You’ve done your spring cleaning to clear all the cobwebs from your living space, so why not do the same thing for your overworked brain? Unless you live under a rock, it’s tough to avoid mental clutter completely. But having too much weighing on your mind can make it hard to focus. Not to mention how it leaves you feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed.
The good news is that you don’t need to head off to a weekend retreat in the woods or spend hours meditating to give your brain a break. Even simple exercises can help you clear your cranium and get you back to baseline — and they only take a few minutes. Here are eight simple and effective ones that you can try anytime at all. (Ahem, how about right now?)
1. Take a Screen Break
Even if you’re working, there’s a good chance you’re simultaneously texting your friend and scrolling through your social feeds. But spending too much time on multiple devices impairs your ability to get work done by splitting your attention in too many directions.
Taking a daylong digital detox might be ideal. But even a few minutes away from your screens can help you reground yourself (and save your eyes) as long as you do it consciously. “Don’t be productive or plan the next thing to do,” says Nicole Porter, Ph.D., founder of Prairie Sky Sanctuary. “To be present in the moment, don’t do anything. Or look around, feel the air, listen or watch the clouds move or the birds fly. It’s time well spent.”
2. Do a Mini Workout
It’s no secret that being active can boost your mood. But it can also help clear your mind. “It momentarily increases your heart rate and blood pressure, which communicates to your body that your attention needs to be present-focused,” says Ryan Hooper, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychology at the University of Chicago Illinois. Basically, it’s hard to get caught up in your to-do list when you’re counting out burpees.
But you don’t need to spend an hour sweating it out at the gym to reap the benefits. A 2018 study published in Neuropsychologia found that even 10 minutes of brisk movement, such as fast walking, can have a positive effect on your ability to get work done.
Read more: 14 Exercises to Offset Sitting All Day
3. Try a Head-Clearing Visualization
To transform your mind into a clean, open space, try picturing it that way. “By visualizing intrusive thoughts being cleansed away, we begin to experience a blank-slate effect,” says licensed psychotherapist Eliza Bouqin. Essentially, you’re taking back conscious control of your mind rather than letting it run wild with all your stressors.
Start by sitting comfortably in a chair with both of your feet on the ground. Envision a bright, white light shooting downward from the crown of your head through your body until it reaches your feet. “Imagine, see or sense that light traveling down slowly... washing away any negativity or thoughts you want to release,” she says. When you open your eyes, tell yourself that the clutter is gone and you can now focus on the work in front of you.
4. Thank Yourself
Practicing self-kindness could go a long way toward boosting your mood, according to a 2018 study published in PLOS ONE. “A detoxed mind is clean of self-hatred and low self-esteem,” Porter says. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious by all the stuff you have to do, pause for a minute for a little bit of self-gratitude. Think about one good thing you’ve already accomplished that day, such as exercising before work or giving up your train seat to someone who looked like they needed it more. Now give yourself a pat on the back for making it happen. Focusing on the good can help clear your mind of the bad.
Read more: 10 Ways to Learn to Love Yourself More
5. Hug It Out
There’s a reason why hugs make us feel so good. Physical contact triggers the release of oxytocin, the hormone that promotes feelings of love and closeness. “Humans are wired for connection, and a welcomed hug gives us a sense of feeling connected. It tells our brain that everything is OK,” licensed psychotherapist Eliza Bouqin says.
The key is to really let yourself get into it. Go for a big bear hug, letting yourself absorb that feeling of closeness. “Making sure we’re not rushing through the hug is important, because it allows our bodies to pause and receive the message that something pleasurable is happening,” Bouqin says. When you pull back, you’ll have all those happy hormones running through you, which should leave you feeling reenergized and reinvigorated.
6. Take a Chocolate Break
Next time your chattering brain triggers the urge to “stress snack,” help yourself to a piece of chocolate. The dark stuff is loaded with polyphenols that a 2017 Italian study found triggers the release of feel-good endorphins that seem to promote a soothing effect. For the biggest benefits, pick chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cacao, so you get more of the good stuff and less added sugar. And stick to a one-ounce serving to keep the calories in check.
Read more: The 12 Best “Clean” Dark Chocolate Bars
7. Step Outside
Even a few minutes of fresh air can do you a whole lot of good. “Getting out into the natural light can improve focus and clarity and recharge your battery, allowing you to be in a clearer headspace when you return to the office,” says psychotherapist Allison Abrams. The simple change of scenery makes a difference too. “Our environment plays an important role in our moods,” Abrams says. “So if you find yourself spending many hours inside at work or at home, switching up your surroundings can give you a boost.” Bonus points if you’re doing something physically active (see No. 2 on this list).
Read more: What Is Forest Bathing and How Do You Do It?
8. Do a Brain Dump
Next time ideas or to-dos keep popping into your head, try writing them down. You’ll feel less overwhelmed — and more organized — when you’re not trying to hold all that clutter in your head, says licensed professional counselor Michele Moore.
If there’s too much stuff to deal with all at once, pick a time when you can deal with it later on. And until then? Focus your attention on just one thing at a time. “We try our best to mentally multitask, but we can be more mentally productive by allowing our focus to dwell on one thing only,” Moore says. Sure, it sounds simple. But just see if it doesn’t help you feel a whole lot calmer.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you feeling stressed by mental clutter? What do you do to de-stress and clear your mind? Were any of the suggestions listed here helpful? Are there others you would add to the list? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!