When we think about the autumn and winter seasons, we often envisage a peaceful scene. It’s a time where we seek cosiness and wrap ourselves up against the elements, a comforting hot chocolate and weighted blanket never too far away from our reach.
But despite the changing leaves and general feeling of happy hibernation, they are also seasons of great stress, too.
It seems like just as we want to start winding down for the year, life gets very loud and busy on the outside, which leads to emotional clutter, anxiety and a frazzled internal monologue on the inside, too.
However, psychologists studying how to tune out overwhelming internal chatter have found a method that can help us boost our resilience and promote internal calm during winter. Enter: quiet mind neuromeditation.
What is quiet mind meditation?
According to Psychology Today, quiet mind neuromeditation is characterised by “a significant reduction of internal self-talk and mental imagery”. The aim of the practice is to promote feelings of spaciousness and quiet, “as if the mind is empty or has momentarily stopped its typical parade of stories and narratives”.
How does quiet mind meditation work?
As Dr Jeff Tarrant, psychologist and author of Meditation Interventions To Rewire The Brain explains, quiet mind meditation works by inhibiting the default mode network (DMN) in the brain.
The DMN is made up of several brain regions that work together to create our sense of self or identity and is activated when we engage in mental activity that involves thinking about ourselves – such as remembering, planning or judging.
The DMN is active a lot of the time, as it’s difficult to have thoughts that don’t involve ourselves as the central character. However, when we think too much, the DMN becomes overactivated, leading to rumination and brooding.
While it’s not as simple as turning those thoughts off, as Dr Tarrant suggests, learning to quiet these regions of the brain can lead to significant relief and a reduction of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
Scientific jargon aside, what quiet mind meditation aims to achieve is to relieve some of the burden of constantly thinking, overthinking and worrying about everything that’s happening in our lives.
How can you quiet an anxious inner monologue and develop a quiet mind?
Dr Tarrant recognises that, for many of us, finding this quiet mind state is extremely difficult, and sustaining it for any length of time can feel impossible.
Our lives are increasingly busy, filled with distractions and following the pandemic, our concentration levels are seriously tested on a daily basis.
However, Dr Tarrant does share some advice on how to start developing your quiet mind:
1. Don’t try to “get rid” of your thoughts
As Psychology Today explains, simply attempting to push thoughts out of your head almost never works and results in over-efforting, which is the opposite of the desired state. Instead, focussing on maintaining a sense of stillness or a calming mental image can be helpful in diverting your attention away from intrusive and stressful thoughts.
“We are a mind/body,” Dr Tarrant writes. “You will not be able to relax your mind and mental activity if you cannot relax the body.” He suggests starting your practice with stretching, yoga, or a progressive muscle relaxation exercise to help you approach quiet mind meditation holistically.
3. Start slow
The research is clear that the benefits of meditation occur only through consistent practice. It’s advised to begin with brief meditations gradually increasing to 20 minutes per day.
4. Recognise that you already know what this state feels like
Perhaps most interestingly, whether you realise it or not, you have had moments when your internal world has been quiet. “These moments may be fleeting or imperfect, but they exist. If you can recognise the moments you already experience a quiet mind state, you can learn to lean into those experiences, allowing them to naturally develop,” writes Dr Tarrant.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health or emotional wellbeing, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ guide to local mental health helplines and organisations here.
If you are struggling, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
You can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email email@example.com for confidential support.