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Clear your mind and calm your anxiety with these easy expert tips.

Francesca Castagnoli
September 12, 2018

It’s one of the great ironies of life: We’re too frantically busy to deal with the things that make us feel frantically busy. Tackling them might feel like a someday project, but here we share strategies to ease your mind and let you enjoy life a lot more now.

Banish Nagging Thoughts

You might be a frequent victim of the Zeigarnik effect, named after a Russian psychologist who realized that a waiter could more easily recall incomplete orders than served ones. The follow-up study showed that people are 90% more likely to remember undone tasks than those they completed. “Tell your brain when you’ll get a task done,” says Christine Carter, PhD, a senior fellow at University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “It kills the worry loop.”

Control What’s Possible

“When we don’t know how something will work out, we worry in order to get certainty,” explains Robert Leahy, PhD, director of The American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City. Yet one study at Pennsylvania State University found that 85% of things people fretted about had neutral or positive outcomes. To quell anxiety, throw yourself into what you can accomplish—say, writing the introduction to a PowerPoint instead of ruminating on the presentation. “You’ll feel good about the present and put other thoughts on pause,” he says. 

Streamline Your Choices 

It’s a modern-day plague: We’re inundated with options for everything from house paint to olive oil—not just in local stores but online, too. “You either end up getting nothing, or you’re convinced what you got is the wrong thing,” says Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. The best sanity tactic is to impose limits: Pick just one place to shop, and allow yourself only a handful of possibilities. “With practice, it gets easier,” he notes, “and you’ll have extra hours in your day.”

Loosen Up On Perfection

“We have reached a tipping point in perfection. People are realizing we can’t do it all at the level that we used to,” says Julie Morgenstern, author of Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life. Try divvying up more responsibilities with your partner, even if he or she does them differently. And try Morgenstern’s “minimum, moderate, maximum” strategy: Decide what level of effort you can give tasks (and get away with). As she says, “You may be surprised to find that everything works out OK.”