Feeling Overwhelmed? Quiet Your Mind With a Brain Dump

OverwhelmedDo you find yourself feeling overwhelmed? Maybe occasionally, maybe more often? As we move into a new season within the reality of the COVID pandemic, it’s easy to feel like it’s all too much. Things are still uncertain and subject to change at any moment. Conflicting opinions and beliefs about our current reality cause stress and many emotions.

Finding calm can be next to impossible when you have a million thoughts swirling around in your head. It’s stressful when you have so many details going on inside your brain. These rambling, disorganized thoughts are always with you and it can seem like there’s no escape. Here’s one simple trick that can help you to overcome that helpless feeling. It’s called a brain dump, and it truly is as easy as it sounds. Using this technique relieves the pressure of an overcrowded mind.

What is a Brain Dump?

A brain dump is simply taking what’s in your brain and transferring it to another place. This place can be onto a piece of paper or into digital form like a computer app or word processing program. What’s important is that you clear your mind of all the clutter so that you can think clearly again. Dumping the excess thoughts and information from your brain to a different storage location frees up valuable space. It also unloads a heavy burden and diminishes your feeling overwhelmed. You’ll feel a lot freer once you’ve experienced this process.

When to do a Brain Dump 

Consider doing a brain dump at any of these times:

  • When you feel lost, confused, or like your life has no direction.
  • When you are under a lot of stress or your anxiety is worsening.
  • When you feel out of control in your life and you don’t know how to gain control back.
  • When you have been living a chaotic or disorganized life.
  • When your ideas are getting lost among the other thoughts.
  • When your to-do lists are too long, and you can’t keep up with them.
  • When you start becoming irritable or moody for no other good reason.

Benefits of a Brain Dump

Benefits to performing a brain dump include:

  • Clearing your head. Just seeing the information in front of you gives you a sense of control over it. Your brain is cleared, kind of like a computer cache. There’s now more room in it so that it will function better.
  • Allowing you to see options. Once you have taken all those thoughts from your head and placed them in a place where you can see them, you then have a lot of options. Information is far easier to sort when it’s right in front of you than when it’s swirling around in your mind.
  • Helping you organize what you have extracted. You can now organize information into a format that makes sense, process things and make plans. Now it’s much easier to manage all the components of your life. It will be easier to gain focus and to be more productive in your home and work situations.

How to do a Brain Dump

Performing a brain dump to reduce your feeling overwhelmed

is easy.

First, choose your format. If you prefer pen and paper – perhaps in a journal – that’s great. Writing things down by hand can be therapeutic, and it can help you to retain information. Perhaps you prefer using an electronic tool, which also offers benefits and gives you digital records.

I’ve written previously about using mind-mapping a way to declutter your mind and reduce overwhelm: https://carolbrusegar.com/using-mind-mapping-to-declutter-your-brain/ You may explore that and other possibilities and then decide.

Second, set aside some quiet time, at least half an hour. Write down everything that’s in your head: thoughts, feelings, frustrations, responsibilities, stresses, etc.  Keep going until you can’t think of anything else. Try to use the time you’ve allotted, but don’t frustrate yourself if you truly can’t think of more.

Third, come back to the information later to categorize and organize it in a way that makes more sense. What’s important is that you remove the clutter from your mind, and then find a way to organize and process it all. Here are some suggestions of categories to include as you sort.

To aid in clearing the clutter, include 1)  a “parking lot” category where you place thoughts, ideas, tasks, etc. that you want to set aside for now. You can review them later to see if you want to do anything with them. 2) a “discard” category where you dump things that are extraneous, destructive or just the lowest of priority.

To capture useful ideas, thoughts and possibilities, use one or more categories like ideas, projects, priorities, etc. If you would like a FREE downloadable and printable Idea Journal to facilitate this, go here:

Idea Journal

Some people choose to do this when they feel a clear need, as described above. Others find it good weekly practice, which can keep things from building up so you are feeling overwhelmed. Once you have done this at least once, you will be able to see what might work best for you. You’ll find you feel more refreshed and can think more clearly after your brain dump session.

Amazon has a selection of brain dump notebooks, notepads, journals, etc. Brain Dump if you’d like more tools.


I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.           

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Understanding How Deep Breathing Works to Reduce Stress

deep breathing

Deep breathing techniques are often cited as an important tool that can help you to immediately alleviate stress, anxiety, frustration, and anger. Yet, many people have difficulty practicing deep breathing exercises because they either don’t believe that it’ll help or they try once and then don’t try again. Understanding deep breathing at the biological level makes us more likely to do it.

I’ve written about deep breathing before here: https://carolbrusegar.com/deep-breathing-for-stress-relief/ That article included benefits to our bodies, types of deep breathing exercises and how to fit a practice into your daily life.

What’s going on in our bodies when we are stressed and anxious? How does that change when we employ this practice? Having a basic understanding can increase our appreciation of the practice and motivate us to do it.

The Fight or Flight Response

The body has two systems within the nervous system: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system. Both of these systems contribute to the reasons why deep breathing exercises can calm us down.

 Our biological systems have a natural ability to react during times of stress, especially in those situations where we’re facing a huge threat. Having this ability has been a matter of physical survival. In prehistoric times, humans came face-to-face with all sorts of wild animals, such as bears or tigers.

In response to such a threat, our body activates the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response, or FFF reaction. Our threats today aren’t ordinarily of the lions and tigers and bears variety, but the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the physical sensations we get when we feel stress, anxiety, or severe anger and frustration.

These can include sweaty palms, increasing heart rate, and faster breathing. The activation of the FFF response is preparing our bodies to either run, fight the threat, or freeze.

Perceived Threats

The activation of the Fight Flight or Freeze Response can occur whenever we perceive that we’re up against a threat – whether we really are facing a threat or not.

Situations involving personal relationships, work responsibilities, work promotions, verbal arguments with others, and bad news about your health or the health of loved ones are just a few scenarios that can trigger the FFF response.

Despite the fact that all of these situations may be emotionally hurtful or painful, our body’s nervous system may interpret them as physically threatening. As such, our bodies activate the natural FFF response to get us ready to fight or run away.

Triggering the Opposite Reaction

In order to tell our biological systems that the situations we’re facing don’t require a fight or flight response, we must trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system produces the opposite response to the FFF, causing a relaxation response instead.

The Fight Flight or Freeze Response also diverts your blood flow. To prepare you to fight or to get ready to run from a perceived threat, blood is diverted away from the brain to the extremities in the body, such as the arms, legs, hands, and feet. No wonder when we are stressed or perceive a threat in some way, we aren’t able to think clearly!

Deep Breathing Reverses This Process

Breathing exercises send the blood supplies back from the extremities (since we’re not concerned with running or fighting) to the areas of the brain that allow us to think, reason, and problem solve.

This is why breathing exercises work to calm us when we experience acute stress, anger, or frustration. Blood is returning to the brain and it becomes easier for us to think.

 A Simple Approach for an Immediate Change in Times of Stress or Anger

In the heat of the moment when FFF has been activated, this simple approach can really make a difference:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Tense your whole body for four seconds while inhaling deeply.
  3. Then exhale slowly.
  4. Repeating this three or four times can take you back to a state of relaxation and calm.

The body’s natural ability to fight or flee from a perceived threat has been useful throughout the ages and is still useful today. However, reversing the process through breathing exercises places you in a better position to think more clearly and reason about the stress or issue that you’re facing.

In addition to this on-the-spot approach, consider developing a daily practice that can help you better deal with ongoing stressful and challenging situations as described in my earlier post – https://carolbrusegar.com/deep-breathing-for-stress-relief/

The more you get into a routine of practicing breathing exercises, the better you’ll become at doing so, which will give you the ability to reduce stress, anger, and frustration easier than before.

To explore the topic more, check out these books for adults and children about deep breathing for health:  Deep Breathing for Adults and Children

The Practice of Deep Breathing for Stress Relief

Breathe“Calm down, take a deep breath.” “BREATHE.”  We often give or receive this advice when we or someone else is stressed, irritated or angry.  As the pandemic continues, we have a group of stressors that we may not have experienced before. Expanding our repertoire of tools to deal with them can only be a good thing. The practice of deep breathing is an important one.

A few breaths in the midst of a stressful situation are but a tiny piece of the most effective use of deep breathing for our well-being. How does deep breathing benefit us and how can we gain those benefits?

Deep breathing exercises can effectively invoke your natural relaxation response and change the way your body responds to stress. Here are some details.

Your body can use deep breathing to allow the following body functions to happen:

  • You can increase the level of NO (nitric oxide) in your cells. This helps dilate blood vessels
  • You can lower your blood pressure
  • You can slow your breathing down with deep and meaningful breaths
  • You can lower your heart rate so you can feel calmer
  • You can slow down your metabolism so that it is more relaxed and efficient

Deep breathing exercises can be done anywhere and at any time. By doing deep breathing, you engage your brain so that you experience an increased sense of focus, profound calmness, and relaxation of the body.

While you can do deep breathing exercises anywhere, you need to do it for 20-30 minutes per day to lower your levels of stress and anxiety. That time can be spread throughout the day, as described below. Deep breathing will bathe your brain in the vital oxygen your brain needs at all times.  You can experience calmness, peacefulness, and a better sense of well-being.

Types of Deep Breathing Exercises

There are several ways you can go about deep breathing to reduce stress:

  • Visualization with deep breathing. This only takes a few seconds to complete the exercise. You consciously relax the tenseness in your shoulders and neck, which is where many people tighten up during stress. Then you take a deep breath and visualize the bottoms of your feet as having holes in them. Imagine that, through those holes, warm, comforting air is flowing up from the ground to fill up your entire body. The warmth is relaxing and you’ll feel less stress within seconds. Imagine your muscles soaking up the warmth and relaxation under the feeling. Do this several times a day when you feel the most stress.
  • Breathe with a stuffed animal. This exercise takes a little bit longer but it can be extremely soothing. The purpose of the stuffed animal is to remind you to breathe through your abdomen. As you take those deep breaths, it will rise and fall with each breath. If it isn’t, you aren’t breathing deeply enough. Lie down on a couch or bed and put one hand in the area of your chest. Place your stuffed animal in the middle of your abdomen. Keep your eyes closed and allow your body’s muscles to sequentially relax from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet. Breathe in a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and slowly breathe out. Try this for about twenty breaths and repeat throughout the day when you feel the most stressed out.
  • Escape breathing. Escape into your mind by seeing yourself in a calm and serene place. Use all your senses to imagine yourself in this place. Breathe deeply and imagine yourself as calm as possible in this place. It may be a beach with the crashing waves of the ocean, the forest with its rustling leaves and the sounds of birds, or a meadow, where the wind is blowing serenely on your face as you breathe in deeply.

Fitting Deep Breathing into your Day

Try these tips:

  • Do the deep breathing exercises while engaged in other daily activities: while stuck in traffic, waiting for an appointment, sitting on the train or bus. You can even do deep breathing while walking around.
  • Set one or two deep breathing sessions per day, perhaps in the morning and just before going to bed. This will allow you to de-stress so that you can start your day stress-free and end your day stress-free.
  • Practice mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness is when you use your brain just to notice the world around you without any type of judgment or criticism. This will increase your focus on the here and now so that you aren’t dwelling on past stressors.

To explore the topic more, check out these books for adults and children about deep breathing for health:  Deep Breathing for Adults and Children