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You’re exhausted and could really use some rest.
The only problem is, your chances of getting a night’s worth of deep, uninterrupted sleep is just about as likely as it is for the sky to start raining fairies.
Sitting quietly to unwind barely helps either — you’re practically bathing in silence (or in my case, ambient jungle sounds), but your mind is still chattering incessantly at what feels like a million miles per minute.
Your mind needs a break from all this chaos, and you need it now, because all that non-stop thinking is triggering what scientists call anticipatory anxiety, or anxiety that’s centered around possible future threats.
Now you’re tired and more stressed than before — not a good combination since you’re more likely to end up in a bad place physically and mentally.
So how do you quiet your mind and finally get the peace you’re craving for?
While there’s no one-size fits all solution to calming a busy mind, experimenting can help you figure out what will work best for you.
I know it did for me.
Here are 16 things that have helped quiet my monkey mind either alone or in combination that I think are worth giving a go:
1. Make Exercise A Habit
More than just a way to build muscle, lose fat and stay limber, a good workout helps insert a much-needed full-stop into your non-stop stream of anxious thoughts.
It also helps channel any pent-up energy from anger or anxiety that you’re bottling up into an activity that actually does you plenty of good.
Personally, I tend to favour high-intensity interval training workouts to break that maddening chain of overthinking, mostly because they force me to focus.
By the time I’m done, I’m so much calmer and tired enough that I’ll shift 100% of my attention to relaxing instead of ruminating — a repetitive thought pattern that’s focused on negative emotions.
2. Learn To Meditate
As cliched as this one sounds, I knew it was something I had to do when my oral surgeon (of all people) prescribed it to me after I went to see him for a severe bout of temporomandibular joint inflammation that left me barely able to speak without excruciating pain.
Chronic anxiety had been turning my muscles into tight, twitchy and knotted masses of tension, and in the process, wreaking havoc on my back, shoulders and jaw joints.
I needed to do something about it, and fast, so I took his advice and started meditating several times a day — once as soon as I woke up in the morning, anytime I felt myself getting anxious, and once again just before I went to bed at night.
For regular folks like you and I, meditation doesn’t have to be some elaborate routine that involves burning sage, chanting and sitting cross-legged on a cushion for two hours a day.
In fact, it’s far from it.
For me, meditation is simply about learning to focus on taking deep breaths over not more than 5-10 minutes at a time.
This slow, controlled way of breathing gets my parasympathetic nervous system — also known as the body’s ‘rest and digest’ system that lowers its heart rate, stimulates digestion and relaxes its muscles — kicking into gear.
This is by far my favourite mind-quieting exercise because it’s simple, science-based and effective. Plus, I can do it anywhere.
3. Journal Your Thoughts
When your mind feels chaotic and cluttered, try doing a brain dump by putting everything you’ve been thinking about on paper.
Just like exercising, journaling can be a form of release where you give what’s on your mind space to breathe: How you’re feeling in that particular moment, your long list of to-dos, worries, hopes, goals, inspirations, the people you need to call or email, or even chores you want to get done that day.
Being able to see your thoughts on paper (or on your screen) won’t just give you the opportunity to look at them from a fresh perspective, it’ll also help you organize and give them structure.
What’s important to you and what’s not?
Give your thoughts a ‘home base’ on paper (or anywhere else outside your head) and it’ll be so much easier to sort them according to priority.
4. Get Out Of Your Head
This one’s a big one for me, especially when I find myself stuck in what feels like an endless cycle of negative thinking.
When this happens, shifting my attention away from me, myself and I to something or someone else, be it tending to my garden, going for an intense group workout or helping someone else forces me to break the cycle of overthinking and brings calm back into my headspace.
Creating a situation where I have to be present for others also serves as a reminder that I’m no special snowflake — not everything is about me and the struggles I’m facing aren’t unique to me either.
5. Create A Calm Space
Whether you realize it or not, the state of your physical environment can affect how you think and feel.
In the same way that fast-food restaurants use bright red and yellow in their decor to stimulate feelings of comfort and hunger in their customers, the way your living or work space is set up can play a role in lifting or upsetting your mental state.
If you are, like me, sensitive to clutter and messy environments, it’s best to figure out how you can clear out and redecorate the spaces you spend the most time in so that they inspire calm instead of chaos.
6. Talk To Someone
If you’ve tried a ton of self-help strategies and none of them seem to work, it may be time to talk to a mental health professional like a therapist who will listen, help you work through your challenges and show you how to cope in healthier ways that won’t contribute to your already anxious, chaotic thought patterns.
Intimidated by the thought of spilling your guts to a complete stranger? Try taking baby steps by opening up to a close friend that you trust.
Often, just talking things out with someone who has your back can help alleviate your anxiety and quiet down the overthinking.
7. Lose Yourself In A Great Story
Everyone loves a good story, and when I feel my unruly mind starting to take over, a riveting book, podcast or movie can help draw me out of that state of mind by drawing me into a different world, even if it’s just for a little while.
Diving into someone else’s story isn’t just about losing yourself in it.
It’s also about feeling someone’s else’s pain, fears, sorrows and ultimately, their triumph and exhilaration when they overcome the impossible odds stacked against them.
It’s about putting yourself behind someone’s eyes and in their shoes as they make their way through their own hero’s journey — one that can transform the lenses through which you see your world and inspire you to be your own superhero
Great stories can change your mind, your thoughts and give you the courage to go after the peace you deserve.
8. Come Up With A Plan
Sometimes, the only thing that can calm a busy mind is to do something about that thing you’re always worrying about, and that means coming up with an action plan to tackle it.
To get your plan up and running, you’ll need to first figure out what needs to get done, what resources you’ll need, how long you’ll take to do it and when you’re going to start.
Whether it’s having a difficult conversation with someone you care about, looking for a new job, paying off debt or letting go of a bad habit, coming up with a plan and seeing it through will always help you more than worrying about it.
9. Go On A Digital Detox
Being online all the time is exhausting.
The incessant stream of emails, Zoom calls, messages, social media posts and ads — it can all feel like too much on top of everything else that you need to think of every single day, and it is.
One way to sidestep all this digitally-induced stress? Try spending a set amount of time offline. If that’s not possible, consider setting a firm boundary between your on- and offline worlds.
For example, allowing yourself only 30 minutes a day on social media, not responding to messages after 6pm or no work emails on your personal devices.
And if you’re ever in doubt about whether spending less time on a particular digital platform is the right thing to do, here’s a question that Cal Newport, the author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life In A Noisy World advocates asking yourself: Is this service making you a better or worse version of yourself?
10. Follow A Daily Routine
A chaotic mind can make you feel lost and out of control.
Many things in life won’t fall within your circle of control, but just as many things will, and one of them is how you structure your day.
Regardless of whether you spend most of your time at home because you work remotely, are recovering from a challenging period or are just a homebody, having some kind of daily routine can help you develop and maintain habits that are all-around better for your mental health.
Don’t quite know where to begin? Try creating a morning routine that centers you and lets you start your day off on the right note.
11. Practice Gratitude
This can be the last thing you feel like doing when you find yourself falling into a spiral of negativity, but here’s why you should be doing it anyway: It can have a profoundly positive impact on your mental state.
Researchers have found that giving thanks regularly can not only help you feel happier for longer, it can also make you healthier physically and mentally, more productive and better at your relationships.
Another obvious plus of acknowledging the positives in your life? It’ll leave you less time to think about the negatives.
Gratitude journaling is one often-mentioned way to make it happen, but there are plenty of other ways to give thanks that’ll feel right for you: Savouring the little but good things in life like appreciating the birds singing outside, writing a thank you note to someone who’s done right by you, paying a kind gesture forward, or even just saying a prayer.
12. Eat A Healthy Meal
What does that double-fried corndog you’re eyeing have to do with your mind, you ask?
As it turns out, plenty.
Studies have reported strong links between a person’s diet — specifically one that’s rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices — and their mental health and well-being.
They also reported lower risks for depression.
And if you’ve ever struggled with binge eating like I have, you’ll know that the more you give in to poor eating habits, the more likely you are to spiral out of control for longer periods of time, making you feel worse about yourself than before.
In contrast, making food choices that feel good for your body and mind can help nudge you in the direction of making more healthy choices.
13. Seek Out Good Vibes
Think children laughing, dogs playing, that optimistic friend who brings out the best in you every time you see them.
Maybe it’s the quiet, calming energy of a purring cat curling up on your lap, warm glow of a fireplace with a cup of tea or soothing breeze on your skin that gets you appreciating the moment you’re in.
Pure, joyful energy is infectious and can help pull you out of a mental funk and into the present, so seek it out as much as you can.
14. Pin-Point Your Triggers
If you’ve noticed yourself going into an overthinking or anxiety spiral after certain interactions or experiences, it may be a good idea to avoid these specific triggers to safeguard your wellbeing.
Side-stepping these tricky situations not an option?
Consider speaking with a trusted confidante or a therapist who can help you figure out how to navigate them in better ways that won’t leave you worse for wear.
15. Spend Time Outdoors
Feel your mind getting a little busier than you’d like? Give it a soothing forest bath.
There’s a reason the Japanese partake in the practice of shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing: Besides inspiring people to connect with and take care of Mother Nature, it’s also good for the body and mind.
In fact, spending time in nature may be essential for your mental health, suggests a study by Stanford researchers that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
The researchers found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area had decreased activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region that’s active during rumination, while those that walked in a high-traffic, urban setting did not.
16. Practice Self-Compassion
Negative thoughts begets more negative thoughts, and in my head, this often includes beating myself up for letting myself spiral out of control.
This in turn, then creates even more anxiety.
Now that I’m aware of how things tend to pan out when I get lost in a vicious cycle of rumination, I’m able to pull myself back and out of a funk by talking to myself the way I would to a close friend before it becomes something that’s bigger and more painful.
Being compassionate to yourself can help tremendously with quieting the mind, so why be harsh when you can be kind?
RESOURCES YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL
Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways To Slow Down And Enjoy The Things That Really Matter by Elaine St. James I got my hands on this treasure over 15 years ago, way before simple living and minimalism became popular, and it was the first resource that introduced me to practical, everyday steps I could take to ‘un-complicate’ my life. I didn’t have enough life experience then to ‘get’ everything that St. James presents in this book, but when I revisit the pages of Simplify Your Life now, they make perfect sense. If you’re just starting out in your simple living journey and are exploring your possibilities, I highly recommend giving this a read first.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever by Marie Kondo Being able to pay attention to the little things in your life starts with decluttering — not the easiest thing to do if your living (or even work) space is disorganised and drowning in stuff. This is my bible as far as tidying up my space and keeping it that way goes.
Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill This classic is so much more than what its title implies — it’s also a guide to taking control of the biggest driver behind everything you do and the reality you create for yourself: Your mind.
The Simple Living Guide When life feels overwhelming, this guide-and-workbook-in-one will help you gain clarity with your values, well-being, career, relationships and money.
The Good Morning Guide If your mornings are typically rushed, chaotic and stressful, I made this guide to help you start your day calm, sane and strong.
Tribe Of Mentors: Short Life Advice From The Best In The World by Timothy Ferriss Nothing beats having a mentor in your life who can personally guide you from day one. But not everyone does, and if (like me), you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from the best virtually or through books. Take what you need from the likes of Ray Dalio, Ben Stiller, Bear Grylls and more in this varied but comprehensive compilation of bite-sized advice on life, work and purpose from some of the best minds in the world.
TAKE THE 7-DAY CALM MIND CHALLENGE
Trying to win at life from day to day is hard. It gets even harder when you’re struggling with thoughts that leave you feeling reactive to the world and heavy with painful emotions that hold you back from living your best life. Start re-framing your thoughts to calm your mind, feel good about life and create the mental space that’s a must to reach your highest potential with my FREE, 7-Day Calm Mind Challenge. You’ll also receive my best calm-living tips & trainings delivered to your inbox every week. Sign up for your dose of calm now.