your eyes and smile

“I sit or stand still for a moment, close my eyes, take a soft deep breath and as I exhale, I smile. Yes, plain, simple, vanilla smile –– calmly stretching from the left ear to the right. Whenever I do this, I find that within 30 seconds all clumsiness of the mind gets flushed out bringing me back my natural energy, focus and harmony.”

Puneet Srivastava, writer and meditation trainer, Mumbai, India


Vocalize each breath

“When my mind is racing with anxious thoughts, I sit down and start paying attention to my breath. In my mind I say, ‘In’ as I breathe in and, ‘Out’ as I breathe out. I do this for as long as needed, usually a few moments. This brings me to a new awareness that whatever I’m going through is just a passing experience, remembering the lesson that this too shall pass.”

Heather Reinhardt, writer and speaker, Los Angeles, CA


Have a bedtime mantra

“As my head hit the pillow each night, I used to worry if I forgot to do something important, replay what I'd really say to that rude co-worker who upset me, or start planning my next day's To-Do's. It used to keep me up for hours! The simple mantra of ‘It can't be fixed right now, at 1am…’ (or insert time) allowed me to put those thoughts to bed and get to sleep faster.”

Lisa Pezik, business strategy, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada


Look at the sky

“When I feel anxious, I go sky gazing. Try this practice when you can look out a window or sit outside. Look up, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Open your eyes and rest your gaze on the wide open sky, not focused on any particular object. With each exhalation, allow thoughts, distractions, and emotional tensions to gently release out of you into the vast sky.”

Cara Bradley, body-mind teacher and author, Philadelphia, PA


Remember this quote

“As someone that has dealt with a lifetime of anxiety and depression, I've had my fair share of racing thoughts. When I'm in those moments where I have a constant loop of anxious thoughts, I like to remind myself of the Dalai Lama’s quote, ‘If you can do something about a situation, why worry? If you can’t do something about a situation, why worry?’ It just reminds me that burdensome thoughts are a waste of energy. I am more than capable of handling the things within my control and I can release the things that are out of my control.”

Sondra Lovett, professional life coach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands


Wiggle your toes

“I wiggle my toes while taking 3 deep breaths. I can do this anywhere and no one knows that it is happening, but it helps me to center myself and slow my brain down.”

—Maja Karlsson, leadership coach & health care manager, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada


Give your racing mind a funny name

“I've found that naming the mind with the first silly, old fashioned name that comes to mind (one that you'd never call your child - Gertrude, Neville, Millicent...!) is the fastest and most effective way to start taking anxious thoughts a whole lot less seriously.”

—Andrea Featherstone, mindfulness facilitator, Melbourne, Australia


“Download” your thoughts

“I keep a pad of paper next to my bed, and if my mind begins to spin, I write down all the things that are racing around. It’s like downloading information from an overloaded laptop onto a flash drive. Once the thoughts are down on paper my mind feels less full and I can go to sleep.”

Shirley J. Davis, author and writer, central Illinois



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Tips, Stress, Relax, One Small Change, Mindset, Mind, Body and Mind , anxious, Anxiety