Mental decluttering: Dealing with the overwhelm

The bliss of a decluttered mind

As I was on the way home the other day, I was feeling worn out from a week’s worth of hustle and fatigue. Luckily for me, I was blessed with the silence and emptiness of the train on my long ride home. It was already dark out. As usual, I ended up scrolling through the endless feed of my multiple social media accounts, refreshing it time and again, catching up with the latest updates from everyone I follow — and not really feeling the better for it.

I’m not talking about learning to unplug, though, at least not entirely. I’m talking about learning to be still in the busyness of today’s world. It sounds simple, but it sure isn’t. Have you ever felt like you’re working so hard for something that people will forget about after you’ve basked for a whole 5 seconds in the spotlight? Or like you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious by the smallest of things, even like attending a gathering of friends? The increasing weight on our shoulders can often manipulate and amplify our negative thoughts and emotions. How then can we stay sane when we’re reaching our breaking point? The answer is in learning how to mentally declutter.

Before you start to declutter your mind, here are some preparatory steps that will enable you to mentally declutter effectively.

Step 1: Unplug

Turn off your phone, leave it in another room, or pass it to another person for safekeeping. Whatever you do, ensure that random notifications on a suddenly lit screen will not distract you.

Step 2: Isolate yourself

Ensure that you’re alone. Lock yourself in a room, go to the library, hop on an empty train, or even go to a nearby park. Find a place that works for you, where no one can disturb you and you can keep from finding distractions for yourself.

Step 3: Let your mind flow

Now, different people have different ways of doing this. Some like to write down their thoughts, others prefer to go for a run. There is no cookie-cutter method to decluttering our minds. But the key is always to accept stillness (yes, paradoxically even when running). When we learn to be still, we give time for our minds to settle, for our thoughts to clear up. For me, I prefer to practice at night when the world is asleep. There’s something about the silence of the night and the freshness of the air that helps me be still and really focus on my surroundings. It helps me notice little things like the sound of trees rustling or orange glow of the street lights. This might sound ridiculous and a waste of time, but it truly helps me to learn to appreciate the little things in everyday life. Sometimes, all it takes is the deliberate attempt to slow down, and to be consciously present in the moment that helps us breathe and settle our anxious hearts.

But settling our hearts is just the first step. Ultimately, our minds are still in a mess. What really clears our minds is to go through each thought, item by item, just like we go through paperwork and sort them into files. You can start off by identifying what you are worrying about. Too much work to do? Write it all down – your work, your chores, your appointments, your commitments, things you wish to do. Everything, just write it all down. If this is your main source of panic and overwhelm, then prioritise. Avoid ranking everything on the list all at once. Just pick the top 3 and rank them according to importance. And once you’re done, pick your next three. Managing work in bite-sized portions can help us to be more productive and effective in clearing our responsibilities. On the other hand, if your mental stress is human induced: perhaps a fight with a loved one, or conflicts and misunderstandings with your peers, it always helps to write it down. Or if writing isn’t your thing, then simply think about it objectively. Were you being unreasonable? Could there be some unspoken misunderstanding that triggered the unpleasantness?

It is impossible for me to know all the problems that you might be facing and how to solve it. And that’s not what I’m trying to do. Often, when we learn to clear our minds, it helps us think objectively. And once we can remove the Self (and its attendant baggage) from the equation, it becomes easier for us to manage the problem. And that is the point I’m trying to make.

Before returning to the Subjective world, get yourself freshened up. Drink some water, take a cat nap. Better yet, take a cold or hot shower. You’d be surprised at how a mere shower can influence your state of mind – a cold shower wakes it up, while a hot shower relaxes it. Make sure that your body is well taken care of. After all, we often fail to realise that sometimes things look worse than they are simply because we are just too exhausted to take action and do something about it.

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