How To See Through The Clouds

I sometimes get into a cloudy state of mind. Everything feels a bit greyer at these times and certain things don’t seem to matter as much. It’s usually brief, the clouds pass, but until then it’s uncomfortable.

The good thing about these periods is that they’re a natural indicator that I need to do something less (work?), do something more (exercise?) or just reset.

When I can’t quite see through the clouds, I’ve found that some combination of the following seven things has helped to disperse them. I hope they help you too.

1. Check in with right now

Remind yourself that each of us lives in the present moment, a mere fragment of time: the rest is life past or uncertain future.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3.10

I might be feeling worried or down right now, but logically that’s the result of judgements I’m making in my head. Outside my head, those judgements don’t exist. I’m not in physical pain or danger at this exact moment, so it can’t be that bad.

I can appreciate that I’m here and that if my basic needs are met then everything else that happens is a bonus.

2. Connect with nature

We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air.

Seneca The Younger, On Peace of Mind 17.8

Faced with a natural landscape, I have a sense that me and my concerns are very small, and the world is very big – and that sensation can shrink the ego down to a manageable size.

Wide open space and fresh air rarely fail to free the mind from needless worry. Looking at real clouds can help to get rid of mental ones.

3. Get active

Indulge the body just so far as suffices for good health. It needs to be treated somewhat strictly to prevent it from being disobedient to the spirit.

Seneca The Younger, Epistles 8.5

Getting outside for a walk is one way to feel refreshed, but going for a run is even more invigorating. For me, completing a tough workout then settling down after a shower is rejuvenating.

If running isn’t possible for you, anything that works up a bit of a sweat is a good alternative.

4. Talk

Nature bore us related to one another … She instilled in us a mutual love and made us compatible … Let us hold everything in common; we stem from a common source. Our fellowship is very similar to an arch of stones, which would fall apart, if they did not reciprocally support each other.

Seneca The Younger, Epistles 95.53

I sometimes take for granted having people in my life who want the best for me. Just talking to friends or family can be a timely reminder of the support you have or that you’re not the only one who experiences certain states of mind.

Usually the more open I can be in conversations like this, the greater the benefit.

5. Complete mindless tasks

At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand, as a Roman and human being, doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice—giving yourself a break from all other considerations. You can do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.5

When the clouds are there I don’t feel creative, I don’t do my best work. They can provide fuel for articles like this one but often they don’t.

This is the perfect time to do things that need little thinking; clean the house, wash the car, empty the garbage, get rid of things I don’t need anymore. Even at a time when motivation is low, there’s a sense of achievement that something productive has been done.

6. Do mental exercises

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.67

Stoicism-inspired cognitive distancing exercises are a great way to regain perspective. Most involve seeing worries and problems for what they are – stories we have created in our own minds.

This collection of exercises and this guidance on how to worry less provide plenty of options.

7. Remember

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 8.47

Remember, it’s a state of mind. A temporary one. This too shall pass.