Feeling trapped in a train of thought you just can’t seem to shake? Does it feel like the harder you try to let go of the bothersome thought, the stronger its grip becomes and the more it bothers you? As someone who’s experienced this more times than I can remember, I get it; rumination is frustrating and draining!
The good news is you can release lingering negative thoughts and take charge of your mental health. However, it’ll take a bit of deliberate effort on your part to master how to get something off your mind.
In this guide, I’ll share practical steps for letting go of intrusive thoughts to help you refocus and find inner peace. But first, here’s a quick look at the not-so-pleasant effects of rumination.
Rumination Is Bad for You: Here’s Why
Do you know what it’s called when you mull over negative thoughts, feelings, or experiences without actually reaching any resolution? It’s called ruminating.
Here’s the confusing thing about rumination: it doesn’t necessarily involve being worried or anxious. Instead, it is being caught in a cycle of repetitive thinking and unable to break free from it.
Of course, ruminating can eventually lead to a state of constant worry or debilitating anxiety. However, even without those, feeling trapped in a negative train of thought can lead to a number of unpleasant consequences, including:
- Increased stress level: Unless you take steps to rid your mind of what’s bothering you, it can prolong and intensify your body’s stress response. If this happens, it can lead to higher cortisol levels and physiological symptoms like increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and suppressed immune system.
- Risk of mental health issues: Research suggests that thinking too much can increase the risk of depression. Rumination is also linked to other mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.
- Troubled relationships: It may not be obvious initially, but preoccupation with what’s on your mind can gradually make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships. You might notice that you withdraw from people or show less empathy because you are mostly preoccupied with personal concerns.
- Interference with daily functioning: Being unable to get something off your mind consumes your mental energy. This can negatively affect your ability to concentrate, address challenges objectively, and solve problems effectively. When something weighs heavily on your mind, it will eventually reduce your productivity.
- Physical and emotional health issues: Research has linked rumination to various physical and emotional health problems, such as insomnia, binge eating, and alcohol-related problems. It might even lead to self-harm.
Overall, getting stuck in repetitive negative thoughts reduces life satisfaction. It’s difficult to fully engage in the present moment and enjoy life to the fullest when you can’t get past what’s weighing you down.
How to Get Something off Your Mind: 5 Ways to Let Go
If you’re like most people, the last thing you want to hear when you’re worried is, “Just let it go.” It can feel dismissive ― as if no one gets you!
But the truth is, deep down, you might not know how to let go, and having people tell you to do what you don’t know can tick you off.
Fortunately, you’re reading this. Here are 5 effective ways to break free from whatever is bugging your mind.
1. Write About What’s Bothering You
Journaling regularly might not be your thing, but penning down your thoughts offers many benefits, including helping you manage anxiety.
My point is you can learn how to get something off your mind by writing about it, even if you don’t consider yourself a devoted journal writer.
The next time something weighs you down, grab a pen and paper and write about it. It doesn’t matter whether you write a few lines or a couple of pages; the most important thing is pouring your thoughts onto paper.
And while you can choose to approach this in a more structured manner, I suggest writing freely without filtering your words or holding back.
Writing about what’s keeping you down allows you to:
- Organize your thoughts
- Clear your mind of worrisome thoughts
- Externalize the issue to get a fresh perspective
- Address the problem more objectively
- Review the issue at a later time or date
2. Actively Seek a Solution
One of the best ways to find mental relief from rumination is by actively seeking a solution to whatever is stuck in your mind. That’s because action is an effective way to counter anxiety.
Here’s the tricky part, though.
Worrying about something may feel like you’re doing something about it ― seeking a solution. But in reality, all that does is send you down a rabbit hole.
It’s easy to mistake worrying for brainstorming, but they are different mental processes.
Brainstorming involves taking time to think about your options with an open mind in a bid to generate ideas and potential solutions. This is completely different from dwelling on negative thoughts, which is what worrying is about.
Rather than passively contemplating (and falling into the trap of worrying), try the following tips to actively seek practical solutions:
- Find out what is causing this persistent thought. Pinpointing the exact problem will help you break it down into smaller, manageable bits.
- Ask yourself: what proactive steps can I take to move toward a solution right now? Explore your options without judgment.
- Think about the advantages and downsides of each potential solution. Take time to consider the practicality of implementing each solution as well as their potential outcome.
- Choose the most feasible solution and take action.
3. Engage in a Healthy Distraction
It’s almost impossible to completely turn off your mind. You’re always thinking, at least during your waking hours. Giving your mind something positive to focus on reduces wandering, and there’s little chance of getting stuck in negative or unhelpful thinking patterns.
With this in mind, here’s an important tip on how to get something off your mind: distract yourself.
Have a handful of activities to engage your mind in different situations. This way, you cut down idle time and rumination while keeping your mind occupied positively. Intentionally engaging in healthy activities that distract your mind increases your chances of achieving a happier state of mind.
Here are a few ways to occupy your mind:
- Read a good book
- Listen to a podcast or groove to your favorite music playlist
- Solve a puzzle or play a game
- Do exercise (physical activity can improve your mood)
- Engage in a hobby or volunteer your time and resources
4. Talk to Someone You Trust
Sometimes, it’s hard to shake a thought, no matter how hard you try. At such times, talking to a close buddy or trusted family can be helpful.
Talking to someone doesn’t necessarily mean asking them for advice. However, verbalizing your thoughts ― hearing yourself say what you’re thinking out loud ― can help you get over your jumbled thoughts and emotions and gain some clarity.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone in your circle, I recommend seeing a therapist or counselor. Although it may seem as if you’ve considered the bothersome thought from every possible aspect, a professional can help you see things from a fresh perspective.
5. Focus On Humor
Want a quick way to get something off your mind? Find a reason to laugh from the depth of your heart!
Humor can shift your mind from what’s bothering you to something more positive. Think of it as a positive stimulus that helps you see things more optimistically.
Whenever you need to quickly move away from negative repetitive thoughts, I suggest intentionally doing any of these:
- Seek out funny content (think funny movies, skits, comedy TV shows, or internet memes).
- Poke some light fun at your imperfections (it’s okay to laugh at yourself sometimes).
- Look for something absurd or funny in your moments.
- Spend time with people who can make you laugh and permit yourself to share genuine laughter with them.
In a nutshell, focusing on humor increases your chances of dealing with negativity more effectively.
Here’s one caveat to keep in mind.
While laughter can quickly shift your perspective and lighten your mood, it is usually a temporary escape from intrusive thinking patterns.
We all worry about a couple of things every now and then, and that’s perfectly normal. However, it is not healthy to get stuck in a cycle of repetitive thinking where your mind dwells on the negative aspects of things without any resolution.
This is why knowing how to get something off your mind is important. Be patient with yourself as you apply the strategies in this guide. With time, you’ll experience greater joy in your moments and live a more satisfying life.