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1 Minute Mindfulness Exercise to Calm Down When Overwhelmed

Take a minute to prioritize the chaos.

Key points

  • Overwhelm happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once.
  • To quash overwhelm, you have to permit yourself to figure things out in time.
  • By completing a mindfulness exercise, you can establish if most of your thoughts are past or future-based and bring your mind to the present.
Source: Josepsuria/Shutterstock

The never-ending saga that is COVID-19, new variants, canceled holiday plans, kids, health, work, school, money, loneliness, relationships, etc., the list goes on, for all of us, every single day.

It’s safe to assume that we’re all feeling exhausted, burnt out, a bit defeated, and generally overwhelmed with the state of the world, the nuances of everyday life, and the waves of emotion that accompany each of the stressful life events. It’s more difficult than ever to get grounded, prioritize, and think clearly while we’re being bombarded with ever-evolving news, media, and change.

Here’s a secret to help de-stress within seconds. Overwhelm happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once. This is magical thinking. It is an impossible and unrealistic expectation that you will solve all of your problems in one day.

In order to quash overwhelm, you have to permit yourself to figure things out in time. You must also have the faith that you will figure it all out, even if the solution is not available to you at the moment. You’ve made it this far in life, and none of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of the past have stopped you yet.

What makes today’s challenges so different? They’re not; they’re just new. Is it not true that decisions you’ve made over time and reflected on before acting was often more beneficial and advantageous than decisions you made impulsively? Just so that you could cross the next item off of your mental “to do” list?

We can argue about that another time; for now, I’d like to show you a simple exercise created by Gina M. Biegel, LMFT psychotherapist and author, which will bring you to the present moment, focus on the now, and coordinate the mental chaos.

As the famous Thich Nhat Hanh quote goes,

Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

This exercise will serve to get you in touch with your peace.

Materials Needed:

Pen and Paper


Time: 1 minute

Instructions: I’m old school; please take out a piece of paper (that white sheet, made of fibers, with horizontal lines). Please do not use your phone for this exercise; there are too many distractions, notifications, emails, and text messages to reinforce the belief that you need to panic.

  • Please make three columns on the paper labeled “Past,” “Present,” and "Future.”
  • Write down all of the worries, concerns, fears, and thoughts you have for 60 seconds below the three columns. Do not sensor the thoughts or judge them as “silly,” “stupid,” or “weird,” and choose not to write them down. They are what they are, just thoughts.
  • After the timer goes off, classify the thoughts into their corresponding categories. Ask yourself, Is this something that happened in the past? Is this something that I’m afraid will happen in the future? Is this happening right now, as I’m writing?

The Good News and Your Results:

If most of your thoughts are in the “past” category, whether five days ago or five years ago, It no longer exists. This means it does not need to be addressed “immediately” or at this moment because nothing can be done to undo it. Stressing about what might have been or what you could have done is only draining your energy which you could be directing toward the present moment.

Yes, taking the lessons and wisdom from past experiences is meaningful and essential, but depression, resentment, and sadness will become your dominant emotional experience if most of your thoughts are focused there.

More good news, if most of your thoughts are in the “future” column, whether it’s five days from now or five years from now, it never happened. It doesn’t exist. It’s a fearful projection, trying to keep you safe and protected, but it does not change the fact that it does not exist.

Yes, planning for the future is important and can help prevent conflict, but if most of your thoughts are future-based, anxiety, angst, and apprehension are not trailing far behind.

To summarize, we’ve established that if most of your thoughts are past or future-based, that you’re stressing and suffering something that is not reality. Something you cannot control. You’re struggling with something that does not have the power to hurt or harm you, and something has no evidence to substantiate it.

Finally, the best news, the “present” category. I suspect that this column has the least amount of thoughts tallied. Call me psychic, but just a hunch. The present moment is where all of your power is; the present moment is where all of the answers and magic can be found.

You’ve brought your mind back to your body. You’ve just instantly labeled and prioritized the sea of senselessness streaming through your mind, given yourself clarity and insight, and can now focus on what matters most, what’s right in front of you. You gave yourself the key to mental wellbeing, happiness, peace, and satisfaction. It is here that you can be okay while not knowing all the answers right now.

I’ll sign off with a quote from Timber Hawkeye and a wish for 2022 from myself, “You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.”