On a lunch break this week I was juggling a tuna melt panini in one hand and my book in the other. Crumbs were falling all over the place and I was dangerously close to dropping melted cheese down myself.
I took a breath, put my book down and told myself to just eat the damn panini. I wanted to reach for my phone, but I resisted. I decided to try and eat my panini mindfully. And you know what happened? Approximately one million and three thoughts rushed in.
One of those thoughts was “what blog am I writing tonight? Is it the one about goal setting? What could I include there?…” The thoughts continued to buzz around for a while before I recognised what was happening.
I took a deep breath and focused on the tasty tasty meal I was enjoying, the sun on my skin and the sense of achievement after a busy week at my day job.
When I got around to checking my schedule to see what blog I did have planned, I had to laugh. ‘How to calm a busy mind’. I could clearly use a refresher on this myself, so I’m excited to explore my mental archives and bring those tools to the forefront.
Whether you suffer from anxiety, struggle to fall asleep or consider yourself a chronic overthinker – you’re not alone. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t find themselves busy minded from time to time. So, what the hell can we do about it?
Rest your attention on your breath
I definitely did not come up with the phrase ‘rest your attention on your breath’, but damn – I like it. When you feel yourself spinning, clear your mind with a deep breath and tell yourself to take just a few minutes to focus on your breath coming in and out (I like to focus on the sensation at the tip of my nose).
A few minutes of this can be enough to help you slow down those thoughts and decide which ones really need your attention, and which ones you can let go of.
Step away from the screen
Hands up who uses social media as a distraction tool when they have a lot going on? *raises hand* This can feel good in the moment, but when you finally do put your phone (or other distraction tool) down, you’ll probably find yourself where I was today on my lunch – confronted with every single thought you’ve ever had.
Our minds need whitespace. They need moments of nothing in order to process and this is especially true when you’ve got a lot going on. This is what meditation offers me, so I did a meditation when I got home after work and I’m determined to make it a daily habit.
You don’t have to meditate of course, just find yourself some mental space. Doodle, look at the clouds, mindfully eat a tuna panini… anything to help your mind sigh with relief.
Move your body
This is another way you can find that space between you and your thoughts – get out of your head and into your body. This may mean sweating it out at the gym, going for a run or even wild swimming (how cool does that look?). It may mean a short walk in your local park.
For me it means rolling out my yoga mat. Usually Hatha yoga is my go-to (very gentle and slow paced) but when I can’t stop that internal chatter, I need to get me some Vinyasa flow action.
This really focuses on joining breath to movement and is fluid in its sequencing. I find this the best way to get out of my head. If I follow this up with a 10-minute meditation I feel uhhhmazing.
Write it out (or talk it out)
If there’s a particular problem or situation going round and round your head, putting pen to paper can really help. Write down every thought that comes through and pick away at it.
Untangle your thoughts, get them down in some sort of order, seek their origin.
If writing isn’t for you, try talking it out. Call a friend, talk to your partner or chat away on Instagram stories if you find that helps. You could even talk it out to yourself using a voice note or dictaphone.
Ask yourself: What can I do about this problem? What can’t I do? How am I going to move forward? In a lot of cases, this helps me realise that there is actually nothing I can do about the problem except control my reaction to it… and then let it go.
Notice your triggers and how it affects you
This is probably the most helpful thing you can do. The other tips mentioned here will help you in the moment when your mind is busy, but if you want to quieten your mind in the long-term, you need to be aware of what causes your mind to be busy and how it affects you.
For me, it happens when I’ve let my self-care slip or I’ve just got a lot going on.
If I ignore it, it escalates to anxiety and stops me sleeping. Recognise how your busy mind shows up in your physical body. The more aware of it you are, the easier it is to address.
Try to raise your awareness around your thoughts and note what’s happening in your life at the time you find yourself busy minded. How is your body reacting? How are you feeling emotionally?
It’s a little like not realising how thirsty you are until you take a sip of water – we need to check in more and see what our body and mind is trying to tell us (then give it some damn water).
These tips aren’t going to stop you from ever being busy minded again (not sure anything can do that) but I hope they’ll help you become more aware of where the busy-ness is coming from and ease it when it does arise.
If you’re not following me already on Instagram come on over. I’m planning to start sharing more tips and advice on subjects like this to give us all a gentle nudge to take better care of ourselves.
Would love to hear what helps you calm your mind – anything else I should add to my list?
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