How to Clear Your Mind of Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts can be a real downer, no matter what the cause or circumstances. They can keep you up at night, interrupt a benign activity with fear and self-doubt, and, at worst, do serious damage to your self-image and well-being.
While everyone hears those negative voices now and then, if you feel like negative thinking is eating up your headspace and compromising your enjoyment of life, it might be time to do something. And while speaking to a therapist may be an important step if your negative thought patterns are taking a serious toll, there are small things you can do every day to clear your mind and encourage peace and positivity.
Here are seven of them:
1. Slow down and take a deep breath – literally
Deep breathing increases your sense of calm and well-being by literally relaxing your nervous system, while quick and shallow breathing does the opposite and is thus linked to stress and anxiety. Furthermore, taking mindful breaths – that is, focusing your mind on the sensation of your body breathing in and out – can help to interrupt negative thought patterns and empty out your mind.
2. Practice mindfulness, or meditate
Focusing on your breath is the first, most basic step in the practices of mindfulness and meditation and can be a type of meditation all on its own. But if you want stronger effects that will have longer-term benefits for your psyche, it can be helpful to develop a deeper meditation practice that you work on regularly – instead of simply waiting until you’re actively in a spiral.
The benefits of meditation for mental health have been shown to be many, affecting everything from stress and anxiety to focus and memory.
3. Get up and take a walk
A change in surroundings can interrupt negative thoughts and snap you out of a spiral. And both walking, and being outdoors generally, have been shown to have positive effects on your mood. So if you need to clear your head, fifteen minutes in the fresh air may be just what the doctor ordered.
4. Try to Identify what triggers your negative thinking
Negative thoughts almost always start with a trigger – some subtle (or not-so-subtle) cue that activates a worry or creates a negative state of mind. See if you can identify the circumstances that tend to set you off, whether it’s a particular person, a recurring situation, or even images or sounds that bring up certain associations.
But rather than completely avoiding these triggers (which may not even be possible), it can be more helpful to get to the root of why they affect you this way. That way, you can think about how to respond differently or work to change your negative feelings.
If your triggers feel especially fraught or frightening, it may be best to start this process with the guidance of a professional.
5. Write about what’s bothering you, or keep a worry diary
Writing can simply be a way to purge pent up emotions and experience release. But it can also be a way to step back and take an objective look at what’s bothering you – especially if you read back what you wrote when you’re in a calmer place.
A lot of the time, our fears and anxieties can start to seem a little bit silly or overblown if we interrupt the stream of internal noise, and actually take a real look at them. This is part of the point of a worry diary, which therapists recommend to help you unravel tangled thought patterns and get to the root of your negative thoughts.
6. Do things that give you pleasure
Whether it’s taking a bath, using a coloring book, spending some time with your pet, or simply vegging out with your favorite sitcom – doing something that will soothe and relax you is a great way to distract yourself from negative thinking.
This is especially true if it’s an activity that doesn’t require much thought in the first place but that instead gets you focusing on your senses or something outside of yourself.
7. Write about something good that happened, or keep a gratitude journal
In addition to simply quelling negative thoughts, taking some time to celebrate the positive can help you make broader changes to your mindset and thinking patterns. In the morning, you can write down one thing that you’re grateful for that you’d like to keep in mind as you go through the day.
Or, at night, you can make a note of one good thing or pleasurable moment that you experienced that day. Even if these things may have seemed small and significant, they can help you keep hold of the fact that there are bright spots to be found and small joys to be had, even in difficult or stressful times.