Organizing Stressful Thoughts Is Like Cleaning Your Room – Here’s How I Do It

Getty / Mayur Kakade

You open your bedroom door to find your closet has exploded – clothing, makeup, and shoes everywhere. What do you do? Panic for a moment, take a deep breath, and pick a place to start.

I like to approach stress and anxiety similarly. When I reach a place where my thoughts continuously bubble up like headache-inducing flashcards (for which I have zero answers), I do a brain dump.

I open up my journal and bullet point every thought that’s been consuming my mind. I don’t go into detail; short phrases keep me focused. Here, I’m confronting my messy space.

I always make my bed before a deep clean. It gives me a place to organize – plus, I feel inspired by seeing a portion of my room put together. When journaling, creating categorized lists and writing them out in a clear font has a similar effect on me.

My lists are usually categorized like so: personal growth, monthly goals, goal tracker, and recent accomplishments. Feel free to borrow these or get creative – but reserve a page for each subject.

“Personal growth” is where most of my overthinking happens, so I tend to start there. I return to my brain dump for inspiration and create two sublists separating productive ways for character growth from self-critiques that serve no purpose. (Think: practice more patience with yourself and others vs. your nails never look good.) These lists help me organize where to put and prioritize my energy and what really matters.

I view my “monthly goals” as a long-term checklist – make a dentist appointment, return my Amazon purchase that didn’t work out, get a haircut. These “chores” have no business overwhelming my day-to-day schedule but should be accomplished during free moments throughout the next few weeks.

Related: If You’re Journaling to Manage Your Anxiety or Depression, These Therapists’ Tips Could Help

My habit tracker list helps me incorporate wellness and self-care rituals into my day that are instrumental for my mental health – like drinking 5-7 glasses of water a day, working out or stretching, and doing my skin-care routine.

I make a DIY calendar for the month with checkboxes next to the three items, so I can hold myself accountable and gauge my progress.

If I was cleaning my room, at this point, my shoes are all lined up, I’ve KonMari’d my T-shirts, and my room is in much better shape – as a result, I feel clear, level-headed, and productive.

For the record, though, my room was neglected because I was busy accomplishing other things – bringing me to the final list, “recent accomplishments.”

Take the time to recognize that you got stuff done while or before you were in a foggy place. Maybe you created a handmade gift for your friend, tried out new recipes you want to remember, spent time nurturing relationships, and explored new hobbies. Don’t let stress take that away from you.

And then, close your notebook (the equivalent of tucking yourself into a freshly made bed) and take a deep breath, knowing you’ve cleansed your space and set yourself up for a successful new day.

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