A stressed man holds his head with one hand.
Centr Team

5 grounding techniques to quiet a busy mind

Centr Team

The day is over, your head hits the pillow and you can finally relax… and right on cue, your brain decides now is a great time to go over awkward moments from your past, or potential future catastrophes.

“When everything is quiet your brain says ‘A-ha! Now is my time’,” says psychologist Jacqui Manning. “Sometimes a creative or positive idea will surface, but often it’s negative thoughts that are jostling for attention.”

Erratic, racing thoughts can increase feelings of anxiety, create physical pain (like headaches), and generally make it feel impossible to concentrate, enjoy the moment or switch off.

Next time you’re struggling to be present, try these techniques.

1. Address the alarm to calm your brain

When you’re in a stressful situation, your amygdala – the part of your brain responsible for emotions and memories – sends rapid signals to the rest of your body to prepare you to act. You might know this as your 'fight, flight or freeze' response.

Just like a smoke alarm goes off whether you’ve burned the toast or set your house on fire, your amygdala will kick off at the first whiff of a threat – even if it’s not something that’s actually going to hurt you.

“Your brain races from thought to thought and back again because it thinks those thoughts are important to your safety,” Jacqui says.

The next time your amygdala starts firing before an important moment like your performance review at work or a conversation you’ve been anxious to have with a friend, let it know that you appreciate the message but you can take it from here.

“Interrupting the fight-or-flight response can be as easy as telling your amygdala something like ‘Thanks for the signal, but I’m safe and I’ve got this’,” Jacqui says.

2. Offload your thoughts to give your brain space

A brain dump is a simple mind-clearing tool that can be incredibly effective, and you can do it anywhere.

Simply grab a piece of paper or open the notes app on your phone, and jot down every racing thought or worry that you’re dealing with. Don’t hold back or censor yourself, just let it all out.

Alexz Parvi sits, journalling to help with mindfulness.

“Your brain will relax because it knows it doesn’t have to hang onto the racing thoughts now that they’re on a piece of paper,” Jacqui says.

Worry and stress can eat into your body budget, but research shows that dumping these worries in the form of writing can free up your cognitive resources so you can focus when you need to.

3. Activate your relaxation response with timed breathing

“Remember to breathe” – duh, thanks for the helpful advice, Centr. Hear us out. Breathing in a particular way can help your body activate your brain’s ‘relaxation response’.

“It is physically impossible to have the stress response and relaxation response simultaneously,” Jacqui says.

The next time your brain is on overdrive, give 4-7-8 breathing a try:

  • Breathe in through your nose for four seconds,

  • hold it for seven seconds,

  • then breathe out for eight seconds.

  • Repeat for a few minutes, or until you feel yourself calming down.

A calming alpine valley landscape, with snow-topped mountains and yellow, sunlit trees in the fields below.

If you’d like a little guidance, let Ally talk through a timed breathing exercise in the SOS Stress Buster meditation.

4. Go from panic to peace by scanning your body

For freedom from racing thoughts, you need to get out of your head and into your body. Enter: body scan meditations.

Body scan meditations are a version of progressive muscle relaxation, a therapeutic technique that involves focusing your attention on – and actively relaxing – physical tension in your body. There’s ample evidence that body scans are an effective way to reduce anxiety and feelings of panic.

Try it: This 6-minute body scan for beginners, narrated by Chris Hemsworth, is a great place to start.

5. Crush chaotic thoughts with cardio

It’s hard to worry about work tasks or your retirement plans when you’re sweating with (and, okay, sometimes cursing at) Luke or Alexz.

Research shows that aerobic exercise is particularly effective for anxiety for a few reasons:

  1. Cardio spikes your heart rate, which means more blood flow and increased levels of anxiety-fighting neuro chemicals like dopamine and endocannabinoids.
  2. When your blood starts pumping, the parts of your brain responsible for your executive function (aka taking care of business) fire up. It’s the equivalent of throwing ice water on your racing thoughts so you can stop panicking and start taking action.

Try this: Check out these short and sharp cardio burners when you need to stop the thought train from racing.

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