18 November 2011

My tips for quieting an overactive mind and achieving a sense of calm.

This post is for all of the overthinkers out there; those whose are bombarded with a seemingly unending stream of unconnected thoughts that traverse ever so swiftly through the universe that is our mind. The big challenge when it comes to calming an overactive mind is somehow not allowing the negative or fearful thoughts to have power over you; the type of power that manifests itself in the form of anxiety and physical discomfort. If you are reading this and interested in learning of my tips to try to ease your mind and benefit your emotional well-being, you probably have exhibited some of the symptoms that characterize anxiety. Chest tightness, rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, a sense of uneasiness or looming fear, are all example symptoms of anxiety.

Meditation is thought of as a prime technique to quiet the mind and to enable one to engage in the present and in effect, create peace and ease within one's mind and body. I have tried meditating in the past and although I only experimented with it for about a month, I grew frustrated as it wasn't having the impact that I thought it would. I was still experiencing anxiety. While I am far from having all of the answers to alleviating anxiety, having reflected on what I was doing during my meditation sessions and having done some unscientific research, I have uncovered some useful tips to ease the mind:

1) Be present: Think, hear, smell, feel, be. When your thoughts are racing and you feel your anxiety level rising, take a moment to listen to what is happening around you.

2) Turn off the radio/tv: This can be helpful when external stimuli is merely adding to to your anxiety. By turning off the radio/tv, you free up mental space and are more apt to conjure up solutions to problems that may plague you on either a subconscious or conscious level. Furthermore, not having superficial noise blaring in the background can help ground you in the present. When you are surrounded by quiet, you have no choice but to confront it, and I mean that in a good way.

3) Don't judge your thoughts: Don't pay attention to your thoughts, but don't actively ignore them either. It's a balancing act. The idea is to let your thoughts flow without "doing" anything.  This point is absolutely crucial for me. When I first learned about meditation, I was specifically told something to the effect of 'acknowledge the thought, and let it pass.' Taking this advice literally, impeded my ability to relax because I was trying so hard to notice and accept my thoughts. I made an effort not to suppress any particular thought. Unfortunately, the very act of trying not to suppress my thoughts contributed to more anxiety. I was doing too much rather than just letting my thoughts flow freely without unnecessary consideration. Exerting energy in terms of thinking is useful in certain situations. However, thinking in and of itself shouldn't be a task. It's not work. It's a natural, organic process. Thoughts don't require thoughts. Just something to think about, no pun intended.

4) Lower your expectations, or better yet, don't have expectations at all as far as your anxiety goes: Try not to criticize yourself if you are not progressing at the pace you would expect or prefer. Don't make comparisons between the past and the present, with regard to your progress or lack thereof. This correlates with tip #1.

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