Stressed, Anxious, Frayed? 24 Simple, Effective Ways to Quiet Your Mind in 24 Hours or Less

Modern life fills our minds with a multitude of concerns, every hour of every day. And sometimes, those thoughts just won’t go away – nagging away, refusing to stop chattering, creating a wearying din inside our heads. Who wants to endure a long, draining day of that? Luckily, there are simple, proven ways to turn the volume down. (No pills, no tapes, no purchase required!)
Follow Your Breathing. "When the Breath wanders, the mind is unsteady", said someone wise. Spend the day following your breath, making it as deep and easy and comfortable as you can.

Relax Every Limb. Tension gets locked into all sorts of places you never think about, and if you’re tense, so are your thoughts. So spend a spare minute or two on each part of your body throughout the day, relaxing the muscles. You train your body to quiet, and since your mind is a part of your body…your mind calms, too.

Focus your attention. There’s a stone I found on the beach a few years back – it’s covered in a strange web of corroded metal, smooth to the touch. The almost fractal complexity holds my attention and fills my mind, driving out skittish thoughts. Yoga enthusiasts stare into a candle (or a similar soft light that won’t damage the eyes) for the same effect. Find your focal point.

Be Here Now. No, not the Britpop album – I mean make yourself aware of the present. Bring yourself back to it, every time your thoughts wander backwards or forwards in time. Use your five senses and focus on (and enjoy) what they’re telling you. The closer you can exist to the present, the less of a hold anxious worries and bad memories will have.

Image: John-Morgan
Listen to the world. I’m not advocating retiring to your room with a CD of whale-song (although that’s worth a try). Instead, focus your attention on the Great Outdoors – whether the lulling sound of traffic, the sussuration of the sea or the busy patter of rain. Sit with no aim in mind except to listen.

Eat harmonious food. Junk food spikes your energy levels and your mood, sending you up and down in the blink of an eye. It’s not designed to quiet you. Stick to slow-release whole foods and supercharging, brain-bolstering food.

Drink water. Lingering headache, inability to concentrate, lethargic lack of vim? You might be dehydrated. Lack of water does funny things to the mind – including messing up your sense of thirst.

Look Your Worries in The Face. Or at least glance at them out of the corner of your eye. The jittery state of your thoughts might be your subconscious telling you you’re ducking an important issue. Read Susan’s post for a few ways to identify what’s really on your mind.

Release Each Thought. This is a fun one. All those new thoughts zipping into your head? Acknowledge their arrival – and turn your back. You’ve already thought them, but don’t think on them. They’ll soon lose interest…and the hubbub will diminish, leaving you in peace. Difficult to master, but very powerful.

Gum. You heard me. Chewing gum slowly is a great way to discipline mind and body, and it stops you from getting lost in, and therefore swamped by, thought. Do it right, and it keeps you nicely in the Now.

Exercise. When I don’t get enough exercise, my thoughts get choppy – whitecaps everywhere. Exercise increases the oxygen and blood flow around your body, making it work better…and a side effect is that your thoughts flatten down and become manageable. (Remember to drink plenty of water!)

Image: ayumina
Pen to paper / fingers to keyboard. Ever have that thing where you can’t spell something, so you write different versions down and instantly you recognise the correct spelling? When we write, we tap into the subconscious, drawing deep from the well of our thoughts. It’s writing from the heart. If there’s something nagging at you and making you twitchy, writing it out might work better than trying to think your way round it.

Sleep long and deep. If you can’t rein your thoughts in, it’s possible you’re sleep-deprived. Go to bed earlier than normal – or power-nap.

Cut down on TV and the Internet. Amidst growing concern that the increasingly quickfire ‘MTV’ style of both television and much of the online world is shortening attention spans, you might want to give yourself a break here and there. For example, if you’re at work, walk away from your computer during tea-breaks.

Get Rid of Stuff. I suffer from materialism stress – in short, clutter makes me twitchy. What’s the point in having something when you never get round to using or appreciating it? That’s a burden. Unload it.

Get Out. Get away from your everyday context, with its endlessly distracting and pressing invasions on your peace of mind. The great thing about places you’ve never been is that you owe them nothing and they owe you nothing. Pure escapism. Even if it’s just a glass of wine at a cozy bar you’ve never been in or a walk along a stretch of beach you’ve never taken the time to stop at, try it and see.

Seek the Familiar. A corner of the garden. The album you never tire of. Your favourite smoothie mix. Maybe what you need is the comforting stability of somewhere or something that grounds you, something simple and beloved to anchor your thoughts, something so very you. Then again…

Seek Variety. Perhaps your brain is so flighty because it’s starved of fresh stimuli. We humans are hard-wired to enjoy novelty (hence the addiction of shopping) and we need to have our senses challenged. So read something way out of your normal pattern, or listen to a random selection of music (Musicovery is a great way to do this), or find a new way to walk home from work. Embrace stimulation.

Avoid Stimulation. No, I’m not contradicting myself. We’re talking drinks here – the sugary, the caffeine-laced, and especially those taurine-based energy drinks that have proved so popular with night-shifts workers. Drinking coffee or tea to steady your thoughts? It’ll work for half an hour – then they’ll be twice as addled. Stick to fruit tea or water.

Image: koller93
Laugh It Up. The joy of laughter is that it can completely command your attention. It takes your whole brain to laugh (that’s not a scientific statement, just my personal opinion). So pop in a DVD, grab a book, tune in to Minnesota Public Radio – anything that will raise the corners of your mouth. It’s the healthy thing to do. And speaking of which…

Sex. Lots of restless energy? Well then.

Be inspired. Just as there are reactive, nervy people who superficialy flit from thought to thought and talk a thousand words a minute, there are those whose words and demeanor are deeply calming and inspiring. You need to be around the second type of folk.

Do Chores. It’s the best time to get those nagging humdrum household tasks out the way – to really throw yourself into them, singlemindedly. Will it be dull? Oh, yes indeed. But you’ll be so fixated on how dull it is that everything else will be driven out your head. A bitter pill, but good medicine nontheless.

Think Big Thoughts. That deluge of little anxieties circling your mind like bugs around an outdoor light – there may be lots of them, but most are really small. So think the big, big things. What’s it all about? What do you really want? If it’s evening, wander outside and look up at the stars. By now, all those little worries should have dwindled to insignificance.

And now you can sit back – and enjoy the quiet within.

Main image: gutter

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.