Learn to Settle: Using Your Body to Get You Out of Your Head
We live in a culture of doing. From a young age we are taught that our value is in what we produce-how much? How good? How effective and efficient? Our success is measured by these factors. It’s no wonder that we move at the speed of energizer bunnies--always in motion and banging on our drums to be noticed--believing that rest is shameful or only for the weak.
What We Do Now
Notice what happens when you sit down at the end of the day to watch a little tv before bed. Now if you’re anything like me, you watch for a few minutes and then pick up your phone. Maybe you check your email or start swiping through social media (likely both!?) Then you find yourself reminded of that one last thing you didn’t get to during the workday and start an internal debate if there’s time to finish it now. Now you’re bouncing back and forth between the show you’re (barely) watching, the Instagram feed-(“gosh, I really want to decorate MY bedroom like that!”), and debating about doing that last task from work. If you were paying close attention, you would likely notice that you were becoming anxious as you go round-and-round this cycle. And this is supposed to be “down time,” folks!
How Society Impacts Us
One of the byproducts of a culture that privileges productivity and busyness, is that it is really hard to settle. Even when we aren’t physically in motion or actively engaged in activities, our mind is likely full of chatter and we can be found swinging like monkeys from tree branch to tree branch of our thoughts (Buddhists refer to this as the “monkey mind”). Being in our monkey minds often sounds like; making to-do lists, listing things we’re afraid of, dwelling on hurtful or regretful things from the past, creating what-if scenarios about the future, and passing judgment on ourselves or others. All of this swinging from tree branches can activate our fight or flight response of our nervous system and results in increased feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, restlessness, irritability, impulsivity, and ultimately, exhaustion. Often the more anxious we feel, the more we attempt to sort things out in our minds by analyzing and overanalyzing, searching for a solution but likely only increasing our activation.
Our culture privileges our biological ability to analyze, but this separates us from the wisdom of our bodies; instead, we need to work at integrating our mind and body and begin to value our embodied experience more! Here are some tips to help get you out of your head and increase your ability to be present, allowing for more pleasure and enjoyment of your life.
1. Cultivate a mindful practice of observing
Many people think that mindfulness only works if it is silent meditation. Nope! Mindfulness is about helping to build an observer self that can begin to alert you to when you are really in your head and then meeting it with non-judgment. There are many ways to do this and it’s important to find one that works for you! You can try meditation apps like Calm or Headspace, or go for a mindful walk around your block where you notice the feeling of your feet touching the ground with each step, or mindful eating where you explore and savor with each of your senses the food that you are eating.
2. Return to the power of your breath
Breathing is automatic and thus, we take it for granted. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and try to deepen your breath so that when you exhale the hand on your belly rises, but the hand on your chest doesn’t move. Invite your mind to pay attention to the rise and fall of your breath and the sensation of it moving through your belly. If you notice your awareness being pulled towards other things, open your eyes and watch your belly rise and fall, while saying “inhale” and “exhale” to yourself.
3. Locate sensation
When you start to notice that you are swinging from branches in your mind and thoughts are racing, direct your awareness into your body and scan for any sensations. Do you notice tingling, heat, tension, vibration, gripping, etc. anywhere? Stay with the sensation and notice what happens as you tune into it. Does it change or lessen? Consider asking your body if there’s anything it needs ( like to think of this as a moment to give your body a gift,) a joyful movement, stretch, touch, or intention.
4. Label the emotion and ride the wave
Rule of thumb: Generally, if we are having a lot of thoughts, we are experiencing an emotion. When we stay in the story of our thoughts, we often remain unaware of what we are truly feeling, which actually perpetuates the feeling (often an uncomfortable one). Once you notice you’re really in your head, ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?” and then say to yourself “I’m feeling Anxious (or sad, grief-stricken, uncomfortable, worried, angry, restless, etc.) Where do I feel that in my body?” Then stay in tune with the feeling. If you allow the emotion to happen, it will grow and crest and then fall and release, like a wave. Check out our blog on How Emotions Can Help Treat Anxiety for more about this topic.
5. Shake it out
When our nervous system gets activated, we send energy to our limbs to prepare to fight or flee. One of the easiest (and most fun) ways to take care of ourselves and try to get out of our heads is to engage in movement. Notice that you’re having a lot of thoughts and starting to feel stressed out. You may even become aware that you have tingling or fidgeting in your fingers or legs. Then dance it out, go for a walk around the block, jumping jacks in place, sprint around your living room, anything to release some of that energy!
6. Pick One
When you start making lists and furiously adding more onto the plate inside on your brain, you are quickly going to become overwhelmed. Instead of looking around at ALL of the things you need to do or aren’t doing well enough, or others haven’t done right, just pick ONE. It doesn’t matter which thing, but your task is to take a breath and stop making lists and choose one thing to prioritize and focus on right then. If you’re feeling like you need to do everything, you heighten overwhelm and likely create stagnation, making it almost impossible to get stuff done.
One thing I always remind my clients is that the mind has an uncanny ability to play tricks on us, jumping back and forth between the future and the past, whereas the body is our truthteller. Our bodies are always in the here-and-now, and when we use our minds to become more aware of our bodies, we can begin to slow down, be fully present in our world and our relationships, and find increased calm and freedom from being trapped inside our heads. Check out our stress management page to help you become more aware of sources of stress and racing thoughts and get support for de-stressing!
We are launching a Self-Care challenge!
We know that you are always searching for high-quality tips about emotional well-being and how to stay healthy and take care of yourself. Because an important aspect of staying healthy mentally starts with your own self-care, we are kicking off a 5-Day Self-Care Challenge! When you sign up for the challenge, you will learn how self-care impacts your emotional health and how to implement a daily self-care routine. Start your journey towards your emotional health today!
How We Can Help
If you are interested in therapy at Catalyss Counseling and would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:
Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation
Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxing life
Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
We want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Kaitlin Kindman is a co-founder of Kindman & Co, a group therapy practice in Los Angeles, that is deeply committed to providing socially-just and decolonized therapy. She really loves working with couples to improve their relationships and deepen intimacy, with other therapists and healers, as well as entrepreneurs and other business owners. Kaitlin finds true enjoyment in cuddling with animals, a just-right temperature cup of tea, feeling the sun on her face, and dancing in supermarket aisles.