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Mind Maps for Stress Relief

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After living abroad for a few years, it’s time for me to move back home! Anyone who’s moved abroad or arranged their wedding knows how stressful it is to plan a big event.

There are so many unknowns, to-dos and worries swirling around in my head that I felt overwhelmed. Mind mapping let me get that all out onto paper. It was such good stress relief, and it led to concrete actions I could do.

Here’s what I did:

I took a piece of graph paper (plain works fine too), turned it on its side, and wrote my main worry in the center. Then I drew a circle around that word. I added more words to the page, answering the question: what specifically is worrying about it?

I drew circles around those words and used lines to connect them back to the central idea.

Once I had all my main ideas, I started going through all of the second level ideas and listing out things I know or don’t know.

Those third level words started to look a lot like specific areas to research or actions to take.

Mind mapping is a fast, free-flowing technique, and I was done with that part in about five minutes. Looking at each third level item, I was able to branch out into some actions. I also made up my own symbols to denote items that need attention first or that will be the most expensive.

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I immediately felt like things were more under control, even though I hadn’t really done anything yet! Ignoring my false confidence, I put the tasks I identified into OmniFocus. (If you’ve not taken a look at this GTD app for Mac yet, there are some great resources out there if you just search OmniFocus tutorials.)

So far so good, but…

The next day I was feeling stressed again! Some specific aspects of emigration were still uncertain. I didn’t know what I needed to do by when. So I repeated the mind mapping exercise on those specific issues. That yielded more to-dos, and I and felt better again.

I came back to the mindmaps a couple days later and updated them with new information. I repeated that as many times as I needed to feel that all tasks were captured.

You could do this in mind mapping software, too. I like paper because it feels more spontaneous. But if you are shy about drawing or need to take your mind maps with you, there are some great free and paid mind mapping tools. Personally, I use the free version of XMind for Mac. XMind’s keyboard shortcuts make brainstorming fast and unconstrained.

I’m happy to report that halfway through the emigration process, I feel like it’s all in hand. Getting ideas out on paper or a screen in a visual way makes all the difference.