Your smartphone buzzes with text notifications even before your alarm clock sounds. Your email inbox is flooded with messages. The red notations on your daily calendar look like a crime scene. And there’s not a spot in your home or office where you can find quiet, where you can escape the endless barrage of questions and requests that assail you from morning to night.
It’s a frenetic world, and you’ve probably been swept up in the maelstrom for some time now. So, if you find yourself feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and entirely unfocused, it’s little wonder.
Fortunately, you don’t have to flee to a remote tree-top monastery in the Himalayas to do something about it. In fact, you can find quiet in the middle of chaos by dedicating just a few minutes each day by clearing your mind with a powerful technique called the brain dump. We will explain what a “brain dump” is and how can it work for you to clear your mind.
What Is a Brain Dump?
A brain dump is simply a novel term for a range of ancient techniques rooted in mindfulness practices. A brain dump is a particular type of mindfulness technique that works through affective and cognitive reprocessing. Basically, your goal is to get everything that’s on your mind down on paper or audio recording. This not only serves as an emotional release, but it also provides a bit of distance, both literal and figurative, on the thoughts and feelings that have been weighing you down, stealing your focus and your joy, and perhaps even keeping you up at night.
As a powerful mindfulness technique, a brain dump helps you purge pent-up emotions, from anxiety to anger, and learn to find stillness and peace even in the midst of tumult and stressful circumstances. For example, research has shown that mindfulness techniques can be highly effective for individuals facing chronic stress and anxiety, including those with persistent pain and anxiety, as well as healthcare providers coping with workplace trauma (1, 2).
Additionally, in a study of healthcare providers, patients, and families in pediatric intensive care units and pediatric care clinics, for example, Thoele et al. (2020) found that the daily use of brief expressive writing exercises helped to significantly reduce stress and improve perceived well-being in study participants (3).
How It’s Done
There’s actually no one way to do a brain dump. The best approach is simply to use the method that best meets your needs at any given time.
Freewriting/Speaking: The simplest kind involves sitting down for a brief period of uninterrupted writing. Ideally, the writing episode would last for around 10 minutes, and you can use whatever medium feels most comfortable for you, whether it’s putting a pen or pencil to paper, or even using colored pens or pencils. Using your devices (phone, tablet, or computer) is not optimal as it doesn’t get the energy fully out of your body in the same way as physically writing. If you prefer to speak your thoughts aloud, you can use an audio recorder.
The key in this more informal kind of brain dump is not to stop writing or speaking. Above all, don’t think about what you’re saying and don’t critique it. Just get it out. Once it’s on paper or audio, you can review it to gain a bit of perspective on the worries of the day, identify issues you might not have even known were troubling you, and even to begin to formulate a strategy for addressing these concerns. But more on that in a moment!
The Structured Brain Dump: Brain dumps don’t have to be quite so free-form or stream-of-consciousness based. You can also add a bit of structure to your approach, especially if you have a set goal in mind, such as more effectively managing your daily to-do list. For example, you can use the “four square” approach to help you better organize your thoughts.
In this case, you’ll need to write your thoughts down rather than recording them. Before you start, divide your paper into four sections. Label one “Thoughts,” another “Gratitude,” another “To Do,” and the last one “Priorities.” Then, once again, write for at least 10 minutes without stopping. Any thought that doesn’t belong in the “to-do” or “gratitude” section should be written in the “thoughts” square. Once you’re done, review your “to-dos” and write down your top three items in order of importance in the “priorities” square.
A structured strategy such as this can be a terrific way to help you gain some clarity when your mind is a jumble of disconnected and intrusive thoughts. It can also help you to clarify your goals and priorities, which can help make daily life feel much more manageable. Perhaps, best of all, by dedicating a section to listing the things you’re grateful for, you will inevitably be shifting your thought patterns in a more positive direction.
The Benefits of Clearing Your Mind with This Method
Given what’s already been discussed, the benefits of a daily brain dump are probably not going to come as a surprise. There is vast evidence that expressive writing, of which the brain dump is one critical example, dramatically improves mental health and overall psychosocial functioning. Research has shown that expressive writing improves the quality of life for pediatric cancer patients and survivors, supports postpartum health for new mothers, including those who have experienced traumatic births, and reduces pathological eating behaviors in vulnerable populations (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
Among the more beneficial effects identified in these studies are improvements in perceived self-efficacy, creativity, problem-solving, and decision-making, as well as the substantial reductions in stress and anxiety noted above.
And that’s not all. The evidence shows that you can expect enhanced benefits when you do, indeed, incorporate gratitude into your brain dump (9). For instance, in an experimental study in which participants were asked to make daily gratitude lists for a 14-day period, Cunha et al. (2019) found that the exercise resulted in substantial increases in positive affect, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness (10). Similarly, in a study of university students, Nawa and Yamagishi (2021) found that academic motivation significantly increased in subjects tasked with keeping a daily gratitude journal for two weeks (11).
Quiet Your Mind at Casa Alternavida
At Casa Alternavida, our mission is to help you regain your spark again. Our empathetic team of multidisciplinary experts can help you learn the tools you need to find your peace, regain your center, and reignite your creativity through a range of techniques that enable you to cultivate a life of holistic wellness, of health, and happiness in mind, body, and spirit. This includes personal retreat packages where you can learn to express yourself through writing, art, music, movement, or simply through quiet meditation. Our peaceful, nature inspired, rooms offer both luxury and solitude and feature cozy writing desk nestled alongside a picture window offering breathtaking views of our lush, tropical forest. Contact us today to discuss all that Casa Alternavida has to offer you!
Casa Alternavida was founded on the principle that there are healthier, “alternative” ways to balance life and work. This alternative is to stop the unconscious addiction to stress, overwhelm, and struggle to focus on a healthy, balanced lifestyle that yields better results. Our practitioners are trained to support you with unraveling those unconscious commitments so you can actively create the lifestyle you want to be living, take charge of your well-being, and reset bad habits. We are experts at creating playful experiences in nature that inspire deep personal insight and long-term positive behavior change. Teams walk away from our facility with new excitement for their projects, practices to work smarter, and a deep appreciation of their companies. If you are a business that cares about your employees and wants to enhance your workplace culture, we are dedicated to providing alternative ways of building resilient leaders and teams.
Marske, C., Shah, S., Chavira, A., Hedberg, C., Fullmer, R., Clark, C. J., Pipitone, O., & Kaiser, P. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in the Management of Chronic Pain and Its Comorbid Depression. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 120(9), 575–581. https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2020.096
Smith, S., Kassam, A., Griggs, L., Rizzuti, F., Horton, J., & Brown, A. (2021). Teaching mindfulness-based stress management techniques to medical learners through simulation. Canadian medical education journal, 12(1), e95–e97. https://doi.org/10.36834/cmej.69821
Thoele, D. G., Gunalp, C., Baran, D., Harris, J., Moss, D., Donovan, R., Li, Y., & Getz, M. A. (2020). Health Care Practitioners and Families Writing Together: The Three-Minute Mental Makeover. The Permanente journal, 24, 19.056. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/19.056
Ayers, S., Crawley, R., Button, S., Thornton, A., Field, A. P., Flood, C., Lee, S., Eagle, A., Bradley, R., Moore, D., Gyte, G., & Smith, H. (2018). Evaluation of expressive writing for postpartum health: a randomised controlled trial. Journal of behavioral medicine, 41(5), 614–626. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-018-9970-3
de Graaff, L. F., Honig, A., van Pampus, M. G., & Stramrood, C. (2018). Preventing post-traumatic stress disorder following childbirth and traumatic birth experiences: a systematic review. Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica, 97(6), 648–656. https://doi.org/10.1111/aogs.13291
Kupeli, N., Schmidt, U. H., Campbell, I. C., Chilcot, J., Roberts, C. J., & Troop, N. A. (2018). The impact of an emotionally expressive writing intervention on eating pathology in female students. Health psychology and behavioral medicine, 6(1), 162–179. https://doi.org/10.1080/21642850.2018.1491797
Schnepper, R., Reichenberger, J., & Blechert, J. (2020). Being My Own Companion in Times of Social Isolation - A 14-Day Mobile Self-Compassion Intervention Improves Stress Levels and Eating Behavior. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 595806. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.595806
Jones, J. K., Evans, J. F., & Barfield, R. C. (2021). The Utility of Verbal Therapy for Pediatric Cancer Patients and Survivors: Expressive Writing, Video Narratives, and Bibliotherapy Exercises. Frontiers in pediatrics, 9, 579003. https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2021.579003
Fishman M. (2020). The Silver Linings Journal: Gratitude During a Pandemic. Journal of radiology nursing, 39(3), 149–150. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jradnu.2020.05.005
Cunha, L. F., Pellanda, L. C., & Reppold, C. T. (2019). Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 584. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00584
Nawa, N. E., & Yamagishi, N. (2021). Enhanced academic motivation in university students following a 2-week online gratitude journal intervention. BMC psychology, 9(1), 71. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-021-00559-w