A simple guide for effectively bringing yourself down from mental overdrive.
You know how to connect conceptual dots. You can handle complex abstract ideas and follow intellectual queries to their logical conclusions. Mental gymnastics is your main event.
Intellect in action can be beautiful, exciting, and fascinating. But the mind can also get carried away, wrapped up in abstractions, paradoxes, and thoughts flowing so fast that if they were a river there would be a warning sign on the bank - Danger: swift current.
For times that thoughts and ideas feel overwhelming--too many thoughts happening too fast and making themselves seem urgent--body presence is an effective way to ground, center, and restore tranquility in the mind and body. However, many people who experience mental overdrive are not aware that a shift of awareness into the body can help them feel better. In fact, a common reaction to mental overdrive is to try to solve the problem through more thinking, which results in mounting anxiety and a self-perpetuating cycle of distress.
Body presence to liberate yourself from cycles of the mind
Body presence is a form of awareness that focuses on sensation. If you find your mind becoming overactive and are feeling anxious, take that experience as a clear, compassionate message to take sanctuary in the body.
Three important messages for you:
For moderate anxiety: Feel the ground beneath you. Relax around your forehead, jaw, and shoulders. Notice where you can feel your breath--and encourage that breath to slow down and deepen a bit if you can. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly to feel yourself breathe. Breathe in through your nose, and out through pursed lips as if through a straw. Acknowledge what you feel and encourage calm.
For high anxiety: Feel the ground beneath you. Relax around your forehead, jaw, and shoulders. Take a full, deep breath in and exhale in sharp short intervals. Repeat until you feel more calm. Flow between two or three simple yoga postures (see video below). As you become more calm, come to a seated or reclining posture. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly to feel yourself breathe.
For panic: Go into child's pose or crocodile pose if you can. If you can't, do what you can to make yourself comfortable. Drop your shoulders. Feel the support of the ground beneath you. Take a full, deep breath in and exhale in sharp short intervals. Repeat until you feel calm taking root within you. When you feel more calm, begin to flow through two or three simple yoga postures while focusing on breath. Move slowly. As you deepen calm in your body, come to a seated or reclining position. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly to feel yourself breathe. As you do, repeat this mantra, inwardly or out loud, recommended by mental health advocate Malia Bradshaw to yourself slowly: "I am safe, I am loved."
After calming yourself, find a simple, light activity that requires your hands and gentle focus. A few great options include:
Later on in the day, or the next morning if you feel comfortable being still, consider making yourself a cup of tea and journaling about what's on your mind, or curl up with a book or a podcast. Being able to shift awareness from mental activity to body presence is a powerful and helpful skill for everybody. Ultimately, this skill, and time spent in body presence will support you not only in feeling at peace, but also in nurturing a thriving intellect. I encourage you to bring meditation into your life to support yourself--the 14-day online meditation program "Body Connect" is a great place to start.
For immediate guidance and support, I recommend this video: