Recently, I stumbled across the term “mental congestion” while reading about the myriad factors contributing to burnout and anxiety, states of mind many of us are all too familiar with. Mental Congestion could refer to anything from feeling so overwhelmed by tasks that you can’t keep them straight to information (or email) overload. It can lead to feeling scattered, “braindead,” stressed, and/or anxious.
Over the past month, I’ve found myself susceptible to a few of those things–and everything in between. During times like this, I find it helpful to take a mental inventory of the various ways I can address work-related mental health. (After writing for a wellness magazine for years, I should have a few tricks up my sleeve!) The following are the most helpful mindful habits to keep burnout at bay (as much as that’s actually possible…some burnout is just a part of the process called life, after all!) and help your head feel less like a nest of swarming bees.
8 Ways to Tackle Mental Congestion for a More Serene Mental State
1. Big to-do list? Prioritize–and say “no” when you need to. Sometimes we experience mental congestion when we have several things to take care of in multiple domains of our lives. For example, maybe you have a lot going on at work. And with your side hustle. And your home life. It’s hard to keep it all straight–even when you use a planner or calendar. I’ve learned the hard way that not everything on my to-do list can get top billing. It can be challenging to put things off (or not do them at all), but most of us have to make these tough calls, so you’re not alone in skipping that optional professional development meeting because you’re working against a deadline, and you’re not the only one who didn’t vacuum her apartment in favor of napping after a rough night of sleep. Giving yourself permission to let certain things go is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and your mental health.
2. Remember that you can only take things one day at a time. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we think about all we have to get done during a given week or month, so it can be helpful to remember that we can only live one day at a time. That doesn’t mean we can’t plan ahead or breakdown our workload over the course of several days, but the point is that it’s important to direct most of your attention on what you have planned for today.
3. Schedule downtime. This isn’t something I say lightly anymore. When I’m not working at one of my three part-time jobs, I’m with my toddler or preparing dinner for my family. I can barely schedule anything, let alone downtime! I’ve had to get creative about when and how I do “me” things, but let’s just say I’m always prepared for Me Time when my little goes down for her nap. I often plan a short self-care activity (like DIY mani or at-home yoga), and most importantly, housework and computer work are not invited.
4. Got a lot to do? Dive in–but for a set period of time. When our workload feels super scattered and is serving us some gnarly mental congestion, we can easily feel paralyzed by our mounting tasks. So try just starting anywhere or with whatever is right in front of you. Set a clock for a few hours (with 10-minute breaks here and there), and just go for it! Sometimes the hardest part is starting, but knowing that you won’t have to do it indefinitely can make diving in much easier.
5. Or, do the most unpleasant task first. Start with the thorniest or most bothersome task. If you can “eat the frog,” as Ernest Hemingway said, that unpleasant task won’t be casting a shadow over the rest of your time spent working. It’s amazing how lightening just one yucky thing from your workload can make your mind feel more at peace!
6. Remember that it’s okay to be a beginner. If your mental congestion stems from trying to absorb a ton of new information for a new job, project, or task, it’s so helpful to remember that it’s natural to not have a handle on everything when you’re a beginner or when you’re embarking on something new. As time goes on and as you continue to apply yourself, you’ll feel more capable of keeping the info straight–and your mental congestion will lessen.
7. Close those tabs. I mean that literally and figuratively. Often, it’s helpful to close the no-longer-useful tabs cluttering your browser or do a mass delete of all of those junk emails. You can take it a step further and tidy and sort your work area. You can even tell yourself that you are not responsible for thinking about xyz until a particular future date.
8. Stare at a tree. Shower. Brush your teeth. To paraphrase Tracey Ellis Ross, it’s sometimes the little things that help you feel mentally refreshed. Next time you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or burned out, try unplugging for a few moments and observe the wind moving the leaves of a tree, or splash some cold water on your face. Engaging in something physical and in the now can help your brain change channels and take a much-needed break.
What are your strategies for dealing with mental congestion?
Related: Millennial Burnout Is Real—4 Ways To Beat The Phenomenon On Everyone’s Lips
I’ve Suffered From Burnout Since High School. How I Finally Balanced My Work-Life
Top Psychologists Say Stress & Anxiety Are Healthy. Why You Don’t Need To Be Happy 24/7
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Photo: Thought Catalog on Unsplash, LUM3N on Unsplash