- To be in your head usually means overthinking or overanalyzing a situation.
- Getting out of your head means being present in the moment and letting go of unhelpful thoughts.
- The first step to getting better is acknowledging what’s happening and being mindful of the situations that trigger this reaction.
This post was cowritten by Zamfira Parincu and Tchiki Davis.
The human mind can solve almost any type of problem, but what happens when problem-solving runs wild in our minds? We are so good at identifying problems and imagining scenarios that sometimes it is hard to stop. And being in our heads too much can make it hard to move past difficulties.
What Does It Mean to Be in Your Head?
To be in your head usually means overthinking or overanalyzing a situation. Your mind can “wander” to the future and you might worry about things that can possibly happen, or it can “wander” to the past and replay the bad events that happened previously.
When you’re in your head, you might wonder if your friend secretly hates you because it took them more than a few hours to answer your text. Or you might ruminate about why you were passed over for a promotion.
One study clearly shows that you’re less likely to feel happy if you’re in your head. In the study, participants were asked at random times what they were doing, whether they were thinking about a task or not, and how happy or unhappy they were. Researchers concluded that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind” (p. 932; Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). They also point out that although our human capacity to think about what’s not happening right now served us well at some point, it came at an emotional cost (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010).
If being in your head means overthinking or overanalyzing a situation, getting out of your head means being present in the moment and letting go of the unhelpful thoughts. If you get out of your head, it’s more likely that you’ll be happier than before. Rumination, or continuously thinking over the same thoughts, is a well-established risk factor for depression and anxiety. For example, those who engage in this type of behavior have increased depressive symptoms and are more at risk for the onset of major depressive disorder and anxiety symptoms (Harrington & Blankenship, 2002; Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000).
How to Get Back Into Your Body
The mind–body connection has been a topic of conversation for many years. Researchers keep showing that anxiety and depression have a negative impact on our bodies—for example, they can contribute to insomnia, high blood pressure, a decrease in immunity, gastrointestinal issues, and heart problems (Alberts et al., 2013). Considering that being in your head, overthinking, and rumination are associated with anxiety and depression, it’s important to learn how to get out of your head and into your body.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started in reconnecting with your body:
- Be aware of what’s happening. If you find yourself too much in your head, it’s important to be mindful of when it happens and what the triggers are. For example, you could be overthinking more about the future after an important presentation at work or after a meeting with your boss. The first step to getting better is acknowledging what’s happening and being mindful of the situations that trigger this reaction.
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation has many benefits for depression, anxiety, concentration, and even cognitive performance. Meditation can help you get out of your head and into your body because it works to bring the focus into the present moment and into your body. If you’re just starting, you might notice your mind wandering (even to the things you were doing before), but that’s OK. Just observe the wandering in a nonjudgmental way. There are many meditations focused on the mind–body connection, such as body scans or moving meditation, and it doesn’t matter which one you choose; just use what works for you.
- Take a step back from your thoughts. It’s important to make the distinction between your thoughts and you. You are not your thoughts. Take a step back and notice what’s happening. Then, you can freely choose how to respond, rather than just reacting to your thoughts.
- Write in a journal. Daily journaling has been highly recommended as a way to manage stress and combat anxious thoughts. When you write, you work through your thoughts, what happened throughout the day, or what you’re ruminating over. Studies show that journaling reduces physical symptoms, health problems, and anxiety, and increases well-being (Smyth et al., 2018; LaClaire, 2008). There are many types of journals and prompts to use, so it’s important to find out which one works best for you.
- Challenge your thoughts. You are not your brain or your thoughts. This may sound strange, but you don’t actually have to believe everything your mind thinks. You are a witness of your thoughts, but you are not them. If you’d like, you can write down your thoughts and ask yourself if there’s any evidence to support your thinking process or to challenge it.
Adapted from an article published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Alberts, N. M., Hadjistavropoulos, H. D., Jones, S. L., & Sharpe, D. (2013). The Short Health Anxiety Inventory: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 27(1), 68-78.
Harrington, J. A., & Blankenship, V. (2002). Ruminative thoughts and their relation to depression and anxiety 1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(3), 465-485.
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330(6006), 932-932.
LaClaire, A. (2008). The influence of journaling on the reduction of physical symptoms, health problems, and anxiety in women (Doctoral dissertation, Adler School of Professional Psychology).
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109(3), 504–511.
Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR mental health, 5(4), e11290.
This post was previously published on Psychology Today and is republished on Medium.
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