Anxiety tends to crop up in the least convenient places, like in my bedroom late at night when I’m ready to go to bed. It crops up in the form of me staring into the baby monitor and seeing Emmeric’s blanket covered form with no head peeking out at the end because he’s puffed up the blanket. And then I imagine a million different scenarios, most of which end with my child not breathing in the morning. I spend a few minutes agonizing over whether to tiptoe into his room and attempt to check on him. Then I remember the floor creaks in a way that makes Legends of the Hidden Temple look easy to sneak through.
Do you remember Legends of the Hidden Temple? Kids went up against each other in team-based tasks, weeding out all the other teams until one remained. Then those two kids raced through the “temple,” attempting to avoid the temple guards in a race against the clock. They struggled to make it through the puzzling room of the temple and tagged the other team member in when the first one inevitably fell to a temple guard.
I wanted to be on that show so much as a kid. And at the same time, I jumped every time a temple guard popped out to snatch a kid up in his arms.
Navigating through that temple looks a lot like navigating through my brain sometimes. Anxiety throws trapdoors and difficult puzzles up in my mind and then snaps shut when I trigger temple guards, the ideas that throw me into an actual panic.
I realized early on with postpartum anxiety that a lot of what anxiety was included a stream of conscious thoughts all centered around worry, fear, and angst. I found myself going through a number of different fear-filled thoughts at any given moment and many times for no reason. In fact, I sometimes endured anxiety simply for the sake of anxiety.
What does that even mean?
Well, I found myself afraid that my anxiety would never leave. I worried that I was too broken to ever be myself again. I thought it would be impossible to balance my role as wife and mother, sometimes leading me into the terrible thought that my husband would leave me as a result.
Yes, that’s right. I worried Daniel would get sick of me being so sick and leave. I constantly asked him for reassurance that we were okay in those early months. I’m sure I nearly drove him crazy trying to make sure our relationship would survive.
I want to share a few things I learned about what I call mind clutter as a result of these awful fears.
What is mind clutter?
Mind clutter is every bit of the things your brain throws at you when you’re dealing with mental illness. For anxiety, it’s the fears and angst that swirl around, making it hard to focus on what you’re doing. It’s being unable to determine what to do next when you’re overwhelmed by the “what ifs” that clog your brain.
For depression, it’s the overwhelming sensation of just being down and unable to climb out of the hole. Depression brings you a whole range of emotions and thoughts to go with them, usually ones that deal with where you are. My depression brought on thoughts of failure and emptiness because of how empty I felt and how often I thought I was failing.
Mind clutter makes it difficult to focus and leaves you stuck in a thick quagmire of emotion and thoughts. It looks a lot like having about a thousand tabs open on your browser all at once, but instead of being able to close tabs and minimize windows, you get pop-up after pop-up demanding your attention right now.
What are some things you can do to quiet the mind clutter?
Mind clutter tries to distract you from getting things done. Sometimes it literally pulls your brain away from tasks at hand and makes it harder to focus on what needs to happen. So here are a couple things that can help.
Pick a hobby you enjoy and work at it for a specific amount of time.
I love to read, and sometimes it helps me to just get sucked into a good book for a while. If I can engage my brain in something that doesn’t require me to think about my current circumstances, I can quiet the mind clutter for a while. Sometimes that’s just enough time to resolve some of the anxiety.
Go for a walk or do some physical activity.
Physical activity tends to drive us outside our brains and requires a certain amount of focus on our bodies. When anxiety strikes me at night, I find it helpful to do a little nighttime yoga. It relaxes my body but also quiets my mind so I can focus on how my body feels. Taking a walk during the day tends to force me to look at other things and get outside my head for a while, which also gives me a break from the anxiety.
How can you organize the mind clutter?
Part of mind clutter is the inability to parse it out and determine what needs to be tackled and what you can put aside to deal with later. I think we all struggle with this on some level, but with the mind clutter of anxiety, you’re filled with the never-ending “pop-ups” of “do this now, now, NOW.” Anxiety hits the red button in your brain over and over, trying to attract attention to things that aren’t necessary or have no real bearing on your life.
By that, I mean that anxiety will often tell me I need to check on my son immediately when I notice something strange. Like last night when I saw his body covered in the puffed up blankets. I know logically Emmeric is capable of rolling over and likes to sleep on his tummy. I also know he wails when he gets stuck and has no issues lifting his head or moving his blankets. Anxiety said I needed to get in that room and make sure he was okay. I didn’t. And he was fine.
Grab a notepad and write it down.
Every intrusive thought anxiety throws at you is an opportunity to evaluate. Write it down to help put it in stark black and white. Then you can really determine whether you need to do something about that thought.
Keep an up-to-date calendar.
One big thing I noticed is that anxiety makes me nervous about making sure I get places. I managed to double-book us on two appointments in one day and wound up in tears trying to get from one doctor who hadn’t finished with us to another who was going to offer me therapy. I broke down in both doctors’ offices with an unhappy baby who cried alongside me. Since then, I started keeping all my appointments in my phone and in my bullet journal. As soon as we make an appointment, I schedule it in my phone so I don’t make that same mistake and go into a panic.
Do a mind dump.
This is something I haven’t started yet but plan to very soon. I saw someone recommend a “mind dump” on Pinterest (unfortunately I don’t remember where I saw it or else I’d link it here). The idea is that you keep a notebook by your bed and write down whatever is bugging you or on your mind before you go to sleep. You might create a to-do list or jot down something you need to remember the next day. This helps “dump” out all the thoughts that could nag at you and allows you to give yourself permission to relax and sleep.
Start a bullet journal.
I love keeping a bullet journal. I’ll likely write a lot more about this subject later, but you can find the basics of bullet journaling here. I use my bullet journal in multiple ways: as a calendar, weekly planner, meal planner, daily journal, mood tracker, and habit tracker. It helps me keep track of the things that are important to me and avoid spiraling into anxiety because I’ve forgotten something again.
Phew! This turned out longer than I anticipated. I hope some of these tips can help you with the mind clutter you deal with. If you use any of these tips or have some of your own to add, please share with me in the comments!