I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. The whole word “resolution” carries too much pressure. I do, however, make New Year’s goals and have aspirations. They’re such nicer words, less stressful. Since reducing stress is one of my goals for the new year, I figure I’m halfway there just by calling it a goal instead of a resolution. Another goal for the new year: I’d like to have a more organized mind and focus on overall better mental fitness.
If you’re imagining cute bins and baskets storing all the thoughts in your mind, you’re sort of right. Purging your mind and getting it organized is very much like decluttering your house. Unlike with your garage or pantry, though, you can’t just go digging around in there chucking all the outdated cereal and deflated bicycle tires. So how do you purge your mind and start your New Year feeling more mentally fit? Read on, my friends!
Decluttering Your Mind for the New Year
For someone like me with a high baseline anxiety and a mind that just never, ever shuts up, I deal with a lot of physically problems related to my cluttered mind. Namely, headaches, headaches and more headaches. When I have a headache, I get sick to my stomach, which triggers more headaches and sinus congestion. I often feel like my brain is stuffed full of abrasive cotton balls, constantly rubbing against each other and the inside of my skull. Mental clutter takes a major toll on me, so I’ve had to devise ways to reducing it as much as possible. Everyone is different, but these are a few things that I’ve tried over the years, along with what works best for me.
The Nagging Memory Dump
We all have that one nagging memory that plays over and over, reminding us of a time we messed up. For people living with anxiety disorder, we have about a billion of them. These can range from the truly catastrophic life embarrassments- like that time you thought the door in your hotel opened into a closet but really opened out to the pool…and you were naked- to the simple slights that no one remembers, like that time you’re just not sure if you remembered to say “thank you” for dinner.
Getting rid of the nagging memory isn’t easy, but it can be done. For me, I let it play out in my head. I feel the embarrassment or the worry for a set amount of time- usually a few minutes. Then I agree with myself that I made a horrible error in judgement, promise myself I have learned from it and forcibly eject the memory from my brain. Sure, it stays there (we can’t literally dump memory yet), but it has less power and doesn’t get to play itself out over and over anymore. If need be, I build a little wall around it so it can’t escape. I have hundreds of memories locked away in an Alcatraz-like prison in my mind right now!
Lists are powerful, wonderful tools in organizing your mind. Since we can make them on computers, iPads, etc now, we don’t have to worry about paper cluttering up our real life anymore. You can use lists in two ways. First, make a list of everything that is upsetting you, freaking you out or making you mad. Decide which things on that list are really worth obsessing over. Things that affect your life for more than, say an hour, get to stay. The rest has to go. You can’t hold on to anger at the idiot that cut you off in traffic forever. He’s long gone, ruining someone else’s day miles away. The stuff that you do get to obsess over gets moved onto the “things that need fixing” list. Work on that list as you have time. Break it down into goals and other things you can do to get them off the list.
The second way to use is a list is for more positive- yet still cluttering- thoughts. Your goals, dreams, aspirations. Resolutions if you really must. Leaving them sitting in your brain takes up energy and focus. They need to be fed to stay alive. Instead, write them down, along with ways to reach those goals. Rather than cluttering your mind with everything you want to remember, you can refer to your list when you have time to work on your goals.
99 Red Balloons Method
My therapist once told me to mentally write all my worries, bad memories and anything else that was cluttering my mind on red balloons. Then visualize releasing them into the sky. Watch them float away, out of the atmosphere. For those really nasty worries, picture them get struck by meteors and obliterated, or burn up by the sun. I always took visualizations a little further into the realm of “wow, no wonder she has so many issues!” Seriously, though, it works wonders, and mental balloons are way better for the environment than real ones. Alas, once you’re done, the 99 Red Balloons song will be stuck in your head for a week, but there are worse earworms.
I am horrible at meditation, so I can’t actually think of nothing. Clearing my brain of all thoughts leaves a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum or something like that. So the harder I try to think of nothing, the more I think of everything. WEIRD everything. Like “what if my cat really is secretly plotting to kill me?” So instead of trying to empty my brain of all thoughts, I try to fill it with a visualization of “nothing.” Like in the Neverending Story, I let the nothing fill my brain, push back thoughts and obliterate other mental images, until all I see is a big, black, empty void. It’s very refreshing.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
One great way to purge your mind of clutter is through relaxation. We all know that. It’s common sense. What do you do, though, if meditation and traditional relaxation techniques just don’t cut it for you? Check out my post on relaxation techniques that include ideas beyond meditating. My favorite is the adult coloring tip! It’s so easy to get lost in coloring. The act frees up your subconscious to work on the various problems of the day and sort through the clutter.
Get enough sleep
My final bit of advice for reducing mind clutter and setting yourself up for better mental fitness: make sure you get a good night’s sleep every night. Your brain uses that time to sort through the day’s memories, ditch the junk you don’t need and store away the stuff you do need. Without adequate sleep, the clutter keeps piling up. Kind of like if you shove stuff into a junk drawer every day without ever taking anything out. Eventually the junk drawer gets stuck. Things fall out or break. Sleep is so important, yet so many of us stink at actually getting enough of it. Myself included.
These are a few of my favorite ways to de-clutter my mind and reduce stress a bit. Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness, so it’s time to start taking better care of our minds.