Have you ever gone through a season of life that felt impossibly busy? You find your mind in a state of panic and stress trying to figure out how on earth you will get everything done, get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there, and still stay sane? You feel overwhelmed, anxious, and chaotic.
We’ve all been there. Maybe you’re in that season now.
When life gets unexpectedly busy.
My daughter has recently decided to develop a love and a passion for theater. My husband and I had never been involved in any type of theater production so we were completely naive. It all started with a last minute decision to attend an audition she had heard her friends talking about.
As we stood in line filling out paperwork I got to glance at the rehearsal schedule, the required volunteer hours, and the financial obligations involved. My intuition told me to high-tail it out of there as fast as possible, but my love for seeing my daughter pursue her interests led me to stay. Nearly four hours later we finally left the audition, exhausted and very nervous to find out the results.
She got a small part in the ensemble and was scheduled for play practice nearly every weekday for months. My husband and I both put in volunteer hours and forked over a lot of money. Not to mention that all of this took place in the next county over so we spent hours and hours in the car driving back and forth constantly.
The play essentially took over our entire lives. The things we do for our kids!
Chaos. Anxiety. Overwhelm.
When all of this started, I was feeling stressed, anxious and frazzled. I had no idea how we were going to manage the busy schedule or have the energy to survive. I knew my daughter was so excited about this opportunity and was loving every minute of it, but the time commitment was so intense.
For the first few days, I kind of lived in a state of panic. My mind swirling with chaos and anxious thoughts.
Then, in a moment of desperation, I decided to take some time to reflect and think. “Taking some time to reflect and think” is the exact opposite of what feels like the right thing to do when your calendar is exploding. You barely have time to eat, why in the world would you stop to just spend time thinking!
But alas, I have discovered that fixing up our “mental chaos” makes a world of difference in fixing our “real life chaos”.
I considered the crazy talk that my mind was spinning with. I paid attention to what was true reality and what was my mind freaking out. I looked at the thoughts I was thinking and questioned whether they were actually serving me or causing me more angst. I thought a bit about my purpose and what is most important to me in this stage of my life and family. I examined what needed my focus and what could be paused for a bit.
In short, I took control of my mind and managed my thoughts. I quieted the chaos so that I could focus on creating a plan and getting down to work. Here are the specific steps you can take to manage your mind and calm anxious thoughts.
Download all your thoughts
When your mind is spinning with overwhelming thoughts it is helpful to find a way to catch and examine those thoughts. You can’t really do that all up in your head. So grab a piece of paper and a pen and start writing. Write out every thought that crosses your mind. Every single one. Some you will know right away sound crazy. Some thoughts will seem like honest truth. Don’t judge or question anything, just write. This is a brain dump for your thoughts.
Get curious about your thoughts
Now that you have a list of thoughts to work with take a look at each thought individually. Your goal here is not to judge or shame yourself for thinking the thought. Your goal is simply to be curious and learn more.
Is the thought “provable in a court of law” true?
If you are dealing with a thought of fear, follow that fear to a reasonable worst case scenario ending. What would happen if the worst case happened?
Is the thought helpful? Does it serve you in managing your life and situation well or does it cause harm or a hindrance?
Is the thought an exaggeration of a truth? What is the non-exaggerated truth?
Can you notice any patterns or cycles in your thoughts?
Are most of your thoughts positive or negative?
How does each thought make you feel?
Decide how you want to feel and think
Your thoughts create your feelings. Your feelings create your actions. And your actions lead to the results you experience in life. Therefore, your thoughts are incredibly important, especially in times of high stress and overwhelm. By doing this exercise you will be able to get a handle on your mind which will then translate out into your feelings, behaviors, and the ultimate results.
Now that you have gone through your thoughts to understand what is happening in your mind currently, your next task is to train your mind in the way it should go. You’ve calmed the swirling thoughts of chaos. Now you need to fill your mind with thoughts the will help you get where you want to be.
Take a look at your list of thoughts and the considerations you found when you got curious. What are the truths of your situation? What are the positive aspects you can focus on?
What do you need to think in order to feel the emotions that will allow you to operate efficiently and effectively in your current situation? For this question, it can be helpful to start by imagining what you want to feel in this circumstance and then working backward to find thoughts that would help you feel that way about the situation.
Train your brain
Your brain is filled with neural pathways that have been formed and created and reinforced throughout your lifetime. When you are trying to create new thought patterns, your brain will default to the tried and true thought patterns that are etched into its neural pathways.
Thinking new and helpful thoughts will not be an easy or immediate process.
This is going to take repetition, effort, and energy on your part, for a while. It can be helpful to write out the list of new truths and thoughts that you want your brain to start thinking. When you notice your mind starting to swirl into chaos, pull out your list of thoughts and repeat them to yourself over and over again. You are building new neural pathways and etching them deeper with each repetition.
Your brain wants to be lazy and go back to what it knows, but if what it knows is not serving you then it needs to go. You have control over your brain and your mindset. Use that control to your advantage.
Today’s Action Step
If you’re regularly feeling anxious, depressed, emotional, or some version of chaotic, I encourage you to find some time this week to sit with your thoughts. Listen to what your brain is currently saying about your life and circumstances. Ask yourself “why”? Be gentle and kind with yourself. Don’t judge yourself over your thoughts. Shame and blame will do you no good when trying to calm anxious thoughts.
Your mind is a powerful thing. So powerful, in fact, that it can make all of your life circumstances easier or harder. Your thoughts control every single aspect of your life. If your thoughts are running around like a wild, unsupervised child then your life will feel out of control and chaotic. But if you take the time to get your thoughts straightened out and under control, even chaos will feel manageable.