When your mind is overwhelmed, here's how to deal
In our fast-paced lives, it’s no surprise we’re experiencing a more stressed-out and psychologically impacted society than ever before. Technology might have made things easier in certain ways, but it’s also given us more to think about in less time.
“In 2016, we have more information, media, billboards, messages, calls, emails, and noises bombarding us than ever before,” says Kelsey Patel, a Beverly Hills-based life coach. “If you sit for a moment and take in just how much is happening to your mind at once, you’d be shocked at the results.”
We’re constantly overwhelmed with the demands and responsibilities we’re taking on, what we should be doing, who we should be, where we should vacation, how we should think, who we should email, what we should eat, where we should work out, etc. It causes us to “binge-think,” or pick a persistent worry and ruminating about it without solving the problem. This leads to negative symptoms like anxiety, lack of focus, wasting time, negativity, poor mood and more.
If there are certain things we don’t have time for in our busy lives, it should be these things that get us down. To the rescue: these expert-approved tips for letting go of this binge-thinking behavior and living a more relaxed, anxiety-free life.
Up your exercise routine
When you’re stuck in your head and simply cannot get out, moving your body might do the trick. Research has shown an almost certain link between exercise and improved mental health. “Besides alleviating pent-up angst, physical activity can teach your brain to be anxiety-resistant because the physical exercise engages a lot of the same responses that mental stress does,” says Petalyn Halgreen, a certified life and performance coach. “Increasing your heart rate through exercise causes your blood pressure to go up and, over time, the practice seems to train the body to handle those changes.”
Take your favorite fitness class, or find your favorite instructor’s class who always boosts your mood. “I’ve received notes from many of my clients who worked out after having the worst day, and left the class with their energy high and feeling happy,” says Patel.
Eat less junk food and more whole food
Certain vitamins, minerals, and other compounds in food act almost like medication to the brain. “A diet of whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, and fish can decrease the amount of anxiety a person experiences, while eating the wrong kind of foods produces the opposite effect,” says Halgreen. “Some foods, like those rich in omega-3 fats, can be like natural anti-anxiety medication when eaten on a regular basis.” Anxiety sufferers have stated that cutting back on all the starchy fast foods and eating more fresh produce has made them feel less sluggish and emotional. Consider reducing your amount of caffeine or alcohol consumption, too, as they’re known to increase anxiety and even trigger panic attacks.
Keep a gratitude journal
Psychologists say thoughts lead to feelings, and those feelings lead to actions. That means if you’re thinking positive thoughts and feeling gratitude, you’re more likely to take productive action—plus you won’t start spiraling into worry.
“When you focus on the positive and write down or even mentally record what’s working for you in life, you’re changing the soundtrack in your head,” says Paulette Kouffman Sherman, Psy.D, psychologist and author of The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit.
Journaling exercises help move the energy and anxiety of the mind onto paper, so you can release the thoughts from the tight grip of your mind and connect to what’s actually in your heart. “Take a pen and paper and write down ten things you feel anxious about,” says Patel. “Then write another list next to it that asks yourself why you feel anxious or overwhelmed by each item.” This will help you grasp a better understanding of the emotion underneath all that binge thinking and will inevitably help release some of it.
Even if your busy schedule only allows for 10 minutes a day, take this amount of time to find some calm and quiet in your life. “The idea is to focus on your breath or a peaceful scene, so you’re not thinking about things that create anxiety,” says Dr. Sherman. “This also teaches you that only you are in charge of your thoughts and actions, which will then help you narrow your focus down to things that make you feel clear and calm throughout the day.”
If you’re a first-timer to meditation, know that it might take a while to finally feel that your mind is turned off. And remember: there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. “My first-timer tip is to set your timer for 10 minutes, sit up in a relaxed position or lay down if you have back problems, take three to four deep breaths, and really feel yourself relaxing on the exhales and letting go,” says Patel.
Turn to nature
If you live in a city with plenty of people, traffic and the hustle and bustle of work life, it’s even more important to remember the world that exists outside the city walls. A simple shift in your environment—away from the noise and chaos—will help ease your mind. “Find out which rural areas you can take your local commuter train or research bus options for hikes or outdoor adventures,” says Patel. “This can help you rejuvenate, open up and find a clear center.” Once you return from your breath of fresh air, you’ll be surprised by how ready you are to get back into the grind of daily life.
Get enough sleep
When your mind doesn't seem to shut off, it can be nearly impossible to dial your thoughts down enough so that you can get your eight hours of sleep a night. But making sure you’re getting enough rest is key to functioning properly at your job, in your social life and especially in your fitness classes. “Insomnia is becoming a national epidemic, and some estimates suggest that up to 40 percent of adults, particularly women, suffer from sleeplessness,” says Halgreen. “It’s also the primary factor in breakdowns and depression.” To help your mind settle and prepare for rest, establish a relaxing nighttime ritual, like taking a bath or reading a book to help wind yourself down.
Challenge negative thoughts and stay present
When you scare yourself by being overly negative about the future or catastrophizing, try to catch yourself, says Dr. Sherman. “When you scare yourself by being overly negative about the future or catastrophizing you can catch yourself and remember to stay present and not to create calamities that have not happened.”
So if you’re anxious thought is that your date on Saturday won’t like you, you can choose to focus on all the ways you’re a great person instead. “Most anxiety stems from being in those two states instead of being attuned to the here and now,” she says. “Dismiss the past as over and the future as a story you have no way of knowing and remind yourself that the present is your point of power and the only current reality.”
Written by Jenn Sinrich. This post was originally published on ClassPass's blog, The Warm Up. ClassPass is a monthly membership that connects you to more than 8,500 of the best fitness studios worldwide. Have you been thinking about trying it? Start now on the Base Plan and get five classes for your first month for only $19.