Busy lives lead to busy minds.
Most of us lead busy stressful lives.
We’re overloaded with information.
We struggle to make decisions.
We can’t focus.
We rush and multitask because there never seems to be enough hours in the day to do it all.
We always feel behind.
We do things last minute because we forget or aren’t organized.
We rehash our mistakes.
We suffer from insomnia, anxiety, and stress-related ailments.
These are sure signs of an overloaded mind.
Mental clutter, just like physical clutter, is distracting, stressful, and slows us down.
How to declutter your mind
The idea of quieting your overactive mind, feeling less overwhelmed, and increasing your productivity and focus probably sounds appealing. But how do we actually clear out the mental clutter that’s stressing us out? It’s not as difficult as it may seem. Below are eight concrete actions that you can use to declutter your mind. And like most things, you’ll get the best results if you use them consistently.
1) Declutter your physical space.
Do you feel more stressed and anxious when your house or desk is a mess? If so, you’re not alone. A cluttered, disorganized physical space contributes to stress and anxiety. This is why massage therapists have streamlined treatment rooms, play soothing music, and diffuse calming essential oils – this type of environment promotes a sense of calm. And while you may not be able to make your home into a spa, clearing the bills and piles of papers off the kitchen counters, putting away jackets and shoes, and throwing away old stuff that you don’t use, is an important start to creating an environment that soothes and quiets your mind.
2) Keep a journal.
Make a daily practice of writing down anything and everything that’s on your mind. Journaling is an essential “brain dump” – a way to release what’s on your mind so you don’t have to carry it around with you all the time. Putting it all down on paper helps you process, sort, clarify, and organize your thoughts and feelings.
3) Have a system to organize your tasks.
Relying solely on your memory to keep track of all your appointments, tasks, and ideas, adds unnecessary stress and usually doesn’t work very well! You’re asking your brain to keep track of thousands of details which is both inefficient and unnecessary. Creating a system to store, organize, and remind us of things we need to do, can help us clear out some of this mental clutter and it will probably help you get more done and feel less frantic. It does take a bit of effort to find what works best for you. There are many options for planners, calendars, and organizational apps, and even a simple notepad and pen does the trick if you use it consistently.
4) Take care of quick tasks and decisions immediately.
Some of our mental clutter is made up of simple, inconsequential decisions and tasks (like what to have for dinner or answering an email) that we’ve procrastinated doing. Again, these little things pile up and add to the mountain of things we have to remember and the longer we put them off, the more we tend to overthink them. A helpful guideline is that if a task can be accomplished in five minutes or less (like RSVPing to a party or signing your kid up for swim lessons), do it immediately and feel good about getting it off your mind.
5) Limit your time online.
Smartphones have forever changed the way we consume information. As a result, we’re inundated with information all day long, from social media to news stories to emails and texts. This easy access to information and loved ones is wonderful in many ways, but it also means that we never get a break from incoming stimulation. We’re always on-call, comparing, processing, and adding to our to-do lists. Moderating your use can go a long way to decluttering your mind. Perhaps you don’t need to check your email before you get out of bed in the morning or scroll through Instagram every time you’re bored. Try to keep your time online to a minimum and choose wisely what information you want to consume and when. Remember, just because it’s easy to access, doesn’t mean it’s helpful or healthy.
6) Don’t take on anything new.
Another important element of decluttering our minds is to declutter our schedules. Most of us are tempted to say “yes” when asked to help out, but often these extra commitments clog up our schedules and our minds leaving us depleted and overwhelmed. Instead, it’s helpful to take time to evaluate your interest level and the time commitment involved before accepting any non-essential commitments.
7) Spend time in nature.
You’ve probably experienced the calming effects of spending time in nature. Being outside helps us to focus on the here and now – and creates a buffer between us and the bustle and stress of our daily lives. Research has shown that just 20 minutes a day spent in connection with nature can significantly lower stress hormones. According to the University of Minnesota’s Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing, spending time in nature increases our ability to pay attention and “… also provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.”
8) Schedule downtime.
Just like your body, your brain needs to rest. Your brain is constantly processing information and this takes a toll. Without breaks, your thinking slows down, it’s harder to focus and make decisions. We need downtime – unscheduled time to do nothing – but most of us rarely prioritize mental breaks when we’re not consuming more information for our minds to process. Part of the problem is our obsession with multi-tasking. We think doing two things is more efficient than one, but it’s not. This week, try to add more downtime to your schedule – spend your lunch break only eating lunch (no social media, errands, or talking to friends) or go for a walk and don’t use it as an opportunity to make a phone call or listen to a podcast. Just let your mind rest and notice the restorative benefits.
The world is so full of stimulation, information, and expectations that it’s easy to get overstressed and overwhelmed – but we don’t have to let stress and anxiety rule our lives. I hope these 8 strategies to declutter your mind will help you restore a sense of calm to your life.
You can learn more about reducing stress and regaining balance in your life, in my book The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism (available wherever you buy books).
©2019 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net