Unwanted thoughts can cause plenty of frustration and distress and you’re not alone in wanting to make them go away. It’s normal to have trouble convincing yourself to look up when feeling downcast in the face of stress and other challenges. The nine strategies below may help:
It goes without saying that you have to figure out what’s on your mind before you can begin to control it. Nearly everyone experiences discouraging thoughts or emotional setbacks from time to time. If you’re currently experiencing some life challenges, you might find it even harder to maintain control over spiralling thoughts or your overall mindset. By identifying specific thoughts and patterns can help you make the most out of the other tips that follow.
It’s human nature to flinch away from pain, so of course you’d prefer to avoid thoughts that cause distress. Yet pushing away unwanted thoughts isn’t the way to gain control. That usually just makes them more intense. Instead, try the opposite: Accept those thoughts, and let them in.
It may not seem as if meditation actually helps you control your mind, especially when you first start out. You sit, you relax, but no matter how you try to clear your head, random thoughts keep popping back up to distract you from the calm you’re trying to achieve. The trick lies in learning how to sit with the thoughts you don’t want. You notice them, but then you let them go, which helps loosen their hold over you.
When addressing yourself in the first person doesn’t seem to have much impact, try switching to a third-person perspective. For example: Instead of: “I feel miserable, but I’ve been through worse, so I can deal with this, too.” Try: “I know you feel miserable right now, but you’ve worked hard to cope with other challenges. I know you have the strength to face this new problem, too.” Looking at a situation from this newly distanced point of view often makes it easier to see the full picture, not just the most immediate effects.
Positive reframing is another reappraisal strategy that can help you regain control over your mindset. Positive thinking doesn’t mean pretending there’s nothing wrong, ignoring problems, or failing to consider helpful solutions. Rather, it involves putting a more positive spin on your negative thoughts — looking on the bright side, finding a silver lining in the storm clouds above. Reframing won’t change the actual outcome of a situation, but it can change the way you feel about your circumstances.
Guided imagery is a meditation technique where you visualize positive, peaceful scenarios to promote a calmer state of mind. Once you feel calmer, you might have an easier time maintaining a relaxed state and regaining control over your thoughts and overall mindset.
Get started with this simple exercise: Get comfortable — sitting down works best — and close your eyes. Take a few slow, deep breaths. You’ll want to keep breathing just like this as you create your visual scene. Keep breathing slowly, letting the peace of the scene wash over you and help you relax. Spend 10 to 15 minutes enjoying your image. Finish the exercise with a few deep breaths and open your eyes.
Expressing thoughts in writing may not change your frame of mind immediately, but it can help you improve control over unwanted feelings. The simple act of writing down a thought is often enough to reduce its intensity. It might feel scary to directly challenge and accept distress but putting those feelings down on paper allows you to acknowledge them somewhat indirectly. If you’d like to keep even more distance from upsetting thoughts, you can even try writing them down in narrative form, as if telling a story.
Writing can help you get more comfortable with expressing difficult emotions. Eventually, those unwanted thoughts may trigger less of a fear response, and you might not feel the same distress when they come up. Try wrapping up a meditation or imagery session with 15 minutes of journaling. You can write about any thoughts, positive or negative, that came up while they’re still fresh in your mind.
In some circumstances focused distractions can help redirect thoughts and improve your frame of mind. Positive distractions might include spending time with loved ones listening to calming or uplifting music or just taking a walk. Just ensure you’re using distractions as a temporary break, not complete denial or avoidance.
When circumstances out of your control add stress to your life, it often becomes more difficult to regulate your state of mind. Stress and anxiety can fuel unwanted thoughts. This can provoke more worry, leading to a cycle that can rapidly become overwhelming.
Start taking back control by exploring key sources of stress in your life and seeking potential ways to remove or reduce those triggers. Most people can’t completely remove stress triggers. Stress often comes from outside sources. You can’t always control what happens around you. That’s where self-care comes in. Setting aside time to nurture your mind and body can promote improved well-being overall. It also makes it easier to bounce back from life’s difficulties with a more hopeful outlook. Self-care can involve getting quality sleep, eating nourishing food, being socially connected and making time for relaxation.