How to calm and quiet the mind

How to relax when suffering with anxiety

When we suffer from anxiety, we can find it very hard to relax the mind and body. Not only can feel irritable and uneasy but also, we may find it hard to switch off our brain and the constant racing thoughts that can go with it.

What causes our minds to be so active?

The main reason our mind is active and disturbed is that all we have done for the last few weeks/months is to continuously think about ourselves and our condition. We may also get involved in all the negative stories and projections the anxious mind has created.

Thinking and worrying have become a habit.

Due to indulging in these habits our mind now has a certain momentum to it. This momentum, built through constant thinking, worrying and self-monitoring, has created this noisy/repetitive and chaotic mind which feels out of control. Once we fall into a cycle of overthinking, solving and worrying then we deny the brain the vital rest it needs.

The mistake so many make is that they then try to force peace of mind through some mind technique or thinking pattern, which again involves the mind’s effort and more thinking. This only serves to create more noise and unrest, and hence why it can never be the solution to the problem.

The mind is not the one that is going to do this, the mind cannot achieve the peace you are looking for. It is only when you let go of the efforts of the mind that true peace can arrive. If you look around you, everything in nature reaches balance and a calm state when it is left alone.

Stop struggling with your mind

I tried everything to control my mind and find some peace. I would spend all day trying to think my way better, try to figure things out, try to manipulate how I felt.

I would constantly struggle with my mind in an attempt to shut it up or control it. When this did not work I would then try and distract myself from its noise and restlessness by spending all my time indulging in activities or trying to suppress its noise through alcohol, which of course only added to my problems.

It was only when I started to truly understand the problem that I came up with the solution. If I wanted peace of mind then I had to stop trying to achieve it. Trying to achieve peace of mind through the mind was like running on a broken leg in an attempt to heal it.

The mind needed less to do, not more. A broken leg needs nothing more than rest to heal, if you continue to overuse it when it is broken, then it will never heal, the mind is no different.

The hardest part of just leaving it be and doing nothing is the natural instinct to fight or fix it, in an attempt to find some relief. But again this just prolongs the discomfort and keeps you in a loop of looking for temporary peace while never finding permanent peace.

The solution to the problem should always lead to the mind doing less. To cease all effort and relinquish the ‘Doing mind’ of all the duties you have given it.

So even when the mind feels noisy and chaotic, you can just sit back and allow it to be as it is, even when it is disturbing you. Don’t feel the need to struggle with it, get angry with it, argue with it, pacify it, manipulate it. Just allow it to be as chaotic and as noisy as it wishes to be at any given moment.

Many people believe that if they take this approach and do nothing, then nothing will change. This is a total misconception and is like saying, “If I don’t keep throwing stones into this lake, the ripples will never stop”. The ripples will only cease when you stop disturbing the lake, left alone it will balance out and come to its natural resting state.

Suffering is nothing more than a guide to change

Woman suffering

There is great wisdom in most suffering, be it mental or physical. It is your mind or body’s way of telling you that what you are doing is not helpful and your approach needs to change.

My confused, noisy and erratic mind was telling me that I was overthinking/worrying/stressing and pushing it way beyond the limits of what it was designed to do and when I stopped, in time, it went back to its natural/restful state.

The more I tried to force it to shut up and be how I wanted it to be, the more noisy and chaotic it became. I eventually realised that I could not fight with my mind and win. I could not force it to be at peace.

Through continued suffering, it was telling me that this approach was not the answer so I did the complete opposite and just allowed it to be as it wished and let it settle down all by itself.

I am not saying this didn’t take time, I had to live alongside this chaotic mind and exhausted mind I had created for a while before clarity and peace returned. But I had finally broken out of the cycle that was keeping me in a state of permanent suffering.

Peace of mind also comes through a change in attitude

You may also need to address how you approach and perceive life so you cut down on the time you spend indulging in worry. If you leave your mind alone but then worry about 101 things a day then change will not happen, as all you are doing is recreating the problem.

You need to work towards making changes that allow you to let go of overthinking, concern, worry and all the other things that cause your mind to be disturbed and overactive. To be more accepting of the ups and downs of life and to no longer try and control your inner and outer world.

Looking back, understanding my anxiety helped me massively as I was then able to spend far less time thinking about it, worrying about it, or trying to mentally fix it. This let go of so much mental effort, saved me from wasting so much mental energy and due to this, my mind felt calmer and clearer.

The reason anxiety sufferers suffer from a disturbed mind more than most is not due to the anxiety itself but the worry and overthinking of the condition, something through understanding I was finally able to let go of.

I also had to do some inner work and learn to see reality as it really was, rather than how I wanted it to be. To be more allowing of life and others, to change perceptions and attitudes so I spent less time indulging in pointless worry and overthinking.

The most important lesson I learnt is that when my mind became clearer and more at peace, then things bothered me far less. As time went by, it seemed ridiculous that I worried about such small things that ended up being of no relevance with a clearer and more peaceful mind.

The more disturbed our mind is, the bigger an issue everything seems to be and so worry and overthinking can become a vicious cycle.

Tips to relax the mind

Learning to relax the mind

There are many ways to relax the mind, but just taking a step back from how you are feeling can help, even if it is only going for a walk in the fresh air to blow away a few cobwebs or maybe taking up a new hobby like painting or gardening.

Walking in nature or taking up a hobby will also help you become more outward than inward-looking and reduce the time you spend dwelling on yourself and how you feel.

I used to go for a walk once a day and also listen to some music or take a bike ride. I also started to unplug from technology more and cut down on my T.V time. At first, this silence was hard to deal with, but in time I started to crave it as I started to feel more mentally at peace. Anything that you find relaxing and a way to switch off will be beneficial.

Letting go of strategies and techniques

You don’t have to ‘try’ to relax; it is more of an attitude and not something for the mind to execute or get good at, otherwise it just turns into another technique. Something you need to achieve through effort, something that, once again, requires the mind’s involvement.

If you try to meditate as a goal to achieve something then you will most likely fail. Many people sit on a cushion in an attempt to reach some particular state and get angry if the mind doesn’t comply.

True meditation is merely allowing the mind to be exactly as it is. This approach takes no mental effort whatsoever and this is the whole point of it, just allowing it to be as it is so it can come to its own resting point.

If you look at other Buddhist teachings, all they are doing is helping you to see life differently so you feel more peace of mind. But it is not seeing life differently that brings peace; it is because in seeing it in a different way you are now more allowing of things to be as they are. This in turn lessens the stress and worry, cuts down on so much mental activity, and so you feel better.

Many people believe it to be outside circumstances that make them feel stressed and in some cases this may be true but in most cases, it is down to how you deal with outside events, rather than the actual event itself. The same event could have one person spiralling into worry, leading to them feeling dreadful, while another person is able to just brush it off as one of those things and hence feel no suffering.

This lessening of pointless mental activity is the cornerstone of finding mental peace; it won’t come from changing the outside or some technique. It is when you cut down on all the overthinking, stress and worry and give your mind the rest it needs to be at peace that things will begin to change.

I realised that nothing was more important than looking after my state of mind, more than that I understood that it was my responsibility, nothing and no one outside of me was responsible for that, it was down to me.

For more advice on finding peace in your life, you can read this article on why life seems to bring so much suffering.