How to clear your mind of unhelpful thoughts

By Grace Kouvelis

We as humans are emotional beings and every kind of emotion we feel is accompanied by a set of thoughts. We all have helpful and unhelpful thoughts which direct our behaviour, decisions and actions that occur throughout the day. Unhelpful thoughts tend to stem from negative emotions such as anxiety, stress, fear and so forth. And because they can direct your behaviour at an unconscious level, they can become problematic.

Why are unhelpful thoughts bad for us?

Due to the phrase, it should be no surprise that ‘unhelpful’ thoughts are well, unhelpful. But extending on that, they are detrimental to us as they can limit your potential, deny you opportunities, create additional problems to your circumstances, and can just generally make you feel terrible.

When your mind is flooded with thoughts, it can prohibit you from living in the present, from being able to think clearly or to focus on any given task. It can become difficult to escape. Having constant unwanted thoughts can even cause a sense of feeling out of control. But it is important to remind yourself that this isn’t necessarily the case. Bring yourself back to the present moment, think about the cause of the unhelpful thoughts, whether it be because you are worried about something in particular.

It is so important for our mental health that we all take a moment to take a break. However, it is often difficult to completely escape from the persistent unhelpful thoughts that can circulate your mind for hours on end. In saying this, it is not all doom and gloom and there are techniques you can employ to help yourself clear your mind.

So how can you stop these unhelpful thoughts?

We endorse a multi-pronged approach in order to clear your mind of negative, anxious and troubling thoughts. And although there are numerous techniques that can be employed, a few of the most helpful strategies are summarised below.

  1. Distraction: Although it may be intuitive to think that distraction will help calm your mind, it can often be easier said than done. However the ‘power to ignore’ should not be underestimated. Distraction can be a highly effective way to shift your attention if you catch yourself ruminating on negative thoughts. Take a walk, watch an engaging TV show, call a friend. Whatever you do, try and completely absorb yourself in this activity to distract your mind.
  2. Focus on the present: Take a leaf out of the ‘mindfulness’ book and focus your thoughts on the present. By avoiding your thoughts becoming stuck on the past or the future, you can start to let go of what you cannot control. Constantly focusing on the past can be distressing and constantly focusing on the future can cause apprehension. By redirecting your thoughts to the present, you can start to learn to live in the moment, without getting too overwhelmed.
  3. Breathe: Take a moment to concentrate on your breathing and to slow down the process of breathing in and out. You should not only feel emotionally calmer, but physically your body should calm down as well. For instance, count to three as you breathe in, and to five as you breathe out for 5-10 minutes. This process shifts the fight-or-flight response of your aympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system.
  4. Challenge your thoughts: Many people find themselves convinced the ‘worst case scenario’ will be true in a given situation. But you should challenge these thoughts. Ask yourself how likely this will be the case? Think about whether there is any evidence to support these negative thoughts? Has this ever happened before? Most likely, the ‘worst case’ won’t be reality. Look for alternative explanations and try to put the situation into perspective.
  5. Use a mantra: A mantra is a simple word or phrase which you repeat in order to calm your mind. Research has found that repeating a mantra to yourself can reduce the activity in the brain that is related to self-judgement and reflection. This part of the brain is responsible for us spending too much time ruminating over past events and worrying about the future. The mantra you choose can be completely up to you, but can be something like, “Aum,” “life is good” or “I am what I am”. The important thing is that you repeat this word or phrase over and over again in your mind, focusing only on your mantra and distancing all other thoughts. It is normal for your mind to wander elsewhere, but just acknowledge this thought and then gently take you mind back to your mantra.
  6. Write things down: By recording thoughts down, it enables you to return to them later. This means that you don’t have to dismiss a thought or concern completely, making you comfortable knowing that you can revisit it whenever you may please. This method can reduce the chaos, can clear your mind and can be relieving to let ‘it’ go, in some form. It can also organise your thoughts and can help you rationalise the problem at hand. By detaching yourself from the unhelpful thoughts, you can view the situation from an objective perspective.

Final words

There are numerous techniques that can be employed in order to try and calm your mind. But the key point is that you should try and find what works specifically for you. Ask yourself, what helps to quieten your mind? Stay focused? To overcome distracting thoughts? Play with different techniques until you find the one that suits you, you may even find one of your own or you can tailor existing ones so that they accommodate you more easily. But remember, consistency and patience is often key. And if you train yourself to use your chosen technique, it will become second-hand nature and before you know it, your mind will become calmer.

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