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Feeling trapped in your own mind can be a very scary, frustrating, and unpleasant feeling, and something that many people with anxiety experience.
I was someone who battled with chronic anxiety for 20 years, and during that time I was often a prisoner of my own thoughts.
Common signs of being trapped in your mind can include indecisiveness, procrastination, overthinking everything, being emotionally reactive, losing track of time, constantly analyzing the past or fearing the future, poor concentration levels, tension, sore muscles, and sleep problems.
These were certainly all the things that I had to endure, and since becoming an anxiety blogger I’ve learned that other people experience the same symptoms when faced with this mind-related problem.
In all honesty, being stuck in my own thoughts, was a lonely place that triggered even more anxiety, and I remember how desperately I wanted to find a way out.
What helped me to stop being imprisoned by my own mind?
I found that the most effective techniques to get me out of my head were those that,
- Help to train the mind to focus on the present moment (i.e. mindfulness, meditation)
- Increase the intake of oxygen (i.e., getting fresh air, practicing deep breathing, exercising, or getting sweaty on my myoga mat); and
- Release and clear thoughts (i.e., daily journaling, talking to a close friend, brain dump).
Some of these are scientifically proven methods for calming and/or rewiring the brain, which might be comforting for you to know.
But setting the science aside, in my experience, if you commit to practicing these very techniques and make them a habit, you can significantly relieve and overcome your overwhelmed mind.
In this article, I talk in detail about the above-mentioned common symptoms, as well as provide a step-by-step guide on how you can stop your thoughts from taking over you.
So, if you are ready to learn more, let’s get started.
The following list illustrates the common signs and symptoms of feeling trapped in your own mind.
It's a good exercise to go through the list and answer "yes" to all those that apply, just to see where you are right now.
If you end up answering "yes" to all, don't worry, that's ok. I had all of these issues and more, and I still managed to overcome my suffocating thoughts.
Do you struggle to make decisions?
- Do you feel anxious or stressed when making decisions?
- Are you easily influenced by others who have strong opinions and prefer for them to make decisions for you?
- Do you lack confidence in your decisions after they are made?
- Do you carefully consider all options, weighing up the pros and cons of each, a few times until you feel you can make a decision?
Do you find yourself overanalyzing or second-guessing all the time, which then causes you to put off, postpone, or delay taking action in your life?
- Do you have a habit of making excuses?
- Are you afraid of failure or making a mistake?
- Do you spend more time focusing on non-essential tasks than the more important ones?
- Are your goals unrealistic and uncertain?
- Do you struggle with change and transitions?
- Is lateness a problem for you?
3. Overthinking Everything
While everyone overthinks now and again, overthinking everything is quite different.
Do you find yourself constantly ruminating about the past or worrying about the future?
- Do you spend time obsessing over what you should/ shouldn’t have said or done?
- Are you rehashing past conversations and re-living embarrassing moments in your mind?
- Do you find yourself incessantly worrying about what others think of you, and comparing yourself to others?
- Are you always/often expecting the worst to happen?
- Do you try to read other people’s minds?
4. Emotionally Reactive
Do you emotionally react to small and big things in your life, and are often left feeling misunderstood, upset, and alone?
- Do you take things too personally?
- Are unable to take any kind of criticism?
- Do you become defensive and resentful if you perceive that someone has criticized you?
- Are you struggling with interpersonal relationships?
- Do you storm off in self-righteousness when things aren't going exactly to plan?
- Do you believe that the behavior of others is the main cause of your emotional reactions?
- Have you noticed that people find it difficult to be around you?
- Do you get angry very easily?
5. Sleep Problems
Do you have trouble sleeping because your mind is constantly overwhelmed with thoughts?
- Do you toss and turn at night trying to get to sleep for hours?
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, do you struggle to get back to sleep?
- Do you grind your teeth at night, clench your jaw, and/or have nightmares?
6. Poor Concentration
Do you have trouble concentrating and focusing on the task at hand?
- Do you struggle to remember things that occurred only a short while ago?
- Are you having difficulty staying focused?
- Do you lose things too frequently?
- Are you unable to think clearly?
- Do you struggle to work on complicated tasks?
- Is sitting still an issue for you?
- Do you have a habit of forgetting where you left things?
- Are you making careless mistakes?
7. Tension and Sore Muscles
Do you feel tense and have sore muscles?
- Do you have a stiff neck or a sore back?
- Do you find stretching somewhat painful?
8. Not Allowing Time for Relaxation
Despite your overwhelmed mind that overwhelms your life, do you find it difficult to allocate any time in the week to relaxation practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, massage, stretching, or something creative?
- Do you believe that there isn't a relaxation technique that could help you?
- Do you believe that relaxation techniques are a waste of time for people like you?
- Do you believe working constantly is more likely to relieve your constant worries than taking time out to relax effectively?
Now that you have gone through all these questions, let's see how you can work to fix this.
How to Stop Feeling Trapped?
When you are stuck in your own mind, it can feel as though you are never going to escape this mental mess.
But, I can assure you, that it is something that can be fixed with effort, practice, and time.
All you need is to be willing to put in the work.
So, what techniques can you start to apply?
1. Practice Being Mindful
Mindfulness is the most effective technique that helped me to finally get out of my head, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Practicing mindfulness trained my mind to focus on the present moment, which is the only moment where I was able to experience fewer thoughts, “no thoughts,” and calmness.
Just to clarify, …
Mindfulness and meditation are similar, but not the same.
The end goal of both meditation and mindfulness is to be in the present moment, but the approach is different.
People meditating are more likely to set aside some time for their practice while taking a seated or lying position.
In contrast, those being mindful are practicing giving full attention to a particular task.
John Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Center of Mindfulness at the University Massachusetts Medical School, explains
Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.
Both meditation and mindfulness have enormous benefits for mental well-being, but in my opinion, mindfulness is more practical and easier for beginners to start introducing as part of daily life.
For example, you can do mindful eating, mindful walking, washing the dishes mindfully, or being mindful while doing anything else, which means that you don’t have to set aside any extra time in your busy day for trying to be present.
Mindful eating is my favorite mindfulness activity because I noticed multiple benefits quickly after I first started practicing.
- I began enjoying my food more,
- My digesting started to improve,
- I had less bloating and no more abdominal pain,
- My excessive sugar cravings began falling,
- I noticed I was fuller for longer, and
- Most importantly, I began experiencing fewer thoughts, less anxiety, and also felt calmer afterward each mindful meal.
Mindful eating means simply eating or drinking while being aware of each bite or sip. – Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddhist Monk, who played a key role in introducing mindfulness to the West
In other words, the goal of mindful eating is to focus solely on your meal (the taste, smell, texture, colors, each bite, your chewing) because by doing this you are focused on the present moment.
– Why is being present important for getting out of your trapped mind?
Well, because, one of the biggest reasons why we are stuck in our thoughts is because we are not present in the here and the now.
When we are trapped in our minds, our thoughts are either somewhere in the past, or busy trying to predict the future, basically anywhere else other than the present moment.
But practicing being focused on the present moment is how you can release your thoughts and calm down your mind and anxiety .
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. – Buddha
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath. – Amit Ray, mindfulness leader and author of several popular books on mindfulness
There is plenty of scientific research to support the fact that mindfulness is a highly effective technique for changing negative thoughts, rewiring the brain, and improving overall mental well-being.
For example, one 2011 study showed
mindfulness brings about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioral regulation.
Another 2010 study showed that
participation in MBSR [Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction ] is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking
But you might be wondering, isn’t multitasking more productive?
According to research,
multitasking can require 40% extra time for completion, compared with focusing on one task at a time. More complex tasks can require even more time.
– Is mindfulness difficult?
Sharon Salzberg, a mindfulness teacher who played a key role in bringing mindfulness to the West says,
Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.
– How to Start Your Mindfulness Practice?
In a nutshell, choose 1-3 mindful activities that you are willing to practice and challenge yourself to commit to doing these consistently for three months. During that time make sure you keep a record of your anxiety levels before and after your practice.
The reason I recommend 90 days is because, in my experience, this is how much time you need to notice significant changes and all of the benefits, though you will notice some benefits quite quickly.
To help you get started, here is a step-by-step process:
Step 1. For the first month, choose one activity to be mindful of and practice for 30 minutes daily. Record your anxiety level before and after practice.
- Mindful eating
- Mindful walking
- Mindful washing of dishes
- Mindful cleaning
- Mindful food shopping
Step 2. In month 2, choose two activities to be mindful of and practice for 1 hour daily in total. Record your anxiety level before and after practice.
Step 3. During the last month, choose three activities to be mindful of every day and practice for 90 minutes daily. Record your anxiety level before and after practice.
- If you prefer to stick to one mindful activity for the entire three months that’s absolutely fine. Just make sure you increase the time spent each month. For example, if you choose mindful eating, you can practice eating mindfully for breakfast in month one, for breakfast and lunch in month two, and for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in month three.
I have focused on mindfulness in great detail in this article because if you were to ask for only one technique to help you stop feeling trapped in your mind, I would say mindfulness. Mindfulness is both a long-term and short-term strategy to help you feel better.
Of course, mindfulness is not the only method so I will list a couple of more techniques that have helped me manage my overwhelmed mind in case you are interested in something else as well.
2. Increase Your Intake of Oxygen
Step outside for a while – calm your mind. It is better to hug a tree than to bang your head against a wall continually – Rasheed Ogunlaru
Going outside and getting some fresh air is a great way to clear your mind.
But although this sounds very simple, someone who is constantly involved with their mind can find this extremely hard to do.
I remember when I used to be wrapped up in my own thoughts going outside would have felt like the worst option. Like many anxiety sufferers, I falsely believed that my mind and anxiety were tamed if I stayed at home curled up on my sofa. Little did I know, that this very lifestyle was triggering more negative thoughts and anxiety.
But as soon as I learned that going outside and getting more oxygen can relieve my thoughts and anxiousness, I decided to give it a go.
I must admit, it was the last thing I felt like doing at the time, but as I was desperate to find a way out of my mind I gave it a go.
What surprised me was how quickly after going outside I would experience more clarity.
Even just stepping out of my apartment building for 10 minutes and sitting on a bench outside was very effective.
But if I combined my time outside with walking, nature, and/or lots of deep breaths, my mental clarity was even more noticeable. Also, the longer I spent outside, the better I felt.
I was amazed at the effectiveness of the “increasing your oxygen intake” technique and it didn’t take me long before, I started walking daily, visiting parks at the weekend, and taking lots of deep breaths every time I went outside. This became my number one method for relieving my anxious mind quickly and effectively.
So, the next time your mind is taking over you, grab your trainers and step outside, go for a walk and take lots of deep breaths.
The more oxygen you take in the calmer you’re likely to feel.
If you still don’t want to go outside because you are too anxious, you can still increase your intake of oxygen by practicing deep breathing, yoga, or any form of exercise at home. I found that these activities done inside can still calm down the mind, but I must admit that going outside provided the quickest and longest-lasting relief.
3. Release Your Thoughts
Finding a way to regularly release your thoughts is a very important strategy for dealing with your overwhelmed mind.
Think of this as taking an internal shower. Just like you wash your face every morning, you also need to ‘wash’ your internal mind.
Otherwise, allowing your thoughts to keep accumulating is likely to make you feel more and more trapped over time, which can only make anxiety worse.
I have learned that getting a piece of paper and writing down my thoughts for 15 minutes daily, or calling a good friend to talk about how I am feeling now and again, is a great way to regularly release thoughts.
These techniques always help me to feel much better and calmer, and I still practice them today.
You don’t have to keep a journal if you don’t want to. Just have a pile of A4 paper in your home, and then each time you are feeling overwhelmed, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and start doing a brain dump.
Writing serves many purposes and one that should never be overlooked is writing as a way to release your fears, frustrations, and falling-down places. – Christina Katz
Final Thoughts on Being Trapped in Your Own Mind
Feeling trapped in your own thoughts can be frustrating, sad, lonely, and at times even scary.
It often leads to symptoms such as indecisiveness, procrastination, overthinking everything, being emotionally reactive, poor concentration levels, tension, sore muscles, and sleep problems.
In my experience, the number one technique for getting out of the mind is to adopt mindfulness as part of daily life. Mindfulness can help you train your mind to focus on the present moment, which is essential for reducing your thoughts long-term. Although meditation can do the same, I believe that mindfulness is easier for beginners to start applying as part of a normal routine.
I’ve also learned that increasing my intake of oxygen - by going outside, practicing deep breathing, regularly exercising, or practicing yoga – is a great way of clearing thoughts quickly and effectively, and allowing room for a new perspective.
On top of that, releasing my thoughts on a regular basis, either through writing them down or talking to a close friend, was a wonderful way to relieve my anxious mind and calm me down.
If you adopt one technique today, I recommend that you start with mindfulness.
Latest posts by Sandra Glavan, Life Coach for Gentle Anxiety Sufferers (see all)
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