Think of a typical busy day at work, study or at home. What time is it? What are you doing? What are you thinking? What do you have to do next? What haven't you done? How do you feel?

At one time or another most of us experience busy periods at work, with study or home life. There's much to do and much to think about. You're doing several things at once and life just races by.

You're caught up with what you haven't done and what you've yet to do and your mind is chattering away with judgements and commentary. You feel anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed and stressed. It's impossible to think clearly.

How does this happen? It's all in the mind!

There are two important parts to your brain: the limbic system and the neocortex. The limbic system in your brain is responsible for your emotions, emotions such as agitation, frustration and disappointment which can overwhelm your mind. You react to what's happening instinctively, without rational thought or reasoning. More so when you're busy or under pressure.

The neocortex is responsible for thinking, remembering and reasoning. Focus and attention are primarily activities of the neocortex.

Mindfulness can calm unhelpful activity from the limbic system. Your mind becomes quieter. You can think more clearly and deliberately, bring yourself back to the present and just stay with what's happening now.

In Practice

Acknowledge and accept the feeling of being overwhelmed. This doesn't mean you have to accept and resign yourself to difficult, stressful situations. You simply accept how you feel and how things are at this moment before thinking about what you can do to manage them. It's a strategic acceptance. You may not like what's happening but, instead of fighting it, by accepting it you can engage the reasoning, thinking part of your brain and find a solution.

Get some breathing space. You can do this anywhere at any time. Simply take two or three minutes to stop what you're doing and focus on breathing. A two-minute breathing space will help you calm you down, collect and clarify your thoughts. It helps you to engage the rationalising reasoning part of your brain.

During busy, stressful periods, try to get some breathing space two or three times a day.

Breaks give your mind space to digest, mentally process and assimilate what's happening internally and externally. You don't need to try to do it consciously. It's something that the brain just does naturally below the surface.

This is an edited extract from Mindfulness Pocketbook: Little Exercises for a Calmer Life by Gill Hasson (published by Capstone).