What to do when your brain feels heavy with problems and possibilities
I have found that it is possible to both be excited for and discouraged by the days ahead.
It’s like the feeling of drinking an Icee, enjoying the refreshing flavor and coolness while simultaneously suffering through a brain-freeze.
Recently, I’ve made space for a bit of extra creative-thinking space in my weekly calendar. These hour-long sessions of dreaming and brainstorming have often left me feeling motivated and charged up to storm towards my goals and ambitions.
They have also left me feeling anxious, tired, and frustrated at the seeming lack of progress I’ve made.
The more time I spent in these creative-thinking spaces, the more I realized that our ability to be creators, to be husbands and wives, to be coaches, professionals, friends, uber drivers and writers all hangs on how we manage this tension between satisfaction and discontentment.
There is a catch-22 to every passion, every motivation and desire, and plan for our lives.
There is no such thing as a one-sided coin. Similarly, there is no such person who doesn’t wrestle the ever-present tension of having their minds filled with both problems and possibilities.
This article isn’t meant to address the fact that we all are split in our thoughts in some percentage towards these two camps. I’m operating off the assumption that because you’re human, you have things that keep you up at night, both in fear and excitement.
Instead, this article is a short analysis of how to deal with the heaviness that such a dichotomy naturally creates.
If I am to provide you any counsel on what to do when your brain feels heavy with both problems and possibilities, I feel that I must first invite you into a portion of my own mind and thinking.
You see, I do not write as from some ivory tower, as a master teacher looking at a first-year student with equal parts glee, glibness, and general disinterest.
I have personal experience, though vulnerable, which relates to many of the feelings that you yourself have experienced over the last hours, days, or weeks.
I have not been raised on a silver spoon, and yet, I do not claim to understand the vast difficulties and problems that arise with experiences such as abject poverty, abuse, mental illness.
I have, however, been discarded in relationships. I have lost love. I have looked at my career and wrestled with questions of significance, meaning, and value.
I recently read Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis and found that he aptly describes what I have and still experience in many ways to this day when he wrote:
“For the first time, I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me. A zoo of lusts. A bedlam of ambitions. A nursery of fears. A harem of fondled hatreds.”
You and I are likely much more similar than we are different. Though our forms of difficulty may differ, we both are, at the present, faced with an ever-increasing heaviness that dares to cloud our thinking, blur out our judgment, and wage war so that we may not be either fully disillusioned or generally satisfied with our current state of affairs.
In one of my creative-thinking sessions, I recently made short lists of both problems and possibilities within my mind.
You will likely relate to some on both lists, which furthermore proves that you, like me, have some experience with this heaviness within your mind.
- I often don’t feel well-read enough.
- I often don’t feel intentional enough about my future plan and business efforts.
- I often feel worried that my ambition will get in the way of my relationships.
- I often feel anxious that my anxiety will lead to burnout.
- I often don’t feel smart enough to teach others.
- I often feel like my writing will never amount to anything good and worthwhile.
- I often feel too selfish and that I don’t spend enough time focusing on others.
- I often feel like I waste too much time on folly or irrelevant musings.
- I often responsible for my friendships and that if I wouldn’t initiate, no one else would.
If you made it through this list and haven’t yet decided to give up on this article, there is hope for you yet.
As daunting as these problems may seem, they are not the complete representation of what lies in each of our minds. They may, in some moments, make up the larger percentage of what we dwell on and think about, as it is often far easier to dwell on fear, isolation, and pity than it is to ignore them.
And yet, this article is meant to guide you towards what to do when you feel the heaviness of both problems and possibilities within your brain. If you want to identify and fixate on the problems you’ve experienced, a local counselor may do wonders.
As many of you related to one or more of the problems above, I am sure that an equal number of you may relate to the list of possibilities I drafted as well.
- I have learned some incredible things, not always from books, but from a myriad of rich life experiences.
- I can see potential in the days ahead and future directions for both my career and my business efforts that I am excited about.
- I have a handful of closer relationships that I appreciate and deeply value, people who know me and love me for who I am.
- I am aware of a good number of things that make me anxious and when I actively engage to push back anxiety, I have moments of calm and clarity.
- I enjoy teaching others and have found that humility is often just as valued as expertise.
- As long as my writing is impacting someone, it is doing its work, and therefore, I am encouraged to continue writing.
- I purposefully practice intentionality and find joy in remembering small details, celebrating special days, and finding unexpected ways to encourage those around me.
- I have extra time on my hands at this moment, time that if embraced and honed can be put to good use.
- I cherish when friends initiate something with me, but I also cherish the value I can bring to my friendships through being intentional.
Within each of our minds, there are doors that are opened, and doors that are seemingly closed. Every possibility has its share of problems and every problem has its silver-lining of possibility. The two work in tandem like the pedals on a bicycle, one rising as the other falls.
I share my own feelings in hope that these words may lift off the page and resonate with your heart in a way that causes you to softly say, “Me too. I’m glad I’m not the only one.”
You are not alone. Your feelings are far more common than they would cause you to believe.
In fact, there are ways that we can address this heaviness that are not only helpful, but also genuinely healthy for your mind and your emotions.
Action 1: Sort out your thoughts on paper
The first and most practical step in dealing with the heaviness of problems and possibilities within your brain is to shift the weight to a different platform.
Our brains, like our imagination, are vast and complex structures. They are hard to put boundaries on, difficult to turn off, and are tough to comprehend.
The classic piece of paper is none of these things.
A piece of paper has boundaries, it is easy to discard or move away from, and it holds no real mysteries.
Because of this, a piece of paper can hold a lot of weight. It can hold your most nerve-wracking dreams or the single darkest thought you can possibly conjure.
While you can rarely transfer the entire weight of your problems and possibilities from your mind to the page, you can shift some of the weight, giving you a reprieve from the heavy burdens of unexpressed thoughts and feelings.
There is a lot of research out there about the practice of daily journaling. Maybe for you, that idea is overwhelming and too daunting. Know that when it comes to putting your feelings on paper, anything is better than nothing.
So pick a level you are comfortable with and think through how you can add it into your rhythm and routine. Remember to show yourself grace, especially if you are new to this idea.
For me, as I mentioned above, I like to schedule out an hour or so a week to just think. That means I close my laptop, get away from my phone and just bring a notebook and pen. It’s not my rescue boat, but it is a flotation device.
Action 2: Set some core beliefs
There is a lot thrown at each of us over the course of each day. From our alarm clocks to the evening news, we get bombarded with emails, text messages, IM’s, advertisements, notifications, conversations, interpersonal dynamics, family interactions, romantic relationships. The list goes on and on.
It’s no surprise that if we onboard all of this into our brains without a method of sorting, organizing, and prioritizing, our brains will often feel fuzzy and heavy.
That’s why you need to create a priority system.
You’ve likely heard the advice to set big goals and then chunk them into measurable and actionable steps. I’m a fan of goals, but goals are things you accomplish, not implicit realities of who you are personally.
Instead of setting big goals, my encouragement would be to highlight a few characteristics of who you want to be.
For instance, I want to be loving, smart, and intentional.
I know I won’t be everything to everyone. There’s no way to have a perfect personality. But I can control small areas of who I want to be, and working to define those areas helps me move forward in addressing the heaviness of the problems and possibilities within my brain.
Once you’ve addressed a few core beliefs or characteristics, you are ready to move on to the most time-intensive but rewarding stage of caring for your mental and emotional health.
Action 3: Sift truth from perception
It’s no secret that many of us don’t slow down and take time to actively think through what goes through our minds.
Because of this, we can unknowingly end up with a lot of specters of thoughts and feelings that aren’t actually truthful. They are just unexamined.
So if you’re brain feels heavy with problems and possibilities, a good practice is to set aside a bit of time to ask yourself one primary question — why?
Asking this question isn’t like a magic bullet and it won’t unlock all of your perceptions in an instant. In fact, you’ll likely have to ask it maybe a dozen times before you get to the baseline of what you are looking to find.
Let’s walk through an example to see how this works.
Let’s take my problem #1 from above — “I often don’t feel well-read enough.” I have admitted this was a potential problem I was feeling by writing it down. Now I ask myself why?
Q: Why do I not feel well-read enough?
A: Because I haven’t read many of the classics.
Q: Why does reading the classics make someone well-read?
A: Because that’s what a few of the writers I’ve read seem to insinuate.
Q: Why do I care about what those writers insinuated?
A: Because I want to be smart.
Q: Why do I want to be smart?
A: Because I want to contribute something of value and be someone of importance.
You could drill down a few more times by asking “why” questions but you get the point.
If you are committed to being honest, repetitively asking why for both your problems and your possibilities helps unlock the core reasons and motivations that often hide under the surface of what we think we acutely feel.
Unlocking these reasons helps us sift through whether or not the issue or possibility is actually rooted in an area we are committed to working on.
The most devious trap our minds try to entice us in is that we have the time, energy, and resource to equally address each feeling of optimism and pessimism.
The most mentally and emotionally people are not those who address every single emotion they feel. They are the ones who know which emotions to concentrate on, both in efforts to raise good emotions and to snuff out the bad ones.
Don’t get discouraged
A heavy brain can be hard to sort through, but it becomes exponentially more difficult when the weight of your thoughts starts to infiltrate your other center of emotions — your heart.
Though daunting, it is more than possible to take steps towards alleviating the heaviness in your brain. These actions above are just the tip of the iceberg and are intended to be the spearhead in your journey towards mental and emotional health.
If you can keep your heart encouraged, you can accomplish anything.
Lastly, always seek to remember that you are not a mistake. You may face many problems, but there is an equal number of possibilities for your days ahead.
This article first appeared on JakeDaghe.com.