Like you just can’t keep up?
It can happen when you are:
- Trying to juggle work, home, and family projects.
- In the middle of a personal sh*storm – dealing with financial, health, or family crises.
- Faced with too many things to do in too little time.
- Overtired, overstressed, or just plain “over” stuff.
What does this have to do with fitness, you ask?
Kind of everything. I’ve spent the past 10+ years watching and listening to overwhelmed clients try to do it all. And I’ve heard them talk about their sore backs, their knees, their hips, and their shoulders. It’s as if they are carrying the weight of the world. And yet they think it will all better better if they just do more … and do that more even BETTER.
I’ve also been there. Over the past couple years, between some huge business/work changes, battling a pesky health bump, juggling online/offline work, walking my never-enough-walks dog, AND trying to get my own workouts in, there have been days I didn’t know which way I was going.
So Much To Do, So Little Time
My grandmother, who also was an entrepreneur, had a saying: “I’m so busy I am going to meet myself coming around the corner.” (She also occasionally said she was “busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” She said a lot of non-corny things, too.)
Anyway, when you’re in the middle of all that overwhelm, it’s normal to think: “I just need to get organized.”
But have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling overwhelmed, any attempts you make to organize your mind/tasks/life/stuff don’t ever stick?
That’s because when your mind is overwhelm mode, you can’t get a handle on exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how you’re going to find the time, and often, how you’re actually going to do it.
Plus, when you’re struggling with brain clutter, you somehow seem to come up with even MORE stuff you have to (or want to) do. It’s a crazy self-perpetuating cycle.
Get Quiet, Get Clear
Before you can organize your tasks, your life, your stuff, your finances, or whatever … you have to do one thing first.
You have to clear your mind.
I know. Sounds impossible, right? When your thoughts are running you with a never-ending list of stuff to do/think about/etc. how are you supposed to shut them up?
Take it from me: going on a massive multi-tasking binge to get caught up on a few things first is the exact OPPOSITE of what you need to do.
Instead, try to STOP and get quiet … even though you think stopping is going to make it worse.
Taking some time to pull back and declutter your mind is totally worth it.
And here are some simple ways to make that happen.
8 Ways to Declutter Your Mind Backed By Science
1. Take a Nap
When you’re tired you’re especially prone to feeling overwhelmed.
When you haven’t had enough sleep, the pathways in your brain just don’t work the way they are supposed to. Your brain’s info-filtering system has a hard time differentiating all the input that’s being thrown at it.
And that means making decisions is even harder (1).
Seriously, what’s one of the first things you would do for a fussy toddler who can’t seem to get comfortable or happy? You’d think: “If only they would just take a nap.”
Try to take some time to chill, and if you’re freaking out about wasting time, set your timer and let yourself relax for 20 minutes. It’ll be worth it.
2. Write Down Your Feelings
One of the best ways to clear your mind of clutter is to take the time to write down your feelings/thoughts/tasks.
Here’s a huge hint that you will benefit from journaling. If the idea of taking the time to write down your feelings makes you feel stabby … like you have NO TIME for it, and it’s a stupid idea… it means you should do it.
Trust me. I’ve felt that way on numerous occasions. And then I’ve picked up my notebook, written for a while, and felt so much better that I vow to write in my journal every day (which I mostly do).
Anyway, study after study points to how beneficial journaling is to our well-being (2).
I find it to be especially effective if I do it as soon as possible after waking up, either in the morning or after that nap I mentioned above.
Write down how you’re feeling and thinking, organize your thoughts, and you’ll start to see your priorities develop, which will help get you out of overwhelm mode.
And if you’re worried someone will read what you wrote, rip up the pages. Problem solved.
This is another one of those things that if the idea of it makes you feel grouchy or like kicking the wall, maybe you need some of it in your life.
You’ve probably noticed over the past few years that meditation has moved out of the “woo-woo” sphere to become more mainstream. That’s because more stressed-out individuals have found it to be an effective tool to clear the clutter in their heads.
When life is hectic, do you ever feel as though you’re having a non-stop conversation (with yourself) in your head? Like your thoughts are scattered and out of control? That’s called monkey mind, and it’s a real thing.
But here’s another real thing: meditation helps soothe that monkey talk (3). Study after study has has pointed to the powerful effects meditation has on our brains.
It also has been proven to help improve coping abilities and resilience (4).
Try the Headspace app for some meditation assistance.
4. Go Outdoors … Maybe Barefooted
Getting outside to enjoy the sun and earth is huge when it comes to changing your mood, in so many different ways.
First, sunshine itself has powerful impact on your mood, energy, and sleep quality (5).
Second, if you go for a walk somewhere in nature – the woods, a meadow, the ocean, anywhere you aren’t surrounded by dozens of buildings and honking traffic – it can help qualm what Stanford researchers called “a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought.”
Which basically is ruminating on negative crud. You know, like all that brain clutter (6).
Third, and maybe this is deep into the woo-woo sphere, but there is a growing belief that actually “grounding” or “earthing” your body by walking barefooted outside can help reset your body’s systems. It’s all rooted in bioelectricity.
I mean, if you think about it, your body actually DOES have an electrical system, one that operates all the way down to your cellular level. And electricity is a natural force on the planet. Yet we are the only living beings that do not (at least now, in modern times) regularly come into physical contact with the earth’s surface by walking on it.
Many alternative and integrative health practitioners (and even some mainstream ones) are suggesting our bodies “recharge” by coming into contact with the earth … that it makes a difference in our moods, our sleep, and maybe even more (7)(8).
5. Go for a Run (or Walk!)
There are so many reasons that workouts – like running and walking – help you feel better mentally.
Cardio exercise has a direct impact on the hormones that help you get stuff done (it’s true! there are hormones for that!) (9).
It also can help boost your mood and reorganize your brain for resiliency (100).
And if you do it outside (see number 4, above), you can get even more benefits, whether it’s from mood-boosting sunshine or extra calorie burn (11).
Listening to music when you run is even more beneficial.
Why? A Ohio State University study recently discovered that when someone exercises with music, it activates the area in the brain that deals with a higher level of mental function (12).
6. Spend Time with a Pet
For most people, pets aren’t just animals – they’re beloved members of the family.
And if you have a pet, you know that spending time with them – you know, actually patting, walking, or playing with them – brings you to the present moment. Pets don’t get preoccupied with their to-do list, their phone, or anything else (except maybe sniffing things, but that’s another story).
Anyway, that present-ness is incredibly centering.
And not only that, if you spend quality one-on-one time with an animal, it triggers the release of oxytocin in your body (12). Oxytocin is commonly called the “love” hormone, as it is helps increase feelings of warmth, well-being, and affection (13).
If you don’t have a pet, take a few minutes to watch one of the thousands of cute pet videos on the internet. You’ll get a dose of cuteness – and relaxation – without any strings attached.
Even though I have pets of my own, some mornings I watch cute pet videos online and they always start my day with a smile.
Seriously, check out this video of cat fails and try not to laugh.
7. Cut Back On Sugar and (Maybe?) Caffeine
What food group do we crave when we want a quick hit of energy or a mood boost?
Carbs, of course. And what do carbs contain?
Sugar. (Of course.)
But here’s the kicker. While sugar might temporarily elevate your mood and power you through that brain clutter, there’s the inevitable sugar crash, which can leave you feel agitated, tired, stressed and … overwhelmed.
Eliminating sugar from your diet is hard, but reserving it for sweet treats is easy, once you start to feel your mind calm (15).
Caffeine, meanwhile, is a tricky little beast. In the right amount, it can help give us focus and energy, but too much and we’re heading to the land of chaos. (16) (17). As with most things that can cause dependence, moderation is the key.
8. Set a Timer and Do Something
On paper, Saturday mornings should be an upbeat, relaxing time for me, because that’s when I finish work for the week and have the rest of the weekend off.
But often when I get home from the studio on Saturday, I’m super stressed. That’s because I start to think about everything I want or need to get done during the weekend, and when I think of the list I’ve created for myself, I get overwhelmed.
And that overwhelm makes makes me want to say “screw it” and take a nap (which actually isn’t a bad idea, as per item 1 on this list … except on Saturdays I’m really not that tired, just overwhelmed).
So here’s what I do instead.
I pick one thing on my to-do list (say, clean the fridge), set a timer for 15 minutes and I crank it out.
Sometimes I listen to music when I do this, sometimes a podcast. Sometimes, nothing.
It’s kind of awesome. Once I have knocked one thing off my list, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and focus to do at least a couple more things before I kick back and enjoy my time off.
Make Some Brain Space and Feel Better
Taking advantage of some of these tips should help you get more organized overall – and also help quiet “monkey mind.”
One of the things I found when taming my own monkey mind – an ongoing process! – is that just as we develop physical habits, we also can develop habits with our thought patterns.
Taking a few moments to “declutter” our thoughts to break the overwhelm cycle goes a long way toward getting more organized with everything long-term (18).
Even if you’re currently the most disorganized person you know, it’s not impossible to change… with a little help from your mindset.