Racing mind? Anxious thoughts? Here’s how to get out of your head and into your body

Written by Meg Walters

Is your mind feeling a little cramped? These techniques can help you get out of your mind and into your body.

For some, the feeling of an overcrowded brain will be all too familiar. Maybe you find yourself overwhelmed by obsessive thinking and anxious mental habits. Perhaps you constantly find yourself second-guessing and overanalysing. Or maybe your inner monologue simply feels so loud it becomes distracting. 

If this sounds like you, you may have tried certain techniques to ‘quieten’ the mind, such as meditation or white noise. But what many of us don’t realise is that there are some techniques that can help us get out of our minds altogether. 

As Tchiki Davis, PhD, explains in a piece for Psychology Today, sometimes the best tactic is to get out of the head and into the body.

Are you stuck in your head?

Getting stuck in your head is an all too familiar feeling. It usually happens when you’re trapped in a pattern of overthinking, perhaps when your overthinking begins to distract you from your day-to-day tasks or you find it hard to stop repeatedly thinking about certain situations in the past or potential situations in the future.

“When you’re in your head, you might wonder if your friend secretly hates you because it took them more than a few hours to answer your text,” writes Dr Davis. “Or you might ruminate about why you were passed over for a promotion.”

While it’s normal for the mind to go over things in the past or contemplate things in the future, getting stuck in a pattern of obsessive thought can lead to feelings of stress, unhappiness and unease. Dr Davis cites one 2010 study that found “people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and… doing so typically makes them unhappy”.

Can you ever really get out of your head?

Of course, the phrase “get out of your head” is merely a metaphor – we’re not seeking to physically leave the brain behind. However, it is possible to change where you place your focus. By getting into your body, you can begin to tune out your busy brain and tune into what your physical body is telling you. 

If being stuck in your head is all about fixating on thoughts about the past and future, getting in your body can also help you to encourage your mind to focus on the present. 

Focusing on the present is a common mantra in mindfulness practices. As Nancy Colier, LCSW, Rev, writes in another Psychology Today piece, “The most treacherous impediment to mindful attention… is thought. The mind, maker of thoughts, is forever chattering, distracting us, telling us stories, beckoning us to not be where we are, but rather get involved in the tickertape of plot twists it’s creating.”

That’s where ‘getting into the body’ comes in.

The practice of ‘getting into the body’ is all about imagining that the body has a mind of its own. Instead of listening to what your brain is telling you to do, listen to the physical impulses of your body. Eventually, you may start to feel that you’ve left your busy brain behind and tuned into a new state.

Tips on getting into your body (and out of your head)

Understand your habits

The first step is understanding when you are in your head. As Dr Davis explains, many of us have specific triggers that set us off on a spiral of overthinking and overanalysing. 

“The first step to getting better is acknowledging what’s happening and being mindful of the situations that trigger this reaction,” she says.

Begin to take note of when you feel overwhelmed and what started the pattern. Was it an awkward interaction with an acquaintance? Was it a money worry? Was it an Instagram post? Triggers can come from anywhere and can set off your brain in ways that may surprise you.

Try a body scan meditation

Meditation can be a wonderful way to get out of your head, but if you’re looking to get into your body specifically, try a body scan meditation. A body scan will take you through your body, asking you to direct your attention on your toes, your feet, your ankles and so on. By focusing on each area, you’ll redirect your mind’s attention to the body and begin to tune into how your physical self is feeling.

Try a visualisation technique

“It’s important to make the distinction between your thoughts and you,” Dr Davis writes. “You are not your thoughts.”

Close your eyes and try to visualise your body and your thoughts as two separate entities. Imagine yourself moving away from your thoughts and into your physical body. This visualisation may help you find distance from an overly busy mind.

Try a physical practice that requires all of your attention

One of the best ways to ‘get into the body’ is to move. The harder and more demanding the movement, the more you’ll find yourself turning your focus away from your thoughts and onto the present, physical moment.

Exercises such as yoga and pilates, for instance, can help you to direct your attention on your physical form. If you’re focusing on tucking your pelvis and straightening your arms and dropping your shoulders and grounding into your feet, you’ll soon find that you simply don’t have time to focus on what your friend texted you yesterday or what might go wrong in that meeting tomorrow.

Images: Getty

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