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Anxiety in the Middle of the Night

galaxy-insideIt’s 4am and you’re wide awake worrying. The house is still, you’re alone with your thoughts and they are brutal. Your worries loom dark and daunting and you listen to the hum of the refrigerator knowing that with every passing minute, tomorrow will be harder and more exhausting.

What do you do?

  1. Get out of bed: Tossing and turning, worrying about falling asleep will make things worse. Get up and take care of your physical self. Go to the bathroom, have a drink of water and stretch. Even though it might be tempting to turn on the TV or check your email, resist the lure of the lit up screen — it’ll wake you up further. Read a comforting book, perhaps a childhood favorite where everyone stays safe and sound. Listen to music that calms you and quiets your brain.
  2. Make a list: If it’s your to-do list that’s haunting you, write down every little thing you need to do and then trust the list to remember it for you. You can let it leave your mind when you’ve put it someplace else. Nothing is too small to list there; if thinking about getting it done is keeping you up, just write it down.
  3. Imagine a place of safety: Picture a place that makes you feel good. Is it the beach? A grove of trees? The swing set you spent your summers on as a kid? Take deep breaths and try to bring back sense memories. What sounds do you hear? How does the sand feel between your toes or the rusty chain feel in your hands? Imagine the rhythm of the waves, the sound of the wind in the leaves or the squeak of the swing as you pump your legs. Let yourself rest there.
  4. Remind yourself that you’re not alone: If you have a spiritual practice that includes belief in a higher power, prayer can be solace when you are at your lowest. (There’s a reason why that poem Footprints shows up in gift stores everywhere.) But if you are an atheist or unable to find comfort in your faith, you might imagine all the people who love you holding you up in their affection. Or you could try picturing all the people in the world who are awake and worrying and send them comfort and imagine that loving comfort coming back to you from them. If you need to hear another voice but are unable or uncomfortable contacting a friend or waking a loved one, remember that there are crisis lines that welcome your calls.

Even though the next night might seem a long way off, plan accordingly and create some coping tools. At least you won’t be facing the next sleepless night unprepared.

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