Learn How to Quiet Your Mind When Your Thoughts Won’t Shut the Heck up Using These 5 Tips

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With everything you have going on, it’s understandable that you have a busy mind. After all, you’re regularly juggling work issues, family schedules, and general life. And mentally shutting off all that can be hard, even if it's all you really want to do.

Still, having a constantly buzzing busy mind can lead to what’s known as “anticipatory anxiety,” which means having anxious feelings about things that can happen in the future, says psychologist Erika Martinez, PsyD. “Quieting the mind can help reduce that anticipatory anxiety that can wreak havoc on your emotional and physical health,” she says.

Furthermore, a busy mind that never quits can also stress you out—and stress can take a serious toll on your body, says psychologist Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, “Quieting your mind is so important because all of your health—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—needs a relaxed, calm starting place to function optimally,” she says.

“Quieting the mind can help reduce that anticipatory anxiety that can wreak havoc on your emotional and physical health.” —psychologist Erika Martinez, PsyD

That’s why mental-health experts often recommend practicing mindfulness, a form of meditation that focuses on shutting out white noise of life, bringing your attention to the present, and quieting your mind. “Our brains are thought-producing machines,” says psychologist Stephen Graef, PhD. “To slow that down, you have to create an experience where you give yourself the opportunity—and mindfulness meditation offers that.”

Of course, it’s one thing to say you want to learn how to quiet your mind, but it's an entirely other thing to actually do it. Using the following tips, you can help set you up for success and make the most of your sessions.

Want to know how to quiet your mind? The following 5 steps from mental-health pros will put you on the right path.

How to quiet your mind when thoughts derail your meditation
Photo: Getty Images/CaiaimageTom-Merton

1. Get in a comfortable position

When you think of meditation, the lotus position (a cross-legged, seated asana) probably comes to mind. But this actually isn’t comfortable for everyone, says psychologist Simon Rego, PsyD. “You have to find a position that works for you,” he says. That could mean lying down on your side or back (which, it should be noted, may help you breathe better), or simply sitting in a chair with your eyes closed and body relaxed.

Whatever you choose, make sure you're able to rest in a position that won’t be distracting for you as you meditate for several minutes. “It’s helpful to strip away as many possible distractions as you can,” Dr. Rego says. Otherwise, you're not doing your already-busy mind any favors.

2. Take deep breaths

Taking deep breaths is “associated with relaxation in our minds,” Dr. Rego says.It has a natural cadence to it, which allows for quieting things down and relaxing your body.” To get into your breathing, he recommends breathing in and out slowly, clearing your mind, and focusing your thoughts on following your breath. You can even think things like “in” and “out,” as you breathe deeply and blow the air out.

If you’re having trouble getting into your breathing, try diaphragmatic breaths. To do these, sit or lie comfortably, and place one hand on your upper chest and the other below your ribcage. Then, breathe in slowly through your nose and out slowly through your mouth. You can also breathe in for a certain count and out for double that amount (like, in for four counts and out for eight). “This type of breathing also relaxes muscles and helps you feel more relaxed so you can focus on disciplining your mind,” Dr. Martinez says.

3. Don’t judge yourself when your thoughts start to wander

Learning to meditate takes practice, and it’s natural for your thoughts to wander at some point, Dr. Bash says. But getting down on yourself when this happens will only work against your goals. “Judging yourself puts you into a higher state of anxiety, making the process of meditating a lot less relaxing,” Dr. Graef says. If you start feeling critical of yourself when your thoughts wander, “your mind is going to act out,” Dr. Martinez adds.

Instead of beating yourself up about your wandering mind, Dr. Graef recommends acknowledging and accepting the thoughts as they come up, and then releasing them. Dr. Bash agrees: “Ideally, you will return your awareness to your breath, and to the moment,” she says. “Busy thoughts will come. Just allow them to wash through you like waves in the ocean, without holding onto them.”

Learning how to quiet your mind and to return to the moment when you do get pulled out of it is part of the very essence of meditation, Dr. Rego notes. So by not judging yourself and returning back to your meditation when your thoughts start to wander, you’re actually improving your meditation skills holistically, he says.

4. Use a guided meditation app

Having an app guide you through your meditation can help you stay focused and reel you back in if your mind gets too busy. These tools can also be super-helpful for people who are new to meditation. “It takes the pressure off a little bit,” Dr. Graef says of apps, which he likens to having a coach of sorts. Meditation requires some level of cognition, and that can be distracting. “If you think about the process, it almost forces you to think about it more than you want, and that can be discouraging."

There are a slew of meditation apps available, and ultimately, you just have to find one that works for you. To get you started though, Stop, Breathe & Think, Calm, and Headspace are all highly rated.

5. Meditate regularly

Meditation is a skill and, just like any other skill, like cooking or gardening, you're more likely to improve if you practice. “The more you do it, the more your body and mind gets accustomed to the practice, and the more you grow,” Dr. Graef says.

Dr. Rego recommends thinking of your meditation practice like working out. “If you stop exercising regularly, you can pretty quickly notice the deterioration of your strength,” he says. “Like anything else, mindfulness or attention focus is a muscle that needs constant exercise to stay strong.”

No matter your approach to mindfulness, starting or ending your day with your practice can be a great way to either get things going or wind down your mind before bed, Dr. Rego says. For some people though, simply making the time to meditate whenever they have a free moment works, too. That said, the mental-health experts do agree on this basic principle: Learning how to quiet your mind and have a regular practice can have a big impact on your life.

More good mindfulness news: You might be able to meditate your way to a sharper mind. And here's how long you need to meditate in order for it to work.

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