Racing Thoughts, a Cognitive Disorder

Racing thoughts is a disorder that can affect the sufferer's entire life, since it implies a break in communication with the outside world. This disorder needs to be diagnosed, assessed, and treated by a mental health care professional.
Racing Thoughts, a Cognitive Disorder
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 21 February, 2022

Racing thoughts is a cognitive disorder where thoughts and ideas go from one to the other in rapid succession, without making any apparent sense. This abnormality tends to go hand in hand with a change in the person’s speech, which reflects the frantic rate of thoughts.

Having racing thoughts is a typical symptom of a manic state, where the person experiences high levels of excitement, emotions, and energy. This state is a habitual part of bipolar disorder. However, it can also form a part of other problems or even show up on its own.

That being said, the most obvious aspect of racing thoughts is an increase in the speed and rhythm of thoughts. However, this actually corresponds to a general increase in psychic activity as a whole. And, in almost all cases, it’s accompanied by logorrhea (excessive talking).

“There’s a kind of euphoria of grief, a degree of madness.”

-Nigella Watson-

A cutout of a head with a string illustrating thought.

What are racing thoughts?

As we mentioned above, this is a kind of brain disorder that’s characterized by a continuous and uninterrupted flow of thoughts. That is, the affected person has a sort of constant rain of thoughts. One thought leads to another and that one leads to another… and the process continues.

What’s abnormal about this chain of thoughts is that it doesn’t have a central idea and doesn’t follow any structure. The person goes randomly from one thought to another. They may mention one idea and, often without even finishing it, go on to the next, which doesn’t even have anything to do with the previous one.

That’s why, when someone with racing thoughts talks, it’ll probably be completely incoherent for anyone listening. If you analyze what the person’s saying, you’ll notice that they’ll jump from one idea to the next, due in part to external stimuli.

For instance, if they’re talking about a book and hear a door squeak, they’ll probably start to talk about that instead. Thus, you’ll note that their speech doesn’t follow a common thread, but rather is subject to changes in their surroundings.

Causes and characteristics of racing thoughts

Science hasn’t yet pinpointed an exact cause for racing thoughts. It’s commonly associated with another disorder, especially with bipolar disorder. It’s highly unlikely that an episode of racing thoughts will occur on its own without some other disorder triggering it, although it can happen.

One thing that’s known about this disorder is that it’s related to euphoric moods. It involves intense psychic activity that actually speeds up the thought processes, which, in turn, speeds up speech.

During an episode of racing thoughts, there’s no common thread. That’s why the person can’t reach any conclusions with their thoughts or what they say. All of what they think is in disorder and lacks coherence if you look at it as a whole, since the associations they make between different things are illogical. However, this disorder doesn’t involve delusions.

Associated manifestations

On some occasions, within the person’s thoughts, there may be ideas that are related to each other. These may be two or three linked ideas. However, if you analyze the whole of the message, you won’t find any consistency. The person will find it difficult to arrive at a conclusion or finish their speech logically.

What does a person with racing thoughts experience? They’ll have trouble concentrating. Their attention span will be almost non-existent and they won’t be able to focus on any single issue, but rather will randomly wander between thoughts. Of course, in many cases, this will depend on external stimuli at any given moment. This is why the person’s speech won’t make any sense.

The prevailing emotion will be excitement. The speed with which they speak and the liveliness of their thoughts will be evident. This means that their condition is clearly perceivable and can be seen by anyone. For this reason, this disorder usually has several consequences.

A person having many ideas at once.

A serious disorder

Racing thoughts is classified as a serious disorder. This is because the affected person completely loses the ability to function socially. It’s impossible to communicate with them. Therefore, they won’t be able to participate in normal, daily activities as long as that rupture between them and logical thinking exists.

That being said, it’s crucial for an experienced professional can accurately diagnose the person’s disorder. This disorder is very similar to other abnormalities of a cognitive nature or ones that affect intelligence. It’s also similar to some early stages of certain forms of schizophrenia.

There’s no specific treatment for racing thoughts. The psychiatrist must assess each case and establish whether it’s linked to another disorder. Then, depending on the person’s condition, they can form a plan with practical steps to follow.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Sauvagnat, F., & Sauvagnat, R. (1998). Fenómenos elementales y estabilizaciones en las psicosis maníaco-depresivas. Revista de la Asociación Española de Neuropsiquiatría., 18(67), 459-470.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.