I need to ponder this a lot more.  I think I've just been struck by lightning.

From Jen at Conversion Diary"The Mental Neat Freak."

When Joe came home that evening, I was at my wits’ end. I was mentally fatigued to the point that I felt like I was on the brink of a breakdown, and could barely restrain myself from yelling at everyone about everything. When Joe asked what was wrong, I snapped, “I’ve been doing nothing but working ALL DAY. I JUST NEED A BREAK.”

It was kind of awkward when he reminded me, “Didn’t you spend half the afternoon at that nice salon?”


I stopped whining immediately, per that law of the universe that states that you’re not allowed to complain about anything for at least six hours after you’ve had an aromatherapy scalp massage. Yet I still felt miserable. No matter how many times I admonished myself to FEEL GRATITUDE NOW, I still walked around in that red-zone state where I desired a break like a drowning man desires oxygen.


The big moment occurred when I was trying to explain to my friend why I did not find the salon trip relaxing. “What would you have rather been doing?” she asked.

I knew the answer immediately: “Writing.”


[F]inally, after digging my way through piles and piles of words, I hit the core of the issue: “It brings order to my brain. It’s like…there are all these things that happen in my days that make my mind feel — I don’t know how else to describe it — messy. Like I’m surrounded by chaos, but on the inside. And it keeps piling up and piling up, to the point where sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.


Just like with physical space, it is possible for your mental space to get “messy.”
Again like with physical space, it is critical to your sense of peace and wellbeing to regularly clean up your mental space.


I think the biggest insight, though, was this:

Just because an activity is relaxing doesn’t mean it’s good for helping me regain a sense of internal order.

There's a lot more to the article, so if this resonates at all with you—or if you know someone who seems inexplicably stressed by a life filled with activities that you think should be relaxing—do take the time to read the whole thing.  I suspect this is a major reason why programs such as Mind Organization for Moms and Getting Things Done are so popular:  they recognize the debilitation caused by mental chaos.  What "Mental Neat Freak" adds is recognition of the need to identify and deliberately choose activities that promote clearing of mental clutter, which may or may not be connected to organizational activities.  Jen, for example, has so far discovered the following activities to be very helpful:

Jogging while listening to music (oddly, it has to be both — one or the other doesn’t do it)
Reading a well-written book

Nearly everyone could be helped by MOM and GTD, but mind-chaos-taming activities are clearly many, varied, and personal.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 7:13 am | Edit
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Lightening, indeed. I think mental clutter is more disruptive for me than physical clutter, tho they are related. I just hadn't had a name for it, before! And mental clutter is not obvious to the observer, such as a husband... Now I will think about what works for me. Thanks!

Posted by Leanne on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 9:31 am

I haven't had much time to think about this, but one thing that occurs to me is that "mental clutter" might not be the best name for it, at least in my case. What I experience is more like a short circuit, or perhaps a mental version of heart fibrillation. (Wikipedia: Fibrillation is the rapid, irregular, and unsynchronized contraction of muscle fibers. That's what it feels like, only in my brain.)

The activities that stop the mental chaos do not solve the underlying problems that cause it. How can reading a random good book help sort out what I need to do when, how, and in what order, so that I can have peace knowing I'm not dropping an important ball? GTD, MOM, FlyLady, and other organizing efforts perform that function.

That doesn't mean, however, that Jen's idea isn't a brilliant insight. The mind in such a state isn't in need of basic health care. It needs a defibrillator: something to stop the "rapid, irregular, and unsynchronized" mental activity and allow the mind's natural processes to restore normal rhythm.

Thus it makes sense to me that what might have a "defibrillating" effect on the mind would be different for different people, and might seem completely unrelated to the underlying problems.

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:57 am

Well put, Mom. I think it's important to put the effort into finding out what our frazzled minds need. For me it got much worse when I became a mom and it matters more because the kids are the ones who suffer from my short patience as a result of the brain chaos. When I start to unravel and feel like I have no time to myself I really try to answer the question "what is it I really want?" It can be hard to identify, but so important as it will not only make myself feel better but will make life more plesant for those around me, too!

Posted by Janet on Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 6:22 am