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Living in Your Head Too Much? 4 Causes and Solutions

Time to be aware and get into your gut.

Key points

  • It's easy to feel like your mind is controlling you rather than you controlling your mind. What drives this is underlying anxiety.
  • Common forms include worrying, perfectionism, struggle with making decisions, and excessive control over yourself and others.
  • Keys to coping include getting your rational brain online, using your gut reactions as important information, and taking acceptable risks.
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Do you obsess and worry all the time? Struggle to make even small decisions? Are you self-critical? Feel easily distracted and unable to focus?

Too many of us live in our heads all that time. The fact that our mind is constantly producing thoughts isn't necessarily the problem—this is what our minds do. The problem arises when we feel we have no control, when our minds are like a runaway horse that we barely hold on to; we often only go where the horse takes us.

Anxiety is the driver here. But while for some, anxiety is a felt physical experience—heart palpitations, stomach-churning—for many of us, it is about that swirling mind. Like the somatic symptoms, the effects can come in several forms. Here are the most common ones:

You're constantly worrying

This is generalized anxiety where you constantly live in a future of "what if." Your brain is always looking ahead, looking around corners, going down rabbit holes of worst-case scenarios. You are hyperalert, a childhood coping skill that continues to operate even though you are no longer a child.

You struggle to make decisions

Anxiety obliterates priorities and perspectives. Everything feels important; every decision becomes a big decision—what to have for lunch carries the same weight as whether or not to take that job or have a baby; it's no wonder that you are constantly feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes the underlying driver is simply the fear of making a "mistake"—that you'll order that sandwich, it will taste awful, and you will scold yourself the rest of the day. Or the driver may be upsetting others—good decisions require that everyone be happy—a tall order.

You are perfectionistic

Here your anxious brain is doing its best to come to the rescue. If you don't want to worry about making mistakes or getting others upset, you need to work harder to be more perfect, be more careful, and be more planful. No wiggle room here.

You are controlling

Here you keep what-ifs at bay by rigid control. You know what you are doing on Tuesday because you always do the same thing on Tuesday, so there is nothing to worry about. If those close to you do something that threatens to throw off what you have planned, your default is to get them to do what you think they should do; what to you just "makes sense." Their problem is that they feel pressured, bullied, or controlled.

The way out

When anxiety is running is the show, the way out is a two-step process: awareness and getting into your gut.


Time to get your rational brain back online. This means you're pulling on the horse's reins and controlling it rather than holding on as it runs. To do this, slow down and focus on the present: Is there a real problem, not the possible what-ifs, that you need to fix right now? If yes, take decisive action to correct the problem. If not, the problem is slowing the horse. Focus on calming your brain through exercise, deep breathing, meditation, and talking to a friend.


If your anxious brain tells you everything is important, you need to step back and let your rational brain set your own priorities. Lunch is not in the same category as a job or baby. Experiment with treating the lunch for what it is—a minor decision that demands minor energy. But to help you do this, also activate your gut—use those gut reactions as vital information to counter the worry and shoulds in your head.

So if you're dying to have pizza, get it now. Take it up a notch and step back and ask yourself if you really enjoy your job? Do you want to have a baby?


This is about tolerating making mistakes. You need to reset priorities and find out that the "mistakes" are not the end of the world despite what your anxious brain is telling you. But you'll only find this out by actually doing it. Take the baby-step risk of being less perfect to find out that no one, besides you, cares.


Awareness kicks in here—that you realize you are controlling yourself and others. Good for you. Next, you want to redefine control as anxiety. When you feel the need for control, rather than focusing on getting others to do what you want them to do, ask yourself: What are you worried about? Is it a rational or irrational problem? If rational, act independently. Finally, challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone by experimenting with giving up control by letting situations simply unfold or by letting others be in charge. Here you will feel the full effects of your anxiety, but push through to the other side and find out that it turned out not exactly as you wanted, but good enough.

The goals here are to be aware of irrational, anxiety-driven behaviors—the control, fear of making mistakes—and rewiring your brain by listening to your gut, surfing through your anxiety to ultimately become more flexible.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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