Unwanted and intrusive thoughts and brain fog can make it hard to sleep, focus, and enjoy life. Clearing your mind can reduce stress and increase your well-being.
Your thoughts can impact the way you feel. The way you feel may affect how you navigate life. Clearing your mind of unwanted thoughts may help you cope with everyday challenges and in the long run.
A clear mind may:
- bring you into the present
- reduce anxiety
- decrease a sense of uncertainty
- release the past
- sharpen focus
- improve mood
Learning how to clear your head may take some practice, but it’s possible to achieve mental clarity with these expert-backed strategies.
If unwanted thoughts keep you up at night, using these methods to clear your mind may help.
Try positive visualization
Visualization is seeing things in your mind and trying to connect to how that scene feels.
You may find it helpful to try visualization that’s personalized to you, says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of “Understanding Bipolar Disorder.”
“You can listen to any music that’s calming for you, or visualize any place that feels calming to you,” she says. “It might be a palace, orbiting another planet, or getting a hug from someone.”
Try to close your eyes and think about a place or situation that brings you peace and makes you smile. Try to focus on it for a while, going through all the details of the scene and connecting with the emotions it brings.
You can do this on a regular basis to get in the habit or right before bed if you need to clear your head in the moment.
Consider a bedtime routine
A regular bedtime routine may help your brain associate certain activities with sleep, which may help you wind down quicker, says Noelle Benach, LCPC, a psychotherapist in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Turn off or silence your phone. Make a cup of tea or hot chocolate,” she suggests. “If your mind feels very busy, try writing your thoughts down. It may offer some catharsis in the moment and take the pressure off you to remember whatever you’re thinking about.”
Repeating those actions that ground you and make you feel calm is key to sleeping better.
Optimal sleep hygiene can help you clear your mind almost automatically each night.
Try binaural tones
To learn how to clear your mind before bed, you may find it helpful to listen to binaural tones, a set of two tones at slightly different pitches played at the same time in each ear.
A 2019 study found that binaural tones combined with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) sounds can lull you into sleep and improve your quality of rest.
“It may not be an instant remedy, so give it 10 minutes or so before deciding whether it works for you or not,” says Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, a therapist in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
This popular track on YouTube may be a good place to start.
“The trick here is to not let yourself doom-scroll, or check Facebook for the 30th time, or Google answers to problems,” he says. “By just focusing on soothing and calming music, you get your mind off of stressful things and off screens so you can get some sleep.”
Rumination is when unwanted, irrational, or intrusive thoughts play on repeat in your mind.
Ruminating can happen sporadically or it can be a symptom of certain conditions, including:
It’s highly advisable that you work with a mental health professional if you think you live with a condition that may be impacting your quality of life. There are also a few self-care strategies that may help if you want to clear your head from ruminating thoughts.
Try to tune into your senses
You may find it helpful to use your senses to anchor yourself, explains Daramus. “Find something to touch, like beautiful fabric. Find something to taste and smell. Look at interesting art or another project.”
To get the full effect, she recommends practicing for a few minutes each day to build mindful awareness over time.
“Start with pleasant experiences that you want to be there for, like savoring a good meal or playtime with a pet, then move toward using your senses to help you be present for experiences that are less pleasant,” she explains.
If you feel overwhelmed by unwanted thoughts, you can clear your mind by focusing on what your senses are perceiving at the moment. If possible, try to train your brain to focus where you direct it, called “focused attention.”
“Rumination is often an excessive focus on thoughts or memories, real or imagined, from the past or in the future,” says Zrenchik. “The antidote often involves centering yourself in the present.”
He recommends a grounding exercise with colors. “Take a look in the room around you and notice one thing of every color,” he says. “Focus on each item before going to the next. Notice it in relation to other items, like how far your red mug is from your orange pillow.”
Some other grounding activities include:
Consider puzzle games
Research suggests that visuospatial tasks (those that use your memory and analysis skills) can help with intrusive thoughts.
A 2022 study found that while the game Tetris couldn’t necessarily stop the distress of intrusive thoughts, it could reduce how often they occur.
Some other visuospatial tasks include:
- assembling or rearranging furniture
- completing a puzzle
- making a photo collage
- making your bed
- rearranging items on a shelf
- playing with Lego
Try to shift your perspective
In order to clear your mind from unwanted thoughts, you may find it helpful to see your situation with a zoomed-out lens.
“I like to ask my clients a series of questions,” says Benach. “Chances are, the answer may be yes for the first two, but no for the following questions. It really helps to put things into perspective.”
Try to ask yourself:
- Will this matter tomorrow?
- 1 week from now?
- 1 month from now?
- 1 year from now?
Brain fog can make it feel like you can’t focus or process information.
Some causes may include:
- chronic stress
- excess computer time
- side effects of medication
- sleep deprivation
- other medical conditions (diabetes or autoimmune disorders)
Clearing your mind when you experience brain fog can help you readjust your energy levels so you can perform more urgent tasks.
Try to “play” for awhile
Brain fog can be a sign that it’s time to engage in some self-care, says Daramus.
“If you’re sure it’s not medical, you may be working too hard, so try to get some mental rest,” she says. “Try to either just relax and don’t do anything mentally challenging for a while, or do something that feels like mental playtime.”
Taking 5 minutes each hour to do something stimulating but fun, like petting your dog or reading a few jokes, can help you clear your mind and feel recharged.
Consider your basic needs
If possible, try to make sure you’re meeting your basic needs, says Benach. “If these things aren’t happening, it makes sense that you’re feeling foggy.”
Some easy-to-overlook tasks include:
- eating a nutrient-dense diet
- connecting with loved ones
- getting enough sleep
- regular activity
- relaxation activities
- unplugging from screen time
Working with a therapist can help
You don’t have to go through this alone. If your unwanted thoughts are taking away from your quality of life, you may find it helpful to work with a therapist. They can help you process your underlying emotions and provide tools to help you cope.
Learning how to clear your mind from unwanted or upsetting thoughts takes practice, but it’s possible.
You may find it helpful to try activities that put you in the present moment, like positive visualization, problem-solving tasks, and grounding exercises.
To complement these strategies, perhaps consider this workbook: “Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts” by Sally M. Winston and Martin N. Seif.