Have you ever been told that you need to calm your mind and just focus on the present? Take a deep breath, they say, clear your mind of all thoughts.
It’s well know that one of the best relaxation techniques is the use of meditation practice as a way to calm your mind, but what about those of us who struggle with meditation, or who are looking for simple things we can do right now to calm our anxious mind when faced with a stressful situation?
There’s no arguing that for many people, meditation is a brilliant way to help them calm and destress themselves.
I’ve heard so many people rave about it over and over again, which has led me to trying it, over and over again.
But I’ve come to a conclusion: meditation is not for me. Which means I needed to find other ways to calm my mind and stop anxious thoughts in their tracks.
A Calm Mind vs An Anxious Mind
Some people out there actually enjoy having a busy mind. Not me, I want my mind to be calm, yes always!
I know it’s unlikely to happen all the time, as someone who has an anxiety problem, yet it’s still what I aim for.
Your anxious thoughts cause you to have a busy mind, and your busy mind creates more anxious thoughts.
How can we break this cycle?
Let’s start by taking a look at what is going on in our brains that causes us to become overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety or stress:
When someone feels stressed or anxious their amygdala becomes activated which makes them go into fight-or-flight mode. This also happens when they are feeling tense or hungover .
The amygdala is the primitive part of the brain which activates for self-preservation, meaning it will do anything to protect your well-being.
This part of the brain is responsible for all those red flag emotions we feel when our anxiety levels are high.
When this area of the brain is activated, all other areas go on stand-by mode as they aren’t needed for staying alive and fighting or running away from danger .
And this where our problems occur: How can you think straight and calm yourself down if all areas of your brain have shut down except the emotional one?
How can you ever relax and live in a state called ‘flow’ if your mind never stops ticking over? How can you enjoy life to its fullest if there’s always a niggling worry at the back of your mind? How can you be free from your anxiety if there is no escape from the constant negative chatter within your head?
A calm mind is able to slow down, make clear logical decisions, enjoy the present moment, and find happiness around them.
An anxious mind is erratic, unable to use logic and focuses on fear based negative thoughts, it thinks only in the future, or replays the past, and is in a constant state of worst-case scenario.
The anxious mind is absolutely exhausting, but thankfully there are strategies you can use to help calm your mind and reduce anxiety and stress.
Why We May Need To Calm Our Mind
We are constantly being told to slow down, but why? How does our overthinking cause us problems?
Overthinking is a constant state of worry about the future and regretting the past. It’s worrying about everything that could go wrong and believing it will.
Overthinking leads to stress and anxiety which leads to you feeling overwhelmed and unhappy .
You feel like your head is going to explode as there is always something bothering you or an anxious thought running through your mind . I know this all too well as I’ve been there myself!
But this isn’t just about our emotions.
Increased anxiety and stress have serious health implications too, which is why we talk so much about the importance of reducing stress.
Anxiety and stress trigger our ‘fight or flight’ part of our nervous system, which back in our cavemen days, helped us to hunt faster, run from predators, and survive.
However, instead of these ‘fight or flight’ responses being every now and then when we go out hunting, they are now multiple times a day.
Our adrenals are in overdrive and they are pumping more adrenaline and cortisol around our body than we know what to do with.
And what makes it even worse is that our bodies can no longer regulate this cycle as quickly as they once did. Instead of our systems returning to their level of ‘normal’ quickly after a stress response, they are now staying in their heightened stress state for longer.
Which takes its toll.
It means our body can ‘misfire’ a fight or flight response which can result in a panic attack.
Cortisol has been linked to life threatening conditions such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and anxiety.
It can even affect the way we digest our food and leave us addicted to the ‘high’ adrenaline provides looking for a sugar fix or caffeine kick to keep us going.
Learning how to calm your mind can help you get out of this heightened state of alertness and stress, and into a more calm homeostasis.
Before You Start
I’m hoping you haven’t skipped right past this and scrolled straight to the 11 strategies to calm your mind because understanding WHY we need to calm our mind, and understanding these next points can make a big difference to the effectiveness of these strategies.
Being able to identify the things that are causing your mind to race can help you in being able to calm them down.
Remove these stressors if you can. I know that’s not always possible, if your job is causing you stress and you can’t quit your job, then it creates a challenging situation.
But try and find ways were possible to eliminate, divert, or reduce your stressors.
Get In Early
Learn to identify the early signs of your anxious and stressed mind before it fully takes over.
Some signs of an anxious mind might include:
- Foggy brain
- Inability to complete a thought process
- Struggling to focus/procrastinating
- Recurring thoughts about the same event
- Changes in mood
- Decrease in motivation
- Increased blood pressure
When you know what your early signs are, it’s easier to get into these calming techniques sooner and therefore they can be more effective and you get back to a calm mind more quickly too.
Create Your Own Calm Life
It’s all well and good trying to learn how to calm your mind, but what about the rest of your life? How do you live in a way that supports this inner peace?
If you find a daily routine helps you keep a calm mind, then create different routines for different parts of your day.
If having a clean home helps you have a calm mind, then create a cleaning schedule so your home is always clean and tidy, or outsource and hire a cleaner to help.
Look for different ways to create calm in your life that helps support your calm mind.
Seek Professional Help
I genuinely believe that everyone should seek professional help at some point, regardless of whether they feel like their anxious thoughts are causing problems in their life or not.
Seeking professional help is a great way to get a ‘tune up’ and professionals have a fantastic set of skills they can share to help you develop your own coping strategies.
You can visit your GP if you would like to start there, but there are also many psychologists and counsellors that don’t need a referral for you to see them.
Look out for therapists who have specialities in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) and who take a holistic approach to your mental health.
Also, this article isn’t designed as specific medical advice for you.
While yes, I am a medical professional, I’m not your medical professional.
It’s important to talk to your health care provider about any concerns you may have as they have a much better idea of your overall health and can help you find the best way include more stress reduction in your daily life.
Always Be Learning
The way our mind works is absolutely incredible and our bodies are just amazing.
As we learn more, we find new ways to cope with things like anxiety and learn new ways to include mindfulness in our lives.
Which is why it is important to always be learning.
Even if what you have in place is working for you, keep learning more.
With all of this in mind, here are 11 simple things you can do now to calm your mind, bring yourself back from a place of anxiety to a more calm and relaxed state, without having to meditate and sit listening to yourself breathe.
1 – Go For A Walk
Seems simple enough, but it can be super effective. I have two types of walking (strange I know). There’s the normal walking and then there’s strolling.
Bear with me, there is a difference.
‘Walking’ is what I use when I just need to get out and get my body moving.
I can do this on a treadmill or pushing the stroller and usually will have a podcast playing while I’m walking.
It’s more about changing my scenery and getting my body moving.
Changing my thought patterns and being somewhere different.
And then there’s ‘strolling’. This is what I do when I want to really clear my mind or give myself ‘space’ to think.
Strolling is best done in nature, go for a walk along a beach or through a park.
We have a National Park near where I live that is a gorgeous mountainous rainforest and has amazing walking trails. Perfect for ‘strolling’ and really taking in all of the nature sounds.
This time out in nature really is a beautiful mindfulness exercise that helps with so many things, but keeping a calm mind is definitely a big benefit.
Even a short walk can have a positive impact on the body’s stress response, and help you to focus on your physical body (think about how your body feels and how your body moves) as you walk while also improving your physical health.
It really is one of the most effective ways to calm your mind – just be sure to leave your phone behind, or at the very least put it on silent and resist the urge to check social media. Take the time to simply enjoy the great outdoors.
2 – Drink A Glass Of Red Wine
Now, I’m not advocating excessive consumption of alcohol, but we are all adults here right? (If not, then maybe you can do the same with a glass of sparkling apple juice or something… good luck with that.)
However, the therapeutic benefits of a glass of vino can’t be denied.
There are several studies that support the benefits of a glass of red wine, but it’s important to note the difference between an occasional glass to help unwind, and downing a bottle of red because you can’t relax without it.
If you’re a lover of red wine (white wine doesn’t have the same health benefits) find a beautiful bottle and pour yourself a glass.
Kick your feet up (if you can), maybe run yourself a hot bath, and enjoy every last bit of it.
3 – Write It Out
Writing is a brilliant way to get all that chaos inside your head out and on paper in front of you.
The key to journaling is to not overthink it (yes, I understand the irony of this). You just have to put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) and just go for it.
The idea is not dissimilar to meditation – you want to clear your mind.
The difference is that by writing you just put all of those thoughts on paper.
The thing I love the most about this is being able to then organise the thoughts after.
You can even use something like a gratitude journal to focus on all of the positive things in your life that you are grateful for and to help you to take control of your racing thoughts.
If you’re having trouble with where to start, one of the simple ways to get writing is to use journaling prompts. These can be an effective way to kick off the writing process.
4 – Have A Hot Shower
Oh the bliss of having hot water rush all over you and cleanse everything away.
Seriously, way better than meditation, right?
But you can’t get the same calming effect from having a rushed, lukewarm shower with kids screaming at you from the hall.
You need to actually take the time out to make this happen.
Make sure the kids are tended to, or you’ve got the house to yourself, eliminate distractions and focus on yourself.
Light some candles, diffuse some essential oil, pop on some soft music, and make the water as hot as you can stand and enjoy.
5 – Put A Cold Pack On Your Chest
Before you scroll past because you think I’m crazy, just hold up and hear me out.
This strategy comes from the idea of vagus nerve stimulation and it’s effect on being able to reduce anxiety.
Sound crazy? It’s true.
Your vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body and runs from your brain to all different organs.
It is also a key part of your parasympathetic nervous system (your ‘rest and digest’ system), which influences breathing, digestive function, and heart rate (see the connection there?).
Studies have shown that cold water exposure can help activate of your vagus nerve can help ‘reset’ your parasympathetic nervous system.
You can do this with cold water immersion, or by simply popping a cold pack on your chest.
What’s even more interesting is that regularly doing this helps increase the ‘tone’ of your vagus nerve and therefore help you to return back to a homeostatic state faster after a fight or flight stimulation.
I told you our bodies are amazing.
6 – Read A Book
Escapism is one of my favourite ways of dealing (or not dealing) with the stress in my life.
A good book can help you slow your mind and create calm.
Anything that helps you unwind, put your feet up and relax is going to be beneficial to reducing your stress and helping you calm yourself.
You can achieve the same with a good movie, but I feel there’s something more special about a book.
7 – Listen To Music
Music is incredibly powerful.
It can excite us, evoke emotions, empower us, make us happy and make us sad.
In an instant, it can take us back to memories of important times and it can totally change the way we are feeling.
Plug in some headphones and create a stellar playlist to help you calm and relax.
Bonus points for being able to lay down, close your eyes and relax or even head outside and laze under a tree.
8 – Exercise
Okay, I wasn’t going to include this on the list but the thing is, it really does work.
While the idea of exercise doesn’t exactly strike up images of ‘calm’, the endorphin high you get afterwards is enough to make you feel amazing.
Take your stress out on the treadmill, slam a medicine ball into the ground, or take a boxing class and punch out all of your stress and frustrations.
You’ll feel so good for it.
9 – Drop Your Shoulders & Breathe
When we hold our shoulders tightly and tense up, we restrict the flow of oxygen to our muscles – keeping them tense and ready to react.
Drop your shoulders all the way down and pull gently on your earlobes with each breath.
This will help you take full deep breaths that actually calm your mind, rather than short shallow breaths from being tense.
You can try box breathing which is an effective technique to help coach you through deep breathing whereby you breathe in to the count of four, hold to the count of four, breathe out to the count of four, and repeat this process four times.
Team these breathing exercises with progressive muscle relaxation and you have a healthy way to get to a beautiful and peaceful state of mind (that isn’t really meditation).
10 – Stretch
Stretching is a great physical activity that doesn’t require a lot of effort, but is an easy way to disrupt or thoughts, get out of our own heads, and quickly switch up our energy levels.
Stretch your feet, hands, arms, legs.
You can be really gentle with it or you can take a firm grip and stretch until you feel the burn in your muscles.
Either way, stretching is scientifically proven to lower stress hormones and improve mental clarity.
11 – Challenge Your Thoughts With Logic
If you’re anxious, it’s very likely that you are overthinking things.
Our brains like to fill in the blanks and try to predict what will happen which can cause us great anxiety when we imagine something bad happening or not working out.
Become aware of your thoughts and challenge them with logic.
The more logical and realistic your thoughts are, the faster you will calm down.
This is also part of the practices involved in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is used to help us take control over our thoughts.
The key to reducing stress and anxiety is not as complicated as it seems.
There are a variety of ways that you can calm your mind before, during or after stressful periods in your life – all without the use of meditation (or medication)!
These 11 simple things you can do now will help you reduce stress levels and live a happier, more fulfilling lifestyle where relaxation isn’t just an option but a way of life.