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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

6 Mental Exercises For Busy People To Calm the Hectic Mind

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6 Mental Exercises For Busy People To Calm the Hectic Mind

The cold hard truth is that we’ve become big, clumsy animals.

We eat too much, carry way too much weight on our torsos. We sit in unnatural positions all day, which makes our steps awkward. But worst of all, we’ve isolated ourselves from nature and now our mental and emotional wellbeing is taking the hit; despite the fact that there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that the more in harmony with nature we are, the better we feel.[1]

One recent study found that walking among trees improved participants’ short-term memory better than walks in urban settings. Another showed that soaking up natural beauty can cure brain fatigue and improve mental health. Elsewhere, researchers found that spending time in forests lowered participants cortisol levels (a hormone used to mark stress), reduced inflammation, boosted immunity, and even reduced the risk of early death.

In other words, the benefits of connecting with nature are undeniable.

There are lots of little ways to re-integrate nature into your daily routine—even if you live in a city. As someone who has traveled the world, studied as a monk, lived the life of a fast-paced entrepreneur, and then settled into a healthy work-life balance, here are a few techniques I’ve found work best:

1. Get out in the Wild and Test Yourself

Can you build a fire? Probably not. But you’re in good company.

Most of us have forgotten how to do really basic things to help us survive in nature. We’re not out there living off the land, and we’ve turned our backs on nature at every turn. It’s also why so many of us feel unmoored in modern society. What kind of animal forgets how to survive in the very environment it evolved in?

That said, it’s not too late to learn new (old) things. Wilderness training is not only useful, but it’s also fun. The core lessons you need to learn are fire, water, food, shelter. Once you have those four, you’re alive.

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And an immense sense of comfort comes when we learn how to survive on our own in the wild.

Once a quarter, I like to hike into the wilderness with my backpack and a couple days’ worth of food, sans phone or email. Unplugging increases my concentration and presence of mind, and helps me more fully invest in the experience. Just a quick reset can go a long way when you are immersed in nature.

It helps us calibrate back to our essential selves.

2. Root Down

One of the most powerful ways to tap into the earth’s energy is to practice qigong, the Chinese exercise system that translates to “energy work.”

My personal favorite is the Tree exercise, which increases leg strength, concentration, deep breathing, and energy flow. It’s designed to connect our energy field up with the earth under our feet and to keep us drawing from this abundant source at all times, just like an actual tree.

A plus is that you can do it anywhere, anytime.

Here’s how:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
  • Gently breathe through your nose, pointed toward your navel.
  • On the exhale, visualize tree roots that extend into the earth.
  • On the inhale, visualize white light coming from the roots and through your body, all the way to the top of your head.
  • Repeat for several breaths, with the roots going deeper each time until you imagine them reaching the planet’s core.

The more often you do this, the better your connection will be and the more rooted you’ll feel in your daily life.

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3. Take a Silent Walk Through the Woods

In my practice with a Taoist monk, I’ve learned a powerful silent-walking exercise that yields serious physical and emotional benefits.

Here’s how it works:

Go outside and begin walking very slowly and methodically. Inhale as you raise one knee up, then slowly exhale as your foot rolls from heel to toe on the ground. Now repeat on the other side.

The goal is to slow your gait and develop balance in your step. In fact, you shouldn’t be able to hear your footsteps at all.

At first, you’ll feel shaky and awkward—that’s just your office chair talking. But once your hips start to fire up again, you’ll gain core strength, which will improve your breath. As you get better, you can try it in different areas and on different surfaces.

And when you can walk on dry foliage and not hear anything, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Once you’ve honed the skill, apply the same dilation to observing the patterns of nature around you. Slowing down helps us all feel better and learn from the greatest teacher of all—Mother Nature.

4. Listen to What the Plants Have to Say

Plants are a renewable source of positive energy and wisdom, and they have a lot to teach us.

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It may sound strange at first, but you can communicate with them and learn a great deal—as long you approach the practice with grace and intention.

Sit in a natural place with no distractions, other than a book or an app to help you identify the plants’ medicinal qualities. Pick a plant you have an affinity toward and sit or stand across from it. Start breathing into your belly few breaths and keep your gaze soft and unfocused on the plant, and reach out to connect with it.

You’ll quickly find that each plant has a distinct personality, so introduce yourself softly and respectfully. State your intentions and ask if you can learn from it. Most plants are very helpful and kind.

It may take a while to get the hang of it, but once you realize there is a symphony of life and wisdom surrounding you at all times, you’ll never be alone again.

5. Spend Some Time at Your Local Park

The primo nature experience is actually being out in the wild.

But sometimes it’s tough to get away from our daily demands, especially if you live in a city. We’ve all got jobs and other obligations and can’t just spend all our time in the woods. Everyone knows how hard it is to leave the city on Fridays after work—traffic can be hellish.

Odds are, though, that you can get to a park relatively easily. So do it.

I walk my dogs at the local park every day. It’s not Yosemite, but it’s just enough to anchor the qi and connect with some trees and grass. And it sure beats walking them on the concrete sidewalk.

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Find a place to tap into the energy of nature, wherever you are, and make it a habit to go there often. Maybe bring a blanket and a book. Bring friends, your kids, or your pets.

It’s free, it’s healthy, and it’s where you come from.

6. If Nothing Else, Bring the Outdoors In

Even when you can’t manage to get outside at all, you can enjoy the peace that comes from the natural world by bringing it into your home.

Aside from being visually calming, house plants are also great for your health. They release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, cleaning the air you breathe. In fact, NASA research showed that houseplants can remove up to 87% of air toxins in just 24 hours.[2] Beyond that, studies have shown that indoor plants can improve concentration and productivity by up to 15%[3] — making them perfect for your home and office alike. Certain plants, like snake plants and orchids, emit oxygen at night, making them perfect for sleep.

The Bottom Line

Surrounding ourselves with nature and purity invigorates us.

Instead of isolating ourselves from nature, we can honor her and bring her with us everywhere. From cultivating household plants to vegetable gardens to taking strolls in the park to backpacking in Yellowstone, there are numerous ways to reconnect with the earth.

When you achieve that sense of harmony and balance, it will be well worth it.

More Resources to Enhance Mental Health

Featured photo credit: Max van den Oetelaar via unsplash.com

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Pedram Shojai

An author, filmmaker, and founder of a health and wellness platform at the cross section of health, environmentalism, and conscious capitalism.

6 Mental Exercises For Busy People To Calm the Hectic Mind 34 Ways To Live in the Moment And Grow in the Moment

Trending in Mental Wellness

1 Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why? 2 Does Depression Make You Tired And How? 3 Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety 4 Why Am I Depressed If My Life Is Fine? 5 How To Cope With Traumatic Events And Stress

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

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