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Eight tips for keeping calm in times of confusion

With 24-hour rolling news, social media apps on our mobiles and inescapable WiFi we’re better connected than ever before. But this constant connectivity comes at a cost. It can feel like we’re being bombarded by news bulletins, messages, calls and alerts. Research presented by the American Psychological Association suggests that our digital lives are making us more distracted, distant and drained.

So, we suggest you turn off the TV, switch off your notifications and distract yourself with this instead: eight tactics for how to keep calm, clear the mind and regain focus.

1. Schedule your social media time

It’s easy to wake up in the morning, grab the phone and start scrolling your way through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snap Chat and… well, the list goes on. And once you’ve started, it’s very hard to stop.

One strategy to prevent social media from taking over your life is to allocate a set period of the day in which to catch up. It’s not easy, and will require an iron will, but you’ll soon realise you don’t miss the perpetual browsing. And if you know you only have an hour perhaps you won’t waste time looking at thingy-who-you-went-to-primary-school-with’s baby shower photos.

2. Practice mindfulness

Being mindful means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and environment. It can help us to relax, alleviates stress, and – as a paper published in 2011 suggests – it can also help us to focus.

In this particular study individuals undertook eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training. Researchers looked at their brain activity before and after the training, and found that the meditation significantly improved their ability to regulate a brain wave that helps the mind screen out unwanted or distracting information. Sounds good doesn’t it?

If you’re not sure where to start, there are plenty of tips and tutorials for how to practice mindfulness online – just don’t get distracted by videos of dogs on skateboards.

Does mindfulness help with the stress of exams?

A school where pupils practise mindfulness to help with the stress of exams and school life.

3. Embrace mother nature

A sure-fire way to clear the mind of distractions is to venture into the great outdoors. Stepping away from technology and engaging with Mother Nature really does have restorative effects, says Professor Strayer from the University of Utah. It allows us to think more clearly and creatively.

The cerebral benefits of being in nature begin after only 30 minutes. Even a stroll around the park could make the world of difference.

In Strayer’s study individuals took a creativity test before and after a four-day Outward Bound trip. Results showed that those who had been immersed in the outdoors scored higher than those who were yet to go. In fact, the results indicated almost a 50 percent improvement in brain function post-hike!

Obviously we can’t all get into the mountains on our lunch break but the good news, according to Strayer, is that the cerebral benefits of being in nature begin after only 30 minutes. Even a stroll around the park could make the world of difference.

4. Make a list

Just like our cupboards and drawers, our minds need tidying up and organising too.

If the cause of your distraction is a cluttered mind, with thoughts and ideas fighting for occupancy, then it might help to make a physical list of the things that are bothering you or the tasks you need to tackle.

Try creating one list for home stuff, one for work, and one for relationships. Working down a to-do list without veering off course isn’t easy, but you’ll have an enormous sense of achievement as you tick off each task. Marie Kondo would be proud!

5. Keep a journal

In the same way that writing lists can help us feel more in control, writing a journal is a great way to deal with any worries and anxieties that could be distracting us.

A diary is a healthy outlet for releasing bottled emotions – and can help us to work out what is important and what is not.

The key to keeping a diary is not to feel pressured. If you don’t write in it one night, don’t panic. It’s for you, no one else, so just jot stuff down when you feel like it.

6. Get eight hours sleep

We’re all familiar with the fatigue and irritation that goes hand in hand with a poor night's sleep. Another common side effect is lack of focus.

When we don’t get enough quality sleep our “executive function” is impaired, making it harder to pay attention and do well at school or work.

Is social media the modern day diary?

Tingy Simoes, a director of Pencourage, an online diary site and Vlogger Patricia Bright discuss the modern day twist on a diary.

Conversely, good sleep helps us to think clearly, retain information, and make decisions.

Sleep also feeds creativity, with research showing that we need a good kip to kick-start our innovative thinking.

Try prioritising eight hours a night and you might just find you’re so immersed in writing that soon-to-be-critically-acclaimed debut novel that you don’t bat an eyelid at an incoming WhatsApp message.

7. Breathe deeply

Take a deep breath…. and exhale. Feeling calmer? Deep breathing is a simple yet extremely effective way to help the body unwind.

Breathing deeply and mindfully actually helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which triggers the secretion of hormones that decrease blood pressure and heart rate, helping your body to relax.

On a frantic day, when you have a million and one things flying round your head, consciously stop for a moment to take some deep breaths.

8. Create a tech-free space

Try allocating an area or a room in your home where gadgets are banned. This can then be a safe space where you can go to read a book, have a doze or daydream – without distracting notifications popping up on a screen. It makes sense for this space to be the bedroom – if you can brave it.

We know that blue light from phones and laptops can trick the brain into thinking it's still daytime and prevent the body from releasing melatonin, the sleepy hormone. In fact, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers’ official advice to parents is that phones should be left outside the bedroom at night.

It wouldn’t hurt to try it…

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