You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. — Dr. Seuss
Do you get trapped in your head, replaying old hurts, remembering conversations and arguments and thinking of things you wish you had said?
Do you get trapped in a “trance of unworthiness” as Tara Brach calls it, and recite all the ways you have failed, shaming yourself for being human?
Do you think of worst case scenarios and play them out over and over in your mind, getting worked into a lather of anxiety?
Do you revisit the past and wish it were different?
These are all ways we can get stuck in our heads, enduring a never-ending feedback loop of ways that life, other people and, we ourselves, have disappointed us.
When we get caught up like this it is easy to miss the life that is right in front of us. Often we get so absorbed in our thoughts that we don’t even hear someone talking to us or see that our beloved pet is sitting at our feet waiting for us to pet them.
Maybe you are sitting at a red light and don’t see it change, or like I did once, you are cruising up a city street exceeding the speed limit and don’t even see the cop in your rear-view mirror.
It is easy for us to get into a trap that keeps us stuck in a cycle of shame, anger, grief, blame and disappointment.
When we get this caught up it can lead to depression and anxiety, can lower self-esteem and affect our relationships.
There are some simple ways that you can break the spell. First you have to notice when you go down the rabbit hole, getting lost in the maze of negativity.
Then, when you realize you have started ruminating, get up and do one of the things on this list. These will create a mind-shift that will stop the thoughts, kind of like poking a stick in the spokes of a bicycle will make the bike suddenly stop and flip the rider off on his head.
1. Drop back into your body
When we are in our heads, we are unaware we even have a body. We start to breathe shallowly and we don’t realize that our leg is falling asleep, or that we are tensing all our muscles, causing pain.
So the first thing to do is to breathe. Take some deep breaths to bring more oxygen to your brain and your body. Deep breathing also relieves anxiety.
Take a deep in-breath, hold for a few counts, then exhale deeply. Do this 6 times.
Then wiggle your fingers and stretch. Reconnect with your body by briskly rubbing your arms and legs. Roll you ankles. Get up and move around. Let yourself drop into your body fully.
If you have time, roll out your yoga mat or run up and down the stairs. Any way you move will connect you once again to your body and get you out of your head.
2. Get out in nature
There is nothing quite as effective for getting you out of your head as a walk outside. Make sure you are looking around while you walk. Really see the trees, the flowers, the birds and the people around you.
When you are outdoors, you awaken to the primal need of humans to be connected to nature. When you are watching a butterfly flit from flower to flower you are not worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow.
If you can arrange it, take a hike in a National Park or a nearby forest. Go for a paddle on a lake, or ride your bike along the beach. But even a quick walk around the block can make a change in your thinking patterns, like opening a window and letting fresh air blow out the stale air.
3. Do something different
If you are stuck in a constant feedback loop of thoughts that are negative and are torturing you, do something different.
Bake a cake for someone. Call that friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Write a letter to your grandmother. Watch a funny movie. Clean out a drawer.
Or, one of my favorites, rearrange the furniture. There is nothing like refreshing your space to give you a new perspective on things.
The point is to do something out of your normal routine so you have to bring some brain power to it. That way, you don’t have room up there to ruminate.
When we get stuck in our heads, we miss the life that is happening here, now, all around us. We forget to look out the window and see the birds on the feeder or notice the beautiful sunset. We can’t focus on conversations with those around us. We lose track of what we are supposed to be doing and it takes a lot of energy to pick up the thread again.
We all get caught up sometimes. Having some handy tools that will quickly bring us back to the present moment can go a long way to getting us out of our head and into our life. What’s happening in our head isn’t real, anyway. But your loved one sitting next to you is. Come down out of that noggin of yours and live your life. It’s the best prescription for relieving negative thinking.