a woman shown trapped inside her own head

Staying Out of My Head

My bad habits lead to you

Hi, my name is Wunmi and I am guilty of constantly living in my head. I'm not a hermit or recluse, I actually live my life as an extrovert but 99% of the time, I have at least 12 tabs open in my head and I'm constantly ruminating on different thoughts/feelings/ideas.

I'm not really sure how, where, or why this happened but I am caged in my own thoughts, and the older I get, the more I want to make my mind a pleasant place to be. If I'm honest, I think I am slowly coming to terms with my reality. My default setting is to overanalyze everything, even mundane occurrences like drafting an email. PS - If you've ever received an email from me, I can almost guarantee that I proofread it at least twice before hitting the send button.

I spend way too much time thinking about where I am in life, failing to stay present and recognize my blessings, while I slowly sink into bad habits, particularly the dangerous game of comparison. Lately, my thoughts have led me down a slippery slope where I'm focusing on negative thoughts about myself and my abilities.

The downside

Feelings of self-doubt can be crippling because it starts with one thought i.e. "I don't think I'm creative" and like a group of magnets, one attached to another, more negative thoughts start to develop - "That's probably why I didn't land that client pitch last week."

My mind starts to look around corners and go down a rabbit hole of worse-case scenarios to the point of hyper-alertness and worry, which often results in traumatic stress. In my cognitive behavioral work, I've learned that anxiety can show up as physical symptoms for some ie heart palpitations but for others, it is a cluttered mind.

When I was 7, I overheard a pediatrician tell my parents that I wouldn't live to see age 21 because of sickle cell disease and that memory holds a lot of trauma for me. If I tried to identify the moment when living in my head became a common practice, I'd probably choose that timeframe. In my young mind, the only way I knew how to cope with the fear of dying young, just before I could truly live, was to achieve my dreams now, not in 5 to 10yrs but right NOW!

A need for control

One recurring theme in my life is a desperate need for control. For many patients with terminal illnesses, they make it a point to live in the present and enjoy what others might consider fleeting moments but for me, thinking I would die young meant making an immediate impact. There is an overwhelming sense of urgency in how I set goals, achieve them, and seek instant gratification/success; continuously failing to stop and smell the roses.

Even as a transplant survivor who has come to terms with her new identity, I still hear an internal clock ticking, a subconscious reminder that I may still be on borrowed time. Living in my head brews constant worry, a strong desire for perfection, rigid control, and misplaced priorities. I have to break free!

Finding a way out

Someone once told me that anxiety obliterates priorities and perspectives by making everything seem important. For months, I've been trying to master 4 primary concepts that my therapist believes will help me stay out of my head and start to live a healthier life. They are - Pause, Space, Observe, and Be Gentle (PSOG).

Pause

This concept is all about being mindful of your thoughts and getting your rational brain to take the front seat. Simply put, it's taking hold of the reins (your thoughts) and slowing things down so that you are able to focus on the present moment. Deep breathing, meditation, and exercise are proven ways to get you to pause.

Space

This is when you check in with yourself. If your anxious brain tells you one thought is important, you take a step back and let your rational brain set its own priorities. An easy way to do this is to get in touch with your 5 senses. Notice your surroundings, pay attention to smells, identify textures you can feel, listen to nearby sounds, etc.

Observe

Start to notice the thoughts that show up for you and see if you can find a pattern. Let the thoughts swirl around in your head but don't try to get rid of them or attempt to fix them. Don't argue, don't respond, just observe them.

Be Gentle

Whatever thoughts appear in your head, that keep you up at night or make you feel overwhelmed, always remember to be gentle with yourself. It's not the end of the world even though your anxious brain tells you it is. Realign yourself with your values and remember what's important to you.

A little practice goes a long way but what has really helped me is practicing PSOG every morning before I start my day. I hope it helps you too.

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