How To Be Mindful of Thoughts

Using Mindfulness to Help with PTSD

Businessman at desk looking out of office window. Credit: Philipp Nemenz

Learning how to be mindful of your thoughts can be a wonderful skill to practice when it comes to coping with your posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms; however, it can be difficult to be mindful of thoughts, especially those that usually accompany a PTSD diagnosis.

People with PTSD may struggle with unpleasant thoughts and memories of their traumatic event. These thoughts can take control over a person's life.

Mindfulness can be used to take a step back from your thoughts and reduce their power to impact your life. This simple exercise will help you learn how to be mindful of your thoughts.

  1. Find a comfortable position either lying on you back or sitting. If you are sitting down, make sure that you keep you back straight and release the tension in your shoulders. Let them drop.

  2. Close your eyes.

  3. Begin by focusing your attention on your breathing. Simply pay attention to what it feels like in your body to slowly breathe in and out. Spend a few minutes focusing your attention on the full experience of breathing. Immerse yourself completely in this experience. Imagine you are "riding the waves" of your own breathing.

  4. Once you have spent some time focusing on your breathing, shift your attention to your thoughts. Bring awareness to whatever thoughts enter your mind.

  5. Try to view your thoughts as simply thoughts -- only objects in or events of your mind. It may be useful to imagine your thoughts as simply clouds passing through the sky or leaves passing down a stream. Notice them enter your consciousness, develop, and then float away. There is no need to seek out, hold onto, or follow your thoughts. Just let them arise and disappear on their own.

  1. Anytime that you notice that you are getting immersed in a thought (this is completely normal), notice what took you away from your "observer stance" and bring your attention back to having awareness of your thoughts.

  2. After a few minutes, shift your attention back to your breathing, and when you are ready, open your eyes.


    1. Before you try this exercise, it may be useful to first practice mindful awareness of your breathing.

    2. Make this a habit. Practice everyday.

    3. At first, it may be important to practice this exercise with thoughts that are not upsetting. Learn how to first be mindful of thoughts in general, and once you feel comfortable, practice this exercise with other thoughts.

    4. You are going to get caught up in your thoughts from time to time. Try not to get discouraged -- this is completely normal, and simply noticing this is being mindful. Whenever you do get caught up in your thoughts, remind yourself that this is natural and then bring your attention back to simply observing your thoughts.


      Roemer, L., & Orsillo, S. An Acceptance-Based Behavior Therapy for GAD. Unpublished treatment manual.

      Hayes, S.C., Strosahl, K.D., & Wilson, K.G. (1999). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New York: Guilford Press.

    Continue Reading