7 Ways to Get Your Mind Back
Feel like you’ve “lost your mind”? Check out these science-based strategies.
Posted Nov 16, 2020
Sometimes it can feel like our minds have been hijacked. Whether it’s from technologies designed to consume our attention, the anxieties of a pandemic, or simply the stress of working in a world that’s connected 24-7, most of us have a zillion things constantly running through our heads. This can leave us feeling frazzled. (Wait! Where did the last hour go?)
A mind on overdrive can not only mess with our ability to focus or be productive. It can also be distressing. Maybe we feel keyed up or agitated and end up snapping at people that don’t really deserve it. Or maybe we feel so tense that we’ve literally got a pain in the neck. Or maybe the ongoing stress of a full mind is hurting our sleep. Really, we just want to get our mind back, but how do we do it? Here are seven science-based strategies you can start using today.
1. Stop Rumination Cycles
You know that feeling when you just keep thinking about the same thing over and over again—maybe you’re agonizing over something you said that landed wrong, or you’re stewing about something someone else did that got under your skin. You know that your thoughts aren’t getting you anywhere, but you’re just stuck in your head, unable to focus on anything else. That’s rumination. And it’s a monster that feeds on itself.
Stopping rumination requires actively shifting your mind. Easier said than done though, am I right? Usually, the most effective way to shift your mind is to focus on something else entirely. For example, you could pick an object in the room and start listing every tiny detail you see—what color, shape, size is it? What else do you see when you look at it a bit longer? By focusing your attention on something else, even for a short period, you short-circuit those negative thought cycles.
2. Reframe and Refocus
When our minds get hijacked, we are actually hyper-focused—we’re just focused on the wrong things. Usually, we get stuck thinking about the negative part of whatever the thing is. If we reframe the situation, this time paying attention to the good things, we can shift gears and begin to settle our frantic mind.
One way to reframe a situation is to use cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive reappraisal is simply the act of shifting our thoughts to shift our emotions. We can do this in two ways. The first way is to think about how the situation could be worse—at least we’re not starving and homeless. The second way is to think about what’s actually good about our situation—hey, maybe this is an opportunity to learn and grow. By reframing the situation, we get to choose what we focus on and we start to get our mind back.
3. Use Mindfulness
A buzzing mind is often one that focuses on either the past or the future. We may be upset about something from the past or we may worry about what will happen in the future. Either way, we are not here in the present moment. By using mindfulness, we can bring ourselves back into our bodies and finally get out of our heads. So how do we do it?
To use mindfulness, we need to practice both awareness and acceptance. To be more aware, we need to start training our attention to notice the little stuff: How does it feel to breathe in and out? What sensations do we feel in our body? What are we thinking about and why? But awareness is not enough to calm our minds. In fact, hyper-awareness can lead to an even busier mind. We also need to cultivate acceptance by mentally letting go of our thoughts when they arise—for example, you can imagine them floating away like leaves in a river or clouds in the sky. By training our minds to notice thoughts and then let go, we free our minds from the constant chatter.
4. Reboot Your Mind
The thing about the brain is that it likes to just keep doing the things it has always done. That means shifting our thoughts can be tough, especially for those of us who are overthinkers. Our brains have gotten so good at overthinking that they just don’t know any other way to operate. That’s why getting our minds back can sometimes require shutting down and rebooting our minds.
You can do a quick mental reboot just by changing the scenery. Go for a walk, go to a different room, or face a different direction. These subtle changes can interrupt the processes in your brain just enough to shift gears. For a bigger mental reboot, take a mini-vacation to a new location. This time, make sure your mind gets to think about something else. For example, maybe instead of obsessing about that work project, you do an activity that forces you to think about something else—something like climbing a mountain, cooking a new meal, or painting a picture. By doing different types of activities, you can reboot your mind and start fresh.
5. Show Your Mind Who’s Boss
We often feel at the mercy of our mind—it always seems to go running off wherever it wants. But at the core, our brain is just another body part, and ultimately we have control over our body parts. So how might we stop our brains running off just like we might stop our body running off?
We just need to use the parasympathetic nervous system to remind our brain who is boss. When we get caught up in a stress cycle, the parasympathetic nervous system works like the brakes. When we activate this system, it stops the fight or flight bodily responses that go along with a stressed mind. We could take a cold shower, gargle, or take a few long deep breaths—these things activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help you short-circuit anxieties that run through the mind.
6. Shift Your Mental Gears
If we’ve “lost our mind,” we’re often frustrated too. We just want “peace of mind” so we can simply get stuff done. This mental distress can be exhausting. But, let’s pause to reframe. The truth is that the things from the past that we obsess over may not have even happened the way we think they did. And the future things we worry about may not ever happen. So the silver lining is, we really do have a fantastic imagination! And we can use our imagination to get our minds back.
The truth is that the thoughts we have are bothersome because they are negative. Rarely are we annoyed by positive thoughts. So why don’t we use our imagination to generate positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts? To use this strategy, first make sure you’re seated comfortably and close your eyes. Start to imagine you are in a beautiful, calming place. Then imagine you’re with people you love and doing things you love to do. Keep thinking these positive thoughts until your negative thoughts fall into the background. Finally, take a few deep breaths and sit with these thoughts for a moment. You’ve just used your imagination to get your mind back.
7. Get a Little Help to Calm Your Mind and Reset
You’ve just learned a bunch of ways to get your mind back. But sometimes your mind is so full that you need a little more help—you want something that you don’t have to think too much about or work too hard at. Maybe you need a quick reset after that intense working session, between Zoom meetings, or before you go to bed, but you’ve only got two minutes (and about two brain cells) left to get your mind back. That’s when you need to reset your mind.
Neuroscientists have found that when you activate your brain in just the right ways, you can hard-stop those distracting thought cycles. Your mind is clear and able to focus. And those lingering anxieties that hide somewhere deep inside the brain get released. All that’s left is calm—this must be what it feels like to have peace of mind.
This post was also published at Think-Now.com.