By Jennifer McDougall
I’ve been there. You’re stuck in your head with thoughts and feelings and worries, and nothing seems to quiet that inner brain chatter. You can’t help but worry about the future or ruminate over the past. You feel overwhelmed by how many things you need to do and how little energy you have left at the end of each day.
Brain chatter can make a person feel exhausted, worn down, and anxious. If the chatter doesn’t stop, it could lead to depression, anxiety attacks, and substance abuse.
Brain Chatter Defined as Unwanted Thoughts
Brain chatter is a term used to describe the constant stream of thoughts that go through your head. These thoughts can be positive or negative, but they’re all part of our everyday lives and are completely normal. Nevertheless, it can feel overwhelming when you cannot focus because your brain won’t stop chattering. This can be especially true if you have a drinking problem and are trying to stay sober.
The first step in eliminating brain chatter is learning to identify it as it happens so that you can start addressing the issue immediately rather than letting it hold power over you.
Natural Brains Are Noisy
The brain is constantly processing information. When you’re awake, it’s always thinking and talking to itself. You can’t stop this activity because the brain is actively connecting ideas and making decisions while you’re awake.
The second thing to know about your brain is that it’s hardwired to jump from one thought or idea to another as quickly as possible—without prompting. This happens so fast that most of us don’t even notice it happening. Yet, it constantly occurs throughout our lives: in our waking hours when we are immersed in an activity such as reading a book or working on the computer; during sleep when dreams occur; even when we’re doing mundane tasks folding laundry.
Control Your Mind, Change Your Life
You can’t always control your mind, but you can manage your thoughts. And you can’t control other people’s thoughts or reactions, but you can choose how to react in response to their actions/thoughts/emotions. For example, if a co-worker says something that bothers you, ask yourself: “Is it worth my energy to get angry?”
If someone cuts in front of you in line at the grocery store and they don’t apologize? It doesn’t mean they’re rude; they may just be having a bad day and not paying attention to their surroundings. Understanding that everything is not always about us can help prevent us from taking the action and words of others personally.
Get out of your head.
- Focus on the present.
- Focus on the people around you.
- Focus on the sounds around you.
- Focus on what you are doing.
- Focus on what you see and feel (the room temperature). The temperature in the room, how your clothes feel against your skin, what you are smelling (if a scented candle is burning), or tasting (a glass of lemon water).
Listen to something that makes you laugh.
When you’re stuck in your head, one of the best things you can do is listen to something that makes you laugh.
That could be watching or reading stand-up comedy, listening to a podcast about something funny, or playing music with a comedic vibe—like a playlist of songs guaranteed to make you laugh. It could also mean listening to music that makes you feel energized and happy (dance parties are great). Or it might be music with lyrics that speak directly to what’s happening inside your head (like music by The xx). And if none of those options are appealing, go old school: put on some music from back when life was simpler—a time before any current problems existed.
Connect with others.
The first step in overcoming your mental health issues is to seek help. This can be as easy as talking to close friends and family or more formal, like seeing a therapist. If you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or have any other mental health issues, getting professional help should be done sooner rather than later.
You need someone who knows what they’re doing and will give you the best chance of success with whatever treatment plan you choose. Talk to others who understand what it’s like for them because there are specific things that happen during the process that only someone else going through it would know about from their experience.
Pay attention to your body.
The first thing to do when stuck in your head is to pay attention to your body. Next, we must recognize when our minds wander and bring ourselves back into the present moment.
While it may sound obvious, one of the best ways to do this is by practicing meditation. Meditation teaches us to focus on our breath without judging or getting caught up in thoughts about tomorrow or yesterday. By observing our breath and being mindful of our surroundings and how we feel, we can learn how to stay focused on what’s happening right now instead of worrying about how things might turn out later on down the road (which will only make things more stressful).
Another helpful exercise is mindful walking—paying attention as much as possible while doing something as simple as walking from point A to point B. Paying attention means understanding how each footfall feels against the ground, noticing whether your arms swing naturally, noticing any sounds around you, etc. This practice trains us not only in mindfulness but also helps us notice details that would otherwise slip by unnoticed.
Be Compassionate Toward Yourself
Being compassionate toward yourself is a crucial part of staying sober.
Without compassion, you will be unable to forgive yourself for your mistakes. Without forgiveness, shame and guilt will continue to plague you and prevent you from moving forward.
- Be patient with yourself – Remember that change takes time. You can’t expect immediate results from all the changes you make in your life right now.
- Be kind to yourself – Don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes. Focus on what has gone right and is going well for you now, instead of dwelling on what hasn’t happened yet. We tend to be our own worst critics, so go easy on yourself. Be proud of yourself and remind yourself of how powerful you are.
Breathe deeply and slowly.
Breathing deeply and slowly is the most important thing you can do to calm down and redirect your focus. Try this: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, then breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeat this several times to help clear and relax your mind of negative thoughts.
If you’re having trouble getting started with breathing exercises or need something else to occupy your attention while doing them, try reading a book, knitting a scarf, playing games with your puppy, or playing a card game. Anything that keeps your hands busy will help keep your mind focused on something other than whatever’s making you anxious.
Do something creative.
Try doing something creative when you feel like your mind is all over the place. Creativity can help you feel grounded and connected to the present moment. You can start by picking something new for you to do, such as painting, photography, or writing poetry.
While practicing this activity, try to be mindful of what you are doing and how it makes you feel. Pay attention to everything around you—the sounds in the room or birds chirping. If your mind wanders away from focusing on what’s happening right now, gently bring it back without judgment or criticism.
Remind yourself of your values and goals—and why this matters to you.
This is a simple yet highly effective strategy for getting out of your head. First, identify what’s important to you in life; this could be work-related or personal. For example, if one of your top values is building solid relationships with people who are important to you, then take a moment to think about how doing so will help you achieve other goals that matter more than anything else in life: having friends or family around when it counts most; feeling like the person who was there for someone when they needed someone most; knowing that no matter what happens in life, there’ll always be someone who cares about them deeply (and vice versa).
It’s good to put things into perspective and remember what you want out of life and how you’re going to get it.
This can help you put your current situation into a larger context, making it easier to cope with. You may feel stuck in your head or trapped in your mind, but this isn’t an all-encompassing feeling—there are ways out of it and things that will help you move forward.
Being stuck in your head can be a frustrating experience, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect and learn. By taking action on the suggestions above, you’ll be able to get out of your head more often — which will help you achieve more success in life overall.
Non-12-Step Addiction Rehab at Passages
Passages Malibu is an alternative to traditional rehab that provides a holistic, client-centered approach to addiction treatment. Find lasting healing through our model of care and experiential therapies. You will uncover the root causes of your addiction, and we will provide you with tools for lifelong sobriety and change. We can help you turn your life around and find hope again. Call (888) 397-0112 today for more information.