Step 8 How to Stop Your Mind from Racing: Self-Parenting in the Age of COVID-19


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Step 8: Learned self-forgiveness and made amends to our inner child.

The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children

A racing mind can make you feel like junk. It robs you of your self-efficacy by interfering with your abilities—not only to think helpful thoughts, but also to make positive changes in your life, in the lives of those you care about, and in the lives of those you may be serving if you’re any type of essential worker. 

God doesn’t make junk …

Author Unknown

Because I’m a mental health care professional, I’ve signed up to offer free mental health services to health care workers in New York City. But I, like others, haven’t received calls. The reason offered by experts who deliver trauma treatment to frontline workers is that people are afraid to stop, fearing that they will crash if they do. Why? Because they can’t turn off their minds, which are racing. They can’t forgive themselves for not “being enough” to stop the horror they fear, the horror they see. They can’t stop their minds from racing, and they can’t forgive themselves for only being human.

Self-Defeating in More Ways than One

Mind racing is a type of obsessive thinking that makes us miserable, makes us doubt ourselves, and can make us feel crazy. It tells us we have to consider every option: If this, then that; If that, then … 

This obsessive thinking happens at warp speed, all the time, all with no off button. The result is that many sufferers cannot turn off their minds during their day or when they’re trying to rest and sleep.

There are many causes of this repetitive, obsessive thought pattern that is a symptom of anxiety and trauma. But in life today, where almost everyone is being affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic, anxiety has become a norm, a common response felt even by those who don’t have a previous history of anxiety. 

The reason for this anxiety-driven mind racing is enormous uncertainty. If you are anxious, you have lots of company. 

More than Anxiety

But all this internal energy doesn’t produce a positive result. Instead, we pay an enormous price for mind racing, becoming not only anxious, but also watchful, dreading what will next transpire and potentially harm those we care about. In this way, mind racing also makes us responsible for others in a way that sets us up for failure as we take on too much responsibility or something over which we have almost no control. 


Codependency is a type of learned helplessness where our energy is consumed by the needs of another while we simultaneously lose sight of what we need to do to keep ourselves going. Mind racing is a byproduct of codependency, which intensifies our need to do something. 

What mind racing results in is feeling worthless, feeling like junk; and to compensate for this we try to connect to others by being responsible for them. But the more we try to be responsible for another, the less successful we can actually be. Mind racing not only puts us in the center of the lives we interact with, but also makes us responsible by pressuring us to see, to anticipate, to fix all that we see—or fear—happening. 

Less Intimacy

Mind racing actually creates the opposite of the intimacy we want to create; rather, it creates a distance between ourselves and others. By filling us with the needs of others and making their well-being dependent upon our actions, we take away from ourselves. 

Less Self-Acceptance

Mind racing interferes with our acceptance of ourselves because it puts us in the center of situations where we eventually feel out of control. Further, it takes away our ability to rectify this by draining the energy we need to separate and gain some perspective—all under the guise of caring for another. 

We may tell ourselves “But it’s my job.” But despite their most dedicated efforts, even doctors on the front line cannot always produce the results they desperately want. The mind racing that results is not helpful to the doctor or to their patient.

Most of us are not doctors, but we do have people in our lives who we are desperately trying to keep safe. Diverting the self-care and attention we need to someone else who may not even want this gift of our intense involvement (or appreciate the sacrifice we are making) can make us feel incompetent, worthless, or even like a victim. This is, of course, magnified if we are, or were, quarantined with this person.

What to do? Here is the paradox. If your mind is racing, you need that to stop, but it not as easy as saying no because your mind is an agile beast that will go on to another dark thought. As someone shared with me, “It’s like taking a trip that you always know will lead to the same awful place, but you do it anyway, like you can’t stop.”


If your mind is racing, the struggle to stop your runaway thoughts often feels impossible. The result is often the conclusion that I’m worthless because I can’t [fill in the blank]. As a result, you feel overwhelmed, and you resort to the defenses you had a child, in effect putting your inner child in charge of life (Step 4). 

But you can make amends to your inner child by putting your adult in charge of how you deal with the stress that confronts you on a daily basis. 

Self-parenting is about learning to do self-care. Begin now by trying some rescue techniques.

Rescue Techniques

One of the keys to stopping mind racing is to give your mind something else to think about. The following are four possibilities to get you started.

Immediate Rescues: 

Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Saying the Serenity Prayer is a common destressing technique used by those in any of the recovery programs. It is not unusual for those who are in pain to say it repeatedly. I offer it to those of you not in recovery as a proven technique to break through unhelpful thoughts.


Mindfulness is frequently spoken about but can seem esoteric for many. Mindfulness is actually quite simple. It is placing your attention within your body. For example, as you wash your hands for the suggested twenty seconds, your attention could be on the feel of the bubbles sliding across your skin, the warmth of the water, the gentle friction you feel as you slide your hands against each other. Twenty seconds of relaxation—and freedom from mind racing—while those possible COVID-19 viruses slide down the drain; a double win!

Grounding Yourself

My grandmother was an immigrant who, despite speaking little English, was able to communicate with those English speakers who surrounded her. Not surprisingly, one of the ways she so effectively communicated was to understand what to do to help others who were overcome with emotion. 

I remember that she would pull out her little package of smelling salts, break open an ampule, and quickly put it under the nose of someone who was overcome with emotion. I saw this most frequently at funerals (which at that time were days long), but I also witnessed her power during other heartbreaking moments when family members were overcome with grief, terror, panic, even rage. It was almost magical to see someone suddenly emerge from whatever horrid place they had just descended into. What my grandmother didn’t know was that she was inspiring me to learn to take care of myself and others by introducing me to a very basic technique of caring for those who are in a traumatic recall. 

You don’t have to source smelling salts to use this technique. I am sure you have other strong scents in your home right now that can help pull you back into the present when your anxiety, fear, even rage take you back to a scary place. 

Planned Rescues for Creating Intimacy

Though they take some planning on your part, planned rescues are a good investment of your time and energy, and they can even be fun because they invite you to do some things that feel outlandish and can prove to be productive, as you’ll see. 

Silently Zooming Away 

Being quarantined at home can have a disquieting effect on our brains, and those of us prone to worry tend to worry more because of the often-intense quiet and fewer distractions. Add in the lack the comfort we derive from being with other humans, and bingo—our minds start to race. So why not schedule a silent Zoom meeting with coworkers, family, and even friends?

Sound crazy? I promise you that it’s no crazier than other things that living with COVID-19 has forced us to do. 

Try the following:

  • Coworkers: Schedule a time where you will work together in silence; plan a debriefing for a later time. Silently Zooming is a way to help get you back on track with projects that have been looming by creating a discrete time to do the work through accountability as you Zoom with others who are similarly challenged.
  • Friends
    • Use the time to read. This is great jumpstart for book clubs that are struggling with how to meet, as mine is. 
  • Or use the time to write. I’m working on a murder mystery and have found it difficult during this pandemic, but scheduling a quiet time with others on Zoom, I realized, can give both my writing group and me the time to do what we regularly did, which was to use time together to write first, critique later. 
  • Or use the time for recovery work. Quiet Zoom time can also afford you an opportunity to do personal step recovery work with others in your program.
  • Family:
  • Have dinner with your family on zoom. Create a shared menu, set the time, set the table. Eat, speak, enjoy.

Exercises for Today

  • Set up that silent Zoom call.
  • Think about setting up a physical medicine chest. 
    • Make an inventory of what you have in your home now that has a strong odor:
      • orange or lemon peels
      • coffee grounds
      • heavily scented lotion
      • cinnamon sticks
      • cloves

I recommend staying away from household cleaning products with strong smells because a very little of these goes a very long way, and some can even be toxic. 

The next time you find your mind racing, you will be able to:

  • take a small whiff from one of the scents in your personal medicine cabinet,
  • then take a deep breath, 
  • ease the tension from whatever part in your body you are feeling it, and
  • repeat as needed.

Make a note in your journal about how this works for you, and feel free to share it on my new Facebook Group, Self-Parenting in the Age of COVID, which I invite you to join by clicking on the link. There you can post your struggles and solutions as we create community. I invite you to share the blogs and posts you find on the Facebook Group by tagging those you know and care about, whether they are in recovery or just loved by you. 

This is the eighth of a twelve-part series based on The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting. More tips will be available in my new ebook (to be published later this summer), and are available on my blog, The Powerful, and in my books: Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting, The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children, and The Resilient Woman. Learn more Learn more about my work as a consulting psychologist and speaker at

Giving Your Inner Child a Holiday Present in 7 Easy Steps

Giving Your Inner Child a Holiday Present in 7 Easy Steps

If this holiday season is like most for you, it probably involves running around taking care of everyone else but yourself. This may involve you feeling the pressure to send a card to everyone you know with a personalized note, even if you have forgotten their birthday; buying gifts for the key members of your that indicate how much you value them, even if they have been awful to you all year; hosting a series of dinner or parties where everything is cooked and baked by you, even if pizza and takeout are regularly featured in your weekly dinners. 

Sound familiar?

Holidays and Your Inner Child

The reason why you feel you must plug the emotional gaps for those you know and those who you care about may have more to do with early messages in childhood where what was prized, and perhaps modeled, was taking care of everyone else before you take care of yourself. These messages, instructions, rules to live by are stored within us in what I’ll call your inner child, the remembered part of your childhood that can take over, guiding your actions, particularly in emotionally fraught times like Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve. 

No, I’m not going to say stick it to everything that is planned and is expected of you, and then change everything at literally the last moment (even thought that may not be a bad idea). But I will show you how you can soothe and moderate these expectations by taking care of yourself. 

Sound impossible? 

Use Your Senses to Center Yourself

You are a human being with feelings and senses. Yes, you’re busy, but you can use your senses to help slow yourself down and help you feel more in control. Also called mindfulness, this paying attention to your senses can help soothe you and center you. And who knows, It may even make you more productive.

Try these seven simple tips:

  • Feel the bubbles made by the dish soap in the endless washing up you will be doing. Play with them, enjoy their smoothness and sense of play. 
  • See the clouds scudding in the sky, the moon winking at you, the trees moving in the breeze. Take a deep breath as you walk, or run, through your day, and appreciate the beauty before you. 
  • Smell and savor the delicious aromas of the cakes and cookies you are baking, or the roast you have seasoned. 
  • Sense the warmth of the sun, or the tingle of snowflakes, or the crystal clearness of raindrops as you hurry through your shopping. 
  • Say positive things to yourself:
  • These bubbles are fun.
  • I love my own cooking.
  • I deserve to see this beauty.
  • I’m doing well here. 
  • This looks great. 
  • I love the smell of the air just before it snows.
  • Own the power you have to bring joy to others by seeing and allowing yourself to “take in” the delight on the faces of those you love.
  • Note the rewards you want to give yourself:
  • Like the bubbles? How about a bubble bath on a regular basis?
  • Like noticing what you’re doing well? Consider writing your own personal daily affirmations. Yes, take the ten seconds it will require to do this regularly—you’re worth it.

My suggestions will take only seconds and not delay you in any task, but they will make whatever you are doing more enjoyable by making space for you, your needs, while you are being so productive in taking care of everyone else. 

Know that when you create even these thin slivers, these tiny moments where you are in touch with yourself, you are feeding your inner child by recognizing your needs and your wants, a skill that may not have been taught to you as a child. 

Making Changes—Developing Resilience

We can all learn from out stressful experiences. When we do this, it’s called resilience. Want to be resilient in the New Year? Then, consider changing a few things: 

  • Play with pairing down the list of what you are pushing yourself to do. Want to experiment this holiday season?  
    • For example, consider sending out a Valentine’s card, with a letter that goes to those you care about. Or better yet, send out an email blast for St. Patrick’s Day with an update on you and yours. Not only will you have more time and energy in the coming months than you do now, but think how special your recipients will feel to be remembered when it isn’t Christmas or their birthday.
  • Make simple changes. They will be the easiest to do and will be more likely to stick.
    • Take two golden minutes for yourself as you begin and end your day. Enjoy your coffee or tea as you gaze out the window. Do some gentle neck rolls, set an intention of something you’d like to do for you today, like take the stairs instead of the elevator, or pack some grapes or an apple for a snack at work. 
  • Write a good New Year’s resolution. Feel you can’t change course midstream, and want to wait for a really good New Year’s resolution? Take notes on all the things you’d like to do differently next year. Yes, literally write them down in your journal. 
    • For example, make next Christmas’s dinner a family potluck where you’re only making the turkey or other main course. Collect these ideas for the next eleven months and you’ll set yourself up for a less stress-filled and more balanced holiday celebration next year.

Write and let me know how you took care of yourself …

Wishing you a more peaceful holiday season. 

Patricia O’Gorman, PhD, is a speaker, a consulting psychologist in upstate New York, and the author of nine books, including The Girly Thoughts 10 Day Detox Plan and The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power: 12 Steps to Self-Parenting. She is a regular blogger at The Powerful Woman. Learn more at

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