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.
Unresolved traumas, in particular, can become trapped or stuck in the body. This can affect our cognitive processes, resulting in thoughts and images that linger in our head far past the actual event. According to mind-body therapist Kelly Vincent, PsyD, these trapped emotions "impact our mood and drain our energy." They can also destroy body tissues and prevent normal functioning of organs and glands, resulting in illness and disease. According to Vincent, “It’s just like a giant roadblock on the freeway. It is hard for energy to flow naturally through.”
Emotions that aren’t dealt with may become stored in your unconscious, and may even affect your body posture. “Your head is in a different position when you’re confident and when you’re confused,” Olson says. “Your spine takes on a different shape when you’re defeated or victorious.”
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/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. 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 non-judgmental 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.
Learn how to breathe. Sometimes, anxiety makes us feel out of breath, so what better way to combat it than learning how to use breathing as an exercise to relieve stress? Breath focus is commonly used to increase relaxation, and recent studies show it can also benefit depression, stress, and mental health (Seppala et al., 2020), and it can even reduce PTSD symptoms in US military veterans (Seppala et al., 2014).
● 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 lately as a way to manage stress and combat anxious thoughts. When you write, you actually work through your thoughts, what happened throughout the day, or what you’re ruminating over. Studies actually show that journaling reduces physical symptoms, health problems, 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.
● Get a massage.* A 2020 National Institutes Of Health (NIH) National Library Of Medicine study concerning the psychological effects of body-centered interventions on emotional well-being revealed that massage therapy and other body-centered therapies including yoga, tai-chi, dance/movement therapy and acupuncture "seem to alleviate stress, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and facilitate pain reduction." Of particular note the study states, "Of these, the most robust evidence available was for massage therapy, indicating it is an effective intervention for numerous age groups and populations."
RESOURCES FOR LEARNING MORE
Want to know more? Here are some other good articles about getting out of your head and into your body.
● 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.
● Ishler, J. (2021) How to Release ‘Emotional Baggage’ and the Tension That Goes with It. (article appearing on Healthline). July 13, 2022,
● 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.
● Seppälä, E. M., Bradley, C., Moeller, J., Harouni, L., Nandamudi, D., & Brackett, M. A. (2020). Promoting mental health and psychological thriving in university students: a randomized controlled trial of three well-being interventions. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 590.
● Seppälä, E. M., Nitschke, J. B., Tudorascu, D. L., Hayes, A., Goldstein, M. R., Nguyen, D. T., ... & Davidson, R. J. (2014). Breathing‐based meditation decreases posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in US Military veterans: A randomized controlled longitudinal study. Journal of traumatic stress, 27(4), 397-405.
● 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.
● Tarsha, Park and Tortora. (2020). Body-Centered Interventions for Psychopathological Conditions: A Review. PubMed.gov. 2020 Jan 24;10:2907. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02907. eCollection 2019.