If your to-do list leaves you exhausted, and you dwell on yesterday when you aren’t dreading tomorrow, it may be time to tidy up your cluttered mind.
“A disorganized mind can affect how we interact with people, undermine our productivity, and bring unnecessary stress into our lives,” says Brett Stanley, director of wellness for Methodist Health System. “The best way to declutter our minds is to practice mindfulness: switch our focus to what’s happening right this current moment.
“When we’re stressed, it’s easy to live in a fight, flight, or freeze response.” —Brett Stanley
“When we’re stressed, it’s easy to live in a fight, flight, or freeze response.”
Mindfulness can be a wonderful tool to disrupt those “fight or flight” responses to stress and allow us to simply be present in the moment.
Here are five methods to do just that and ease your mind.
One way to practice mindfulness is through meditation, but don’t let tired clichés put you off. Meditating doesn’t require you to be seated, legs crossed in a dark room, humming or reciting affirmations.
All you really need is a mental “anchor” to focus your attention, whether it’s your breath, the sound of music, or anything you’re doing, from washing the dishes to ironing a shirt.
For example, if you choose to focus on breathing, start by slowly inhaling deeply, hold it for a second, and then release your breath slowly. Repeat that process a few times and ask yourself how does it feel when your chest expands while you’re filling your lungs with oxygen? Does it feel good to release it? Do you notice your heart rate slowing down?
“Mindfulness gets us out of that ‘fight or flight’ response by allowing us to use the logical thinking part of our brains, rather than emotion,” Stanley says “So, if you want to declutter your brain you need to access the parts of your brain that control your cognitive functions.”
2. FIND YOUR FEET
Whenever you find yourself overwhelmed, stop and ask yourself “where are my feet?”
It might sound silly, but this technique helps you reset your mind and focus on the present whenever you don’t have the time or a quiet space to meditate.
“This way your feet become your anchor, and you point all your focus to the feelings of what’s around your feet,” Stanley says. “Feel your toes wiggling in your shoes. Or if you’re wearing open-toed shoes, feel the breeze between your toes. It’s an easy practice to get you back to the present without requiring a quiet place like meditation does.”
When you have a lot going on and you don’t know where to start, get quiet, listen to yourself, and focus on your feet.
3. SET SMALL GOALS
Once you’re centered, it’s time to get things in order. Write a list of the things you need to take care of, and break down goals into a series of easy-to-accomplish steps.
“Just five minutes of a good thing is better than nothing,” Stanley says. “For example, setting aside five minutes to do sit-ups right before bed is better than not getting any physical activity.”
If you would like to incorporate better habits, try taking small steps toward that goal. Let’s say you want to add more time for self-care but don’t believe your hectic schedule will allow it.
“Most self-improvement tasks, especially self-care, don’t require a full day to complete,” Stanley says. “If you start small you can gradually increase the amount of time you spend on your good new habit, and eventually it will turn into a routine.”
4. EAT MINDFULLY
Have you ever been stressed to the point that you scarf down a cupcake to help you forget about your problems? We call that “fog eating,” when you eat without awareness.
Rather than feeling shame about this bad habit, Stanley suggests flipping the script and eating mindfully. Observe the texture and the colors of your meal, and savor each bite. Ask yourself what specific things about your meal are bringing you joy and which aren’t.
“Mindful eating is a great stress management technique because it helps you pay attention to your food, moment by moment without judgment,” she says. “It also helps you reduce the chances of fog or stress eating.”
5. BACK TO NATURE
It’s easy to forget how powerful it is to spend time in nature and what it can do for our well-being. Low levels of vitamin D — which the body creates when it’s exposed to sunlight — have been linked to increased anxiety, depression, and stress. A short walk outdoors can help counteract those symptoms and find peace.
“Looking at trees or feeling the wind on your skin can give you a new focus and help you become present in the moment,” Stanley says. “When you switch locations from where your stress emotions originated to a different place, especially in nature, your mind recognizes you are no longer in survival mode and can give you a moment to destress.”
If you try these mindfulness tips and continue to feel that your mental well-being hasn’t improved, consider talking to a licensed professional who is skilled in behavioral health to help your mental health thrive.