Does it seem like your thoughts are on overdrive when you lay down to go to sleep? Are you making progress in decreasing your worrying during the day but bedtime seems to make up the difference?
Often we get into the pattern of worrying at night as a stopgap measure to make sure nothing important slips through the cracks.
This stopgap measure may start out seeming helpful in the beginning. It may be the first quiet time you’ve had all day and reflecting on all these things really feels like it is helping keep all your plates spinning and balls in the air.
But, like many patterns or habits we establish, there comes a time when it crosses over to the “unhelpful” side. Worrying is one of the most common of these habits, regardless of the time of day.
If you find your mind is on overdrive when your head hits the pillow, these 5 Steps will be a lifesaver.
1. Recognize and identify worry myths.
Recognize the role worry plays in your general belief system. Read over the Top 5 Worry Myths and identify which of the myths are your biggest hooks. We often confuse worrying (or even over analyzing) as problem solving and build up a false sense of comfort by doing it. Once we can see worry for what it is, we can start breaking our strong connection to it.
2. Thank and label false alarms.
At night, part of your struggle is that you’ve gotten into the habit of receiving a level of comfort with worrying. Your brain actually thinks it’s being helpful when it starts the worry-machine as you lay down. You need to thank it for doing it’s job and label the thoughts as false alarms. They are false alarms not because they are about things that don’t exist or that may not be important, but because the timing is coming when you do not need to be alerted and you won’t be doing anything productive about them.
3. Write down the to-do’s.
As you lay down and your brain revs up, thank and label the false alarms, and then write down the things you think you need to remember or something you just thought of. Keep a pen and paper by your bed to jot these down so you don’t feel tempted to continue to play them over and over in your mind. It is frequent enough that we think of something valuable at this time of night that having this pen and paper by your bedside will create peace of mind that the gem you thought of won’t disappear by morning.
4. Get up and read a book.
If you do the above 3 steps and you find your brain just won’t turn off, get up and move to another room to read a book. I know, the thought of leaving a warm, cozy bed just because your brain isn’t cooperating doesn’t sound that appealing. But, it is important to physically interrupt the bedtime/brain overdrive habit that has been started.
5. Focus on counting slow breaths.
When you have identified, labeled, written and read and are ready for sleep, turn your attention to your breath. Breathing in through your nose and out through your nose, Count to six each way. This is called coherent breathing and will help you as you continue in the direction of awesome sleep. If the count of six in and six out is too slow, figure out the slowest you can do. The slow, steady rhythm is more important actual count here.
There are other things to keep in mind, like making sure you minimize your caffeine intake, start winding down your energy and activity level an hour before bedtime and try to disengage from the tv or internet at least 30 minutes before trying to fall asleep. BUT if you don’t specifically address your worrying then you will continue to struggle. These 5 steps will help tremendously!
About the Author
Eileen Purdy has been counseling and teaching for over twenty five years. She’s trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and have found variations of them to be extremely successful in helping women overcome anxiety.