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How to Get Mental Clarity and Focus When Life Seems Overwhelming

A balancing strategy to clear your mind.

Photo by Alice Yamamura on Unsplash

Life, as we knew it, has completely changed — the pandemic has not been kind. For most people, especially freelancers, work has dwindled significantly. The series of lockdowns has not made things better.

For my part, I have been trying my best to stay sane, writing my gratitude lists and jotting down all the silver linings I can think of. It is a tough time and news of the death of loved ones on a daily basis is devastating.

Of course, we know that this too shall pass, but that’s easier said than done. During times like these, I remember my Mother’s sage advice: To list all the positive things in my life right now. I do have a roof over my head, food to eat, a loving family, reasonable health in spite of a chronic immune condition … and so on.

The T-chart Strategy for Mental Clarity

It is easy to lose our focus when we allow ourselves to get dragged down because we feel low or when things are not going the way we hope they will. It is easy to have that mental voice whine ‘why me”. When this happens, I follow the T-chart strategy to get myself back in balance.

How to use the T-chart strategy

  1. Take a deep breath. Several in fact. Calm down. Or try to.
  2. Take a sheet of paper and a pencil. No, we’re not going digital with this. Make your T chart by drawing a line down the center of the page. Label the left column Debit (what could be better) and the right column as Credit (the good stuff — what is going well). Note that we will not use the word “wrong” because thanks to my Mom, I grew up learning that every problem has a solution. (More in detail about the T-chart strategy here).
  3. Now start filling out those columns. Make an itemized list. It is okay to be descriptive, but better to make it brief, for now.
  4. Sometimes, it can be surprising how the right column (Credit) becomes heavier than the left side (Debit) — and that in itself is encouraging.
  5. What if you can’t bring yourself to fill the left side? I face that issue. There are times I am too embarrassed to write down my feelings. But it does help to get them down on paper. When we write things down and get them out of our heads, they shrink to their actual size. We prevent them from blowing out of proportion inside our heads and giving ourselves a headache.

“Diary writing is far more than a way of exorcising one’s unhappiness. The effect is extraordinary. Distanced on paper, troubles shrink to their true size. You can regard them objectively and see how temporary they are” — Devi, My Mom

6. Once your T-chart is ready, take a good look at it. It is wonderful to see the things on the left. How about the right side? The one that worries you? If you take a moment to think about what you can do about each item on the right, you’ll be surprised how you can actually find a solution to it yourself.

For example, I am overwhelmed because of clutter right now. Somehow this lockdown seems to have brought many ongoing activities to a grinding halt. I tried to prioritize but even that was driving me crazy.

So here is what I did.

I pledged to do one small thing every day. I tackled a small spot at a time. And very very slowly, saw progress. Oh, I didn’t keep my promise to myself every day but managed to build up enough guilt to do a little more, a little more often. Because even tiny steps matter. Inaction does not benefit anyone, least of all ourselves.

Extra Steps to Take After You Finish Making Your T-Chart

Start the day by setting intentions

Just three. Don’t make a long list and feel terrible about it and worse, carry it over and over, increasing the burden. I schedule my day in such a way that I feel happy at the end of it.

Make time for exercise

Nothing like a brisk walk or stretching or yoga — or whatever your favorite activity is to get the adrenaline flowing and the serotonin kicking in. Best way to clear your head. Added bonus? Exercise is invaluable for your well-being.

Make sure you get enough sleep

I know, right? Losing sleep and inadequate sleep can lead to health issues that you really don’t need right now on top of everything else.

Tune out of social media updates

Turn off those pesky notifications. You will not miss them. If there’s something important, that person will reach out to you.

Yes, that’s pretty much it. It goes without saying that you should eat healthily.

Here is the thing. Self-care, at least the basics of eating, sleep, and exercise can help you move forward to a much better mental space. Also, believe in the magic of routines. It keeps you focused.

A version of this appeared on Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles

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Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles

Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles

Writing about Self Improvement, Mindfulness, Meditation, Parenting, Health, Travel, Life, Books. Showing my diabetes who’s boss. Visit: