Feeling Stressed? These 5 Expert-Approved Mental Exercises Can Help
We all have moments when stress strikes, and when it does, it's important to have a handful of tools at your disposal to help. So, we rounded up five simple mental exercises that are sure to help redirect your focus to more calming thoughts:
Think of things that start with A, B, C, etc.
As licensed marriage and family therapist Tiana Leeds, M.A., LMFT, previously explained to mbg, an easy way to calm yourself down in the heat of a stressful moment is by engaging the rational part of your brain.
"By purposefully re-engaging our rationality, we can shift out of worry and into logic," Leeds explains. One way to do this is by thinking of things that start with A, B, C, and so on, until you've completed the whole alphabet. You can repeat this as many times as necessary, using different categories such as food, first names, or countries, she adds.
Count backward by sevens.
Another way to quickly engage the rational part of your brain is to count backward by sevens starting at 100. "When we're overwhelmed by emotion," Leeds explains, "it is more difficult to use our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains in charge of logic, long-term decision making, and complicated thinking."
By simply counting down from 100 by sevens, we're able to access that part of our brain, and subsequently, feel calmer.
Couple breathwork with positive affirmations.
According to Michael Smith, N.D., of Carolinas Natural Health Center, breathwork helps your body's nervous system switch into a calm, parasympathetic state (as opposed to the sympathetic state that's stressing you out). This in turn brings blood flow back to your brain, so you'll be able to think more clearly, he previously explained to mbg.
As you do your breathwork, you can take it a step further by pairing it with positive affirmations to further bolster a positive state of mind. (Check out our list of 50+ affirmations to help you get started!)
We know, sitting for meditation may not be everyone's cup of tea—but meditation can look like a lot of different things (and it certainly counts as a mental exercise). Not only has meditation been proved to ease stress and increase overall feelings of well-being, but it can include anything from mindfully sipping a warm beverage to doing a walking meditation or drawing a mandala. It all comes down to how you like to tap into the present moment.
Follow a color.
And lastly, if you can't seem to get that stressful thought out of your head, Leeds recommends engaging your senses by directing your attention to a particular color. Look around you and find everything you can see that's blue, then repeat with the color green, yellow, etc.
You can also take this a (literal) step further by incorporating movement. Take a walk around your neighborhood following a specific color. Perhaps you see a blue car up ahead, and then when you get there, you notice a blue sign up ahead. Keep walking toward the next blue thing until your head feels a bit more clear.
Stress is bound to happen, but when we know how to control it, it doesn't have to control us. Redirecting our focus and engaging different parts of our brains can work wonders in helping us move into a calmer state of mind.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.