When I say the word, “declutter”, your mind likely wanders to Marie Kondo, spring cleaning, and that one time a year you do a full inventory of all the crap that’s taken up residence in your car. But decluttering can also be an effective way to break down overwhelming tasks and anxieties that arise. Between constant phone notifications, obligations in and out of work, and the escalating pace of life, it’s easy to get sucked into the go-go-go mentality without even noticing. But when it does eventually creep up on you, I’ve found the following steps helpful for facing stressors head-on and finding mental clarity.
Minimize or Avoid Social Media
When I’m running at a hundred miles a minute or drowning in to-do lists, social media can quickly become an unhelpful pacifier. Sure, in the moment, double-tapping Chonky.Animals or binging on What I Eat in Day videos feels good. But once I become aware of just how long I’ve been sitting there starring at a screen, the stress often reappears—with a vengeance.
Distraction is a natural place to go when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It offers momentary alleviation and keeps you away from tasks at hand. But finding ways to pull yourself away from stress, unfortunately, isn’t the most productive method to addressing personal challenges. Firstly, the relief is never long-term and, when you do finally look up from the screen, whatever problem you’re facing is likely still there. Although it’s far more difficult to meet adversity head-on, it’s also the healthiest technique. That’s why during stressful periods, I highly recommend limiting or cutting off your digital habits. This way, you force yourself to slow down and disconnect while reducing your chances of seeing something that might actually compound your stress.
Boredom is a beautiful thing. In fact, studies prove that doing nothing can be restorative for both mental health and creativity. It’s a strange thing to say in a world where entertainment is everywhere but sometimes, going on a walk without your phone, lying outside, or simply lounging around the house can give your mind and body a chance to settle. During this respite, it’s critical to remove judgment and just allow yourself to do nothing, something I find is easier said than done. Driven by success and money, our society tends to praise hustlers and go-getters but doesn’t make room for contemplators and reflectors. By slowing down, you’re not just being incredibly rebellious (so COOL), you’re also giving yourself permission to treat your mind with compassion and demonstrating acceptance for its natural need to breathe.
I’ve been journaling for the past 9 months or so. For however many pages each day, I just write. My handwriting is terrible, the sentences don’t make sense but the process itself is cathartic.
I had tried journaling in the past and found it never really clicked; something about it always felt whiney or repetitive. But, after reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, my perspective shifted. Cameron explains journaling as a way to break through personal baggage and creative barriers—the more you get into the habit of expressing yourself, the less likely you are to let your feelings pile up and hamper your productivity. As a copywriter, I’ve found this perspective immensely helpful. Whether it’s writing an article for this blog or a work project, having the ability to move past mental limitations is imperative for personal and professional growth.
But, if journaling makes you a little queasy, venting to a friend, recording yourself, or drawing can all be effective ways of getting your emotions out of virtual space and into the open.
I’m first to admit this is not always a personal forte of mine. For me, EVERYTHING is a priority, even when it doesn’t need to be. Particularly when I’m anxious, it seems as though the laundry needs to be done as soon as my portfolio is updated as I’m running and making time to get out to a friend’s birthday party. Excuse me—what? None of that makes any sense.
As much as we like to believe it, no one is a good multitasker because doing multiple things all at once requires sacrificing quality somewhere along the way. What’s more, we physically cannot be at 15 places at once, making everyone in our lives happy—it’s just not realistic. So when there’s a lot on your plate, don’t try to stuff it all in your mouth because you will probably choke. Instead, take the time to sit down and think critically about what’s in front of you. Ask yourself, What needs to get done and what can wait? When is all this due? Can I do one thing now and save the others until later? And, if you’re like me, What have I added to my to-do list that truly does not need to be there? By sorting your responsibilities, it’s easier to approach them with a clear mind and achieve a more refined final product.
Work in Productive Spurts
Overworking is a big problem. We all experience the occasional late-night at the office or an overloaded week. But it’s when constant engagement becomes the norm that we begin to lose sight of what we’re actually doing. In reality, our most productive moments come in spurts. We’ve all experienced the essay we spent way too long on and then read through only to find it made NO SENSE AT ALL. This school of thought follows the same sort of idea: The more energy you’re able to contribute to something, the better the outcome. When you’re just pounding away at the keyboard with all passion wrung from your cold, limp hands, nothing good is going to result. Yes, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. But when you can take the time to spread out tasks, the outcomes will be far more representative of your best work.
It’s hard, I know, but ‘no’ should be in your vocabulary. No, you can’t come to the phone right now. No, you don’t want to go out tonight. It’s not about whether or not you like someone, it’s about really listening to yourself. In the moment, saying ‘yes’ often feels like the right move for me (especially if I’ve had a bit of wine). But later, when I actually do whatever I agreed to, it can sometimes feel forced. As someone who likes investing my time in friendships and responsibilities, I never want those around me to feel like they’re not getting 100% of my attention. But in order to operate at my fullest, I need to know my limits and be okay with a little FOMO.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you curl under a rock never to see the light of day. What I am encouraging is that you set reasonable expectations with those around you. If you know you need to unwind after a long week, going out after work for drinks probably isn’t going to serve your cause. Likewise, if you really just need some quality time with a friend or family member, getting the whole squad together to hang out isn’t going to satisfy you either. Trust and believe no one knows your body and mind quite like you do and listening to both means you’re better equipped to support those around you.