Mastering techniques to calm your mind when you feel distressed will make a massive impact on your life, and it all starts within. 

We all have an inner voice. That voice constantly analyzes the situations we’re in, reflects on the past, and makes predictions about the future. 

Sometimes, that voice is positive and uplifting. Other times, it can be downright mean. 

When that inner voice turns negative, it can be quite difficult to flip the switch; but it is possible. 

Psychologist Ethan Kross highlights techniques for overcoming mental angst in his book Chatter.

Here are some actionable suggestions from his book that can help calm your mind when you feel distressed. 

Surrounding Switchup 

Switching up your surroundings is a powerful way to change your perspective and step into a new mindset. 

“We’re embedded in our physical spaces, and different features of those spaces activate psychological forces inside us, which affect how we think and feel,” writes Kross. “If we make smart choices about how we relate to our surroundings, they can help us control our inner voice.”

Essentially what Kross is saying is that different environments trigger different feelings. 

This isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking thought. We know we feel different at the beach versus being in the office. But the point is that most of us spend way too much time in the same surroundings. 

It’s up to us to carve out time in our schedules to get out into the world; it’s vital to our mental health. 

Nature is AWEsome 

There is a significant amount of research that shows that being in nature physically affects our brains. One study shows that spending 90 minutes walking in nature reduces activity in the area of the brain responsible for anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. 

Obviously, most of us can’t just wander around in the woods for 90 minutes every day. But it’s clearly important to our mental health and we should all carve out some time each week to be out in nature. 

If you don’t have easy access to the forest or a park, even just looking at pictures or watching videos about nature can have a significant impact

Being in nature also creates an opportunity to experience awe; the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world.

“Awe is considered a self-transcendent emotion in that it allows people to think and feel beyond their own needs and wants,” Kross writes. “The operative power of awe is its ability to make us feel smaller, nudging us to cede control of our inner voice to a greater grandeur.”

When we experience awe, the areas of our brain responsible for negative self-reflection become less active

One study that took volunteers on a river-rafting trip found that the more they experienced awe, the better the improvements in their stress, PTSD, happiness, and sense of belonging.

You don’t necessarily have to hit the rapids to get these benefits. Kross explains that we can also feel awe when we read poetry, listen to music, watch great athletic feats, or watch our loved ones succeed. 

If you want to calm your mind and feel less distressed, make time for awe. 

Clear Out the Clutter 

When our thoughts and feelings seem out of whack, one way we can get a grip is to exert a sense of control over our environment — by decluttering.

“Seeing order in the world is comforting because it makes life easier to navigate and more predictable,” Kross writes.

Additionally, decluttering our homes might also make us happier according to a new study. There also some anecdotal evidence to support this; does anyone really enjoy living in a cluttered place? 

Tidying up our space can be done proactively, but it can also be soothing to some in those moments of high stress. 

It’s important to note that it’s not just our physical spaces that need tidying up. Decluttering our minds is also key to alleviating distress. 

This 5-minute meditation exercise is a great way to declutter your mind and see things with a new perspective.