Stress is part of life. It affects us all from time to time and can arise from the simplest of situations, such as running late for the school drop off. However, spiraling negativity and overwhelming stress are not easy to cope with, and it is vital to have techniques to hand to learn how to clear your mind.
I say techniques because ‘getting over it,’ or ‘just managing’ are not acceptable solutions.
Make no mistake, negative thoughts can be destructive and stress harmful, so it is essential to understand why such experiences feel so draining.
Once you have tools in your armory to help combat stress, you relieve the impact on your mental and physical health and can learn how to clear and calm your mind effectively whatever the scenario.
How to Clear Your Mind of Stress and Negative Thoughts with Science-Backed Techniques
Here are some ways to clear your mind, refocus, and deal with negativity when it starts to become more than a minor stress factor.
1. Refocus your energy.
Calling it a simple distraction seems too easy, but it can be an enormous help in reality.
Brown University Neuroscientists researched the impact of distraction on challenging thought processes and called this strategy ‘optimal inattention.’
That doesn’t mean trying to forget about a significant stressor. It is more about finding ways to divert your concentration on other things to give your mind a break.
Human brains don’t do well at multitasking.
While we can do so with concerted effort, left to our own devices, our imaginations prefer one job at a time. You can use this knowledge to change your focus, and therefore your thought processes as a diversion from a repeated pattern into the depths of negativity.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, explains that this ‘optimal inattention’ is the power to ignore – but in a conscious, deliberate way.
Go outside, find an engaging task, enter into a discussion, listen to music, head out for a run to distract your mind, and disperse your focus on the problem.
2. Identify negative thought patterns.
These are known as ANTs – automatic negative thoughts.
Patterns of thought are as unique as patterns of speech. If you find yourself regularly burdened with severe stress and anxiety that leads to repeated pathways to a negative conclusion, you have an ANT in your brain!
This ANT is a pest that can have a detrimental impact on every area of your life, and learning pest control is an efficient way to take back control over negative thoughts and clear your mind.
Here’s what you can do:
- Write down those negative thoughts in as much detail as possible.
- Work out when they happen, if it’s in the same place, at the same time, as a result of the same experience or encounter.
- Decide what you can do to avoid that situation – whatever the pressure point might be.
- Recognize when your mind enters the first stage of that thought process, and use the ‘optimal inattention’ strategy to wriggle out of its grasp before it takes hold.
As with any effort to change our established thought patterns, ridding yourself of an ANT does take time and energy.
However, once you’ve got a conscious understanding of your negative thought processes, what stresses cause them to begin, and in what scenario they most often appear, you have the power to change that situation or stop it from occurring altogether.
3. Put up barriers around stress.
Stress is a beast that can quickly get out of control if given the leeway to do so.
One technique is to set your own limits and enforce them to restrict the amount of time you spend focusing on stress factors.
To allow yourself time to learn how to clear your mind, you need to create room. If your headspace is full to the brim with continuous threads of thought, now is the time to create boundaries on how much space you permit them to have.
Create a time limit.
Allow yourself to experience your stresses, give them one or two minutes, and then decide they’ve had enough credit and that it’s time to move on.
Intention followed by action is powerful.
Set the alarm on your phone, and when time is up, make an active choice to reset your mind.
Employ the power of mindfulness.
Use mindfulness techniques to identify when those thoughts are beginning to creep back in, such as taking a little time to sit still, close your eyes, and listen to your thoughts without external distractions. If they’re there, set your deadline.
4. Practical ways to clear your mind.
In some cases, stress is beneficial. It alerts us when something is wrong, raises the alarm when we’re off track, or initiates a response to save us from further problems.
However, when it gets to the point where you can’t clear your mind or stress is following you around like a shadow, you need to create defined protocols to either eliminate or diminish the volume of those thoughts.
Some useful techniques to allow your brain to release negative thoughts include:
Writing down your feelings.
Once they have been physically manifested, you no longer need to grip onto them so tightly.
Have a response action to stress.
For example, you can say to yourself something like:
- I acknowledge this thought.
- I accept it.
- Here is what I am going to do to resolve it.
Distract yourself, as we’ve mentioned.
You don’t have to jolt up from your desk and immediately run around the block, but a physical response can be a perfect pattern breaker! Snap a hairband on your wrist, shake your head, stand up, and have a dance – anything that breaks the spell!
Use deep breathing techniques.
Meditation and breathwork can work wonders in so many situations, and stress is one of many. Breathe in for a count of four, hold it for four, and breathe out for four. Try not to think about anything but your breathing, and you give your mind time to reset and recharge.
Remember that there is a significant difference between everyday stress, annoying thought patterns, and negativity that becomes intrusive and impacts your ability to function as you would normally.
If you have tried coping mechanisms and techniques about how to clear your mind, talking therapy or counseling can be a powerful way to get to the root of your anxiety and set those negative thoughts to rest once and for all.
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