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5 Ways to control your thoughts when life gets too busy

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J Malacoff Headshot
Julia Malacoff October, 21, 2019

Writer, trainer, nail art aficionado

On any given day, most of us have many parts to play — friend, partner, sister, mother, leader, employee. The list goes on and on.

With a packed schedule of people to see and things to do, staying "in control" all the time can be a tall order. It might feel impossible to control your thoughts when your mind is racing from one stressful to-do list item to the next.

In these situations, it's perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed. And here's some more good news: There are several smart strategies that can help you relax and refocus! Here are five ways to put yourself back in the driver's seat when your mind is racing out of control.

1. Reframe what's stressing you out

Most people dream of a stress-free life, but stress isn't actually the enemy. In fact, it can sometimes be a good thing. Healthy levels of stress push you to be your absolute best! So, when you're feeling overwhelmed, try to reframe the things that are stressing you out. You may find there's another way to approach the challenge.

Let's say you're feeling overloaded because of an upcoming work presentation. That's completely valid — but is there a way to think about the presentation in a positive light? Sure, it's a lot of pressure to present in front of others, but it might also be an amazing career opportunity. That's something to look forward to!

You might even write out the word "opportunity" on a sticky note and put it on your work computer. It's a small action, but it'll be an effective reminder to reframe your thoughts whenever you feel nervous about the presentation. The shift might just make it easier to slow your thoughts down as they speed past you.

Close-up Of A Businesswoman Making Agenda On Personal Organizer At Workplace2. Remember that your thoughts don't define you

Not being able to control your thoughts doesn't mean you're out of control. Everyone gets busy from time to time — and that's OK! Being overwhelmed doesn't mean you're an "overwhelmed person," so even if you're feeling a little frazzled, don't let stress make you feel self-conscious.

Anytime you feel like you simply can't keep up, remind yourself that it's just temporary. You may be busy now, but there's some guaranteed downtime in your future!

3. Start using time blocks

Try using your phone's calendar app to create time blocks that segment your day, rather than just scheduling meetings and appointments. The blocks of time can act as placeholders for all the other things you need to get done — like special work projects, exercising at the gym, emailing your child's teacher, calling your mom, meal prepping or even just relaxing.

The key to making this system work is to only do the assigned "task" during each block of time. When it's over, move on to the next thing — and don't look back (or too far ahead). When you only focus on one thing at a time, everything you need to get done suddenly feels way less daunting. It's a simple strategy, but an effective one.

4. Play the distraction game

Yep, this is permission to procrastinate! A quick timeout from thinking works kind of like a hard reset on your phone; afterward, things start running more smoothly again. Getting distance from a challenging situation for a while can help you gain valuable perspective (plus, sometimes your brain just needs a breather).

So, go ahead and take a break — no guilt necessary! Read your book club's monthly pick during a long soak in the tub. Catch up on your favorite TV show before you start making dinner. Listen to that podcast you love instead of thinking about work during your morning commute.

Check in with yourself after 15 or 20 minutes have gone by and assess your feelings. Do things seem more manageable?

5. Give your thoughts a voice

Something really cool happens when you say, out loud, that you're stressed out. It immediately becomes a whole lot less scary. Talking through things that make you feel overwhelmed can sometimes provide quick relief.

Whether you reach out to a friend, vent to a coworker or call your significant other, get what's going on inside your head out and into the open. Run through all of the thoughts that are swirling around and making it hard to focus. Chances are your mind will feel less chaotic afterward!

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