A lot of research has pointed to ways we can decrease stress and calm down an overactive mind. It’s fueled by our sympathetic nervous system activation, the release of cortisol, and the release of the catecholamines norepinephrine and epinephrine (Charmandari, Tsigos, & Chrousos, 2005). So what are some of these science-supported ways to create a calm mind?
1. Try Visualization
When our minds are full of stress and to-dos, sometimes it can be helpful to replace thoughts with something more soothing. One way to do this is with visualization. For example, you can imagine yourself on a white sand beach, sitting in the sun, with a slight breeze carrying the scent of fruit.
The cool thing about visualization is that when we imagine things, our brains react in very similar ways as they would if those things were happening in our real lives. So when we visualize something calming, some parts of our brains think it's real. As a result, we can start to feel calmer, or happy, or peaceful, or whatever emotions the visualization evokes (Quoidbach, Wood, & Hansenne, 2009). So if you want to have a calm mind, try to imagine a scenario that cultivates peace of mind.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to turn down the speed of a racing mind, ease anxiety, and help us live in the moment. Many people engage in mindful meditation to calm stress and anxiety. Although mindful meditation doesn't always work for everyone (Krick & Felfe, 2019), it can indeed be a useful tool to try. Guided meditations (which you can find on YouTube), in particular, can help us stay with the meditation long enough to induce a sense of calmness.
3. Listen to Binaural Beats
Previous research had shown that listening to calming music can reduce cortisol, one of the key stress hormones (Khalfa et al., 2003). In addition, research suggests that there are benefits of listening to music with binaural beats. Binaural beats are when two tones with slightly different frequencies are played to each ear. Listening to binaural beats before a task may help improve performance, perhaps by calming the mind (Garcia-Argibay, Santed, & Reales, 2019).
4. Get Outdoors
Perhaps one of the best ways to calm the mind is to get outside. Getting out into the wilderness, a park, a local botanical garden, or even your front yard may be beneficial for your well-being (Ulrich & Parsons, 1992). Whether it's because of the fresh air, sunlight, or breathing in the scent of trees (all of which are good for our health), it doesn't really matter. All we know is that being outdoors helps calm and soothe us.
A version of this post also appears in The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Charmandari, E., Tsigos, C., & Chrousos, G. (2005). Endocrinology of the stress response. Annu. Rev. Physiol., 67, 259-284.
Garcia-Argibay, M., Santed, M. A., & Reales, J. M. (2019). Efficacy of binaural auditory beats in cognition, anxiety, and pain perception: a meta-analysis. Psychological Research, 83(2), 357-372.
Khalfa, S., BELLA, S. D., Roy, M., Peretz, I., & Lupien, S. J. (2003). Effects of relaxing music on salivary cortisol level after psychological stress. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999(1), 374-376.
Krick, A., & Felfe, J. (2019). Who benefits from mindfulness? The moderating role of personality and social norms for the effectiveness on psychological and physiological outcomes among police officers. Journal of occupational health psychology
Quoidbach, J., Wood, A. M., & Hansenne, M. (2009). Back to the future: The effect of daily practice of mental time travel into the future on happiness and anxiety. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(5), 349-355.
Ulrich, R. S., & Parsons, R. (1992). Influences of passive experiences with plants on individual well-being and health. The role of horticulture in human well-being and social development, 93-105.