Do you find that your thoughts are interrupting your sleep?
Are your thoughts getting in the way of your relationships?
Are your thoughts getting in the way of how you perceive your own self-worth?
Chances are you answered yes to one or all of those questions. If you’re anything like me, you probably catch yourself thinking about way too much way too often. Your mind is a jumbled mess. It’s cluttered with ideas of the past, the future, stress, worry, anxiety, and to-do lists.
Don’t freak out!
It’s completely normal and we’ve all been there at one point or another. Like the tides, thoughts will come and they will go. They will be more powerful in certain periods of your life and less so during others.
If you’re at the peak of your wave, I’m here to give you some of my tips and tricks about how to clear your mind so that you can let it all go and finally breathe easier.
First, let’s begin with a little soul-searching…because that’s just what I love to do…
WHY DO PEOPLE OVERTHINK?
Medically speaking, overthinking is often considered a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression or anxiety. Some research even suggests that it may be caused by deficits in working memory functioning.
While I’m not a licensed mental health professional, as an acupuncturist I treated many clients for stress and anxiety caused by overthinking. From what I observed, the main reason why people continue to have these running dialogues in their heads is two-fold:
First, it is a way to problem-solve. Every single day, we are faced with new challenges that we must navigate through. Whether it be work, family, or finances, it’s rarely smooth sailing.
Your project just faced a new setback? How are you going to handle it? Your teenage daughter throwing a fit in her room and won’t leave? What can you say or do to get her out? Life is a constant push and pull of just making it to bedtime.
Even if you’re on a journey of self-improvement, you may always be thinking about what you can do today, tomorrow, or a month from now that will make you a better person.
Daily commentaries with yourself are extremely valuable in this way. We are blessed with the incredible capacity for knowledge, innovation, progress and getting ourselves out of sticky situations. The trouble comes when we keep thinking of this option or that option and never actually act.
Second, and maybe the most important in my opinion, overthinking is a symptom of fear. What type of fear? Often, it is a fear of judgment and failure that you’ve done something wrong or made the wrong choice.
What if I do this? I should have done that instead.
While it may be an innate mechanism to push a person to succeed in life or a useful tool to establish and maintain social norms, these types of thoughts that play on an endless loop eventually turn into a form of paralyzing self-sabotage.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF OVERTHINKING?
It’s a slippery slope…There’s no question about that!
You’re constantly exhausted. All of that questioning, worrying, and indecisiveness takes a toll on your brain. While it’s not a true ‘muscle’ in the scientific sense, your brain is on overdrive. It’s running a race when it should be taking the time to recover. You’ll just end up feeling tired all of the time and unable to focus on normal day to day tasks.
You have anxiety and panic attacks. When you don’t allow your mind to rest or are fundamentally stuck in a state of fear of doing the wrong thing, where does all of that pent up energy go? It can’t go anywhere. It just keeps growing and growing until eventually it has to escape. This escape is often in the form of anxiety or panic attacks.
You lose confidence and self-esteem. The constant dialogue in your head and the constant fear you experience are all consuming. You question your decisions to the point of questioning your own self-worth and strength.
You lose control over your life. Every action you take, your behaviour, and how you react to everyday situations is dictated by your state of mind. Struggling to move forward, you remain stuck or take ten steps backward from where you deserve to be.
You create a habit. Getting lost in your thoughts happens to all of us. There may be a big deadline coming up. You may be starting a new project or preparing to move to a new city. Big changes like these create stress, which is completely normal. The danger comes when you stop being able to get out of your head. What was once only circumstantial has now become a habit.
You decrease your immunity. When all of these symptoms pile up on top of each other one after the other, the body is put in a constant state of stress. Sleeping and eating habits change. You’re just always ON. And when that happens, your body is more susceptible to illness.
Okay, this is a lot. I know! And my intention is not to freak you out even more because you CAN train your brain to get out of this cycle.
So let’s dive into my strategies on how to clear the mind of this gigantic mess.
I ran through all of the information above as an exercise in self-awareness. Like with many physical or mental concerns and habits, the first and most important step is mindfulness.
In order to initiate any change in life, it’s important to be completely upfront with yourself and aware of your current state so that you know exactly where you’re starting from in order to see where you want to end up.
The best way to begin quieting a restless mind is to recognize when your mind is spiraling.
What are you thinking about?
Why are you thinking about it?
How are those thoughts making you feel?
Are those thoughts creating stress, anxiety, or negativity?
2. VALUE PROPOSITION
Once you recognize and identify your thoughts, then you can really see them head-on. They’re right in front of you.
Instead of ignoring them, burying them back down, or just saying, ‘these thoughts are here because they’re here and that’s that,’ take this opportunity to challenge your thoughts.
(This would be the appropriate time to start a conversation with yourself.)
Are these thoughts benefiting me?
Or, are these thoughts hurting me?
What is the value of all this time spent on analyzing or debating with myself?
Understanding how these thoughts are affecting you will give you some perspective and create even more awareness to push you towards clearing your mind.
3. BRAIN DUMP
Instead of just letting thoughts swim endlessly around in your head or reflecting on the answers to the questions above, grab a piece of paper and let it all out with a brain dump.
A brain dump forces you to look at something real and tangible. These thoughts that you had locked away in the black hole of your mind will materialize in a way that will allow you to finally take action.
After the brain dump, it’s time to get organized! Take a good look at what you’ve just materialized onto paper.
What holds the most meaning to you?
What impacts your productivity, your health, or your sense of self the most?
How would you prioritize each item?
Conversely, is there anything that you can just eliminate entirely?
Prioritize what you can and declutter where you can so that you can focus on the things that are truly worth your energy.
5. MAKE A PLAN
You’ve already done the hardest part of clearing out your cluttered mind so the next step in this little section is to make a plan of action!
Instead of spending all your time dwelling on how or why something happened and feeling overwhelmed, review everything that you listed out and concentrate on active problem-solving.
- What are my top 3 priorities?
- What steps can I take to make this better?
- What steps can I take to prevent this?
- How can I create an actionable task from this?
- How can I break this up into smaller tasks?
- What are the easiest and hardest tasks?
- What steps do I need to prepare for this task?
- What steps do I need to take to complete this task?
- What resources are available to guide me?
- When can I complete this task?
Create concrete goals for yourself. Goal setting will keep you on track, allow you to take it one step at a time without feeling overwhelmed while also forcing you to be decisive. You’ll feel much less stress and anxiety when you see that you have a plan and are moving forward.
6. CLEAR YOUR MIND BY NOT CLEARING YOUR MIND
You may have heard some people suggest that the best way to clear your mind is to literally clear your mind. Close your eyes or stare at the wall and don’t think about anything.
Thinking about nothing never works.
Instead, I find that the most effective course of action is to search for healthy distractions.
When you are struggling to clear your mind from the burden of questions, worry, stress, or negativity, just say STOP. Step away. Put those thoughts aside. Get out of your head for a few hours and, physically, go do something else to distract you.
Read a book. Go for a walk. Put on a free YouTube workout. Crank up your favorite 80’s pop playlist and sing to your heart’s content!
You’ll feel so much lighter when you release some of that pent-up energy on something fun and entertaining.
Still finding it too difficult to get out of your head? Try replacing your thoughts with something that is more positive and beneficial to your journey forward.
Personal mantras and positive affirmations work wonders!
Focus on your accomplishments today, whether they are big or small.
Work through a visualization exercise to reduce stress and recenter yourself.
And, of course, there is always meditation.
I consider meditation to be a healthy distraction physically and mentally to help clear the mind and stop you from feeling overwhelmed. Your thoughts are often guided by the practitioner, focusing on your breath and tuning into the sensations of various parts of your body rather than whatever you were thinking about before you came into class.
7. LIVE IN THE MOMENT
Don’t dwell on what you can’t control.
Take control by knowing you can’t control everything and live in the moment.
This is one that I work on every single day. It’s way too easy to get swept up by the million things that didn’t get done, didn’t go the way you wanted, or need to do in the near future.
But, you’re strong. You’re working on finding ways to push past this stagnancy so remind yourself that dwelling on those things will not bring you comfort and serves no purpose.
Appreciate everything that you have in your life and everything that you have accomplished at this very moment.
8. SEEK HELP
When all else fails, seek help. Whether it be a friend, family member or a professional, a good vent sesh soothes the soul. I like to think of it as a verbal brain dump.
Talking it out will clear your mind of all the gunk like a good spring cleaning and it’s a great tool to create action-plans and problem solve.
I also find that incorporating other healing modalities is incredibly useful. I often turn to acupuncture, massage, hydrotherapy, or aromatherapy to release physical tension and calm the nervous system. After these sessions, my mind is always clear and I feel so much more relaxed.
Now, it’s time for you to let go…
If you are ready to work on turning the dial down on that over-analytical mind, that plan 10 steps ahead mind, and reducing the constant barrage of feelings of negativity and being overwhelmed, I hope that you find some comfort in these tips.
You are strong.
You are brave.
You can defeat this pattern of thinking and win your life back.