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How to Turn Down the Noise in Your Life

STEP 1: Tune in to your mind-set. continued...

Sarah French, 28, of Phoenix, a stay-at-home mom, used to notice her mood plummet when she'd fall off her diet. And that gloomy frame of mind would throw off her concentration all day. So instead of obsessing over that extra cookie she scarfed, she started using the nonemotional phrase That's interesting! And if negative thoughts (such as I messed up) start monopolizing her mind, she tells herself, That's interesting! Look how I'm putting myself down. "Stopping, stepping back, and observing myself like this helps me clear my head, let go of things, and shift my mind to more important matters," she says.

To suss out the hidden issues that might be sapping your concentration, ask yourself, What's really going on with me? If you're struggling to find the answer, think of a frank, wise friend and ask, What would she say to me right now?

STEP 2: Now, adjust that mind-set.

Just telling yourself, Don't worry, be happy won't do the trick, but there are effective ways to get your mind and mood to a better place. "While you can't change the way you feel, you can change the way you think, and that in turn changes the way you feel," says Palladino. Ask yourself, Is there anything I can do about my problem right now so I'll feel less tense/angry/worried/whatever? If there is, do it — or make a plan to. For instance, if your husband, leery of high gas prices, wants to cancel a holiday trip that really matters to you, schedule a time to discuss it with him in two days — and in the meantime, research ways to travel more cheaply. If the report your boss wants seems daunting, sit down and make a detailed list of the steps you need to complete. If you acknowledge how and when you'll resolve the problem, your anxiety level will drop and your brain won't endlessly mull over the issue, keeping you up at night or stealing your attention when you're trying to listen to your kids or finish up a work project on time.

You can also try asking yourself some probing questions: This thought that's upsetting me — do I absolutely know that it's true? Or, How will I view this five years down the road? "These questions provide a dose of perspective that will tame your unruly emotions by making them feel less intense, urgent, and dire," says Palladino.

Or substitute a positive thought for the negative one, she suggests. Just make sure your thought is stated positively: I'm going to make it instead of I'm not going to fail. Otherwise, your brain will tend to focus on the possibility of failure.

As part of her high-pressure job as an information specialist at a Seattle nonprofit, Nina Cindrich, 34, has to make presentations to senior executives, which she finds nerve-racking. So she has developed strategies to manage her energy level and calm her mind, allowing her to focus on the task with a cool, clear head. "After I've done a good amount of preparation — because that reinforces my confidence — I stop rehearsing two hours before the presentation and switch to a totally unrelated task, like catching up on email replies," says Cindrich. "I leave for the conference room with 10 minutes to spare, stop for some water, and once I arrive, I lower my nervousness by focusing on the people attending the meeting: saying hello, asking them about their work, connecting at a personal level. When I present my talk, I keep my anxiety in check by telling myself, I know more about this than anyone else in the room!"

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