How to Stop Being Trapped in Your Own Mind

How to Stop Being Trapped in Your Own Mind

If you’re my mother, please stop reading this article now — because I have a confession to make.

Some backstory first: I recently got in a car crash where I rear-ended the vehicle in front of me. I’d love to have some external force to blame this driving error on, but I don’t. The truth is, I can only blame my lack of attention and my failure to focus on myself and my own brain.

You see, as I was driving the day of the crash, I had a million things on my mind. I was planning my upcoming birthday party (which I can’t lie, is going to be epic), was worried about submitting an apartment rental application on time and was heading to church where I had numerous friends waiting for my arrival. My mind wasn’t present. At all. In fact, I was so trapped in my own mind, in my own thoughts, that I don’t even know if my brain recognized the car’s taillights turning red before I hit it.

Like me, others often find themselves “trapped” in their own mind. And, if you’re like me, that can be a dangerous thing (see above car crash story). Being trapped in your own mind can mean having so many endless thoughts swimming around in that brain of yours that you can’t think about anything actually going on around you. You have no sense of calm. It can also mean overthinking and ruminating on thoughts so much that they practically cloud your vision. You can become so stuck in the things bouncing around in your head that you can no longer see different perspectives, find a source of peace or move on from a situation.

It’s a scary thing — this being trapped in your own mind business.

This may be a foreign concept to you, but I promise this idea of being stuck in your mind is something we’ve all experienced at least a couple times in our lives. If you’re having trouble sleeping, are experiencing a fear of failure, find yourself overanalyzing or second-guessing yourself or even if you’re feeling stiff and have sore muscles, these are all tell-tale signs that can mean you’ve dealt with being trapped in your mind.

But don’t worry, because it can be fixed and you can learn how to reduce how often it happens. You don’t have to be like me and find yourself calling a tow truck to pick up your immobile Toyota Camry because you simply couldn’t get out of your own head.

There are proven methods to create space in your mind and to allow it to breathe. You can find relief and break free of the jail cell your own brain can become. 

If you stay up on health trends, I’m sure you’ve heard of the idea of mindfulness. While it’s a hot topic right now, I personally can attest to how valuable the practice is.

According to mindfulness teacher, coach, and speaker Natalie Bell, mindfulness is “both a tool and a way of living.”

“As a tool, mindfulness is a way of focusing attention to cultivate a sense of calm and greater awareness. We begin to see that we are not our thoughts or feelings, they are just a part of what’s happening in our lives. So we get a sense of more space or distance from the mind and we can be less tangled up in judgment, worry, blame, or doubt. We start to realize we have 1) freedom to let go of limiting thoughts and 2) a compassionate awareness to support ourselves when we are in difficult times. Mindful awareness is both spacious and compassionate or caring,” Bell explained in an email. 

I personally started practicing mindfulness about a year ago, only fully grasping it less than a few months prior and already, I can feel its benefits. Clearly, it’s a practice I’m still learning, as my car crash can’t be chalked up to the other driver’s failure to drive responsibly; and that’s ok. While I’m not perfect at it, I’m already figuring out how to create more space in my mind and allow my thoughts to be just that … thoughts passing by.

Mindfulness, while often associated with meditation, can be practiced in many ways. While setting aside time to sit still and focus on your breath while either going through a guided meditation or meditating on your own can be incredibly helpful, it’s just one way to gain this sense of peace and calm that Bell promises from mindfulness. 

“We can bring that meditative presence to all things we do. Having our morning tea, eating breakfast, meeting with a friend, going to meetings at work, relationships, driving in traffic, shopping. The list is endless. As we do more of this we practice letting go and gaining new perspectives. We have more freedom,” Bell says.

Being mindful in these numerous, small moments means simply focusing on one task at a time. It means giving your full attention to the present moment. When you brew your coffee in the morning, pay close attention to the bitter smells coming from the machine. Notice the warmth of the mug against your fingertips. Really taste the liquid as it steams through your sleepy body. Put your phone away and wait until after you’ve had your caffeine to start planning your day. This level of awareness, concentration, and attention is mindfulness in action.

As Marsha Linehan, the psychologist who created dialectical behavioral therapy describes it, mindfulness is meant to increase your happiness, help you experience reality as it is and last, but not least … take control of your mind. 

When you are focused on one thing at a time, you physically and mentally can’t be ruminating on, overthinking or worrying about a dozen of other things at the same time. Our brains can’t physically do more than one thing at a time successfully. We can partially do a handful of things, but not fully. You’ve heard of the concept of multitasking?  Humans are not really that great at it.

Multitasking is something that’s instilled in us early, especially in females who can breastfeed their baby while simultaneously listening in on a work call. And while multitasking obviously makes us very productive, it also can make us suffer as we don’t experience one thing to its fullest. This is the exact opposite of the goals of mindfulness, which are meant to help you see the beauty in the small things, like the taste of your everyday cup of Joe. Mindfulness allows you to gain a new perspective and focus on something other than your nonstop thoughts.

For Bell, who is a coach at Unplug meditation studios, meditating is a big way she practices mindfulness. For others, it can come in different forms.

Rachel Morris is a writer living in New York who admits her mind can sometimes become so packed she can’t focus on her work. Luckily, Morris found relief through mindfulness when running. 

“My go-to fix is running. I find that during the first few miles of a jog my brain shuffles through the clutter subconsciously… It’s not that I drop the anxiety-driven thoughts completely, but rather my brain gets to a point where it quiets down and stops obsessing over them. By the time I come home, all of the “thought cobwebs” that I was dealing with pre-run have usually been swept (or sweated!) away. It’s not only easier to get back to work, but I’m also in a happier frame of mind,” Morris said.

Jude Salazar only recently realized she had been trapped in her own mind. After going through a painful breakup, she found herself dealing with constant thoughts that left her hurting and upset. She became stuck with these negative thoughts and quickly had to find a way to free herself from them. For her, journaling was the answer.

“I have found a lot of solace in writing — journaling and poetry have become god sent. It helps take all you’ve got trapped in your mind and watch it unfold on paper. Seeing it on paper sometimes makes you realize how much sense things make or don’t. It’s become a good way to release the thoughts and not go to bed ‘trapped in my own mind,’” Salazar said.

Noah Fontana is a Los Angeles based artist who found comfort from being trapped in a number of ways. From reshaping the way he portrays his art, to working with kids and finally through focusing on his faith, escaping his naturally anxious mind became possible. 

And then there’s Jessica Smith, a firefighter in Michigan whose job rightfully so warrants a multitude of fears and worries. Her answer to no longer being weighed down by those problematic thoughts came from noise.

“Noise is my key…. Music speaks to me with what I’m going through in that moment and it’s like there’s a song for everything,” Smith said.

The list of ways to exercise the power of mindfulness is endless. Taking a walk around the block, playing the guitar or cooking up a feast are just a few of the many more ways you can use mindfulness to escape your thoughts.

It’s scary, sad and painful to be stuck in your own mind. Something someone says can leave you second-guessing yourself for days. When in reality, all you needed in that moment was a different perspective to see that maybe the person was having a bad day and was harsher in tone than usual because of it. You can become so overwhelmed with your long to-do lists that your absent-mindedness can leave you in a car-totaling crash. When instead, simply setting aside those tasks for ten minutes could have meant a safe ride. Or, you can find yourself completely incapable of healing from a breakup or difficult situation because you can’t stop replaying it. When in reality, peace could be right around the corner.

“Mindfulness as a way of living is bringing these core qualities of attention to your daily experience: openness, non-judgment, patience, acceptance, curiosity, friendliness, compassion, a willingness to let go. When we approach our lives and ourselves with these attitudes we can feel more at ease and more accepting,” Bell said.

If you’re like so many of us, myself and the people mentioned in this article, who find yourself trapped in your own mind- don’t fret. Because also like all of us, you can find a way to deal with the issue. Start using mindfulness today. Find one task or area of your life that you can devote your full attention to and make it a habit to do so each day. Slowly, being mindful will become easier as you spread it to more aspects of your life and with time, it will become second nature.

You don’t have to stay caged away in your tricky little brain. You too can find peace.

Photo credit: Unsplash by Lesly Juarez