Our last blog post was the start of a four-part series in which we will provide helpful practices, resources, and tips to maintain a healthy emotional and mental state for yourself. We covered ways to recognize when your body has been hijacked by anxiety and how to de-escalate it through helpful breathing practices. In today's post, we will be talking about "mental clutter" and how to reduce it.
What Is Mental Clutter?
Mental clutter is the random stuff in your head that you are trying to keep track of. It can be anything from appointments you have or need to make, tasks for work, activities with the family, or projects for the home. You are probably thinking about your list right now. We all have mental clutter, but when we let it become too demanding or too loud in our brains, we can experience feelings of being anxious or overwhelmed.
As with any mental health practice, a good start is to become aware of the thoughts that are going through your head. Pay attention to when those thoughts pop in, and notice what you experience in your body as you process your plans. Do the thoughts leave as quickly as they enter, or do they linger? Does the idea of your to-do list motivate you or paralyze you? Are you able to remain in the moment when you think about things on your list, or do you check out emotionally or mentally? When you think about your list at night, are you about to go to sleep, or does it keep you awake?
It's important to consider these questions because they will help you scale how much your mental clutter impacts you. The more it affects you, the more you might have to reduce your mental clutter consciously.
How To Reduce Mental Clutter
How do you reduce your mental clutter once you have become aware of it? Here at New Leaf, we're going to introduce you to a practice called "brain dumping" to help you clear some space in your mind and shift through that mental clutter. This practice can help you decipher what thoughts need to stay and what thoughts need to go. The only tools you will need are a pen and a notebook. This practice is the mental equivalent of cleaning out your closet. Essentially, you are dumping all the contents of your closet on the floor and deciding what to donate, keep, and throw away.
Start by writing down all those random things you need to do or what to do. Write down everything from stuff you don't want to forget to appointments you need to make or keep. Write down all the projects you want to tackle and the goals you want to accomplish. This next step is essential,
don't edit, don't judge, just write it all down.
Don't stop writing until you can't think of anything else. This practice can be mentally exhausting, especially the first time you try it. However, it is also incredibly freeing and can help reduce feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed. The simple act of writing it all down will get you out of your head and make you feel less mentally cluttered.
After you have written everything out, you can start going through your list when you are ready. It is important to note that if you are exhausted after writing your list, take a break, go for a walk, drink a non-caffeinated cup of tea. Listen to your body and take care of your needs at that moment. Going through your list will be much more productive and helpful if you are emotionally, physically, and mentally prepared, which could mean that you might have to walk away from the list for a few days.
When you are ready, look at your list and decide what things are your responsibility and no one else's. It can be helpful to start with the practical tasks first. What appointment do you need to attend, what jobs are yours to do, what tasks need to be completed by you alone? Next, assign things on your list to people in your life who can and want to help. Can your partner do the dishes? Can your kids pick up the playroom? Can you hire a delivery service for groceries? It can also be helpful to make a timeline for when tasks need to be completed. If you have a deadline on a project that isn't until six months from now, break down tasks for that project by month or week so it won't feel so daunting.
After you have decluttered your brain, assigned tasks where they needed to be assigned, and given yourself a realistic timeline on completing projects, take some time to take the deep breaths we have talked about and calm your central nervous system. It can be helpful to breathe out a mantra like, "I matter because of who I am, not because of what I do." These mantras can root us in our identity, calm any anxiety and take us back to reality if you still feel stuck in your head.
We hope this exercise is helpful for you if you are experiencing feelings of anxiety or feel overwhelmed because of the mental clutter in your brain.
We would love to hear from you if you practice it! Remember, you really do matter because of who you are, not what you do.