Anxiety and feeling hyperaware of oneself

Woman ruminating

Many people who suffer from anxiety or some other psychological issue that is troubling them, 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 their inner world.

This constant self-focus and obsessive introspection can lead to them experiencing the feeling of being hyperaware of themselves, their thoughts and actions. They have a sense of being trapped within their own head and feel unable to truly 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 life and others?

What causes these feelings of acute self-awareness?

Anxiety and self awareness

When suffering from anxiety or any other condition that preoccupies them, the individual ends up ruminating about themselves on a daily basis. This continuous introspection occurs due to the fact that they don’t feel OK inside and all the ruminating and obsessing is an attempt to fix, escape, or make sense of how they feel. Unfortunately, this constant self-focus doesn’t solve their suffering. In fact, it has the opposite effect and has them feeling worse and more trapped than ever.

The reason people find it difficult to stop ruminating about all things personal is that they fear letting go of the need to try and fix themselves. They feel 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.

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 from which they are trying to escape and so they end up in a never-ending loop.

Symptoms of obsessive rumination

Negative effects of ruminating

Self concern and anxiety

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 you no longer feel part of it.

People who are stuck in this cycle complain of being unable to properly connect to others and the world around them. This is also why a lot of sufferers tend to walk around in a dream state, a state where they struggle to take notice of their immediate surroundings and struggle to be present around others. The truth is you want to feel part of your outer world; then you have to shift your awareness from your inner world back onto the external world and stop staring at yourself.

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 sleep problems, phobias, depression, irritability, lack of interest in life and a feeling of constant exhaustion.

Relationships and friendships can suffer

Continually ruminating can lead to the person unknowingly becoming very self-centred and the constant preoccupation with self can begin to damage friendships and relationships. This is due to them having little energy or interest towards the needs of those around them and so lack that closeness and affection that all relationships need to flourish.

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 helping, this constant inward focus is far more likely to maintain and in a lot of cases, increase this distressing state of mind.

You feel trapped within your own mind and conscious of your own thoughts and actions

Continuous introspection can lead to a person feeling trapped within their own mind. This can lead them to feel hyperaware of their actions and thoughts and in a few cases, become hyperaware of the hyperawareness itself. This stage can be terribly frustrating as they find it hard to shift their attention from themselves to the outside world, creating a distressing feeling of enclosure and lack of enjoyment in life.

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 go to a social event and spend all night worried about how they are coming across, what others think of them and if people 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 of ‘fixing themselves’ 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.

How I overcame my hyperawareness of self

I was the same when I suffered; it was like I could no longer get my attention off the subject of myself 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 outside world.

If I was talking to someone, my attention would always be reverting back to me, which led to me feeling incredibly 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 overly aware 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 or force my attention outside of myself and when these practices 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 had me back to 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. Much like the ‘Try not to think of a pink elephant’ and so all you do is think about pink elephants.

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 now stuck there. I had a profound realisation that it wasn’t me who 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.

So, the way out was to finally give up obsessing about myself and this feeling of enclosure, to stop trying to constantly solve myself and just go back to living my life. While doing so, I also had to understand that the habit of thinking about me and my inner world would most likely go on for a while, but I would now accept and live alongside this feeling of self-awareness while no longer trying to escape or fix it.

While I saw it as a problem, got frustrated with it or tried to solve it, then my attention was back on me and so I stayed in a loop. All my past attempts at solving it just had me retreating back into myself, which obviously made things worse because the loop happened precisely because I was overly turned inward.

Previously, it was my fear of it that was the problem, my fear of the feeling itself, the fear I would be stuck this way forever and would never be able to enjoy life again. Because of this, I was constantly fixated on what I needed to do to make this feeling go away and so of course with this approach, I was only feeding the habit further and why nothing changed.

Learning to put my attention back on the world around me

Getting out of your head

Learning to put my attention back on the world around me

At first, it took a huge leap of faith to no longer obsess about all things personal, as this had been a habit for so long. 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 their mouth.

I knew I had to change and so just gave up all the obsessing and attempts to solve myself and went back to living my life while accepting myself 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, control, or attempt to fix.

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, stop staring at myself and put it my attention back on the outer world.

I actually had a huge insight into this very fact when I was attempting to communicate with 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 of life and why I felt so half-baked and detached from my surroundings, as none of my attention was out there, it was always 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. The same was true for me, in fact, I’d say 90% of my attention was on me and 10% was on the outside world and the reason I felt so disconnected and never present.

So there was never anything wrong with me, once again I was doing this to myself. That is why I could never find a solution to it as the only solution was to end what was creating it.

By putting my focus more on the outside world, I don’t mean that I tried not to think of myself, as this would have been counterproductive. It was just a natural occurrence once I stopped obsessing about all things personal, accepted the habit I had created and went back to living my life.

man relaxing no longer worrying

I knew this wasn’t going to happen overnight and I would have to stay committed to it. I could not get frustrated with this past habit; I could not defeat it. I had to go back out there, begin to live and engage with the world around me with this feeling there or not. Trying to defeat it, only made it more problematic and so just increased my focus back towards myself.

With this new understanding and approach, the habit of thinking about myself started to fall away and my awareness slowly but surely shifted back to my surroundings naturally. With this shift in awareness, everything seemed much more colourful, almost in 3D and I began to notice and appreciate things I had not seen before. I started to see the beauty around me instead of being constantly obsessed with myself.

I finally understood what was causing this problem and ended what was creating it rather than continue working on trying to overcome it. Trying to overcome it and obsessing over it was the very reason I stayed stuck in a loop and why nothing was changing.

To finish, here is a reply from a contributor to my blog to someone who asked how he got over the habit of thinking about himself.

“Without trying to, the more you resist or react to this feeling with dread, the more it persists. I just basically said: ‘OK I guess this is what I will be thinking about for a while now’ and it eventually left me”.

This article is taken from my book ‘At last a life and beyond’ the follow-up to my best-selling book on anxiety ‘At last a life’ which has now sold over 100,000 copies and is recommended by many therapists and is now on prescription at many doctors surgeries.