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How to Do a Brain Dump to Reduce Stress and Overwhelm

How to Do a Brain Dump to Reduce Stress and Overwhelm


One of the most effective ways of finding clarity and focus is to get your thoughts out of your head and down onto paper where you can organise them and take action. Try these tips on how to do a brain dump to reduce stress and overwhelm.


A brain dump has got to be one of the most unattractive names for something that works wonders when you’re feeling overwhelmed or up to your eyeballs in things to do and remember! Very simply, a brain dump helps you get all your thoughts out of your head and ‘dumped’ onto paper.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, brain-dumping is…

The act or an instance of comprehensively and uncritically expressing and recording one’s thoughts and ideas (as on a particular topic).

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Brain dumping is about writing down all your thoughts onto paper (or the digital equivalent!) to declutter your mind, think clearly and find focus. You can then go on to organise, prioritise and take action on those thoughts going forward.


Brain dumping is one of my own favourite ways of relieving an overwhelmed mind. I hate to feel frazzled and stressed and not sure of my direction but my life is busy and I do have plenty to think about. So I use brain dumping because it has some wonderful benefits:

  • It clears my mind of unhelpful mental clutter
  • Helps me think more clearly and logically
  • I feel less overwhelmed and stressed
  • I feel calmer and less anxious
  • I can organise, prioritise and action my thoughts and feelings
  • I sleep better
  • I’m less distracted by my thoughts and more engaged in the present

I use brain dumping for all these reasons and I find the more regularly I use brain dumping as a tool to help me manage my thoughts, the more useful it becomes.


Brain dumping is a great way of decluttering your mind, but it’s also an important part of living intentionally and with purpose.

Exploring your thoughts, connecting with your inner self and identifying what’s important and what matters to you, is essential for living life mindfully, aware and with intention. Brain dumping is about paying attention to how and what you’re thinking, setting goals, creating plans and establishing your values and priorities in life.

“You must weed your mind as you would weed your garden.”

Astrid Alauda

Busy life pushes and pulls us in different directions. Home, family, work, money, relationships, leisure… there are many components to a full and rewarding life.

Sometimes it gets too much, but it’s an inevitable part of modern life that we have so many things contributing to our internal chatter. That’s not to say that the chatter is bad, but sometimes it makes too much noise and the important thoughts get drowned out by the noisy obtrusive ones.

Enter the brain dump as a quick, simple and low cost (or no cost) way to create order out of disorder and clarity out of chaos.

How to do a brain dump


Here are some simple steps to brain dump your thoughts and take action on them.

1. Grab some paper and pen(s)

Any paper will do at this stage, or you can use your favourite notebook if that’s readily to hand.

You can either use just one pen or go for different colour pens for different areas of your life e.g. kids, school, work, family, relationships, money, health.

It might help to see it all colour-coded when you look back to review what you’ve written. But in my experience, it just makes it more difficult to make sure you’ve written down as much as you can. If you have to stop to choose the right colour, you’re more likely to lose your train of thought.

Simplest is often best so I would advise just one pen, but if you work better with colour-coding, then go for that!

2. Write down all your thoughts as they come to you

Don’t worry about the order in which you think about them. Often the biggest problems or issues will come out first, but if something small and niggly comes to mind, just write it down.

Don’t worry about whether you’ve spelt it right, or the sentence is grammatically correct or if it would make sense to anyone else reading it. As long as you can read it back and you can understand what you’ve written then that’s fine! Just get everything down on to paper and out of your head.

3. You now have a visual list

You can see everything clearly and visibly in front of you so you don’t have to worry about remembering all of it in your head. Your mind should be filled with less mental clutter as all your thoughts are now on paper rather than whirling around in your head.

Can you identify what’s been stressing you out or worrying you? Does this remove the clutter from your brain so you can think more clearly? Are you starting to feel any better and a little less overwhelmed?

4. Organise your thoughts

Now you can start to make sense of what you’ve been thinking, make some order out of what you’ve written and put in place plans to change or make things happen. How you do this will depend on how you’ve written your list.

  • If you’ve written it in list form, maybe with bullet points, then you could just use this list and tick things off as you do them.
  • Or, if you’ve written a whole essay you might want to re-jig this into a list format, taking each point in turn and forming it into a separate line or bullet point.
  • You could highlight different areas of your life in different colours.
  • You could make separate mini lists for each area or simply reorganise your list by order of priority, most urgent or important things at the top.

5. Take action

Whatever strategy you used to organise your thoughts, find a way of breaking it all down into bite-sized chunks that you can now take action over, one point at a time. You could even create a To Do list out of your action points.

Try to address each point, deal with it and then tick it off or cross it out. There’s an emotional release that happens when you cross things off a To Do list and you feel you’ve done them and got them out of the way.

How to do a brain dump


Brain dumping can also be very therapeutic and helpful at other times when you just need to work through a problem or situation. If something is weighing your mind, you could write the problem down and work through your thoughts around the problem and any possible outcomes or steps to resolve it.

Brain dumping is also a useful tool to overcome anxiety, over-thinking, stress and as part of a regular self-care routine. Much like creating a regular journaling practice helps us stay connected with our self, a regular brain dump exercise can also help you keep in touch with your thoughts and emotions.

You may notice what you’ve written requires some support or intention to work through. Awareness is the first step to dealing with many issues and can avoid them coming back in times of challenge.


Brain dumping isn’t only useful to deal with mental health challenges and the struggles of daily life if it feels overwhelming. If you’re feeling buried under your thoughts for any reason, there’s too much going on and you can’t think straight, then it’s definitely time to do a brain dump!

I like to brain dump my thoughts regularly throughout the week. Sometimes as part of my morning routine, sometimes tied in with my morning journaling and gratitude practice. I really find it a helpful way of making sense of what I’m thinking in a way that I can then come up with a plan to deal with whatever issues I’m facing – both good and bad!


Brain dumping can take as long as you need. If you have lots on your mind and want to really dive deep into what’s weighing you down, then you can take your time to brain dump every single thought and work through them.

At other times, it’s equally helpful to just make a quick list of whatever you’re trying to remember or think about so you’re not worrying about keeping these lists in your head especially when you can’t do much about whatever you’re remembering to do. Just like writing a quick To Do list, a quick brain dump clears the clutter from your brain so you can think with focus and clarity again.

If you haven’t got pen and paper to hand or 30 minutes of free time, don’t worry!

You can do a brain dump any time and anywhere, even if it’s in the car waiting to pick the kids up from school. Just use the Notes section on your phone and brainstorm some thoughts. You can pop them on your main brain dump list later.


Next time you’re feeling frazzled try a brain dump! It won’t solve all your problems but it’s a great strategy to help you try to deal with your mental clutter relatively quickly and easily to free up your mind.

These are just some of the main benefits of doing a regular brain dump:

  • Organise – Use your brain dump to put your thoughts into some sort of organised order so you can see easily what’s been on your mind.
  • Act – If you do a brain dump regularly you’ll be able to identify patterns of regular thoughts and worries and find ways to address these things, so you can make them easier and simpler.
  • Clarity – It will help you get clarity on what’s going on in your life, things you’re worried about, areas that need a bit of work or when it’s time to make some bigger, more strategic changes in your life.
  • Focus – It will help you get focus and be able to concentrate on what’s really important to you in life. It will help you find a way to spend more time and energy on these things rather than get caught up on what’s just clutter.
How to do a brain dump


If you enjoyed this post, here are some other helpful resources on mindset and taking care of yourself:

  • 20 Ways to Be Happier – Everyone likes to feel happy but it’s easier said than done. We all have ups and downs and some days are better than others. If you’re feeling sad or unsettled and in need of a fresh perspective on your day, try these tips for 20 ways to be happier. Mindset and self-care tips to help you find happiness through simple, intentional living.
  • Essential Mindsets to Help You Get More Out of Life – Making change or exploring something new starts within. In this article we look at some essential mindsets to help you get more out of life. If you’re exploring a simpler lifestyle, want to become clutter-free at home, in your schedule and in your heart, it all starts with your mindset.
  • Master Your Mindset – A self-care workbook for your mind to help build positivity, resilience and confidence to support you in making change and taking action!
  • How to Declutter Your Mind for Clarity and Peace – Clutter isn’t just the physical stuff in our homes. It can also be emotional and psychological clutter as we busy our brains like we busy our life. Check out this post for 24 tips on how to declutter your mind for more clarity and peace.


Why not grab a pen and paper and try a brain dump now? Just write down all the thoughts that pop up in your mind. If you like, you could set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and see what comes to you in that time.

You might be aware you’ve been thinking (or stressing) about some of them. But is there anything that you’ve written down that you didn’t realise you were thinking about or was troubling you?

Alternatively, you might like some extra help and structure so I’ve created a printable Brain Dump Worksheet to help you declutter your mind and make sense of your thoughts.

Pop your details in the box below to get your own copy of the Brain Dump Worksheet direct into your inbox…


I’m Antonia and on this blog I share practical inspiration to simplify your home, time and life. Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest! You can also subscribe to Balance Through Simplicity and receive regular simplicity tips straight to your inbox for free. Make sure you never miss an article plus you’ll get a copy of my free Declutter Starter Kit as a welcome gift!


Sunday 5th of November 2023

Personally, I love using Trello for brain dumps. For me, as someone with ADHD, it's a great way of getting the thousand tiny voices of "PICK ME! DO ME! ORGANIZE ME! CLEAN ME!" to quiet down. Sometimes I'll come back to a board, sometimes it languishes and eventually gets deleted. But I'm okay with it either way, as the real purpose was the brain dump itself.

I do find the brain dumping into Trello helpful when I'm planning to travel. Packing for a trip is the one time where I actually use a checklist. I'll never forget the time I decided I had done enough travelling that I could wing it - and arrived without a toothbrush or hairbrush. LOL. So as items I need to pack pop up in my ADHD brain, I collect them on the Trello board over a number of days, secure in knowing that they'll be there to keep me on track once I'm starting to pack.

My other "brain dump" is my journal, which is a Word document. Great for anxiety and stress, as you said.

Thanks for these excellent ideas, Antonia.

Balance Through Simplicity

Sunday 5th of November 2023

Hi Laura, yes I'm a Trello fan too. I don't have ADHD but I hate feeling overwhelmed so I use Trello/brain dumping to clear my head and reset. It's amazing what space can provide for clarity and focus - in our homes, hearts and mind. Thank you for reading and for your comment!


Sunday 27th of October 2019

Hi Antonia Thank you for sharing such wonderful write-ups. I just chanced upon a topic from your blog. Will go through it in detail. Your guidelines sound quite practical. I am feeling very lost. I am in my 40s with a job to keep me occupied..That's it

Balance Through Simplicity

Monday 28th of October 2019

Hi Tina, thank you for your kind comment. I hope my blog helps to encourage and inspire you!