Anxiety and feeling hyperaware of oneself
A lot of people who suffer from anxiety can become very self-absorbed and preoccupied with all things personal to the exclusion of the world around them. Their interest and focus can narrow down so much on themselves and their problems that they find it incredibly difficult to be interested in anything outside of themselves.
This constant self-focus can lead to them feeling hyperaware of themselves, their thoughts and actions. They have a sense of being trapped within their own head and feel unable to properly connect to others and the world around them.
So many people have contacted me in the past and asked questions like;
How can I stop thinking about myself?
How do I get out of my head?
Why do I feel so aware of myself?
How can I stop ruminating?
Why do I feel disconnected from others?
What causes these feelings of acute self-awareness?
When suffering from anxiety, many sufferers end up thinking about themselves constantly. This continuous introspection occurs due to the fact that they don’t feel OK inside and the ruminating and obsessing is an attempt to fix and make sense of how they feel. Unfortunately, this constant self-focus doesn’t solve anything and has the opposite effect, leading to them feeling worse than ever.
This obsessive ruminating is also responsible for a whole host of fresh symptoms, and so the sufferer ends up ruminating even more which leads to a vicious cycle of trying to solve themselves. This vicious cycle occurs because the constant attempts to ‘Solve’ end up creating the exact symptoms you are trying to escape from and so you just end up in a loop.
Symptoms of obsessive rumination
- Feeling trapped inside your head
- Losing connection with the outside world
- Your awareness being constantly inward
- Mental exhaustion
- Low self-esteem
- An overactive mind
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor mental health
Negative effects of ruminating
You don’t feel part of life
When you ruminate about anything, then you narrow down your focus to that one object and so lose awareness of your surroundings. Think of your awareness as the light from a torch, if you shine the light on your inner world then you have no light/awareness for the outside world and so no longer feel part of it. People who are stuck in this never-ending cycle complain of the world around them looking flat, lifeless and grey. This is also why a lot of sufferers tend to walk around in a dream state, a daze where they see or hear little of their immediate surroundings. The truth is you want to feel part of your outer world then you have to shift your awareness from your inner world back on to the external world.
It wears you out mentally
Constantly ruminating also wears you out mentally and is the primary cause of mental fatigue. The brain just never gets a break and so begins to fatigue which can cause the person to suffer from symptoms such as a constantly racing mind, phobias, sleep problems, depression, irritability, lack of interest in life, a feeling of constant exhaustion.
Relationships and friendships can suffer
Constantly ruminating can lead to the person unwillingly becoming very self-centred and the constant preoccupation with self can damage friendships and relationships as we have no energy or interest to the needs of those around us and so lack that closeness and affection that all relationships need to flourish. Self-absorption can diminish our capacity for empathy and true understanding of another person’s needs.
It can affect our mental health
Constant rumination can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and keep us stuck in a cycle of negative and unproductive thinking which can lead to feelings of depression and low self-esteem. The last place you will find mental well being is through ruminating. Rather than help this constant inward focus is far more likely to maintain this distressing state of mind and peace and happiness will be impossible to achieve.
There are many different reasons a person may be ruminating
The person with low self-esteem may constantly worry about what people think about them, continually replaying conversations they have had during the day. Their attention is not on the world around them; it is on them.
The person who suffers from social anxiety may to a social event and spend all their night worried about how they are coming across, about what others think of them and if others are noticing how uncomfortable they are feeling. Their attention is not on the conversation; it is on them.
Someone who suffers from health anxiety may ruminate all day about some blemish, lump or bump they have found on their body while wondering if to make another appointment with the doctor. Their attention is not on the outside world; it is on them.
The person with general anxiety may spend all day at work continually questioning why they feel like they do while mentally trying to figure a way out. Their attention is not on work; it is on them.
Others may spend all their time searching forums, googling symptoms and immersing themselves in self-help books, letting nothing else but the subject into their day. Their attention is not on everyday life; it is on them.
They feel unless they find a solution to their problems then they must carry on with this constant obsessing about all things personal. Many do want to give up being so self-absorbed, but it has become such a habit they don’t know how.
I was the same when I suffered; it was like I could no longer get my attention off the subject of me and my inner state. I was constantly agonising over how I was feeling while mentally trying to find a way out and so lost the ability to be part of the world around me. If I were talking with someone, my attention would always be reverting back to me, which made me feel so enclosed and no longer part of the conversation. Even when doing everyday tasks I found I could barely concentrate: I had a constant feeling of being trapped within my head, unable to be part of anything outside of myself, it was terribly frustrating.
Even when my anxiety symptoms had left me I was still left with this feeling of being hyperaware of myself and found it hard to find joy in anything as I never felt fully part of it. I initially fought this feeling of enclosure and tried to overcome it through more deep thinking and fighting. When this did not work, I then tried to ignore it and when this also failed I was at a loss of what to do and thought I was stuck this way forever.
After much reflection, I finally came to the conclusion that all my desperate attempts to try and defeat this symptom just had me back thinking about myself and so my awareness was on me more than ever. It also became obvious that the very act of trying to ignore it was also another way of thinking about it.
I now understood that my awareness was continuously focused on me through nothing more than a habit that I had created. All I had thought about for years was me and my inner state, and so, of course, my awareness was always focused there. I then had a profound realisation that it wasn’t me that was thinking about myself; it was the habit I had created in my brain that was.
This was the very reason I could not defeat it or instantly stop thinking about myself as this habit was overriding all my attempts to do so. I finally got it; I couldn’t defeat a habit, I could only create a new one and let the old one die away of its own accord by no longer feeding it.
So the way out was to finally give up obsessing about me, to stop trying to constantly solve myself and just go back to living and put my awareness back on life, the place it was always meant to be. While doing so, I also had to understand that the habit to think about me and my inner world would most likely go on for a while, but I would accept this as part of my old habit and no longer try to escape or fix it. So the habit to think about me could carry on for as long as was needed but I would no longer actively do so and finally end the cycle.
The reason people find it difficult to stop ruminating about all things personal is the fear of just letting go of trying to fix themselves. They think they have to keep on top of everything and keep trying to figure a way out and if they don’t, then they will lose themselves forever. Not realising that it is the very act of ruminating that is causing so many of their problems.
How I got out of my head and engaged with life once again
At first, it took a huge leap of faith to no longer obsess about all things personal as this was a habit in itself. When I gave up, there was a huge pull to go back to doing so. This is what the brain does with a habit; it tries to drag you back into the familiar, just like the smoker who has a huge pull to put a cigarette back in his mouth.i
My habit was to fall back into trying to fix myself, and it took some willpower to override this pull. I just knew I had to change and so just gave up all the obsessing about all things personal, be it my outer or inner world and just went back to living my life while accepting me just as I was, especially this constant feeling of self-awareness.
Learning to finally let go
I called this stage ‘My ultimate drop’ where I just surrendered and gave up trying to change anything. I would just completely allow everything to be as it is. I concluded that if I did this, then the mind would have nothing left to obsess about or attempt to fix. As I said previously, the obsessing and ruminating was due to me not feeling OK inside and so the way out had to come through me now being fine with not feeling OK inside, even if I felt a big, sticky anxious mess. I could never get out of this through ruminating more, as it was the very ruminating that was responsible for me feeling so self-aware and having little to no connection to the world around me.
I knew on a very deep level that if I wanted to be part of the world around me, then I had to take my focus off my inner world and put it back out there. I actually had a huge insight into this very fact when I was attempting to talk to my mother while she was writing an email. As she so was engrossed in the email, all I got back from the conversation was the odd mumble. It was evident that she couldn’t talk to me while her attention was on what she was doing.
I then realised that this is why I didn’t feel part life, why I felt so half baked and detached from my surrounding, as none of my attention was out there, it was all on me. My mother wasn’t part of the conversation because her awareness was barely on it, she couldn’t put it on two things at once, just as I could not put it on my inner state and my surroundings. This is why I felt so detached and not because something was deeply wrong with me.
I thought that if I could get my awareness back 100% on my outer world, then there would be nothing left for my inner world. I now realised why I struggled so much to be part of a conversation, as it was very difficult to be interested and part of a conversation when all my attention was focused inwards.
I finally saw that there was nothing wrong with me and again I was responsible for the way I felt, and it was me and me only who could get my way out of it this cycle I found myself in.
I knew this wasn’t going to happen overnight and I would have to stay committed to it. So the first thing to do was to stop obsessing about me, my inner state and this very feeling of hyperawareness. I had to just accept that I had created this habit and it was going to run for a while, but I was no longer going to put any more fuel into it by actively going over things. If my mind through a habit wished to do so from time to time, that was fine, but I was no longer going to join in with it.
It would be like breaking up with a partner, the habit of thinking about them would carry on for a while, but if the person didn’t actively do so and just went back to living my life, then in time this habit would fade. So it is not about trying ‘not’ to think about yourself, it is about allowing the habit to die down of its own accord.
I could not get frustrated with this past habit; I could not defeat it, I just had to go back out there, begin to live and really engage with the world around me again and shift my focus naturally to other things. With this new understanding and approach the habit to think about all things personal started to fall away and my awareness slowly but surely shifted back to my surroundings and I got to the point where I barely thought about myself or how I was feeling anymore. With this shift in awareness, everything seemed much more colourful, almost in 3D and I began to notice and appreciate things far more. I started to the beauty around me instead of being obsessed with my current state of mind.
I had finally understood what was causing this problem and cut out the root of it rather than continue working on the symptoms and finally found freedom and was able to shift my focus back to where it always should have been. Suffering is always trying to tell us something; we just need to know what that message is and then stop the very action that is causing it. It is amazing when we drill everything down and realise we are the creator of so much of our suffering.
If you would like to read my personal story of how I overcame anxiety then you will find this and much more in my best selling book ‘At last a life’. The book has sold over 100,000 copies and is recommended by many therapists and is now on prescription at many doctors surgeries.