Meditation is designed to help you focus on the present. But what can you do when the annoying thoughts of your day begin to creep in? Knowing how to redirect your thoughts can help.
Anxious thoughts can impact all aspects of a person’s day. Worrying about that presentation or test or thinking about all the things you have to do before the end of your day can distract you.
These intrusive thoughts can make it difficult to complete a task at work or school.
Many people turn to meditation to combat negative thoughts and calm their minds. But achieving inner peace can take time when you’re new to the practice.
Having a guide can be useful so when intruding thoughts arise, you can quickly shift back into a relaxed headspace.
The purpose of meditation is to actually think less. While thoughts will come and go, meditating can help quiet down the internal chatter.
“The idea is to move beyond thought,” says Kimberly Snyder, a spiritual and meditation teacher and author of “You Are More Than You Think You Are.”
“Thoughts are always running in the conscious mind, pulling you in many directions, and leading to anxiety, confusion, disorganization, and lack of focus,” Snyder says. “Instead, when you meditate, the focus is on moving beyond the senses and thoughts and tapping into the peace and equanimity that is below the surface.”
When you strip away the layers of your thoughts, you may discover an internal space of tranquility and be able to connect to the present moment.
It’s easy to get distracted when meditating, but there are ways to get your focus back. Here are a few strategies you can try to get back to a calming place.
Repeat a simple mantra
For a relaxing state of mind, try a mantra.
“You can even start with ‘peace, peace, peace,’ and repeat this silently to yourself as you meditate,” Snyder explains.
“Focus on one spot while you do this,” Snyder adds. “I recommend the internal point of your third eye, between your physical eyes and slightly higher. This helps to calm the mind by anchoring to one focus, and eventually, you transcend thoughts altogether.”
With practice, you’ll be able to enter this calm place with ease.
Have an anchor
In the moments when thoughts arise, it’s helpful to have an anchor to bring you back to the present.
“Be here now, as Ram Dass says,” explains Nicole Tetreault, PhD, a neuroscientist and meditation teacher.
“Anchors in meditation include focusing on the rise and fall of the breath, noticing the body, such as feet grounded on the ground,” Tetreault says. “As thoughts of planning, remembering, and imagining arise, meditation allows them to arise and fall away like the passing of clouds in the sky.”
If emotions or strong sensations arise, you can allow them to pass like a river of flowing water.
It also allows whatever arises nonjudgmentally and without attachment or detachment to manipulate the experience, Tetreault adds.
Try an affirmation
If your thoughts continue to wander, try repeating a positive affirmation.
Some affirmations you can try during meditation include:
- I am calm.
- I am present.
- I can achieve peace.
- I am grounded.
- I am happy.
- I can take deep breaths.
- I am focused.
- I am peaceful.
- My breathing is slow
- I am strong and powerful.
- I release tension and anxiety.
- I am at peace with myself.
- I feel peaceful and relaxed.
Instead of trying to avoid your thoughts, become an observer.
“Keep coming back to your mantra and your breath,” Snyder says. “Eventually and over time, more and more you’ll find yourself in a peaceful, contented space of just being.”
Some of the markers of improving your meditations include your intuition growing. In other words, having more access to your inner voice.
This is crucial for guidance and increasing joy in your heart, as your thoughts begin to settle and you move to a much deeper place, Snyder explains.
Another technique you can try is mental noting. The process of mental noting is a way to help you work through intrusive thoughts, also called “name it to tame it.”
“Just simply noting allows the experience to arise,” Tetreault says. “When we name all the challenges we’re experiencing, that allows the dragons of the mind to come to light and they’re not as scary.
“Give voice to the pain points within yourself,” she adds. “Naming the ‘dragon’ inherently reduces pain and calms the nervous system response.”
Sometimes naming can be as simple as one word or phrase such as:
- “logistics overload”
- “disaster thinking”
- “I fear illness”
This type of thinking is usually distressing in nature. It also seems to appear out of nowhere and recur over and over again.
When you’re meditating, it’s not uncommon to have intrusive thoughts. When you have OCD or anxiety, these thoughts may be more severe, making it even more of a challenge to calm them.
You may mull over “endless ‘what if’ scenarios, which may not even be real,” says Snyder.
“This raises fear, which is brought about from some kind of trauma, experience, or learned beliefs from the past,” Snyder adds. “Meditation can be tremendously helpful with these behaviors because it’s all about coming to the present moment.”
As you become more present, your mind may begin to manage and regulate your body’s systems, such as your nervous system and breathing rate.
When your body is calm, it can help your mind also feel more peaceful and calm, Snyder explains.
“The practice of meditation recenters the mind and retrains it to develop neural patterns for positive neural plasticity, where the brain can process information with greater balance,” adds Tetreault.
For example, just taking three mindful breaths calms the nervous system by activating the ”rest and digest” mechanism in the body and increases greater oxygen throughout the body and mind.
Deep breathing releases positive neurohormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin — also called the trust hormones, Tetreault adds.
When you have anxiety or OCD, meditation can enhance your ability to center your mind into present awareness.
Meditating regularly can improve your overall well-being, and can be particularly useful for managing intrusive thoughts and mental health conditions such as OCD and anxiety.
Finding inner stillness can be difficult if you’re a beginner to meditation.
But knowing what to think about can help you take back control of your thoughts.