How to Take Your Mind off Things

Four Methods:Clearing Anxious ThoughtsDistracting Your MindFocusing Your Attention ElsewhereBeing Social

Learning to take your mind off of things that are bothering you, stressing you out, or otherwise occupying your mind is an important life skill. Try these suggestions to clear or distract your mind and help you relax and unwind from the complications of life.

Method 1
Clearing Anxious Thoughts

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    Confront your anxieties. While it may seem counter intuitive, the best way to take your mind off of problems in the long term is to confront and overcome them. Otherwise, the same issues will continue to crop up and cause anxiety until they are dealt with.
    • Ruminating -- a tendency to replay anxious thoughts over and over in your mind -- is a mental habit that has to be broken. Begin by allowing yourself to consider the root source of your anxious thoughts. What is the scenario you fear most, and why do you worry about it?[1]
    • After you have identified the source of your anxiety, let yourself imagine the worst-case scenario. Often we let open-ended scenarios frighten us, when in reality we can handle the worst-case scenario. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen, and can I handle it?[2]
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    Set a time limit on worrying. It is impossible to force yourself to not worry about your problems, especially if the problems present real challenges to your daily life (like finances or relationships). Giving yourself a set time period each day to worry can help you find freedom the rest of the day.
    • Schedule 20-30 minutes at the same time every day to think about the issues that worry you. Remind yourself at other times that it is not the time to worry.[3]
    • Be sure your "worry period" is early enough in the day that it does not interfere with your sleep.[4]
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    Consider meditation. Contrary to what you might see on TV, meditation doesn't have to be complicated, spooky, or mystical. Lots of ordinary people practice simple varieties of meditation to help calm their minds. Meditation is about developing the discipline to quiet or focus your mind.
    • Start by sitting in a comfortable, quiet room free of distractions. Sit in a position that is comfortable for you, but keep a straight back and good posture. Use a chair if you prefer.[5]
    • Close your eyes gently and breathe naturally in and out through your nose. Focus your attention on the way the air feels entering your nose, then your throat, then your lungs; and then on how it feels leaving again.[6]
    • If you find it hard to focus on your breath and your mind starts to wander, just gently redirect your thoughts back to your breath. You can do this for just a few minutes and then gradually increase the time you spend clearing your mind.[7]
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    Do some yoga. Like meditation, yoga is a common but often misunderstood mind and body exercise that many people use to calm and center themselves after a long day. Like meditation, it can be relaxing and quieting, but unlike meditation it also involves a sometimes-rigorous exercise component that helps to keep you in shape and makes you actively focus on things other than whatever is bothering you.
    • Try investigating a yoga studio in your area. Many studios will allow you to take a class for no charge to see if it’s a good fit for you.
    • If you can't afford classes in a studio or gym, consider your local community center or YMCA, which often have yoga and other classes at a discount or on a pay-per-class basis.
    • If group classes are not right for you, purchase a DVD series or try YouTube lessons. These can be just as effective as a course in a studio, and when you learn the moves well enough, you can do them without the video.

Method 2
Distracting Your Mind

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    Hide your triggers. Whatever it is that is bothering you, distracting you, or stressing you out, put it somewhere out of the way for a while and ignore it.
    • If you just got home from work, hide your laptop, your phone, those bills that are overdue, and all the other things that you associate with working. If you just broke up with someone, clear out all the things that remind you of that person. Make it too difficult to think about the things that are bothering you.
    • For many people who struggle with general anxiety, avoiding television or internet news feeds can help, since the news is often sensationalized to capitalize on your worries.[8]
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    Go for a hike. Spending time in a park, the woods, around a lake, or in a nearby meadow can help ground you to your surroundings, keeping your mind off troubling things. In addition to benefits to your physical health, spending time outdoors has been shown to improve concentration and increase reported levels of happiness.[9]
    • It's important that you don't allow your time outdoors to become a place to dwell on the issues that are bothering you. During your hikes, pause to notice the texture of the grass or the changing light on a tree or mountain, the ripples of a lake. Sets of serenity can be built in our minds and they are places where we can go more simply in our minds. Remember this.
    • If you find it hard to focus on your surroundings and your mind wanders back to your troubles, consider setting out on your walk or hike with a specific purpose in mind, such as collecting interesting seed pods, identifying various types of birds, or tracking wildlife. Having a task to do can help refocus your attention.
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    Listen to music. Music is a great way to just let loose and dance, or meditate and relax. Whatever style of music you favor, listening actively can help clear your mind and leave you feeling refreshed.
    • Music with slow, methodical beats can put you in a meditative state and has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety much like hypnosis and meditation.[10]
    • Alternately, if you don't want to relax but still need a distraction, try listening to music with complicated lyrics that you'll have to follow closely. Staying closely engaged will help to keep your mind off other things. Check out Leonard Cohen, Patty Smith, Bill Callahan, or Vic Chesnutt.

Method 3
Focusing Your Attention Elsewhere

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    Read a good book. Using literature to improve your mental health is known as bibliotherapy, and it is a surprisingly effective way to clear your mind of your own issues and focus on someone else's story.[11]
    • Pick a book in a genre that you find interesting and allow yourself to be immersed in the lives of the characters. Try looking at your local library or check out for suggestions from other readers.
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    Exercise. If you're not doing anything, it's hard to keep your mind from the issues you want to avoid. Additionally, exercise has been shown to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and ward off depression.[12] Find a type of physical exercise that you enjoy, whether it be aerobics at the gym or shooting hoops at the park. Read more about the following great methods of exercise that you can do all yourself:
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    Volunteer your time. One great way to get your mind off your own problems is to focus on serving others.
    • Call up your local homeless shelter, animal shelter, food bank, or other organization. Every community has ways to get involved.
    • Studies show that volunteering 100 hours a year increases overall feelings of satisfaction with life, provides a buffer for stress, and even improves physical health.[13]
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    Try out a new recipe. You can engage your mind, your hands, and your taste-buds. Find a delicious new recipe that you'd like to try, get all the ingredients, and start cooking. And if you don't want to put on the pounds from your cooking explorations, donate it to a family in need in your community. Try out some of these great recipes:
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    Make something. Instead of focusing on the issues that are bothering you, do something productive with your time that will keep both your hands and your mind busy. Pick a project that you've always wanted to try.
    • Draw a picture, or paint. Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, spending some time doing Bob Ross imitations or launching paint at a canvas Jackson Pollock-style can be a great way to unwind.
    • Make small collages with newspaper, magazines, and other found-photo cutouts. You can then turn these collages into postcards and send them to your friends.
    • Write in your diary or journal, or write a story, or try out your poetry skills. Writing is a great way to get your mind off of things, so long as you choose a different topic to write about than the one you're trying to avoid.
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    Clean the house. Get out the vacuum, cleaning products, and clean up your living space.
    • Cleaning your living space can symbolize a fresh start and help you refocus your energy on improving your own living area. In fact, living in a messy space can cause feelings of stress that can be overwhelming.[14]
    • Start with a quick clean, tidying everything up, throwing away garbage, and straightening generally. Then, go into your deeper clean mode, vacuuming, dusting, and scrubbing. Throw away anything that is broken or unusable and donate anything that works but you no longer need.

Method 4
Being Social

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    Call your friends. One way of taking your mind off things is to be with other people. Don't let yourself spend time being distracted and depressed alone.
    • Call some friends and plan to do something together, or get some close friends to come over and have a movie night, a dinner party, or play a game of some sort.
    • You may want to take your mind off things, but you may also want to talk out the thing that's bothering you or distracting you. If you're feeling upset over a break-up, a recent disappointment, or some other issue, it might be a good idea to have some sympathetic friends to talk with instead, rather than distract.
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    Spend time with family. Whether you live at home or not, whether you have a big family or a small family, whether you are close with your family or not, spending some quality time with your family can help take your mind off other things.
    • Organize plans to do something out with your family, or you could just head to the homestead and spend time at home. Even if you're just eating dinner and watching television, doing it with your family can be more relaxing and comforting than anything else.
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    Head to a public place. If your family and friends are busy, consider heading to a public place and just being around people. Even if you don't want to sit somewhere and try to talk to strangers, people watching can be a nice way of keeping your mind off things.
    • Head to the library, a coffee house, a bar, a local park, or a record store to socialize or people-watch.
    • While it's true that bars can be great neighborhood hangouts and places to socialize over a few drinks, drinking is not recommended as a way to distract your mind, as it can lead to serious problems with alcohol dependency. Go to the bar to socialize, not to drink your trouble away.
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    Write an old-fashioned letter or postcard to distant friends. If you can't have your friends come to you, send something to your friends. Write up a letter to get in touch, asking questions to help catch up and filling your friend in on your own life.
    • Want to go really old school? Make a mix tape and send it to a friend in the mail.


  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Although these may take your mind off your immediate problems momentarily, they will create even more severe problems in the long run.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine which can make you anxious and makes it even harder to get rid of stressful events on your mind.

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Categories: Breathing and Meditation