Ever feel like you’re worrying about too many things at one time? You’re not alone if your brain feels like it’s constantly in overdrive. When you’re mentally stretched to the max, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, drained and stressed out.

Meditation, exercise, deep breathing or a trip to the spa might improve your state of mind for a while, but they don’t get to the root of the problem.

Your mind will work slower, you may become forgetful or more likely to make mistakes, and it’ll be hard to process information or compartmentalise issues. Everything will seem like one big “thing” and you may feel pressured. This can lead to confusion or even avoidance of an issue.

Two Singapore experts suggest eight helpful tips on
ridding yourself of all that mental clutter. Image: Corbis

“When our thoughts make us feel heavy, it’s a sign that something has to change,” says counsellor facilitator Elisabetta Franzoso. “Decluttering your mind has the same effect as decluttering your home – it leaves you lighter, calmer, and more peaceful. The more you let go of, the better, especially those thoughts that aren’t working for you.”

When these thoughts grow into worries, you will feel their emotional burden. Says psychologist Daniel Koh, “You may feel that you’re always chasing issues or trying to catch up with what is happening, and this can make it hard to concentrate and focus on anything effectively.”

Here are eight ways to rid your head of all the clutter, to make you feel lighter and clearer, and help you function more productively.

When your thoughts are all jumbled up, putting them on paper (or its electronic equivalent) makes it easier for you to see everything in black and white. You might even find that things aren’t as bad as you’d thought.

Elisabetta says: “Storing everything inside your head just builds up emotions, because with every thought is a corresponding emotion. If your thoughts are negative, then your emotions are often negative, too. Writing down your thoughts can simplify things and make you aware of what you need to prioritise.”

Before you start penning your thoughts, personal coach Agnes Lau suggests that you try the following:

  • Use different categories, so that it’s more effective to take action collectively, for example, To Call, To E-mail, To Buy, To Pay, To Collect, To Fix, To File, and so on.
  • Use just one sheet of paper so everything is in one place; keep this list in the same spot (your desk, your wallet, etc).
  • Prioritise your list and also include due dates.
  • Make revisions to the list, every now and then: Cross items off as you go along, and keep adding to them. The act of rewriting this sheet every now and then is a form of decluttering, reorganising, clearing and freeing the mind.”

It sounds simplistic, but the more you have on your plate, the more overcrowded your brain will feel, because you have more to think about. Look at what you have going on in your life right now. Would saying no to someone or something help relieve the mental burden? Perhaps you’ve agreed to take on some work for a colleague. This in turn, has given you 1,001 new things to think and worry about. Without this extra task, you might not feel as weighed down.

Why worry all by yourself? “When you voice your thoughts to someone else, they somehow become clearer, and through this, you may gain some insight into the issue that was on your mind,” says Daniel. Adds Elisabetta, “Talking to someone can help you get a different perspective. It is also calming as it helps to diffuse all that internalised emotional energy.”

Daniel says that prioritising your issues into different levels of importance will help you address the more pressing matters first, so you can stop thinking about them for the time being. Allocate enough time to each issue, according to its importance. This way, if you have to exert major brainpower, it will be on the issues that matter.

Does your mind keep replaying that argument you had with your spouse two weeks ago? Or perhaps you’re worried about something you think might happen. Gather and sift through all the random thoughts – you’ll see they’re not all productive and only add to your overall mental burden. Train yourself to only entertain thoughts that are worth your time and energy, and mentally erase the meaningless distractions.

To change your focus, Agnes encourages you to indulge in fun, creative activities that you enjoy. Whether it’s reading, dancing, getting a massage, cooking, drawing or just listening to music, enjoy the activity without trying to do anything else at the same time.

If your mind is always preoccupied with things you need to do but haven’t done yet, it’s time to move on. The faster you can check things off your mental To-Do list, the less you have to worry and think about.

If you’re procrastinating because you aren’t sure how to tackle a difficult issue, move away from it for a while and come back to it later. It could just be that you have been focusing on it too much and that has prevented you from coming up with a good solution. Think about the issue more positively if you find yourself procrastinating often. When your mind is in a positive state, you’ll find it easier to cope with issues and solve problems.

Learn how to make good decisions quickly instead of sitting on the fence, which will only leave the issue lingering in your head. Get into the habit of dealing with issues as they arise and give yourself deadlines to make your decision, so you don’t spend more time than necessary on a particular issue.

“Once your brain resolves an issue, it can move on to the next,” says Daniel. “But when no decision is made and no solution is found, the issue stays in your mind. This can influence how you view things or behave – failing to see a way out can even cause you to avoid issues that you have to confront.”

Elisabetta Franzoso is the managing director and principal facilitator from Inside Out You Coaching & Training. Visit www.insideoutyou.com for more information on the corporate training and personal coaching services offered by the company.

Daniel Koh is a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre; located at 20 Maxwell Road, #07-18e Maxwell House, S069113, tel: 9363 5815; opening hours 9am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays and 9am to 12 noon or Saturdays. For more information on the psychological and counselling services offered at the centre, email insightsMC@gmail.com or go to www.insightsmindcentre.com.sg.

Agnes Lau is a personal coach and consultant at Mind Transformations, a coaching and training consultancy for working professionals. Call 8186 7508 or email info@nlpsgasia.com for further enquiries.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer June 2011.