How To Calm Mind & Lower Stress
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Chasing The Calm Mind
“Stop the world, I want to get off!”
It’s funny because it’s true, for many if not most of us.
Too much of the time it feels like we are pedalling in the proverbial hamster wheel. Everything is in a state of churn—our work, our home, our family, our finances, and especially, our minds.
A churning mind is due in part of course to stressful situations, but the effects are circular.
All the non-stop thinking adds to our stress, so the worse it gets, the worse it gets.
What makes it even more bizarre is that all this over-thinking is often like a maddening loop of repetition—we play the same stuff over and over and over.
Just imagine for a moment if your internal thoughts were played out over a loud speaker… how crazy would you sound?
You’d sound insane a large amount of the time.
Thankfully this is not so, but worryingly just because they’re not played out for others to hear doesn’t mean they’re any less insane.
And the purpose of this article is to help you break this maddening cycle of the monkey mind, learn to regain a sense of calm and find the calm mind that you’re seeking.
The Monkey Mind
If it’s the first time you’ve heard of it then the idea of a monkey mind may sound comical. But the monkey mind is a concept that Zen Buddhists refer to as “having too many thoughts; being restless and confused.”
Buddhists liken the over-active human mind to a drunk monkey, who flings around jumping from tree to tree, chasing distractions that cause them to jump to the next branch and the next non-stop.
A monkey mind simply means having so much mind chatter that a person cannot be fully present in what they’re doing.
And instead of being present, they’re perpetually distracted by the barrage of their thoughts.
A Barrage Of Thoughts
Thousands of thoughts run through our minds daily and is something that each of us wrestles with.
We go through the motions of life—living it, doing our work, running errands, and simply doing a lot.
We are everywhere but nowhere at the same time. The result is that we are beyond stressed, physically and mentally fatigued and simply too tired to give our best to the things we care about.
Life, it seems, just passes us by. And before we know it we’re in a twilight years wondering where it all went.
It’s certainly regrettable, and despite all the modern advancements of our day, we haven’t mastered the apparently simple technique of being present in the world—the technique that enables us to fully experience life as we could and should.
Living In The Moment
When we are able to live in the moment we are able to appreciate life for the richness that it has.
Some of the benefits of having a calm mind:
A clearer focus to do the things that matter to us
Greater efficiency at our jobs
Being able to empathise and understand others better
The ability to communicate our thoughts in a clear manner
Getting sound sleep and rest every night
Being more relaxed and less frantic
Being a joyful presence to the people around us
More inner strength and confidence.
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But how do we get this calm mind? How do we quieten the monkey mind?
Ways To Calm Mind
Here are a few ways to calm mind and keep it quiet, even amidst a world buzzing with noise and distractions.
Start By Breathing Deeply
Breathing is a very important aspect of not only our physical health, but it has near-instant impacts on our mental and emotional states as well.
However, because it’s automatic we mostly just take it for granted, and this negates its benefits because it’s the way we breathe that matters.
We’re not predisposed to breathing deeply, but it’s the way we should breathe if we’re looking for the benefits.
Breathing deeply is also the fastest way to the calm mind, to release stress, and to relax both the mind and body.
To see if you breathe deeply, place your hand just above your stomach and take a breath. Can you feel your hand rise? If so, well done!
If not, try again.
Listen To Music On Your Own
Music is an effective tool for releasing stress and tension, and we all know this intuitively as listening to music can affect our emotions.
Music is also a great distraction from listening to our mental chatter.
When turning to music for relaxation, the key is listening to something you enjoy on your own—just because you want to relax doesn’t mean other people around you do.
Meditate and Relax
Meditation is an excellent way to relax and surely one of the best methods of unloading any mental burden.
Meditation will not suppress thoughts, but instead (over time) give you the ability to notice your thoughts, which will allow you to let them go.
It allows you to notice passing thoughts that you’d otherwise miss, and the result is that it can give you a clearer, calmer mind (as well as a better perspective on things).
Exercise and Improve Your Hormones
Exercise is also a great way of releasing stress and making you feel better.
Exercise is also notable for improving your sleep, which, if you’re sleep deprived, will make you feel much better as well.
Even a simple 5-minute aerobic exercise will help you feel calmer.
Enjoying the Outdoors and Getting in Touch with Nature
Reduces risk of premature death, cardio vascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The sounds of nature and being in a ‘green’ environment also relaxes and quietens the mind.
Do Something Creative or Choose a Relaxing Hobby
Distract yourself from overthinking by engaging in a creative activity you enjoy.
Don’t do something that will make you feel more stressed. Doing something creative is a great break for your brain as it allows you to shift focus towards something healthy and positive.
Allow your inner child to discover new things and relieve stress naturally.
Take a Break or Vacation
Everyone needs to take a break, no matter how truly engaged or passionate you are with your day to day life.
Taking a vacation recharges your mental energies and allows you to “reboot your bio-computer”.
Take regular breaks and holidays if you can. You’ll come back more focused, clear-headed, and better able to take on the world with new dreams and goals!
I think it was Virginia Satir who once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
Hugging someone is an instant pick me up, due most likely to the release of oxytocin (the so called ‘love hormone’), but it’s also been shown to help strengthen the immune system.
Oxytocin stimulates feelings of love, happiness, and overall wellbeing. Hugs can soothe your tired and anxious mind, release stress, and instantly boost your happiness.
Hug your loved ones more often.
How To Calm Mind During Stressful Times
Some people love chaos and drama. They yearn for the adrenaline rush, and being in the middle of hustle and bustle makes them feel alive and gives them a sense of purpose.
But even if you are one of these people, at some point the churn will get too much to bear and you will want some peace and serenity.
Here are some ways to achieve the calm mind amid stressful times. Each one will help, but the positive effects multiply when more than one is used.
Start Your Day Right
The idea here is not literally about avoiding getting up on, say, the left side of the bed because it’s bad luck. It’s about starting your day right.
So, if you’ve been stressed lately, it’s time to evaluate your morning routine.
Are you always hitting the snooze button of your alarm, only to find out you’ve been snoozing it five times and now you’re running late?
It feels nice to have more shut-eye in the morning, but what will actually keep you calmer is waking up earlier so you’ll have more time for yourself.
More time to yourself allows you to set your mood and kick off your day. And it doesn’t need to be much.
Something as little as an extra 15 minutes can go a long way.
You can do a five-minute morning meditation, plus a ten-minute stretching or workout.
Then, you can make your coffee and eat your breakfast.
Stop rushing in the morning, and you’ll find yourself feeling calmer and more prepared instead of pressured.
Touch Base With Yourself
There’s just so much chaos, pressure, and things to do in life. There’s errands to run and deadlines to meet. The list goes on and on.
But we forget to check what’s happening within us.
If you want to feel calm and a sense of serenity, you must touch base with yourself first. That is, remember yourself.
Be conscious of what’s going on within you; your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions, and your actions.
Doing so will remind you of where you are standing so you can slow down consciously.
Get Some Sleep
Lack of sleep will certainly make most of us more stressed than we already are.
Getting sufficient sleep will underpin your efforts to keep your sense of balance and manage your stress.
You don’t have to go at it all by yourself.
When stress eats up your peace of mind, getting another perspective usually helps. In fact, confiding in someone you trust can very easily provide a sense of relief, calm, and moral and emotional support, so turn to a friend if you can.
Also, some catharsis could immediately unburden you of the extra load you’re carrying.
Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing meditation can’t do, but so many people give up at the thought of meditation, especially if they are doing it for the very first time.
It is a practice that grows much easier with practice, to the point it can be almost automatic.
To start making meditation work effectively in your life, you simply need to do it.
While it’s important to recognise your emotions and feelings, you must not dwell on the negative for too long.
Cry it out, if you must, but when you’re done, wipe your tears and get up.
Work on finding solutions to problems.
How To Calm Mind In Stressful Situations
Akin to stressful times are stressful situations, and it’s important to learn the art of keeping a calm mind amidst stressful situations and not to be taken over by them (often due to heightened emotions, especially when something goes wrong).
And this is more than simply not losing your temper.
Observe Your Triggers and Responses
The first step to stopping is know what starts us.
There are many things we can’t control, and trying to control them can cause stress.
A simple example here is a negative comment about yourself. When you hear or read someone commenting negatively about you, do you jump in anger and lash out? Do you feel worthless upon receiving a criticism?
To gain serenity, you must stop yourself from reacting right away.
Sit back and observe your feelings and triggers before you react. In fact, as the saying goes, it’s better to respond than to react.
Remember that you cannot control many things, including what other people are thinking about you.
However, you can certainly control your response, and because this is an area you can control, focus your efforts there.
Make a commitment to stop stressing out about the things you can’t control.
Take a Step Back
If you can afford to step back from the moment, do it.
Unless it’s an emergency that needs to be attended to right away, you can always take a figurative step back, take a big deep breath and view things as objectively as possible.
An arms-length view can provide a clearer perspective, and taking a breather can be effective in getting you to make better decisions.
Take a pause when you can. It usually helps greatly.
Reframe The Situation
What might stress some people out easily could be fairly normal to you, or what could easily stress you out is quite normal to most others. And this is why stress can be very subjective.
How you perceive an event has a much bigger impact on your stress than the situation itself. And your perception of things is the essence of effective stress management.
Learn to reframe stressful situations into something positive.
For example, change the idea of “getting up earlier is a pain I don’t like it” into “I’m getting up earlier to give myself a bit of extra time, which has the knock-on effect of lowering my daily stress and making me feel happier”.
By seeing things in a different, generally positive, light, usually gives us the freedom and power to choose our own mindful response.
Reframing situations can provide an instant sense of calmness.
Cope with Some Humour
Levity towards life is something that most of us could do with more of.
Try to see if the stressful situation can get some help from humour or a joke.
Of course, humour isn’t appropriate all the time, but there are instances when being humourous can completely turn tense moments around.
Moreover, the people around you will equally benefit from it. Share a laugh or two and see how instantly stress dissipates.
Turn To A Positive Distraction
Not all distractions are created equal.
There are positive distractions, and in times of stress these are things that we can turn to for healthy coping.
Do something that instantly lights you up and make you forget the tense situation that’s right in front of you.
That said, make sure your distraction is not something that will cause more problems.
Don’t let your stress become an excuse for poor choices.
Using drugs or alcohol to dull your feelings isn’t a solution. Even ‘good’ choices aren’t so good if they become addictive to a point where they negatively affect other areas of your life.
If your distractions are keeping you from doing what needs to be done then it’s not a good distraction as it will compound your problems and your stress.
Human are not robots. Sometimes we need to pull back and recognise that continuous, frenetic behaviours and thinking patterns can often work against not only our health and well-being, but also block our success in many ways.
Achieving and maintaining the calm mind in the face of daily pressures is not easy. But it can be done, and it’s a skill. This means that, like any skill, it can be learned and developed.
Practice calming your mind as a means to self-care, for boosting creativity, and of course, for increasing your health and happiness.