It can start any day, any time, anywhere. It can begin without warning. The overwhelm. It's like a net that covers me and I struggle to break free.
Whenever I feel my heart start to race and my mind going in a million different directions, I know it’s time to do a brain dump. This often happens when I’m driving or in the shower or - even less convenient- when I put my head on the pillow at night. It is very tempting to let those thoughts go, but I have learned to capture them when I can.
If I am in bed and the lights are off, I will grab my phone and voice text whatever is in my mind into the notes section of my phone. If there is a reminder I need to set, then I do that in the reminder app that comes standard on an iPhone. For those of you who are not tech savvy but you have an iPhone, you can use Siri to set a reminder or to create an event in your calendar. If lights are still on, I often jot it down on the notepad I keep next to my bed. I have the kind of brain that remembers better if my hand physically writes it down. This is why I still use a paper planner in 2022.
If I am driving, I use Apple CarPlay and Siri to do what I mentioned above. I talk into the notes section of my phone or set reminders or create events... all hands-free with my steering wheel and my iPhone. I do not hate technology at all in this capacity.
If I am in the shower, I could still use Siri, but she usually doesn’t understand me over the shower. In that situation, I just write down as much as I can remember as soon as I step out of the shower. Yes, I keep a notepad and pens in my top bathroom drawer. I am THAT person.
Speaking of the shower, I try not to think of things. I try to use the shower for mindfulness. Mindfulness sounds fancy and woo-woo, but it’s really just being aware of your body in the moment. One example is thinking “I feel the hot water touch the back of my head. It is running down my back and onto the shower floor. I see the water pooling at my feet. I hear the water as it hits the tile. I taste the toothpaste minty and clean in my mouth. I smell the shampoo I am rubbing into my hair. I am thankful to be alive. Today is a blessing.” If I am practicing mindfulness, it is hard for my thoughts to race elsewhere.
photo credit: www.atrapamente.com
Another way I center myself is the butterfly tapping technique (linked below), deep breathing exercises (inhale through nose 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, exhale through mouth 5 seconds). I have used both of these with my entire family when my kids have been off the rails and I needed to get us back on track mentally and emotionally.
It takes practice, but it works!
Once the kids realized they HAD to do it, they actually got into it.
Now, let’s talk about how to actually do a brain dump effectively. I just did one since I was feeling overwhelmed with a busy week ahead, so feel free to reference the picture below. The most effective way I have brain dumped over the years is to separate my random thoughts into categories. I base the categories on grouping similar tasks:
The below picture is just a quick 2-3 minute brain dump. When I use the aforementioned categories, that type of brain dump is a 20-30 minute all-inclusive, major brain dump. Those are the BEST ways to brain dump and my body leans toward doing them on Sundays as I am planning for the week ahead. If I miss a Sunday, my brain and body know it. David Allen is famous for his Getting Things Done book and method. He touts that our brains are not meant to carry information and task lists, they are meant to THINK. That feels very true for me. If my brain is full of a to-do list, I am usually unable to write or create. Once I unload all those tasks I've been juggling on trays in my brain like an overworked restaurant server, I can actually let my brain "breathe" and creativity ensues.
I also included a recent monthly meal plan for December 2021. Planning meals one month at a time has GREATLY reduced my overwhelm. I linked the way I actually meal plan down below.
Once we have emptied our minds via the brain dump, now we can face the actual overwhelm.
Sometimes the overwhelm was just that, carrying too many tasks and to-dos around in our minds. The mental overload of life in 2022.
Sometimes it's emotional overwhelm. Grief. Sadness. Loneliness. Disappointment. Regret. Shame. Longing. Anger (which someone somewhere said that Anger is Fear Dressed Up and that resonates with me). Envy. Comparison. Greed.
Sometimes it's physical overwhelm. Exhaustion. Physical pain. Illness. Injury. Anxiety or depression manifesting as physical symptoms (headaches, abdominal pain, joint or muscle aches).
No matter what TYPE of overwhelm we are feeling, the spiral is the same. Sometimes sleep or a healthy meal can provide relief.
Often silence and solitude are the answer for me.
Just know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I am fighting the fight with you.