Calming a Busy Mind
Our bodies and minds have evolved over thousands of years to endure stress. Whether that is a threatening predator, extreme temperatures, starvation, or dehydration, our bodies are prepared to handle stress when it arises in our environment. However, the stress that we as humans experience today is significantly different but it manifests itself through the same hormonal processes. Our minds are under stress from work, school, relationships, and the constant stream of information coming from our phones. Learning how to better manage the psychological stresses of daily living helps reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and helps to boost the effectiveness of treatments for these conditions.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to calm our busy minds such as breath work and physical exercise that stress our bodies-in good ways. These approaches can reduce symptoms of stress and bring us into better balance between our mind and body and between ourselves and the world around us.
Box breathing: This technique involves slowly breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 4 seconds, slowly exhaling for 4 seconds, and holding your breath for 4 seconds. Repeat 4 times or as many as needed. This technique is effective at work or while trying to go to sleep as the counting and physical sensation of holding your breath helps retain focus.
Wim Hof breathing: Wim Hof has released many youtube videos and an app called “Wim Hof Method” where he has a guided breathing portion of the app. Breathe deeply in and out 10-30 times without pausing in between breaths, then breathe out and hold your breath until you feel the need to breathe again. With highly oxygenated blood, you can go 30 seconds up to 3 minutes or longer holding your breath depending on how many deep breaths you took. Next, inhale deeply and hold for 15 seconds. Breathe out and repeat this process as many times as needed, typically 3 or 4 times. This technique can be very effective at keeping your busy mind in the moment because of the physical sensations associated with it.
Cold Showers: This is another pillar of the “Wim Hof Method” and is good stress for the body. You can begin with a warm shower and slowly turn down the temperature and begin deep breathing to focus your mind and prevent the gasp response to cold water. Try to stay in the cold shower for 30 seconds – 2 minutes and work up to colder temperatures as this increases the benefit. You will likely feel less tense and anxious throughout the day because of the chemicals naturally released in your body during the cold exposure.
Exercise/stretching: Exercise is another form of good stress on the body that can leave you calm and relaxed especially after a challenging work out. All kinds of exercise are valuable including walking or even just stretching for those beginning to develop interest in exercise. Stretching puts small amounts of good stress on the muscles which can release muscle tension built up throughout the day.
Diet: Any changes to diet can be challenging at first but become more sustainable if you keep it up. Eating and drinking less sugar is useful in reducing anxiety as well as keeping heart rate and blood pressure stable. Consuming less caffeine is also important in general and limiting it to the morning because caffeine consumption after noon can interrupt sleep. Increasing vegetable intake can replenish vitamins and nutrients that many people are deficient in and replacing meats and carbohydrates with vegetables improves many other aspects of health.
Hiking/nature exposure: Being in sunlight and nature is where humans have evolved and lived before the development of modern civilization. Try to spend at least 30 minutes per day outside away from the stresses of modern life. Going to a quiet spot surrounded by trees and breathing deeply can be very effective at grounding your mind in the moment.
Depression is commonly referred to as a chemical imbalance in the brain which can be corrected by medication and other forms of treatments such as TMS. These treatments help many people and need to be utilized when mental illness becomes overwhelming. Along with seeking out medical treatment, doing the activities listed above can empower you to feel in control of your emotions and help with your recovery from depression and anxiety. Start by adding one activity at a time to your daily routine until you can do it consistently and then add another. The road to recovery from mental illness is challenging and full of bumps along the way, but it is possible with treatment and some of the approaches suggested here can play a critical role in your recovery.