You know when you just can’t turn your brain off? You can’t go to sleep because you have too much on your mind, your brain is ruminating and
spinning on the hamster wheel, and it’s making sleep impossible. Or you get fixated on thoughts that feel unhelpful, going over the same mental territory over and over. You could notice your mind running away at any point — when you want to relax with your child but you don’t feel present because you can’t stop thinking about what your boss said about you being late.
Here are a couple examples I came across this week around racing thoughts interfering with day to day activities. The issue tends to arise when the mind obsesses and keeps pulling you back to a problem or focus that you don’t have the bandwidth or energy to focus on at the moment.
- My husband leaned over his coffee on the table at the café with a pregnant pause. And he asked me, “How do I flip the switch? I’m so fixated on getting a new job and finding the next thing to get me out of where I am that I can’t stop thinking about it, especially at night.”
- A patient explained to me as she’s hunched over, cradling her body, how she’s struggling with her mental health. She is acutely aware of how being unable to “just stop it [the thoughts]” is keeping her from savoring all of the beautiful things in her life she has worked so hard for, starting with connecting with her husband.
Any time your brain is working on solving a problem in the background of your day to day life without your conscious consent or you feel like you’re unable to turn it off, the problem you’re experiencing is that you’re trying to solve a complex problem at the mental level only.
What do I mean by that?
Your mind is just trying to do its job. AND we’re multifaceted people. We are mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual beings, and so while having a strong mind is generally an asset and absolutely essential to function in the world and our culture, when you rely exclusively on your mind to solve problems, your brain can go into overdrive. Anytime you are over-relying on a strength, it can be a deficit. A good start to bringing yourself back into harmony would be by discharging some of that excessive mental energy.
While there are 100’s of ways you could bring yourself back into better balance from talking to a friend to gardening to meditating to exercising, I find that when I am really stuck in my head, it can be helpful to discharge some of mental “build up” that causes your mind to loop in unhelpful ways through writing.
Writing can be the perfect tool to externalize and move through and past some of the triggering thoughts and emotions that are feeling hard to let go of. So the next time your brain won’t stop when you want to relax, here are 3 helpful exercises you can try to help release the thoughts and feel better.
3 Writing Tools to Clear the Mind
Brain Dump/Free Write
This is my favorite writing exercise for when my mind is full. All you do is set a timer for as long as you’d like, 10–15 is ideal to start. And you commit to write continuously for that entire time, whatever comes up into your head. You can type and not stop, or you can write and don’t pick up the pen. Don’t hold back and don’t pause to edit yourself as you go. Ignore any kind of mistakes or grammar issues. The point is to literally just give yourself the time and space to get out whatever is going on in your mind, body, heart, and world. I learned this is 3rd grade and still use it to this day whenever my mind feels full.
Journaling Questions: What am I feeling? What do I need? What would I love?
This exercise can help you get in touch with your emotions and what you need at this moment. Again, set a timer for 10–20 minutes. And answer these 3 questions: What am I feeling? What do I need? What would I love? Go relatively fast. You can stop to consider, but try to keep writing. This exercise comes from Jacob Nordby’s book, The Creative Cure.
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) Writing to Clear Triggers
This exercise is great to use anytime you’re feeling really strong negative emotions around a specific issue. CBT stands for cognitive behavioral therapy, a common way of dealing with and potentially even modifying unhelpful thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in your life. CBT requires a bit of an explanation to use, so you can find an overview of it here. But basically, when something triggers, bothers or upsets you, you use this technique. You write down the triggering event and a simple sentence for each thought and feeling around it. You read back over the thoughts and feelings to consider whether they are actually true (T), false (F), or you just don’t know (DK) and label them as such. Then you can answer the questions at the end about who you want to be and what you want to do next to help you move forward. Here’s the formula:
What do you want to do?
Pick whichever one resonates with you the most depending on what’s been going on for you and try one out. You may be surprised how easily you can shift your thoughts from messy and feeling out of control to feeling calmer and more at peace with yourself.
I’m Jayne Anne Ammar, a Houston-based board certified Health & Wellness Coach.
My path to becoming a coach and writer was rooted in my own personal health struggles and healing journey. This space is meant to help you to nourish, heal, and reconnect with your own healing wisdom.
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