Living in a state of chronic stress and anxiety, or dealing with perpetual negative rumination, can be devastating to your overall sense of well-being and your ability to thrive in life.
Unfortunately, various polls seem to show that these destructive states of mind are becoming more and more common, with growing numbers of people reporting that they regularly struggle with anxiety and depression, among other things.
While there are all sorts of excellent Mental Health Resources out there which can help you if this is the situation you find yourself in, a common problem for many people appears to be not only destructive habits of thought, but overthinking in general.
Researchers have identified regions in the brain that make up what is known as the “Default Mode Network.” This “network” plays an essential role in our sense of self, and our ability to navigate social contexts. But when it is hyper-activated for too much of the time, it seems to contribute greatly to stress, anxiety, and unhelpful and unrealistic negative assessments of things.
Here are a number of activities that may help you to get out of your own head so that you can break the cycle of rumination and negative thinking, and get back to thriving in your life.
Regular movement and physical activity
The psychologist Kelly McGonigal, writing in her book “The Joy of Movement,” notes that movement and physical activity have a tremendous ability to help to anchor us to the present moment and get us into our bodies and out of our heads – with all sorts of positive knock-on effects for our sense of well-being and confidence in the world.
What’s more, physical activity performed in natural settings seems to be especially powerful in its ability to quieten down our Default Mode Network, so that we can free ourselves from our patterns of habitual rumination.
Doing some form of vigorous exercise – whether that’s weight training, going for a jog, or doing a yoga class – doesn’t allow a lot of room for remaining totally caught up in your own negative thought spirals. In addition to directly shifting your attention, physical activity and exercise also helps to boost mood through the action of various hormones including endocannabinoids and endorphins.
Time spent in nature
There seems to be a powerful correlation between time spent in nature and the quieting of the chattering mind. In fact, researchers have found that prolonged periods of time in nature do actually quieten down activity in the brain’s Default Mode Network.
One powerful firsthand account of this experience comes from the famous Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge, who – among other things – was the first man to walk solo to the South Pole.
On his journey, Kagge’s radio broke, meaning that he travelled for approximately 30 days in the absence of all human contact, across the great frozen landscape.
Interestingly, he mentions that after the first few days his internal chatter quieted down and experienced a tremendous sense of peace, presence, and vitality as a result.
In his book “Silence In the Age of Noise,” Kagge directly argues that we should all seek to find regular moments in our everyday lives to foster and appreciate this kind of “silence.” According to him, it has an essential role in allowing us to truly thrive, be authentic, and experience rich and dynamic existences.
While you probably aren’t going to trek solo to the South Pole, even just 20 or 30 minutes spent walking in a green local park several times a week is likely to really help you to still the mental chatter for a while.
Mindfulness practices of all sorts – most notably mindfulness meditation – are very popular these days, with an assortment of different apps and services existing to support these practices.
While meditation appears to come with certain pros and cons depending on the amount, duration, and type of meditation practice, it’s definitely true that taking regular opportunities throughout your day to experience the sensations of what you are doing in the present moment, can help to get you out of your head.
Instead of just wolfing down your breakfast while thinking about what you have to do at work, take the time to really appreciate each bite.
Getting into a flow state
A “flow state” is a psychological term referring to moments of peak engagement that cause us to become completely engrossed in what we’re doing, and to feel like we are really “in the zone.”
Getting into flow states on a regular basis seems to be extremely beneficial for our sense of well-being. So, look for ways to engage in activities on a regular basis that challenge you just the right amount, while engaging your interest, so that you can enjoy these powerful states as often as possible.