Do you ever find your mind racing with thoughts? Or feel like you have a fog surrounding your brain?
Both of these phenomena are quite common—and can be very frustrating.
But there are concrete ways to clear your mind from anxiety, lack of sleep, or overwhelm!
9 Best Ways to Clear Your Mind
Lack of mental clarity typically falls within two broad categories.
- Mental fog: When your brain feels slow, fuzzy, or unclear.
- Racing thoughts: When your brain is jumping from thought to thought and unable to settle on one train of thought.
We’ll cover how to clear your mind of both.
Remember, not each of the ideas on this list will be helpful for everyone. Try experimenting with different ways to reach mental clarity and find what helps you.
5 Ways to Clear Your Mind From Racing Thoughts
Your thoughts might be racing because you have a lot going on and feel overwhelmed. Or you could have racing thoughts because you struggle with perfectionism and want to ensure you do your absolute best at everything. Or maybe you’re stressed out. Here are some ways to clear your mind from racing thoughts.
#1 Name your fears
If you find your mind racing, stop and ask yourself what is worrying you. In many cases, recognizing what is causing you anxiety can help you put it into perspective and not be as worried.
Dr. Matthew D. Lieberman conducted a study at UCLA analyzing the brain activity of individuals as they named emotions. He found that when sadness, anxiety, or anger are put into words, most brain activity moves from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex.
The amygdala is where the fight or flight response is triggered. Meanwhile, the prefrontal cortex helps you make decisions with a clear mind and inhibits irrational behavior.
This approach might not be helpful in all situations or for everyone, so if you try it out and start feeling more overwhelmed, move on.
Action Step: Pull out a notebook and pen and start journaling what’s on your mind. If writing’s not your thing, take a few minutes to think. Think through what is concerning you and how you feel at the moment.
As you name your emotions and think about the situations causing them, you may realize that there are alternate solutions you haven’t yet considered. Or, you may feel more peaceful and calm as you see the emotions on the page.
Journaling has many benefits, from improving mental wellness, minimizing feelings of depression, and improving creativity.
#2 Write an in-depth to-do list
If you notice your mind racing with thoughts of things you need to do, pull out a notebook or open up a note on your phone and jot down everything you can think of that needs to get done. Include everything from when you’re scheduled to work tomorrow to what you need to pick up at the grocery store.
Once you have things written down, mark what a high priority is and what is non-urgent. If you’re using a pen and paper, try adding a star next to the urgent items. On a phone note, you can make the urgent items bold or reorder the list from highest to lowest priority.
Don’t just write tasks. Write down everything associated with the task. Remember, the more you get on paper, the easier it will be to clear it out of your mind.
This alone can help your mental capacity clear up and relieve stress about forgetting responsibilities.
Action Step: Use the Eisenhower Matrix to create a prioritized to-do list. Start by writing down everything you need to get done.
Once you have things written down, categorize these tasks into one of the four following categories:
- Urgent and Important
- Non-Urgent and Important
- Urgent and Non-Important
- Non-Urgent and Non-Important
Your matrix should end up looking like this:
Fill out the boxes with your tasks. Now you know what to focus on next!
To learn more about the Eisenhower Matrix and other ways to manage your time, read 15 Effective Time Management Strategies for Professionals.
#3 Clean physical space = clean mental space
It’s hard to have mental clarity in a cluttered space. In one study, researchers found that clutter, described as having a lot of visual stimuli in one’s visual cortex, can make it hard to focus and complete projects efficiently.
Adding “clean the house” to your to-do list might sound overwhelming if you already have a lot on your plate. Remember, you don’t have to do it all at once! Just start somewhere and tidy up for a handful of minutes every day. After a week or two, check in with yourself and see if it helped clear your mind.
Action Step: Don’t worry about cleaning everything at once. Start by queueing up your three favorite songs, and only clean for as long as they are playing. You might be surprised how much you can get done in just those few minutes.
If you’re unsure where to start, look around and see if there’s a small task you can do that will make a big difference. For example, carry any dishes accumulated in your room and load them into the dishwasher. Or, fold up the blankets in the living room.
Starting with a tiny task that is easy to accomplish can help create a snowball effect and help you feel more motivated as you clean. Here are some ideas:
- Clean out the freezer
- Clean the trunk or dashboard of your car
- Clean the smallest closet in your home
- Clean your medicine cabinet
- Organize your fridge
- Check expiry dates of food in your pantry or fridge
- Clean out the space under your sinks
#4 Do a 10 Minute Blood Pumper
Sometimes shaking up your body can shake up your mental patterns. Exercise is a self-help item that is easy to think of as an “all or nothing” activity. But even a little movement can help you improve your mental clarity.
This is especially helpful if you are in the midst of racing thoughts and need to focus on something else. Doing something physical can shift your focus from your thoughts to your body.
When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins. These chemicals in your brain make you feel more energized and happy. Research indicates that you don’t have to go to the gym or go for a run to reap the benefits of exercise. As proven, gardening and walking provide the same mental clarity. So find what you enjoy and what works for you.
Action Step: Try to do at least 10 minutes of a blood-moving activity. Try these:
- Dance to your three favorite songs from High School
- Clean your house as fast as possible (this is also step #3!)
- Follow this 5-minute stretch. This can help you release tension in your body and improve mental clarity.
The next time you go grocery shopping, park in the farthest parking spot. Then, walk the extra minute or two up to the grocery store. Even this short walk can help you stretch your legs and improve mental wellness.
#5 Use time-blocking strategies
One of the most popular time-blocking strategies is the Pomodoro technique (yes, that translates from Italian as the “tomato” technique). The name comes from the little tomato-shaped timer that Francesco Cirillo first used to keep track of designated focus time.
Set a timer for 25 minutes. Once the timer goes off, take a five-minute break. Then, restart the timer and work for another 25 minutes. After four of these focused windows, take a more extended break.
This method is helpful as it minimizes distractions for set periods and helps you become more aware of how you use your time and schedules in breaks.
Action Step: There’s more truth to the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” than we sometimes ascribe. Regarding cell phones, researchers have found that just having your device in your line of sight can hurt your ability to focus.
If you can, set your phone in a different room while you study. If you need to keep your phone within earshot because someone may need to contact you, try giving it to a study buddy. Ask them only to let you know if you get a call or text from a family member or colleague.
If you’re studying alone, turn off notifications for everyone besides the people you may need to have contact with. Then, turn the volume up and put the device in your bag so you can’t get distracted.
If you struggle with turning to social media when you feel overwhelmed, consider setting a daily time limit for the apps you’re most likely to open up.
4 Ways to Clear Your Mind from Mental Fog
Mental or brain fog typically shows up as tired, disoriented, distracted, forgetting about tasks, or taking longer than usual to complete tasks.
Brain fog can result from lack of sleep, inadequate nutrition, anxiety, depression, allergies, or hormonal changes, to name a few. It can also indicate deeper medical issues, so if you have persistent brain fog or are concerned about it, meet with your medical professional.
#1 Improve your sleep quality
Poor sleep quality can result from many things and can be one of the most significant contributors to brain fog. According to the CDC, nearly one-third of adults in the US get insufficient sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to brain fog.
Here are some things you can try to improve your sleep quality:
- Create a nighttime routine. What are a few things that help you unwind from the day and signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep? Try tidying up your space, listening to a specific type of music, or reading a chapter of a book to help signal to your brain that it is time to go to sleep.
- Get natural daylight during the day. Depending on your work environment or the weather, it may be challenging to spend much time outside. However, even a few minutes in the daylight can improve your sleep quality and help regulate your body. Try working near a window with sunlight or taking a 15-minute walk during lunch break.
- Turn off your mobile notifications and set your phone aside. Blue light can disrupt your sleep quality before going to sleep. Similarly, hearing your phone buzz throughout the night can wake you up. Try turning your phone on “do not disturb.” This way, you can still hear your alarm in the morning.
Pro Tip: If you are still struggling to improve your sleep despite following these tips, try Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
This practice, first developed by Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s, is based on the premise that mental calmness and physical relaxation are interconnected.
Over the years, many people have found this technique helpful. One study conducted in 2019 found that PMR reduced depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms for study participants.
Another study monitored college students as they participated in various relaxation techniques. Researchers found there was an immediate link between physical relaxation and PMR.
The overall premise is that you will contract one muscle group simultaneously for several seconds, relaxing between muscle groups.
Here’s how to practice PMR:
- Step 1: Lie down flat on your back
- Step 2: Inhale slowly for a count of five while contracting the muscles in your feet.
- Step 3: Exhale, releasing all the tension in the tensed muscles.
- Step 4: Give yourself 10-20 seconds of relaxation before moving on to the next muscle group.
Continue contracting and relaxing the muscles in your body until you’ve done all of them.
#2 Hydrate or snack
It’s surprising how quick and easy it is to get dehydrated and how quickly hunger can sneak up on you. Some people get hangry when they’re hungry, others get spacey—and some get both. If you notice difficulty concentrating, remember when you last ate and drank.
Here are a few ideas for quick, easy snacks you can munch on:
- A handful of almonds
- An apple
- Carrot sticks with hummus
- Whole grain crackers with cheese
- Hard-boiled egg
Action Step: If you’re leaving your house and planning to be gone for a long time, pack a few snacks before heading out! That way, you won’t get stuck somewhere without a pick-me-up to help you.
Try downloading an app that reminds you or helps you track how much you’ve drunk throughout the day.
#3 Call up a funny friend
A recent study suggests that social connection can improve brain function. It can help clear brain fog by being a sounding board to process ideas or vent your frustrations.
Who is your funniest friend or family member? Tell them you need their help–first, compliment them and tell them THEY are your funniest friend (everyone loves to hear that!). Second, ask them to tell you some stories. Funny people are usually great at telling stories. And hearing someone else tell a story is a great way to get out of your funk.
Another study found that having a solid social circle increases the endorphin levels in people’s brains. Endorphins help you feel good by decreasing stress and improving your mood.
The next time you’re distracted by brain fog, try walking over to the breakroom and chatting with someone there for a few minutes.
Action Step: Schedule a chat during your lunch break. This way, you won’t interrupt someone else’s workflow and have something to look forward to.
If you work in an office, ask your coworker if they’d like to try the new restaurant downtown for lunch.
If you work remotely, text a friend or family member and ask if they’d like to talk for an hour in the afternoon.
#4: Change Your Chemistry
Sometimes brain fog can feel like a funk. You can change your chemistry to get out of that funky rut.
Here are five chemicals that can help you snap out of your funk:
- Serotonin: It contributes to our feelings of balance, well-being, and calmness. Remembering positive memories is one of the quickest ways to get a boost of serotonin. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried, or when have you felt accepted and loved by someone?
- Dopamine: The brain releases dopamine when we pleasure or receive a gift. Treat yourself to your favorite dinner to get a little boost of dopamine.
- Testosterone: Testosterone does tie to power, strength, and capability. Ginger increases testosterone levels over time, so try brewing a cup of ginger tea.
- Oxytocin: Sometimes nicknamed the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is what helps us feel more loved and connected. If you’re feeling a bit low, call a friend to chat or plan dinner with someone.
- Endorphins: These help you overcome anxiety, stress, and pain better. One of the best ways to get endorphins is through exercise. But if you’re not in the mood to go for a run, chocolate and chili peppers also cause a boost of endorphins.
Watch this video to learn more, or you can read more tips for changing your chemicals at How to Get Out of a Funk (5 Ways to Stop Being Depressed).
How to Clear Your Mind from Anxiety?
If you are looking for an easy way to clear your mind from anxiety, try meditation or deep breathing to help calm your racing thoughts.
One popular breathing technique is called box breathing.
Fun fact, the navy seals use box breathing to improve wellness and stress management!
Action Step: Start by finding a comfortable standing, sitting, or lying position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe normally and pay attention to your hands.
If only the hand on your chest rises, you are likely taking shallow breaths. Concentrate on taking deep breaths that cause your stomach to rise as well as your chest.
Once you are taking slow, deep breaths, you’re ready to start box breathing.
Imagine you are drawing a box as you breathe. First, breathe in for four counts, then hold for four counts, slowly release the breath for four counts, and then wait for four counts before beginning again.
Do this for as long as you find it helpful. Even as little as 30 seconds can help you regulate your breathing, slow your racing thoughts, and clear your mind to focus on what is at hand.
How to Clear Your Mind Quickly?
If you need to clear your mind quickly, try using meditation that will help you set your intentions, recognize how you are feeling, and draw your focus away from yourself.
The method of meditation you use doesn’t matter—Transcendental Meditation, Vipassana, Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Sufi Meditation, and Hindu Meditation can all help improve focus to varying degrees.
To read more about the excellent benefits of meditation (everything from improving creativity to helping your cardiovascular health), check out this article on 14 Amazing Benefits of Meditation That Can Actually Rewire Your Brain.
If you want to find a meditation approach that can help you in just a few moments, try Mantra Meditation.
Mantra translates literally from Sanskrit as:
The phrase you choose to repeat during meditation can help your mind release unwanted thoughts and focus on your desired emotion or intention.
As you regularly use this phrase in your meditation practice, you will likely begin to associate it with feeling centered and calm. Then, if you need to clear your mind in the few minutes before giving a presentation or going into an interview, you can take a few deep breaths while mentally focusing on your mantra.
Action Step: Start by choosing a mantra. If you regularly struggle with perfectionism, you might choose something like, “I will do my best, and that is good enough.” Or, if you struggle with overthinking, you could select a mantra such as, “I choose to be present to the joys and challenges of this moment.”
Here are a few other mantras or affirmations you can use as inspiration:
- I am worthy. I am capable. I am loved
- I look to the future as I release the past
- I belong. I am enough
- I have compassion for myself and others
Or you can choose a more traditional mantra such as one of the following:
- I Love You; I’m Sorry; Please Forgive Me; Thank You—This is an ancient Hawaiian Mantra known as Ho’oponopono.
- Om—This Sanskrit word means to convey the original vibration of manifestation.
- Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti—Sanskrit for “peace of mind, body, and speech.”
To meditate, find a quiet space that you can sit in comfortably. Set a three to a five-minute timer and focus on relaxing your body. Take several deep, slow breaths.
Once you feel your breathing fall into a rhythm, attach the mantra to your breathing.
For example, if you choose to meditate on, “I will do my best, and that is good enough,” connect it to your breathing like this:
INHALE: I will do my best
EXHALE: And that is good enough
You can speak the meditation softly or simply think the words in your mind.
Once you’ve built a meditation practice, it is easier to access that space of calm and clarity. Then, when you’re sitting at your desk, overwhelmed by a conversation you just had with your boss, you can take a few deep breaths while thinking:
INHALE: I will do my best
EXHALE: And that is good enough
Since your mind already associates the practice of deep breathing and repeating this mantra with your meditation state of calm, it will likely be easier to get back to that headspace in a moment of racing thoughts.
How to Clear Your Mind to Study?
Clearing your mind to study can help you be more productive with your time. You can do this in many ways, but one of the best is getting organized and clearing your mind of distracting clutter.
It’s not uncommon when you’re studying to find your mind racing with thoughts of everything that needs to get done or stressing about other projects.
Research shows that planning other tasks clears up your mental capacity to complete the work at hand better.
Action Step: Start a to-do list on a piece of paper, journal, or note on your phone. Keep it close while studying to write down any tasks you remember quickly. This way, these tasks will stop taking up your mental space.
Final Thoughts: Clear Your Mind
Whether you’re losing sleep because of racing thoughts or unable to focus on a task because of brain fog, lack of mental clarity can be frustrating and stressful.
The next time you experience a lack of mental clarity, try one of the following things:
- Box breathing: Start by deep belly breathing while counting to four in your head. Hold your breath for another count of four before slowly starting to release for a count of four. Finally, wait for four counts before you begin the cycle again.
- Meditation: There are many different styles of meditation. Try mantra meditation as a way to practice grounding yourself at the moment. Find a mantra that is helpful to you, and connect it to your breathing. Practice this for a few minutes in the morning or evening. Then, as you go throughout your day, use it to help yourself relax and focus on the moment.
- Clear mental clutter: Use journaling and to-do lists to clear out mental clutter from your head. Both to-do lists and journaling have been shown to help diminish stress and help you focus on what is at hand.
- Improve your sleep with Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): PMR can help improve sleep quality. Being well-rested is a significant contributor to mental clarity. Start by contracting one muscle group at a time for five seconds. Gradually move from your feet to your head, resting for five to ten seconds between contractions.
Remember, lack of mental clarity can result from anxiety, stress, overwhelm, or various medical conditions. If you experience an ongoing lack of mental clarity, chat with your doctor about it!
Improving mental clarity can help you focus better and achieve more daily. If you’re looking for more help improving productivity, check out 14 Unique Productivity Tips: How to Be More Productive with Less Effort.