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We all know the importance of taking care of our mental health in today’s post-pandemic society. The world was knocked for a loop, and all of us are dealing with it in some form or another.
If you look at many self-help articles, they’ll tell you to practice mindfulness techniques. But how do you sit quietly and focus on yoga or meditating when your mind is full of racing thoughts?
It’s not an easy trick to master your mental noise, but it’s possible. When it feels like you’re chasing butterflies around your mind instead of finding a bit of peace in your day, try these tips to conquer the chatter in your head.
1. Match Your Expectations to Your Goal
Before you start trying to clear your mind, ask yourself what your goal is.
Do you want to get away from all the stresses and responsibilities of your day? Are you trying to center your mind and find more overall, consistent peace? Or is there another target you have for wanting to reduce the mental noise in your head?
Match your expectations to your goal. If your aim is to stop thinking about your to-do list, download a meditation app. The professionally designed podcasts are set up in a way that distracts you from your daily stresses. When your mind is listening to soothing background noise, it can’t put its focus on your problems.
But if you are ultimately aiming for the target of mindfulness and peace, it’s going to take time to get there.
Sit for five to ten minutes in a dark, silent area, like your closet with the lights out and door shut. Shoot for at least a few seconds of quiet in your mind and count that as a win.
Chances are, you’ll realize you haven’t thought of anything and then think of that, and a spiral of mental chatter will happen. It’s okay. With time, you’ll learn how to take control of those thoughts before they take over again.
2. Distract Your Brain With a Pen
There is a reason that the majority of therapists will suggest their clients keep a journal. It’s a mental health technique that calms your brain. Journaling is frequently used as a strategy to help people manage their anxiety and reduce stress. It’s a regular part of recovering and controlling symptoms of depression.
But you don’t have to write to get these benefits. Doodling and artwork activate the side of your brain that reduces your peripheral senses. When you focus on the activity you’re doing, the endless chitter chatter in your mind quiets down. Without the distraction of mental noise, your mind continues to think about things. It’s just not so obvious about it. That’s why so many people are amazed when they’re focused on writing or artwork and the answer to a question they’ve been struggling over suddenly pops into their brain.
However, it’s possible that forced isolation is increasing your struggles with your mental health. If that’s the case, you may need to get out and be with others in addition to practicing relaxation methods.
It’s possible to social distance safely in small groups. Check around your area and the surrounding cities to see what’s available. You might be able to get out of the house or do tele-activities.
3. Open Your Mind to What It’s Telling You
Sometimes, your mind won’t stop talking because it wants you to listen. Grab a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper and start writing down all the thoughts that enter your mind. There’s something there that needs to be further analyzed. When you write down the bits and pieces of chatter floating through your brain, it usually “feels heard” and disappears. It might sound crazy, but try it and you’ll see. Think about an easy example: You have an appointment scheduled in a week, but you haven’t put it on your calendar. Until you do, there’s a part of your brain that’s trying to remember the date and time. It pops up randomly, usually when there’s no calendar around, and you keep ignoring it. As soon as you add the event to your schedule, it disappears! There’s something your brain is telling you. Until you listen with an open mind, the same chatter is going to keep repeating itself.
4. Be Consistent
Just because you weren’t able to clear the chatter out of your mind today doesn’t mean you should give up. It’s a habit that will take time to establish. Your mind is used to constantly going at warp speed. It’s going to take a few tries before it learns that the goal is to actually not think.
In the meantime, practice clearing your mind for a few seconds throughout the day.
If you’re washing dishes, sitting outside, or engaged in an activity you don’t need to be fully present for, close your eyes. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Listen to the sounds you hear and your breath. Start counting backwards from 100 or 1000. This gives your brain something to do while the rest of your body relaxes. Eventually, you’ll catch yourself stumbling over the numbers and soon you won’t be thinking at all.
(Side note: You might actually fall asleep, so make sure if you do this, you have an alarm set or are in a place where sleep is not an option.)
Learning how to stop the mental noise of your thoughts is a smart goal for anyone trying to reduce the impact of stress on their mind and body. However, it’s usually not an immediate fix. It will take practice, and some days will be better than others.
Over time, you’ll get better at this. It will become your default action when something stresses you. Clear your mind, calm your body, and you’ll be able to tackle the problem easier.
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