Lightening Your (Mental) Load
It was just one more to-do.
But that little addition to my mental list was like a tiny pour of coffee into an already full cup. The whole thing spilled over into my lap and created an immediate WHOA - SHIT! - TOO MUCH! response.
My stress was seemingly out of proportion in that moment.
But if anyone - myself included - could see the mind-clutter that was already there, the response would've made far more sense.
How many of us carry mental buckets of invisible weight that are on the verge of spilling over?
Let me try again. All of us. All of us carry buckets of invisible weight that are on the verge of spilling over.
And we could do ourselves a ton of good by paying attention to these buckets (our mind clutter) - and ideally, working to empty them a bit.
Let's start with a bit of awareness. What fills your buckets?
Perhaps it is one (or more) of these:
deadlines for work (and all that you need to do to make sure your part is done before that date)
activities for your children’s school (and what you need to bring, where they need to be and when, etc)
stress over weight / health (adding to the bucket each time you eat, pass a mirror, get naked to shower, etc)
societal governance + media stories (political decisions being made, ripple effects for you and others, desire or guilt over activism, etc)
financial (where money is going to come from, how much is in the bank, etc)
(I’m feeling heavy even typing all of this)
Spend a bit of time reflecting on what thoughts feel heavy right now and/or what thoughts seem to be on repeat day-after-day-after-day. And if that’s all that you get after reading this - insight into your own thoughts - that is enough. That is plenty. That awareness alone can spark a positive change.
If you’ve peeked inside the buckets and are wanting to do something about them….
Breathe. Remember - awareness, then breath. All of that weight is enough for you to carry, and adding an immediate stress of DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT simply adds more to the mental load. So breathe.
Once you’ve found your calm: Alongside full breathing, here are a few other practices I’ve found to help evaporate a bit of that thought-weight from my buckets:
Naming it. Sometimes, simply naming a thought I’ve been having lessens some of its pressure. For example, anxiety may arise over an uncompleted project. When I bring awareness to that, and name that one large, repetitive thought as lack of clarity on direction, I can spend time actually working on clarity (instead of charging forward with the project). This might mean doing my own work through flow-writing or asking someone for help to clarify the goals (see below).
Nature. There is a deep, universal, and almost immediate lightening effect of being surrounded by a healthy, natural environment. Try stepping outside, finding a relatively quiet space, and practice feeling your thoughts spill out into the sky above you with each exhale.
Ask for help. Women (and mothers in particular) tend to take on an overwhelming load of mental responsibility. (But men, we see you, and know you’ve got a lot going on in that mind of yours, too.) Sometimes, what it takes is asking someone else to do something to relieve a mental burden. Are your thoughts churning over an email not responded to? Reach out to the person this morning - ask again for their input. Do you look around and get a headache when seeing all of the clutter on the counters and in the sink? Ask your partner or your child to help out with a bit of clutter-clearing here and there. (It might not last, but it clears enough of the weight for you to move forward in the next moment. Breath by breath…)
Flow-write. This is basically dumping all of those thoughts from the buckets in your head and spilling them onto the paper (or computer screen). Grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and just write, write, write. Don’t stop writing until your mind feels empty. Many of those thoughts aren’t serving you, and releasing them onto the paper is a way of saying, “thanks - you can just live here now”.
Meditate. This is the ultimate strength-training for bucket-clearing. If you haven’t mediated before, you might be surprised to discover that sitting to meditate often isn’t the blissful, clear-mind practice that you’d expect it to be. (Oftentimes, it seems as though the volume of our thoughts are actually turned up during meditation. It’s actually that we are just tuning into the noise…recognizing the fullness of the buckets.) Meditation helps train your brain the way weight training or yoga trains your physical awareness and strength. It helps you learn how to be aware of your thoughts, and to creatively engage with them in order to create more stillness and less chaos. (More spacious buckets and less weight) (*there are many resources for beginning or re-starting a meditation practice - I use the Insight Timer app for time-tracking, but you can Google countless ways to do guided meditation, breath-focused meditation, even meditative walking)
Remember - awareness, breath, creative engagement. If it is feeling like too much to do something about it all right now, just breathe.
I know I’m not alone in feeling all of this mental weight, but I’m curious - what’s in your buckets? (Seriously, my husband seems to have a much lighter mind than I do and gets confused when I talk about this. Are you more like me…or like him?)