Our brains are impressive. Every action we take depends on the right signals being sent through them, and in addition to coordinating our movement and bodily functions, our brains help us to produce and process emotions and thoughts.
With all of this going on, our minds can be full. Our thoughts can range from mundane to do’s, and random pieces of information, to worries about the future, regrets from the past and a host of feelings about the people and situations around us.
When the traffic through our brains gets to be too much, it can be hard to focus. You may start to feel confused, have trouble concentrating or become a bit forgetful. A busy mind can keep you up at night and streams of worrisome or negative thoughts can produce symptoms of anxiety or depression over time.
At some point most of us will struggle with an overly full brain so it’s useful to have effective strategies for managing our thoughts. Here are a few to help you keep that busy mind in order.
Decide When to Fix and When to Adapt
No matter what’s on your mind, thoughts fall into one of two categories: things you can control vs. things you can’t control, or put another way, things that require problem-solving vs. things that require adaptation and coping.
Try to cultivate the habit of pinpointing thoughts associated with things that require problem-solving and take concrete actions to put plans in place. E.g. If your to do-list is constantly floating through your mind, write it down and schedule your tasks so you know what’s on your plate. If you’ve been worrying about your finances for weeks, it’s time to brain storm solutions and create a financial plan.
Once you commit to taking action like spending time reading up on financial topics, or scheduling a date to make a budget or meet with a financial advisor, your mind will feel more at ease and free up space to focus on other things.
Empty Your Recycle Bin
Once you’ve taken care of things you have control over, it’s time to focus on strategies for the things we can’t control. When your brain is full of thoughts surrounding the frustration of things or people outside your control, you need a strategy to empty them out.
Putting pen to paper and writing your thoughts and feelings is one of the simplest ways to express yourself and free up brain space. Other forms of healthy emotional expression also work depending on what resonates with you. Some people paint, draw, sing, write music, dance, exercise or whatever creative endeavour helps them to express pent up emotions.
Stuffed up emotions can make us feel unwell and keep negative thoughts circulating, so it’s important find a regular, healthy way to release them.
Meditation Vs. Action
Practicing meditation, visualization, mindfulness, or other relaxation strategies is helpful for slowing down a busy mind, but some of us struggle with sitting quietly. When that happens, another strategy for resetting a busy mind is to get moving. When you engage in repetitive exercise like walking or lifting weights, as you focus on the movement, your mind can also enter a meditative state that helps you to better manage your thoughts.
When you find yourself ruminating on things you can’t control, engaging in a pleasurable activity like reading or fixing a puzzle or changing your location can also help to reset your brain and feel more focused.
Getting to The Root of the Issue and Seeking Help
Despite these strategies, you might find there are certain thoughts that you just can’t seem to shake. When this happens, it can be your mind’s way of signalling that you need to go a bit deeper to figure out what’s at the root of it. Once you address the root cause it will be much easier to let go of the resulting thoughts.
Think of your thoughts as symptoms and the root cause as the illness. If your busy mind is full of thoughts spurred by depression, anxiety, challenges with self-esteem, perfectionism or burn out, managing the thoughts alone may not be enough and you may need professional guidance to navigate and treat the root causes.