7 Techniques to Help Calm a Busy Mind

The human brain processes thousands of thoughts per day which can become overwhelming. The feeling of being unable to ‘switch off’ and the persistence of negative thoughts is not uncommon but can have far-reaching effects. Cognitive theories suggest that our thoughts can influence our mental health and impact on our ability to take action, possibly leading to psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Pushing such thoughts to the back of your mind will only allow them to resurface at a later date.

To combat the vicious circle of overthinking there are steps you can take to calm your mind and feel more relaxed. In this post, we take a look at some techniques based on the mindfulness approach to help calm a busy mind.

The mindfulness approach

When it comes to calming a busy mind the first suggestion you may hear is to try meditation. This ancient technique can be a lifesaver for some, but for others the ability to completely switch off their mind is impossible. If you’ve ever wondered ‘why can’t I calm my mind and empty all thoughts?’ when attempting meditation you are certainly not alone.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to using the traditional practice of meditation. The mindfulness approach uses a form of mindful meditation to help your thoughts become more manageable. This technique trains the mind to pay attention to the present moment so that we become more aware of our thoughts and feelings as they happen and more in tune with the world around us. Mindfulness can help to grow our enjoyment of the world and form a deeper understanding and acceptance of ourselves.

7 Steps to Calm a Busy Mind

Here are 7 techniques to help calm the spiral of negative and persistent thoughts and lead to greater emotional intelligence.

1. Try some mindful breathing

When our mind is full of worries and anxiety levels are high this can affect our breathing. It can feel like you can’t catch your breath and cause tightening in the chest. This reaction can only perpetuate the problem and cause anxious thoughts to spiral into overload.

A good place to start in calming a busy mind is to focus on your breathing. Taking some deep breaths and observing the rise and fall of your chest can help to bring calm to both body and mind. Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth in slow rhythms letting the breath flow effortlessly. As you calm your breathing, try to let go of your thoughts and image them leaving your body and mind. This is a technique you can practice anywhere and whenever you feel your thoughts are getting on top of you.

2. Expand your awareness of the present moment

A key area of mindfulness practice is becoming more in tune with your own thoughts and feelings. While it can be tempting to ignore negative thought patterns that persist in a busy mind, we can only reduce their intensity and effect by acknowledging them. Naming your thoughts and feelings as you experience them can be helpful, i.e. ‘anger’, ‘anxiety’, ‘worrying’, ‘daydreaming’, etc.

At the same time as acknowledging your thoughts, tune into what it is you see in front of you, listen for the sounds around you, notice how your clothes feel against your skin, think about every flavour you are tasting and recognise the smell of the fresh air. In tuning into our other senses, we recognise that there is much more present around us than the painful thoughts and feelings that are currently dominating our consciousness.

Known as a ‘dropping anchor’ technique, this method is not intended to distract us from negative thoughts, rather, it helps to shift our attention to the present moment and halt the ‘storm’ of the seemingly never-ending spiral of thoughts running around in our head.

3. Reconnect with your body

Another way of calming a busy mind is through reconnecting with your body. Busy minds tend to get stuck in a loop of unhelpful thoughts that persist unless interrupted. Things you can do to help reconnect with your body are to engage in physical activity. This can be as simple as moving from your current position, stretching, standing up, straightening your back, pushing the palms of your hands together, or massaging an aching muscle.

All of these techniques help you to reconnect with your body and re-ground yourself in where you are and what you are doing. Rather than distracting yourself from your present thoughts, this process is about regaining control of your thought pattern and being focused in the present.

4. Remain in the present

A key aspect of mindfulness is remaining engaged in the present. A busy mind that is cluttered with negative thoughts tends to dwell on previous negative experiences. Identifying where anxieties have been developed from can help to rationalise them. Take some time to think about why your thoughts are focused on a particular area and bring the knowledge, experiences and coping abilities that you have in the present to the front of your mind.

5. Get outside

The soothing power of nature is a resource to be drawn upon when seeking to calm a busy mind. The power our thoughts have over our mental well-being can be overwhelming, and a step outside can be the tonic we need to redress the balance. Whether you’re in the office or at home, getting outdoors and into nature is a perfect way to practice mindfulness.

Take a moment to observe what you see around you. Observe the trees, the grass, the flowers and shrubs, whatever aspects of nature you see and name them in your mind. Notice the small details of natures beauty – the colours, the shapes, the patterns. Take a deep breath and breathe in the scent of nature, notice the scents and the smells. Think about what you can feel around you, the crisp grass under your shoes, the wind in your hair, the warm sunlight on your face. Take a moment to experience whatever you observe in the present moment using all of your senses.

Getting outside helps to bring your mind back to the present, halt the cycle of negative thoughts, and help you to tackle your anxieties from a new perspective.

6. Be rational about your thoughts

Another important practice in helping to calm a busy mind is to be mindful of how your brain can work to trick you. Our brains are conditioned to protect us so that we can survive when it detects a threat. However, most of us no longer live in the wild and, therefore, this hypersensitivity can become misrouted. Our brains will process thousands of thoughts a day to get us through, but these are not always rationale or speak of an objective truth. For example, your busy mind may have been on overdrive for weeks leading up to an important meeting at work. Your thoughts are telling you it will go badly, you’re going to make a fool of yourself, and you will lose the respect of your co-workers. However, it is likely that these thoughts are not based on any truth. By acknowledging that not all of your thoughts are rational you can choose not to believe what your brain is telling you.

7. Release your thoughts

The age-old phrase ‘talking is the best medicine’ is certainly a helpful tip when it comes to calming a busy mind. Sometimes our thoughts can get overwhelming because we are the only ones dealing with them. It’s amazing how helpful releasing those thoughts can be.

Whether it be with a trusted friend, partner, or professional unburdening your mind of persistent anxious thoughts can help to release you from the control they have over you. If you’re not ready to talk, then writing your thoughts down can also be a helpful means of halting the vicious cycle of negative thoughts. It can help to put things into perspective and trigger the process of finding solutions.

Final word

In a fast-paced world, it is unsurprising that so many of us are falling prey to a busy and cluttered mind. It can feel like you have a million and one things on your to-do list and a mountain to climb each morning when you awake from a restless sleep. A busy mind can be harmful to your mental health, but fortunately, there are some techniques you can practice to bring serenity to your overactive brain.

Practising mindfulness can have numerous benefits when it comes to calming a busy mind. Bringing your attention to the present moment and reawakening your senses to the world around you can be extremely helpful in reducing the prominence and persistence of negative thought patterns. The 7 techniques described above can be practised pretty much anywhere you are and will help you to be aware of your thoughts and feelings, be in tune with the present, and ultimately serve to calm your busy mind.

Filipe Bastos

About the author

Through my personal experiences, I have always held a strong interest in human suffering and satisfaction; this greatly influenced my career path. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT(Acceptance and commitment therapy). I've spent the last seven years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology. I've found that besides the known benefits meditation can bring to our lives, such as reduced stress and anxiety, improved quality of sleep, decreased blood pressure; the greatest benefit of meditation is the possibility to feel at peace, despite the external circumstances of our lives.

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