Our minds are constantly active. We think about what we want to eat for breakfast, where we left the car keys, and what's going to happen next on the show we're currently watching, and that's just within the first few minutes of waking up.
Some of our thoughts seem to come and go, while others stick around and can make us feel distracted, anxious, or off. Although we can't control which thoughts pop into our minds, we do have some say in how long they can stick around and claim our attention. Clearing your mind of unwanted thoughts will help you focus on the things that really matter.
1. Let It Out
What emotions are you experiencing right now? Are you frustrated, sad, disappointed, or maybe a combination of things? Check-in with yourself. Then, once you get a better understanding of what you're feeling, give yourself permission to release those emotions.
- Punch a pillow.
- Rip up pieces of paper.
- Wad up your socks and throw them at the wall.
- Yell outside, in your car, or into a pillow.
Do whatever helps you let it out without harming yourself or others. When we suppress our emotions, it can lead to negative health consequences, such as cardiovascular disease. In addition, it can keep those negative thoughts and feelings at the forefront of your mind.
2. Talk About It
Another way to help you release your emotions and clear your mind is to talk about what's bothering you.
Call a friend and ask if you can vent to them. Stop by a loved one's house and ask to talk about what's on your mind. If you're in therapy or a support group, you can share what's weighing you down in those spaces, as well.
Talking things through with someone else can help you process your emotions, release pent-up tension, and give you the space you need to feel heard. You can leave it all in the conversation.
Need to talk but it's too late to call someone? Try talking to your pet! They'll love the attention and hearing your voice, and you'll get the benefit of talking out your feelings.
3. Ground Yourself With Your Senses
Whenever you get caught up in your thoughts, bring your attention to the world around you. You can do this through the practice of grounding, which allows you to anchor your focus by exploring your senses.
One way to practice grounding is to use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique:
- Name five things you can see right now (the sun, a desk, your hands).
- Name four things you can touch or feel (a blanket, your shirt, a pet).
- Name three things you can hear (a clock ticking, music, breathing).
- Name two things you can smell (a candle, car freshener, your meal).
- Name one thing you can taste (something you just ate, your coffee, toothpaste).
This strategy can help take you out of your internal world and bring you back to the present moment.
4. Focus On Your Breath
Take a deep breath in through your nose, then slowly release it through your mouth. When you repeat this process, you engage in diaphragmatic breathing. This type of controlled breathing pattern can reduce stress levels, boost mood, and even improve sustained attention.
One type of controlled breathing exercise you can try is box breaths:
- Sit comfortably and place your hands on your stomach, or over your heart if you'd like.
- Breathe in to the count of four.
- Hold your breath for the count of four.
- Breathe out to the count of six.
- Repeat as needed.
When you count your breaths, you can help silence your thoughts and bring your attention to the activity you're currently doing.
5. Reconnect With Your Body
Another way to clear your mind is to shift your attention from your thoughts to your body. One way to do this is to get moving.
- Dance to a song you love.
- Go for a walk.
- Head to the gym for an exercise class.
- Practice mindful movements like yoga or tai chi.
Find a movement that feels good for you and allow yourself to experience it. If you start one activity and notice that your mind is still pulling your attention in another direction, try out a different one or put on some music to help you settle into the movement.
The average person has about 70,000 thoughts per day.
6. Practice Mindfulness or Meditation
As contradictory as it sounds, one way to empty your mind is to make it full. More mindful, that is. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention to just one thing at a time. You can think about it as being more intentional with your attention.
When thoughts, worries, or demands of the day claim your attention, mindfulness can help you return to the here and now and be more present. Unfortunately, we can't stop unhelpful thoughts from popping up from time to time. However, mindfulness gives you the opportunity to experience these thoughts without judgment, and then shift your attention.
- Begin a meditation practice and start with just five minutes a day.
- Do your best to give your attention to one activity at a time.
- Focus on the sensations in your body when your thoughts start to pull you out of the present.
- Make a to-do list to help guide you through the tasks you hope to accomplish during a specific period of time.
- Take three deep breaths whenever you notice that you start to lose your focus.
- When an unhelpful thought arises, simply note that it's there without judgment, and then shift your attention back to what you were doing.
7. Step Into Nature
Another way to clear your mind is to reconnect with nature. Immersing yourself in greenery and fresh air is also known as forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku and is a healing technique that originated in Japan. Not only can this activity help regulate a person's mood, but it can also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and even give you an immunity boost.
If there's a forest or nature preserve near you, check it out whenever you feel overwhelmed. Or, you can also practice forest bathing at your local park or in your own yard. And, if the weather makes heading out into nature impossible for the day, you can always bring nature indoors by watching some virtual forest bathing videos, which some studies have shown to have positive mental and physical health effects. Here's how to experience forest bathing.
- Head out into nature or whatever green space you have available to you.
- Turn off your phone to eliminate distractions.
- Explore the area with all the five senses. Taste the cool air on your tongue. Listen to the birds and other wildlife. Smell the scent of the trees. Look at the patterns of leaves. Touch the bark on the trees and feel the grooves.
- Allow yourself to experience nature for as long as you'd like.
Sometimes when you put pen to paper, magic happens. Your thoughts flow from your mind and are released onto the page. You might feel relieved, relaxed, productive, or maybe like you finally found the space you needed to vent.
All of these reasons are why journaling can help you clear your mind. Allow yourself to let go of unhelpful thoughts by writing them down.
Not only can journaling allow you to express your emotions, but research shows that it has a variety of other health benefits, including:
- Decreased mental distress
- Enhanced physical functioning
- Improved quality of life
- Increased rates of well-being
If these benefits and a clear mind are something you're interested in, then pick up a journal. It's never a bad time to start writing, and it may give you some additional clarity about your emotions along the way.
9. Give Yourself a Break
We all need a break every now and again. If your mind seems cluttered and you feel you can't focus on other activities, it might be a good idea to take a time out. This is an act of self-care that can give you the space and rest you need to move forward.
There are a lot of ways you can take a break. Some activities to try are:
- Going for a walk
- Listening to your favorite song
- Organizing your space
- Rolling your neck and shoulders to release any tension
- Silencing the notifications on your phone
- Taking a nap
- Watching a video clip that you know boosts your mood
Find one that feels right for you and use the strategy whenever you want to help ease your mind.
10. Reach Out to a Mental Health Professional
Sometimes thoughts weigh heavy on our minds for extended periods of time. They can even make it difficult for us to focus and can impact both our work and relationships.
If you experience unwanted recurring thoughts that you just can't seem to shake, it might be a good idea to talk to a mental health professional. Together, you and your therapist or counselor can address your concerns, process your thoughts, and develop coping strategies that can help you regain control.
Clear Your Mind of Unwanted Thoughts
The mind is a powerful thing, and sometimes we need a little extra help to unpack all the thoughts inside. With a bit of practice and some helpful strategies, you can clear your mind and feel at ease.