We’ve all been there, some more than others. The world seems like a distant place, cut off from you, and you from it. You get a bit of a thousand-yard stare going. Or you’ve got so many thoughts whirling around in your head that you can’t escape them; or you’re so focussed on one thing, obsessing over it, that you’re a hostage to your own brain; or you’re so lethargic, so foggy headed, that it feels like there is a layer of cotton wool between you and the rest of the world.
However it manifests, one thing is clear: you are trapped in your own mind. Overthinking, frozen like a deer in the headlights, at the eye of a storm of swirling thoughts… it hits us all from time to time, often more.
There are plenty of reasons the feeling of being trapped in your own mind might happen. According to one theory, we become trapped in our own minds as a way to find control in any given setting, or as a result of striving for perfection. We want to account for every side of every situation, cover every angle, and find contingencies for anything that might go wrong. This leads to us getting trapped in circles, forever chasing our tails and making no progress.
This isn’t limited to future situations. We can apply it equally well to past events, especially embarrassing ones, or those we think we came out of badly. We can waste hours playing them over and over, overthinking things to the nth degree.
Of course, this is just one theory. There are plenty of explanations for getting trapped in your own mind. Depression plays into it, as can simple hormonal imbalances – anyone who has ever suffered from low testosterone levels, for example, will tell you of the brain fog that has kept them trapped in their brain.
Whatever the reason, there are some excellent coping mechanisms you can put into place. These can help to break the cycle and open you up to the world at large, escaping the prison of your mind.
How to stop overthinking and escape your own mind
For me, there are several things that you can do to really break that cycle, stop overthinking things, and stop being trapped in your own thoughts. The first few sort of build on each other, though they can also work independently. Then there are several fitness and supplement hacks you can make use of to aid cognition, focus, and open yourself up to the world.
Be mindful of your mind
Recognizing when you are overthinking or hidden behind that brain fog is just about the most important thing you can do to overcome it and break free. It is therefore important to become aware of how you are feeling. At the very least, if those around you point out that you seem distracted or trapped in your head, listen to them – they are probably right!
Figure out the symptoms, the signs, the feelings you experience whenever you are trapped in your own mind. It should then become increasingly easy to recognize when it is happening.
Observe your thoughts and decide how to react
From this mindfulness, you can step back from yourself. Become the observer of your thoughts. This is a common mindfulness technique in yoga, and it works fantastically well.
What is it that you are overthinking about? Or what is it that is shutting you off from the world? Is it something within your control to change? If so, great. Go and change it, or at least take the first steps, then get on with your life. If not, as hard as it sounds, let it go. Instead, try to prioritize things that you can control.
If nothing else, your reactions are generally somewhat under your control. You may not be able to control things around you, but you can decide how to respond to them.
If you have something that you want to change, that is within your power to do so, try not to dwell on it, even if you are proactively seeking to change things. You may find yourself obsessing over an issue that actually warrants only a small portion of your attention.
Ringfence any given issue. Set a time limit on it. Figure how many minutes or hours you are going to spend on it, spend those minutes, then move on.
Or figure out how to respond to a problem that addresses it quickly without necessarily fixing it.
For instance, if you have an appointment but you find the trains running late, try not to obsess over it. Don’t overthink and stress about it in the moment. Don’t return to it later, worrying about it after the fact. A good way to fix it might be to call whomever your appointment is with, tell them you’ll be late or that you need to reschedule, and then relax. It happens to the best of us. Or you might be able to make alternative arrangements – call a cab, take a bus, etc.
Whatever you decide to do – and you need to actively decide to do something – don’t simply pace up and down the station platform chasing yourself in circles in your head.
Supplementation can make a big difference, believe it or not. Why do you think you are trapped in your own mind? Is it because you have too many thoughts that you don’t know what to do with? Is it because of depression or lethargy cutting you off from the world? Is it because you’re stressed and obsessive?
Either way, there is a class of supplement that could help. Nootropics, so called ‘smart drugs’, are completely natural supplements designed to optimize your cognitive health and wellbeing, allow for greater focus, elevated mood and energy levels, and to keep you focussed.
There are some fantastic ones out there. I typically turn to either NooCube or MindLab Pro, though there are plenty more. If you’re struggling to keep things straight, to wake up to the world, and/or to marshal your thoughts properly, they might be a fantastic option for you.
Low testosterone may also be at work, especially in men, keeping you sluggish and unfocussed, or alternatively stressed and anxious (there is something of an inverse correlation between testosterone levels and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone).
Certain supplements can help, here. Minerals such as zinc and magnesium are great. Vitamin D is another. However, you can also go for a specially intended testosterone booster, a natural supplement containing everything you need to optimize output. I personally value Hunter Test and Testoprime, though there are loads more out there.
Go easy on yourself
We all need to be kinder to ourselves. It’s easier said than done, however. You can’t simply flip a switch and instantly be softer on yourself.
However, even if you are still getting trapped in your own mind, cut off from the world, recognize the effort you are putting into overcoming it. Celebrate what you have done, give yourself a pat on the back, and keep going.
This is vital. Part of the reason you will have been trapped in your mind in the first place will likely be stress and anxiety. You can remove a lot of this by simply smiling and listing all the positive things you have done. So go through this list, check off what you’ve done, and appreciate the work you’ve put in and all that you have achieved.
Switch off before bed
Try to unwind in the hours preceding bedtime. This will help you to switch off and get a good night’s sleep. Good sleep quality can undo a lot of brain fog and lethargy. It has been linked with reduced stress and anxiety levels, as well as with better overall health and life quality.
Figure out what relaxes you and allows you to escape your mind before bed. This could be journaling, getting all your thoughts out onto the page, much like Dumbledore with his pen-sieve. It could be yoga or some other form of breath-work or meditation, calming yourself and quieting your mind.
Take a long, slow bath, listen to some music, dim the lights. Allow your brain to calm down and sleepiness to take hold.
Cut the caffeine
Caffeine can go one of two ways. Many nootropics use some form of stimulant. It can help you to stay energized and focussed. If your issue is sluggishness and brain fog, it can be just the ticket.
If you struggle with ADHD or similar symptoms, it may be perfect. Stimulants are great for treating conditions like this due to the ADHD stimulant paradox, whereby added stimulation can actually calm you down.
However, it is also a stressor. It works by putting you into a minor fight-or-flight response, in the process of which it can increase your cortisol levels. It makes you anxious and jittery.
If you struggle to unwind, relax, or order your thoughts because there are so many, it might not be a good idea. If the root cause is anxiety, it can make things ten times worse.
You should definitely consider cutting caffeine out or down, especially in the hours preceding bedtime, if you struggle to sleep because you are so trapped in your head.
Exercise is a bit of a cure-all… well, OK, not quite, but it can help with most mental and physical health problems, both in treating them and preventing them in the first place.
It can help here. Exercise releases endorphins that will make you happier and calmer. It can cut through brain fog as adrenaline takes hold. It can cut through depression by simply cheering you up chemically. You can banish anxiety with it.
The routine works wonders, too. If you have structure and routine, you have fewer variables in your life to worry about. This will cut anxiety itself.
Exercise is also a very present activity. You have to be living in the moment, not in your mind. For this reason, it represents a fantastic escape from your mind if you habitually get trapped there. This is largely how I use it – I’m a writer by profession, used to living almost wholly in my own mind, and I find regular exercise a blessed relief.
An end note
Try all of these out. Or just some of them – one or two might do the trick. The main thing is mindfulness. Learn to recognize how and when you become trapped in your mind, what the symptoms look like, what triggers it, and how it affects you.
Then find some coping mechanisms, some ways to get around it. This is like seeing the walls of your prison and then finding the keys that will open the cell door, allowing you to walk through. You’ll feel far better for doing so.