As a busy, adult human, your head contains swirling vortex of to-do lists, schedules, friend requests, news updates, grocery lists, party invites, and personal concerns. As a working parent, your head also has a high-pressure system of everything from nap schedules and nutrition guidelines to daycare closures and general work-stress. When these two storm systems combine, it can feel nearly impossible to clear your mind of tasks and negative thoughts and simply feel more present and engaged with your family.
White-knuckling through racing thoughts and mounting stress isn’t the answer. Balance and self-care are essential, but it’s also important to have ways can find clarity and inner peace in the moment. That’s where good routines help. And why it’s essential to have brain exercises. To help you clear your mind, we spoke to a handful of therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists who offered a variety of tips , from CBT-based grounding exercises and breathing routines to help you Marie Kondo your swirling thoughts.
Set Firm Boundaries With Your Phone
That thing in your pocket that constantly buzzes with news updates, calendar notifications, calls, texts, Twitter must-reads, and slack threads while also allowing you to look up any information ever? It’s a big reason why your brain is so cluttered. If you want to clear your mind, you need to set technology-free time so you can live outside the matrix for a while. “Making a point to put cell phones and computers away during designated family time can help avoid distractions and ‘clutter,’ says Becky Stuempfig, LMFT. Maybe this is a technology drawer where everyone puts their devices for an hour. Maybe it’s a no-phones-at-night house rule that everyone follows. Whatever the case, regular periods of unplugging and connecting with your family does wonders for clearing your mind.
Have a Weekly Calendar Review Session
Uncertainty is a surefire way to clog your brain with questions and concerns. Clear the constant chatter by sitting down with your partner at the start of the week to go over your schedule, says Emily Souder, MA, MSW, LCSW-C. Who’s doing what? When do you need to be where? By returning to the to-do list or calendar you mapped out on Sunday, you can remind yourself of what you absolutely must do — and what you’ve already gotten done.
Take a Moment to Notice the Small Things
Cluttered minds are constantly thinking about what’s next. This makes existing in the present difficult. The small pleasures in life get lost to the major stresses of getting through the day. But just by noticing the smallest physical sensations can help you feel grounded and quiet your mind. “Take some time to notice sensations while you’re cooking — like the smell of garlic, the sizzle of the pan, or the way the water feels on your hands as you wash them,” says Jen O’Rourke, MA, MFT, RPT. “These small grounding activities will help you be more present and connected to the things that matter in your life.”
Make Eye Contact With Others
When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the number of tasks swirling around your mind, take a deep breath, look in your someone’s eyes, and breathe out. “Even a small moment of connection can help when everyone’s rushing around,” says Dr. Clay Drinko. Why? Taking a moment to look at your spouse, kids, or friends to make strong, connected eye contact reminds you why you’re working so hard. Eye contact is also a good way to remind yourself you’re in a physical space, surrounded by people you can talk it out to. It helps moor your thoughts on what’s in front of you, not what’s next to do.
If you are starting to feel extremely overwhelmed, almost nothing helps better to quiet the mind and calm the nerves than a series of long, slow, deep breaths. “Slowing down our breathing helps us quiet our minds and relax,” says Dr. Drinko. This isn’t new information but it bears repeating because, well, we all forget to do it. So do it.
Doing daily meditations in the morning — even just five minutes of a quiet moment to yourself — will help you get through the stresses of the day with clearer focus and a quieter mind. “This may seem like it is not a direct way to deal with overwhelming feelings, but it keeps your mind more efficient — and you start to ignore the usually useless things that you think about,” says Laurie Groh, MS, LPC. “It helps you have a clearer focus.”
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Writing down three or four things for which you’re thankful is a simple exercise with massive, research-backed benefits. In addition to reducing stress and reframing your vantage point, it makes you happier and helps to clear your mind by providing affirmations to reflect back upon when stresses occur. “Gratitude is not something that spontaneously or accidentally occurs,” says Dr. Bart Wolbers. “By focusing on what’s good, you almost immediately lower your blood pressure and heart rate.” A little perspective goes a long way.
Fuel Your Body Right
Sometimes, being a parent means you have three handfuls of goldfish and half a hot dog for dinner. Comes with the territory. But keeping your diet healthy can stave off stress. “I can’t tell you how many stressed-out parents I see who, when I ask if they’ve had breakfast, have told me that they were so busy they forgot,” says Rachel Dubrow, LCSW. So just be sure to do the damn thing. You’ll feel better and be better for your family.