Hey Mr. or Ms. Worry-Wart with the furrowed brow — we see you.
Are you stuck in your head again — re-running old conversations, thinking up better responses, and ruminating on someone’s hurtful remarks?
Do you worry about your worry and how to get out of your head?
Your brain keeps piping up with invitations to dwell on familiar, self-defeating thoughts and the memories that back them up.
When your mind wanders, it tends to default to negative thoughts. Don’t you just love that?
What Does It Mean to Be Stuck in Your Head?
In short, it means you can’t stop thinking those negative thoughts.
Thinking and thinking and thinking until your brain is exhausted. And you are too.
You ruminate, worry, question yourself, review past events ad nauseam, and play out worst-case scenarios.
It feels like quicksand — the harder you try to extricate yourself, the more stuck you become.
It’s like an addiction. A thought addiction.
Why Am I Constantly in My Head?
The primary reason is that you believe your thoughts represent “You” — the mini-me King Self that resides up there in your skull. You become attached to your thoughts as though they are all-important, and you must pay attention to them.
Attaching to your thoughts becomes so habitual that it’s hard to escape being in your head. But most thoughts are like innocuous clouds floating through the sky of your consciousness. They don’t mean anything unless you ruminate on them and give them meaning.
Another reason is that we are wired for a negativity bias, an evolutionary adaptive way of thinking meant to protect us from threats—real threats, not imaginary ones.
Even knowing you tend to think more negative thoughts than positive, you’re still addicted to your thoughts.
You might believe, “It’s not so bad being stuck in my head. Never a dull moment in there.”
But at some point, you need a break from the same, stultifying thoughts.
You need to get some distance from them and refresh yourself.
And you know that the solution isn’t just to learn how to get something off your mind.
Here’s a very important point to remember: It’s not the thought that’s the problem; it’s the attention you keep giving it.
Yes, you can. And as you’ll soon see, there’s more than one way to do it.
When You Can’t Get Something Out of Your Head
When you’re stuck in your own head, you’re usually focusing on one of three things:
So, for example, your mind could lure you into a trap of your own making by suggesting the following thoughts:
When it comes to in-house movies, you’re the one cutting, pasting, and creating your reel of the greatest (or most horrifying) hits to play over and over on the big screen.
If you were to let go of those painful movie reels, you’d also be dissociating yourself from memories – both real and imagined – that make you feel more interesting or more worthy of someone’s attention.
To retain that feeling of importance and distinction – the feeling of someone who is owed something – you hold onto so much that has happened to you, you leave little room for things to happen because of you.
So, how do you get unstuck and start making good things happen?
How to Get Out of Your Head: 13 Mind Shifts When You’re Stuck in Your Head
Let’s get you out of that ruthless head of yours so you can finally expunge all the negativity. Don’t you want to reclaim some energy and joy and stop feeling worried and agitated all the time? Don’t you want to enjoy the present moment rather than living in Tomorrowland or Yesteryear? C’mon — let’s do this thing!
1. Focus on someone else.
The best way to get over feeling helpless, confused, and overwhelmed is to help someone else with something.
So, turn your focus outward and look for something you can do to make someone else’s day a bit better.
Here are a few suggestions:
The less time you spend thinking of yourself, the less time you spend stuck in your own head, feeding resentment and making yourself miserable.
Much better to spend that time bringing relief and refreshment to others; in doing so, you refresh yourself, too.
2. Get into nature.
Get outside and talk a walk. If you have a dog that needs walking, anyway, you’ll be doing yourselves both a favor.
Don’t forget to look around and enjoy the beauty in nature — the trees, the grass, the flowers, the sky. Take it all in and let it refresh you and inspire a spring cleaning of your mental playlist.
Purge it of all that is now “out of season” and let in the fresh air to inspire new, growth-oriented thinking. Think of new experiences you could have out in nature — a hike through a national park, a day at the beach, camping, canoeing, etc.
You could even volunteer at a local farm and spend some time with your favorite farm animals, making their lives a bit sweeter while you enjoy their company.
3. Focus on your breathing.
It’s amazing how much it can help to just pay attention to your breathing and to consciously take in and release some deep breaths.
When you’re focused on your breathing, you’re not thinking about whatever was making you angry, irritated, or worried; you’re giving yourself a chance to reset your thinking.
As you inhale, you can imagine that you’re breathing in calm, creative energy, and gratitude; as you’re breathing out, imagine you’re releasing the tension, anger, and fear.
4. Get moving.
Getting some exercise is another great way to get out of your head. When you’re exercising hard enough, you can’t think about why you’re still angry with someone or how on earth you’re ever going to feel prepared for the speech you’ll be giving the next day.
You’re too busy thinking things like, “Are my lungs shrinking,” or “I am so gonna feel this tomorrow,” or “Just one more sprint on this bike, and I’ll relax in the sauna.”
One of the reasons exercise is so therapeutic is that it gets you out of your own head and forces you to focus on something good you’re doing for yourself.
Therapeutic motion isn’t limited to strenuous exercise, though; just getting up and moving around draws your focus from inside your head to where you’re going and what you’re doing – even if you’re just taking yourself to a local coffee shop for your favorite coffee (or tea) drink and some people time.
Turn it into an opportunity to show gratitude to the staff and thoughtful consideration for other customers.
5. Focus on your senses.
Take time out to focus on something you can perceive with one or more of your senses:
If you’re ready for a meal (or a snack), or you’re about to enjoy a refreshing or invigorating drink, take the time to savor every mouthful.
If you have fragrant flowers in your workspace take a moment to enjoy their beauty and inhale their fragrance.
If you work well to music — or if you enjoy music during your breaks — allow yourself to enjoy the tune and the rhythm of some of your favorite songs.
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6. Get busy.
Focusing on a project is another excellent way to get out of your head because, in order to do the project justice, you need to give it your full attention.
Maybe you’re editing someone’s book (a detail-heavy job), or maybe you’ve taken up crochet and you’re working up a hat or scarf for a friend or family member, or maybe you’re hard at work getting your first blog up and ready for visitors.
Whatever the project, allow it to give you a much-needed break from the echo chamber of your head and to breed new and healthier thoughts for you to dwell on.
7. Focus on gratitude.
When you’re stuck in the same putrid thinking, nothing freshens things up like making a list of things you’re grateful for and focusing on them (for at least a few minutes).
Even a shortlist will do the trick, as long as you allow yourself to feel the emotion of gratitude as you’re thinking of what you’re grateful for.
A morning habit of making a gratitude list can get your mind right before you start thinking of all the usual daily business.
If something cuts you off in the middle of making your list, though, don’t worry. Just thinking of one thing you’re grateful for and basking in those feelings of gratitude is enough to steer your mind in a better direction.
8. Focus on forgiveness.
By far one of the best ways of getting out of your head is to take note of the person you’re thinking of negatively and shift your thinking toward forgiveness.
How to begin? Firmly tell yourself, “I forgive [this person] because I know I’ve made mistakes and hurt people, too. It doesn’t mean that what they did was okay or that it didn’t matter. But I forgive them because I want to move on and feel peaceful and happy — not stuck in these angry and depressing thoughts. I forgive [this person] because I want to be free to become the person I want to be.”
You can also add something you like about that person — something you admire, something good they’ve done in the past, or something you think they’d be good at.
Pretend for a moment that you’re this person’s parent or best friend and think of the good things you’d want for this person.
After all, what’s a mind for if it’s not for making life better — not only for you but for everyone you encounter? Use the power you have for good, and let go of everything that holds you back.
9. Talk it out.
If you’re dwelling on something painful, traumatic, or scary, your thoughts will impact your emotional and physical well-being.
Holding all of those thoughts and feelings inside without a healthy way to process them can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression.
You can get out of your mind by opening up to a counselor or trusted friend and sharing your thoughts and feelings. A good counselor can help you navigate the issues, learn coping skills, and release the built-up tension caused by your overactive brain.
10. Write it down.
Have you ever noticed you feel more in control when you write down your tasks on a list? All of those activities swirling around in your head seem much less overwhelming when you’ve captured them in writing.
To-do lists aren’t the only way to use writing to get out of your own head. When you find yourself ruminating, write your thoughts in a journal. Release them on paper just as you might share them with a counselor or friend.
The process of writing focuses your thoughts and attention and frees you from the hamster wheel of overthinking.
11. Get in the flow state.
A “flow state” is a term coined by psychologist and author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, to represent the mental state you achieve when you’re absorbed in a task or activity.
The activity should be voluntary and challenging enough that it requires your full focus and attention — but not so difficult that you become frustrated.
When you are in a flow state, all of your mental energy is focused on the task at hand. You can’t ruminate because your mind is engaged elsewhere. Your sense of time falls away, as you become so absorbed with what you’re doing.
Being in this state is enjoyable and increases your creativity, performance, and productivity. It also gives you something positive to dwell on once you’re finished with the task.
12. Practice meditation.
As we mentioned in point #3, focusing on your breathing is one of the best ways to get out of your head. Focused breathing is also the first stage of meditation practice, another essential strategy for turning off the noise in your mind.
A regular practice of meditation can change the function of your brain — in a good way. Studies confirm it deactivates the self-related and mind wandering part of the brain associated with ruminating.
Meditation is also associated with less stress and anxiety, decreased pain, better concentration, and more empathy.
Find a meditation app or course that appeals to you, and try to make it a daily habit. After a few weeks of practice, you’ll notice you can more easily stop your incessant thoughts and spend more time out of your head.
13. Focus on the present moment.
This last one touches on all the previous mental shifts because each is a way to turn your focus to the present moment, which is where you can practice mindfulness.
The more you do this, the more you remind yourself that the only thing you’ll ever have to deal with is the present moment. The only moment that actually exists is the one you have right now. So, focus on that, and let go of the thoughts that keep you trapped in the past or obsessed with the future.
Forgive the past — because you can’t change it. Focus on what you can do now. Practice being the person you want to be. And feel gratitude for the person you are, for what you’ve accomplished, and for the fact that you’re alive to learn and love more.
Let that present moment into your head, so it can clean house of all that has muddied your thinking and made it hard to feel joy or to express love and empathy.
Let the practice of mindfulness declutter your mind and make it new again — ready to fully engage with the present.
Can you get out of your head?
I hope this has helped you get out of your mind and renew it, so you can live and feel better than ever. It doesn’t mean you’ll never have to do this again; that’s the point of making these mental shifts a habit.
We are creatures of habit, after all. And we easily get into the habit of dwelling on negative thoughts. So, the only way to break that mental habit is to replace it with habits that steer us toward gratitude, mindful awareness, forgiveness, and receptivity to the things that bring us joy.
While your connectedness to other living things has a lot to do with what goes on in that amazing head of yours, the only way to appreciate those connections is to turn your focus outward and interact with the people and things within your reach.
So, take some time today to connect with someone or fully experience something in the present moment.
Get out of your mind, so you can be more clear-headed and growth-focused when purging your mental playlist of everything that keeps you stuck.