7 Ways to Get Out of Your Head & Back into Reality

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Your mind is an amazing place. It can be an escape where you can indulge in daydreams and fantasies. It can help you problem-solve and come up with creative and practical solutions. It helps you keep track of your day-to-day life. 

But you can also get stuck in your head while you zone out of reality. If you’re like me, you know what it feels like to get trapped in the what-ifs. It’s like a never-ending cycle of wondering what situations would and could be like if only you did this instead of that

Or, does your mind help you relive painful moments – every embarrassment, every trauma, every mistake, and every time someone’s actions have hurt you? The painful moments continue to haunt you

How about having endless arguments and debates with yourself, whether to keep yourself company or find answers to the purpose of life and how you can manage situations better. Or do you overthink a decision to death, stuck in indecision? 

While living inside your head can be a good thing, it can be agonizing and make your life worse, especially when you are stuck in what’s essentially a mental prison and struggle to get back to reality.

If you relate and wonder how to get out of your head, here are the best science-backed ways to help you. 

What Does It Mean to Be Inside Your Head?

When you spent time inside your head, it means that you are constantly thinking, pondering, reasoning, assessing, and (re)evaluating yourself, others, and the world around you.

From a positive perspective, it can mean that you are introspective and reflective, and your ability to mind wander can help you learn, reason, and plan. 

But when you live in your mind too much, it comes at a cost, and that’s why being inside your head typically has a negative connotation. One study has found that too much mind wandering can lead to unhappiness. 

You tend to have mindless thoughts as you overthink and overanalyze. Mulling over the past, the present, and the future, your mind goes in circles and spirals down the rabbit hole.

You catastrophize and have an endless loop of self-deprecating thoughts. You wonder about the what ifs, why nots, whens, hows, and whats of it all, and it’s difficult to stop. 

It’s not uncommon for your mind to feel super cluttered with all the thoughts and worries you have. 

While it’s important to think with your head (as well as your heart) to help you live a balanced, healthy, and happy life, when your head does too much of the thinking – like a broken record stuck on the same song or note – you can feel trapped. 

Why Do You Live Inside Your Head? 

We can all live in our heads, but what’s the cause when it gets extreme? 

Here are the top reasons why you are stuck in your mind: 

  • You’ve experienced pain and trauma, so as a coping mechanism, you’ve disconnected from your body or reality. So your mind is a safer place, like an escape. There’s comfort in the deep, negative thoughts you have. Or you think that being a bystander in your life is better than living it and taking action and responsibility. 
  • You may be introverted, shy, or socially anxious, so introspection is how you cope and recharge. 
  • You have become so attached to your personal thoughts, and your mental dialogue has become integral to who you are. 

Why Is Being Inside Your Head Like a Mental Prison? 

There are negative ramifications to always getting lost in your thoughts and not paying attention to the outside world.

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Meditation stops you from being “me” focused, which means you get a bigger, birds-eye, or more global picture, which is healthier and removes circular thinking.

When your brain is stuck on its worry and fear-based, catastrophizing, and anxiety-ridden thoughts and it’s your default mode network, it can feel like a mental prison

Here are the downsides to that mental prison: 

  • Since your thoughts are so entrenched in negativity, it affects your mood and happiness. It’s common for a too-wondering mind to be an unhappy one. 
  • Your thoughts affect how you feel, how you see the world, and your decisions and behaviors, and when you aren’t thinking clearly, it’s easy to make bad decisions and feel overwhelmed when you do have to act. Your worldview is skewed. 
  • You resist change and opportunities for growth. 
  • Your perpetual cycle of unhealthy thoughts keeps you stuck in the past or worried about the future and absent from the joys of the present. 
  • The stress and anxiety from your unhealthy thoughts negatively affect your overall well-being since there’s a strong connection between your body and mind. Your mental health and physical body suffers, resulting in high blood pressure, headaches, increased risk for heart disease and digestive issues, insomnia, and more. 
  • Because your health suffers, so does your relationships, employment status, and financial health. 

7 Ways to Get Out of Your Head & Back Into Reality 

I’m reminded of two quotes by Marcus Aurelius about the power of our thoughts: 

  • You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” 
  • The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” 

Here are best science-backed ways for how to get out of your head: 

1. Meditate

The Science: Meditation increases cortical tissue growth, which increases the brain’s ability to do complex thinking and handle stressors better. 

By meditating regularly, specifically focusing on mindfulness, the brain receives healthy stimuli, which aligns thinking processes into more regulated patterns.

This repatterning of the brain helps center your thoughts, removing the power of negative thoughts and wandering thoughts that keep you trapped. 

Meditation stops you from being “me” focused, which means you get a bigger, birds-eye, or more global picture, which is healthier and removes circular thinking.

Because meditation specifically targets intrusive thoughts, it is a great way to become self-aware, notice unhelpful thoughts, and consciously deal with these. 

By letting go of unhelpful and intrusive thoughts, you can get out of your head more and live with greater awareness.

It’s simple to start. Just sit quietly, noticing your breathing, and as you feel breath draw in, you become aware of any thoughts in your mind. You need only be aware of the thoughts. 

Redirect attention to your breath, and when you feel more comfortable, you can choose to let those thoughts go without judgment or negativity.

Instead, all that remains is breath, clarity of thought, and inner calm. 

2. Give In to the Suck of It (Feel, Accept, and Let Go) 

The Science: Acceptance lets you off the hook, which is how you can “trick” your mind into a reset, where your thoughts become less tragedy-focused and more peaceful. Floating has been shown to stimulate this mental reset, releasing anxiety and stress. 

If only you could let go, right? Thankfully, your body and mind are connected, and when your body relaxes, your brain begins too as well.

Letting your body float on a river or out in nature is one way to gently reset your anxiety barriers until you are ready to take the first steps of releasing negative or intrusive thinking. 

Consider floating with the aid of a therapist, who is on hand to help you discuss your thoughts once your mind is weightless enough to open up.

Part of this weightlessness is accepting that these thoughts exist, knowing and accepting that it hurts, and owning up to consciously defusing them

By talking with someone, such as a therapist, you form a dialog that lets you discover yourself, open up about your destructive thinking patterns, and create new strategies for mental clarity.

Don’t fight your thoughts. Instead, accept the thoughts as part of you, and when ready, you can pack them away.

3. Focus on Another Person 

The Science: Volunteering and charitable work has the power to place your own worries in perspective, refocus your energies, and make you feel better, which is why focusing on others helps fight off intrusive thoughts. 

When you are stuck in your own traumatic thinking, you likely lose all contact with the outside world. Instead, your brain makes everything about you, which can seriously stunt your world perspective. This is where volunteering can really help.

By caring for someone other than yourself, you regain perspective.

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Walking, running, and cycling are excellent at getting your mind to refocus and take conscious control of your body.

Caring for others helps you feel better about yourself and also enjoy your day-to-day activities, which helps you refocus on your reality

Engaging in acts of kindness can help you establish some boundaries that help you stay present instead of sinking into mental prisons. Helping others helps you not focus on yourself all the time. 

4. Get Moving

The Science: Happiness and physical movement are known to walk hand-in-hand. By moving, the body produces feel-good hormones, releases energy blockages, and reconnects the brain to the body. 

Being stuck in your mind with negative thinking and rumination can result in your brain losing touch with its physical body.

The result of this can be seen in poor physiological processes such as circulation, breathing, and digestion. It’s no wonder that issues such as poor heart health, ulcers, indigestion, and low blood pressure result. 

By moving and exercising, your brain is reminded of its physical self. Nerve pathways develop more, and the brain starts to refocus on what matters – its job to control your body. 

While you don’t have to join a gym, regular physical activity, especially activities you can do on autopilot have enormous benefits to your mental health.

Walking, running, and cycling are excellent at getting your mind to refocus and take conscious control of your body. Combine this with meditation and mindfulness and you’ve got a winning combination. 

5. Be Mindful

The Science: If you feel like your thoughts keep running off, even when you try to be calm and logical, you can use mindfulness to gently return errant thoughts to more objective thinking.

Mindfulness is essentially introspection. However, the trick is to do so in a non-judgmental manner.

If you are trapped in cyclical thinking, your body loses connection, which is why body-focus helps the mind refocus. Try mindfulness activities such as body tapping, massage, yoga, playing a music instrument, and Tai Chi

Affirmations help refocus and get you attentive to what’s running through your head. Mindfulness is about knowing when to use an affirmation to draw you back to reality

Imagine that your thoughts are going a mile a minute in your mind. Now, let this trigger an affirmation such as: “I draw a breath, and I slow things down. I inhale slowly, and I regain control of my thinking.”

Within moments, your chaotic thinking has begun to untangle and quiet down because you are focused on the affirmation and not the cyclical thoughts running rampant in your mind. 

6. Breathe 

The Science: The power of your breath can’t be emphasized enough. Breathing has physiological effects that instantly soothe anxious thinking and stop intrusive thoughts. Use breathing exercises daily. 

Your breath is deeply connected to things like your blood pressure, hormone production, energy levels, nervous system signals, and more. When you breathe with conscious effort, you can control your arousal state, which helps you regulate your thoughts

Slow breathing helps ease nervous impulses, which typically would have stimulated intrusive thoughts and anxiety. Just try it the next time you have a crazy episode of anxiety-driven what ifs.

Take a deep breath, hold it, release it slowly, wait, inhale again, and repeat for a few minutes. Now try to recall what your crazy thinking had been – suddenly those thoughts don’t seem so powerful anymore. 

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Keeping a thought journal can let you release cyclical thoughts onto paper, where you can examine each in turn, weigh up their value, and decide which ones to release.

Breathing with attention helps you engage in a mind reset, where you can select what you think, choose to ignore or disregard intrusive thoughts, and return to real-world thinking

Of course, if your breathing isn’t regular and slow, you may achieve the opposite effect. In fact, most of us go through life snatching breath instead of slowly and deeply luxuriating in breath.

Try yogic breathing, box breathing, or simply focus on a deep in, hold, slow out, hold, and repeat. 

Slow breathing relaxes the brain, produces more serotonin (helping you feel good), and it also reduces cortisol production (so less stress hormones). It’s a win all around. 

7. Journal

The Science: Studies have found that journaling can help you control your thoughts, intentionally quiet down negative thinking, and even handle pain better

Keeping a thought journal can let you release cyclical thoughts onto paper, where you can examine each in turn, weigh up their value, and decide which ones to release.

The act of writing is cathartic, and in lieu of speaking to a therapist, keeping a journal is a safe sounding space where you can unload intrusive thoughts. 

On the page, you may also come up with ways to deal with recurring thoughts, such as fears or anxiety triggers. With a plan in mind, you will find the power of your mind shifts from being your opponent to being your strength. You can control what you think. 

Journaling is also a great way to deal with past traumas that may still affect your life today. If these are not resolved, you could suffer anxiety, depression, and personality issues in your life.

Journaling helps you look at the problem head on and find creative ways that are unique to you to deal with it. 

Mindful journaling helps you take ownership of your thoughts, understand them, and release their power over you. It’s not a quick fix, but with time, your journaling will help you organize your thoughts so you aren’t trapped in your mind prison. 

Final Thoughts on How to Get Out of Your Head 

It’s tough when you’re stuck in your head and your life is spiraling out of control because you aren’t present in your day-to-day life. Living in your mental prison is a habit, but it’s time to escape. 

To make your way back to reality, you need to meditate, accept how you feel and let it go, focus on other people and things, get moving, practice mindfulness, and remember to breathe.

It’s also essential to find your flow, soak up the sun and Mother Nature, and journal. 

If you’re an overthinker, use these 60 affirmations to help you stop overthinking about everything and learn how to get out of your head.

And if you're interested in more articles about mindfulness and life, be sure to check out these blog posts:

Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.

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