From the blog: Ten Strategies For Gaining Mental Clarity When You Feel Overwhelmed. If there’s one thing I understand, my dear? It’s how quickly I can go from feeling on top of my to do list and super productive to feeling overwhelmed thanks to thousands of swirling thoughts. That doesn’t happen as often as it used to thanks to all the ways I know to help me with gaining mental clarity.
The thing is, darling, that no matter how well we learn to manage the ups and downs of life, there will be moments in time where life feels out of control. Of course, we all know that our thoughts create our reality. Yet, knowing that and being able to step back from how my own brain clutter does a number on my stress levels? Those are two different things.
That’s why relying upon tools to help us bust through the challenges? And rein in our thoughts? Oh, darling, that is worth it’s weight in gold!
Here are ten of my favorite strategies for gaining mental clarity.
One – A “brain dump” is sure to help with gaining mental clarity.
A brain dump is exactly what it sounds like. Grab a stack of note cards (or a blank sheet of paper), set a timer for five minutes, and write down every single thought that’s swirling around in your brain. This isn’t about writing a to-do list. Oh no, darling, it’s about gaining clarity around what’s plaguing you.
Write down every thought that comes in your head. Just put one thought per index card and keep on going. This isn’t the time to be organized or analyze, it’s just about emptying your head of all the thoughts colliding around! WRITE until the timer goes off OR your mind goes blank.
Seriously. The fastest way to gaining mental clarity is to get it out of your head and onto paper. Writing them down will help you to prioritize what’s most important, which will make you feel less stressed.
Two – Make your to-do list after your brain dump.
Now, that you’ve cleared the swirling thoughts? Now you make a to do list! If you’ve feeling stressed out, it’s likely because you have a lot on your plate. Though a to-do-list can feel more overwhelming, making a powerful to do list from a place of clearer thinking will help you in gaining mental clarity.
This gives you a space to managing those feelings, reign them in, and apply some good old logic to what you need to get done.
Three – Gain mental clarity by turning your “shoulds” into “choose to”.
Anything that smacks of “I should want” or “I’m expected to” gets crossed off your priority list. I can see that you’re rolling your eyes. Or wanting to tell me you have to bake six dozen cupcakes for the PTA bake-sale. And make meals for your parents. And attend that after-work happy hour for networking purposes.
Darling, you don’t have to do any of these things. However, if you feel you must do these things, shift the semantics of your language. Remind yourself that you are doing each of these things out of choice, not obligation. This shift in your thinking can help you gain immense mental clarity. Because this is the moment in which you remember that you are in control of your life.
Talk about gaining mental clarity and reclaiming your power!
Four – Getting clear on those bigger things can help you with gaining mental clarity.
Darling, what do you want? What do you NOT want? Look at the big stuff that surfaces when you clear your mind. For example, when I moved to Ohio to merge my life with John? I had to take a hard look at my career because there was one big thing I didn’t want anymore: I didn’t want to life out of a suitcase.
One of the reasons we begin to feel overwhelmed by our minds? And the ways in which we can’t seem to gain traction on gaining mental clarity? It’s because we worry about the small stuff and neglect our big goals. Seeing where those bigger goals find their ways into those swirling thoughts? That’s big clues as to what goals you need to be focusing some time on.
Five – A brain dump can cause little irritations to come to the forefront.
Usually the little things that bug us are a part of something larger, so use that as breadcrumbs. What are you tired of tolerating? Is there tasks or responsibilities that feel like shackles on rather than shackles off? What are you simply tired of dealing with? Yes, a fly buzzing around isn’t a big deal, but over time, it will drive you crazy.
Though these things seem super small, these cause you to go from feeling just like your brain is cluttered to suddenly feeling burned out.
By examining these small irritations, it allows you to not just recognize and illuminate them. Your quest for gaining mental clarity will be longer lasting. Ask yourself: “And if I didn’t have to do THAT, what would that open up for me?”
Six – Going for a walk (or run) is great for gaining mental clarity.
No matter the season, I find that going for a walk never fails to help me when my brain is cluttered. Just bundle up if it’s chilly! There’s just something about the act of putting your feet to the earth that grounds you. Mind, body, and soul. And science supports that. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that taking a walk in nature reduced anxiety and ruminations. If worrying is part of the reason your thoughts are swirling, this is the perfect prescription for you.
Besides, going for a walk or run releases serotonin. These endorphins interact with receptors in the brain that both reduce pain and improve mood. A rush of these endorphins will shift your mood. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, of course this helps you with gaining mental clarity.
Mood boost + less anxiety + ground = less swirling thoughts. Talk about a win!
Seven – Get some fresh air to clear your head.
If you can’t get out for a walk – or simply need a break – step outside for just a few minutes. A series of studies published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being out in nature made people feel more energetic after spending time in natural sightings. Additional research by doctors found that patients recovering from surgery and heart problems had shorter hospital stays and needed less pain medication when they saw nature out their hospital window versus seeing a brick wall.
You may be wondering what having more energy and managing pain has to do with gaining mental clarity. Well, sugar, the thing is, all those swirling thoughts are exhausting. When you’re tired, it’s harder to make decisions and think clearly. A boost of energy can’t help, but well, help you with clearing those thoughts a little.
Besides, one of the wisest women I’ve ever know was my grandmother. And she would always tell me to go outside and play when I was restless. It always helped me chill out. And sometimes, when your mind is going wild with thought after thought, you need to manage all those feelings of overwhelm and calm down. Once you’re calmed down, you’ll think much clearer.
Eight – Clear the cob webs taking a shower.
One way to gain mental clarity is to fully focus on a present moment. The shower is the perfect place for this. You are in a warm, safe environment and that alone can reduce your anxiety. When you focus on the task at hand – the water cascading across your body, the smell of your soap and shampoo, the act of washing your body or hair – your thoughts begin to fade into the background.
Our brains are amazing. While you’re focusing on the task at hand, your subconscious is still operating in the background. This is why folks swear that their best ideas come to them in the shower. It’s a form of daydreaming.
Science agrees. A Dartmouth study found that daydreaming relaxes the brain’s command center for decisions, behavior, and goals. And switches on your brain’s “default mode”, which clears the pathways in your mind. It’s like your thoughts are shaken loose, allowing you to gain mental clarity and unique solutions to problems.
Nine – Gain mental clarity by tidying up physical clutter.
When our minds are cluttered and scattered, look around at your environment. Are there papers scattered across your desk? Is your coffee table cluttered? Does “hot mess” describe your kitchen? If you are truly honest with yourself, is messiness in your home (or office) distracting you?
Our environment affects our thinking. That’s why the physical act of tidying up a single space can help “tidy up” your thoughts. Yep, pulling a Mary Poppins can help you with gaining mental clarity. Science backs me up here, too. A Princeton University study found that the visual cortex can be overwhelmed by items that are irrelevant to the task at hand. So,yes, my dear, clutter does make it more difficult to focus!
Ten – If all else fails, going to bed can help with gaining mental clarity.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and your thoughts are still dancing around, burning the midnight oil typically will backfire. Adequate sleep is critical to the way the body and mind function. So, yes, when all else fails, just go to bed. And, my darling, I am well aware how a cluttered brain and make falling asleep challenging, but I promise you that sleep will always help an overwhelmed and cluttered mind. Do another quick brain dump and hit the sheets.
Our brains need sleep. During sleep, your brain takes enacts a process known as memory consolidation, during which the memories that are encoded during the day are strengthened. And research also shows that sleep helps stress because it restores the body, improves concentration, regulates mood, and sharpens judgment and decision-making. You are a better problem solver and are better able to cope with stress when you’re well-rested.
More sleep = reduced stress + memory consolidation + improved mood+ better decision making. That sounds like a great formula for clearer thinking and less overwhelmed.
So, give it a try. You may be surprised how a little shut-eye can help you with gaining mental clarity.
Darling, I know you have a lot of responsibilities.
And there will be times when you feel stretched thinned and overwhelmed. Learning to deal with mental clutter will help you better manage all areas of your life. You deserve to live a life you love, not a life that makes you feel stressed out all the time.
When you regularly use these strategies to maintain mental clarity, you will find that life feels less overwhelming. You’ll also find making big and small decisions easier.
That’s because with clearer thinking, you can put your thoughts towards making your life easier. And more enjoyable.