Living Life? or Living in your Head?

A defining characteristic of mental health struggles is that they can cause us to become stuck in our heads. But what does that mean exactly, “to be stuck in one’s head?” If you’re like many people, it’s probably become so natural to engage with every thought and feeling that enters your mind, you may not even notice yourself doing it. Here are some signs that you may be spending too much time in your head…

  • You spend a lot of time trying to figure out what others are thinking.
  • You ask yourself why you have certain thoughts, and tend to believe that all thoughts happen for some purpose or reason.
  • You assume that all of your emotions happen for good reason and then respond accordingly, avoiding things whenever you feel anxious or fearful, punishing yourself whenever you feel guilty, lashing out at others whenever you feel angry.
  • You focus a lot of attention on negative thoughts you have about yourself.
  • You review incidents from the past over and over again with no productive outcome.
  • You spend a lot of energy trying to remove doubt and uncertainty from situations that are unavoidably uncertain.
  • You try to mentally “figure things out” that can’t really be figured out.
  • You  worry about circumstances that can’t be changed, or at least can’t be changed by any mental activity on your part.
  • You focus on rigid, inflexible thoughts about a situation that only make you more upset.
  • In general, you spend a lot of time trying to control your mental experience, trying to get rid of, or avoid, thoughts and feelings you don’t like.

If any of these sound familiar, you may be spending too much time in your head. ​But rest assured there’s hope. You can learn to direct your attention towards other parts of life. Here are a few quick tips to help you practice getting out of your head. For those of you who are masters at living in your head, keep in mind that these skills may take a lot of time and practice.

Catch yourself in the habit: Start to notice which thoughts tend to “hook” you in. You will most likely find a pattern, with the same types of thoughts grabbing your attention time and time again. The trick to unhooking yourself from these thoughts is to stop trying to get rid of them (this only makes things worse). Acknowledge their existence, and let them hang out in your head if they want to. But don’t give them your attention. Don’t respond to them. Don’t argue with them. And don’t take them too seriously.

Get in touch with your senses: When you notice yourself getting hooked in by thoughts, try to reconnect with the outside world, the world of your five senses. See if you can notice three different sounds in your environment you hadn’t noticed, or three objects in your vision you weren’t aware of. Can you identify any smells? What textures can you feel with your fingers? If you can focus on these things, you will notice your consciousness returning to the world outside of your head.

Take some time to focus on what’s important to you: Get in touch with your values. Remember who and what are important to you. See if you can notice any behaviors or activities that bring you closer to these things. Ask yourself what the person you want to be would be doing with their time. And see if you can start to spend more of your time doing these things. This will help you focus your attention on what you want to be doing, rather than what you don’t want to be doing.

Give these tips a try, but don’t get frustrated if change doesn’t come easy. Change is hard work. There’s no doubt about that. But with a little practice you can learn how to spend less time in your head. And more time living your life.