Have you ever had one of those moments where you just can’t get your mind to shut up or off, no matter what you try?
We’ve all been there, whether it’s the buzz of anxiety over everything or nothing, or the highlight reel of all the embarrassing things you did all day playing on repeat as you try to sleep, sometimes it just feels impossible to relax your mind.
I’m familiar with the feeling; my mind is constantly going.
When I’m not overthinking a situation, having anxious thoughts, or overanalyzing everything then my mind is making up stories that never end - seriously, down to imaginary story plots with protagonists and all.
My mind never stops - until I take action to relax it, and you can do it too.
Here’s how to relax your mind:
1. Get Outside
Whether it's wandering, anxious, or irrational thoughts, or a combination of the three, spending some time in nature is one of the best ways to clear your mind.
Nature works to relax your mind in many ways. Some a bit complex, like how spending time in nature reduces the activity in the prefrontal cortex; the part of the brain that becomes activated during rumination (repetitive negative thoughts).
Nature also works in more simple ways, with research showing that being able to focus on greenery like trees or lush landscapes helps distract the mind from negative thinking, allowing it to become calmer and worry-free.
If you catch yourself needing to relax your mind, but you can’t get outside right at that moment, then bring some nature to you. While spending time in the great outdoors will be more effective, listening to nature sounds or even looking at images of nature can help relax your mind.
2. Write it Out
Sometimes our mind wanders and races with thoughts because we haven’t taken the time to process them, or at least get them out of our mind.
In her book the Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron made famous the concept of morning pages, which is the idea of starting your day by completing three pages of conscious writing.
The central premise is that you don’t put much thought into this writing, you just write down everything that comes to mind - as it comes to mind, with the notion that no one else will ever read your words as motivation to be completely real.
This writing is supposed to lead to clarity, among other things, and a quick Google search of countless people saying that this practice has changed their lives says something about how well it works.
Productivity expert David Allen also advocates for the power of writing for clearing the mind. His idea is a brain dump, where you empty your crowded mind by writing down every single task you have to take care of.
While these writing prompts are great, you don’t have to write in any specific way to relax your mind.
When you need to relax your mind, simply grab a pen and paper (or a digital format) and write it out until things are clearer.
3. Use a Mindful Mantra
Yesterday, I sat on the back of a motorbike as my boyfriend drove down winding, bumpy roads, with steep hills, and risky drivers.
We’re in Bali and traffic laws and regulations are seemingly obsolete, meaning people drive the wrong direction down roads, pass through red lights like it’s the norm, and hop onto the sidewalk to get around you.
We had an hour to go, and my mind was psyching me out, I was flooded with thoughts of everything that could go wrong.
Then I thought of something I had seen on Instagram earlier; someone had posted saying the next time you think of something going wrong, immediately think of the opposite possibility and create a mantra out of it.
So I held on tight and started repeating over and over again, out loud “we are going to get to Canggu safely.” Now I’m not saying that we got to Canggu safely because of this mantra (or maybe we did, who knows?), but as I repeated it I instantly felt safer, and my mind immediately felt calmer.
But you don’t have to take my word for it; research shows that repeating a single word or saying reduces activity (deactivation) across the brain, specifically in the default mode network (the system responsible for self-judgment and self-reflection).
So in simple terms, the repetition of a mantra helps stop internal thoughts.
4. Listen to Music
You know how when your favorite song comes on, you’re instantly in a better mood? Or how that specific workout playlist helps you completely crush it at the gym? Well, music can have that same impact on relaxing your mind.
Research shows that listening to music can alter brain waves, and slow rhythmic/instrumental music can help reach a relaxed mindset.
And if you want to listen to something other than music, tuning into a guided meditation or even a podcast can help relax your mind too.
Meditation has immense benefits, one of them being the incredibly calming effect on the mind, but yet so many people miss out on it.
Well, because it’s hard. It might seem like sitting and doing what appears like nothing should be super easy, but successfully meditating is a challenge.
So people try it a couple of times, decide it’s ineffective and drop it. Instead, try some meditation methods that are better for beginners.
Hold off on trying to meditate on your own if it’s not working and instead listen to guided meditations - and test out a few until you find the right one for you.
Or take a meditation class; the first time I ever successfully meditated was when I attended a gong bath at a local yoga studio, and trust me, I tried a lot before that.
Once you get the hang of it, meditation becomes a quick fix to relax your mind, and the best part is you don’t need much other than yourself and a comfortable, quiet spot.
If meditation isn’t your thing, then work on how to relax your mind by focusing on practicing some breathwork or pranayama. Intentionally changing your breathing or even just focusing on it can completely change the brain.
So next time you can’t stand the racing thoughts or wandering ideas, or you just want to relax, try to bring your attention to your breath. My favorite is extending my exhales, so they are longer than my inhales, even if only by one count.
This type of breathing is effective because while inhalation stimulates the sympathetic system, exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic system; the rest and reset component of the nervous system.
7. Get Your Move On
There’s no arguing the seemingly endless benefits of exercise, and one of them is clearing the mind.
Getting some movement into your day, no matter how light releases endorphins, which means that you feel less stressed and less bogged down by sad, depressing, or uncomfortable thoughts. So movement leads to a more relaxed mind and body, even after you stop.
You don’t have to fit in a full-on gym session to relax your mind either, a walk or a quick yoga flow can do the trick.
What’s your favorite way to relax your mind? Share it below!