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5 Ways To Kick Away Negative Thoughts Before Sleeping

5 Ways To Kick Away Negative Thoughts Before Sleeping

It’s not just in your head. Thinking about negative and stressful things before bedtime really does keep you up at night.

There are probably few people out there that haven’t experienced this in some way. You have a stressful day, a lot to do tomorrow, or even random reflections about past events that you just can’t kick before bed.

You may even lose hours of rest regularly to negative thoughts that persist. It’s well-established in psychology that ruminating on the past or unpleasant thoughts is a risk factor for insomnia and even mood disorders like depression.

Some recent research has been focusing on how people can take control and purposefully redirect their repetitive or intrusive negative thoughts. From your bedtime to how you cope with stress, here are five helpful ways you can kick negative thoughts to get better sleep.

1. Head to bed earlier

I one recent study conducted by Binghamton University, researchers looked at participants’ propensities to worry, ruminate, or stress (all gauges of repetitive negative thinking) and at their sleep habits.

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They found that people who preferred to go to sleep late (evening types) had higher levels of negative thoughts compared to early sleepers (morning types). The same was true for people who slept for shorter periods of time overall.

If you aren’t getting at least seven hours of sleep each night or you tend to keep late hours, this means it could prove helpful to shift your sleep schedule earlier. Try gradually moving your bedtime up in 15 to 30 minute increments to create a schedule that allows you to get enough sleep. Keeping fairly consistent bedtimes throughout the week and practicing some of the other relaxation techniques below can make the transition a little easier.

2. Talk positively to yourself

One method of countering negative thoughts is to practice positive self-talk, popular with cognitive behavioral therapists. Essentially, negative self-talk involves habits like focusing on the cons of a situation and not the pros, personalizing blame, anticipating the worst, and polarizing between good and bad with no in-between.

The idea is that when you catch yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, you consciously work to assess its validity and move on. Instead of obsessing over things that went wrong, look for solutions to the problem or do something to refocus your attention. (Positive affirmation, a prayer, or exercise, maybe.) Thinking about things you are grateful for can also be mood-booster, and one study found higher levels of gratitude correlated with better sleep.

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Smiley Face

    3. Use guided relaxation or visualization

    Guided relaxation can be helpful for clearing your mind and taking the focus off of negative thoughts. Essentially, a therapist or a recording guides you through a step-by-step process as you follow along.

    There are a few different types of guided relaxation program, and different types may feel more helpful to you than others. Traditional guided relaxation will work through relaxing your body and focusing on breathing. Guided visualization/imagery has you visualize a scene to occupy your attention. Progressive muscle relaxation takes a more physical approach of gradually tensing and relaxing different muscle groups.

    These types of programs can be done with a professional therapist, or you can also find numerous free videos, smartphone apps and websites with helpful resources. The Dartmouth College Health and Wellness page is one good resource with a variety of free relaxation downloads.

    4. Breathe with purpose

    Breathing techniques are a well-established way to promote relaxation and minimize stress. Similar to guided relaxation, the idea is to follow a set pattern that places the focus on your physical body and off of the thoughts that are bothering you. Breathing also affects heart rate, which can help you feel calmer.

    These techniques can be helpful for relaxing in bed, but can also be used anywhere whenever you feel stressed:

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    • Diaphragmatic breathing (breathing deeply through your stomach and exhaling slowly)
    • Equal breathing (inhaling and exhaling for the same amount of time; counts of 4-6 seconds)
    • Resistance breathing (breathing in and out via pursed lips or your nose)
    • Breath moving (as you inhale, imagine you are moving the breath to the top of your head; as you exhale, move the breath to base of your spine)

    5. Relax to music

    Music relaxation is another way to clear stress and can help you focus your attention or clear your mind of negative thoughts. A recent review of several music therapy studies concluded that music therapy helped people with sleep disorders when used consistently.

    There are different approaches, but actual music therapy is performed by licensed professionals in a clinical setting for specific health/wellness goals. However, music can also be used for self-relaxation at home.

    If you prefer to go it alone, try some calming music without lyrics such as nature tracks, new age instrumentals, or classical music. Put the songs on, and focus on the sounds and rhythms, keeping your breathing calm. You could also listen to upbeat songs you like and sing along or lose yourself in the lyrics to change your mindset.

    One study from the British Academy of Sound Therapy tested several songs and identified 10 that proved very relaxing, so that playlist might be a good starting place as well.

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    Music and Headphones

      The habit of ruminating or mulling over negative thoughts isn’t always an easy one to kick. These five DIY relaxation strategies can be much more helpful than simply trying to suppress thoughts, which studies have shown time again to be ineffective.

      Practice different methods to see what meshes best with your personality, and place the focus on relaxing your body rather than on banishing the negative thoughts themselves. If intrusive thoughts are having a significant impact on your sleep quality or life, reaching out to a trained therapist is also a good option.

      Have a helpful relaxation tip or strategy that works for you? Share in the comments below.

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      Last Updated on March 13, 2019

      How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

      How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

      Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

      You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

      Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

      1. Work on the small tasks.

      When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

      Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

      2. Take a break from your work desk.

      Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

      Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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      3. Upgrade yourself

      Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

      The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

      4. Talk to a friend.

      Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

      Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

      5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

      If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

      Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

      Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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      6. Paint a vision to work towards.

      If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

      Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

      Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

      7. Read a book (or blog).

      The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

      Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

      Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

      8. Have a quick nap.

      If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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      9. Remember why you are doing this.

      Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

      What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

      10. Find some competition.

      Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

      Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

      11. Go exercise.

      Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

      Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

      As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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      Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

      12. Take a good break.

      Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

      Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

      Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

      Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

      More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

      Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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