How to Calm the Racing Thoughts

by | Feb 17, 2022

This probably doesn’t happen to you, but I can go for days, maybe even weeks, thoughts racing, digressing from topic to topic, bouncing from one thing to the next, spinning plates and juggling tasks and living in a constant state of reaction.

Can I be honest with you? I know it’s not just me. It’s probably you too. In fact, if there is a chronic and debilitating problem facing the vast majority of the population of our country today – it’s this.

Martin Laird is a priest, author, and a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Villanova University, calls this wild mental activity “discursive thinking.” We try to convince ourselves that all this activity equals productivity. Or we try to ignore it or brush it off or chalk it up as a busy season or resign ourselves that this is the pace of doing business today, but in reality it takes quite a toll on us.

Laird concludes there are two major consequences to this over-identification with reactive thoughts and feelings:

  1.  A sense of separation or isolation from God and one another. If we are giving all our time to the looping reactive thoughts in our rational brain, we will starve the relational or connecting part of our brain. Our attachments to God and others become weak and atrophied.
  2. We will develop a profound ignorance of our inmost depths and our truest self.  Staying on the surface of life, caught up in all the waves of reactive feelings and thoughts alienate us from knowing ourselves and God.

As leaders of faith in the workplace, we cannot afford to continue to wink at these destructive patterns and dismiss them as harmless. They have far reaching implications for us and those we lead. 

So, what do we do? Try harder? Beat ourselves up? Employ some sort of behavior modification?

WE BREATHE – I understand if you are tempted to roll your eyes at that, but I challenge you to continue reading.

Most humans take about 20,000 breaths a day and the majority of those breaths are shallow, keeping time with the stressful pace of our lives. We literally can’t catch our breath. Breathing deeply slows us down, connects our body and our breathing. This is key in helping us get out of our heads, turn on our relational brain, and attune to the presence of God. When we calm down our breathing, our frenzied thoughts follow suit.

Try it! Right now. Take a dozen deep inhales and slow steady exhales. Then do it again in an hour or so.

If you are still with me, I would point you to Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Yes, this verse anchors our faith in the moment that God created humanity uniquely as His image bearers in the world. But may it also remind us that in all our activity, all our drive to get things done, all our striving, all our responding, He longs to breathe new life into us today.

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I want to thank the staff of the Fall Creek Abbey for leading me through a robust discussion on Martin Laird’s book, Into the Silent Land, which provided the bulk of this post.

Photo of Darrel Harvey

Darrel Harvey

Darrel Harvey, Director of the Workmatters Institute, joined the Workmatters team in March of 2019. Before joining the Workmatters team, his vocation had been expressed as a church planter, pastor, mentor, entrepreneur, and as a connector in the Bentonville business community.