Mental Health

How to deal with anxiety at night. Self-help guide

Night anxiety is overwhelming. It's hard to deal with anxiety in general, but at night it can be especially difficult, because it is when your "guards are down" and you become more sensitive to your body sensations, sounds and even your own thoughts. All you want is to sleep, but when anxiety shows its head, your focus shifts from unwinding to having to deal with that unpleasant feeling of nervousness and/or fear. 

I have talked about morning anxiety on my blog as well, so if you are interested, go ahead and check it out. If you experience both (morning and night anxiety), don't panic, it happens. Today I am going to share with you how you can help yourself deal with anxiety at night. But first let's explore why you may experience it.

What's causing night anxiety

When I was trying to find more information on why I experience anxiety at night, the most common answer I saw was "there are many reasons". So, you kind of have to figure out for yourself, but I find it extremely hard, because it basically can be anything.

To name a few:

Stress and anxiety during the day

Poor sleep hygiene 

Physical health problems (pain, sleep apnea, etc.)

Hormonal imbalance. 

If you are not sure what is causing your anxiety at night, try to address all these issues, if you can: work on your daily stress management, create a night routine, take care of your physical health. I know, it sounds like a lot, but mental health requires some investment, believe it or not. 

It's important to even see a doctor and find out what can possibly be wrong with your sleep.

How does night anxiety feel?

You either wake up being anxious or you have trouble falling asleep because of racing thoughts. If you wake up anxious, it may be your brain signaling to your body that it's time to wake up, that it's basically not safe to sleep. It can either feel like a panic attack if you have ever experienced one (rapid heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath, other unpleasant sensations), or it's more like a growing feeling of nervousness and unease that gets worse the more you pay attention to it. And, honestly, it can be hard not to. 

I usually wake up at the same time in the middle of the night and can't fall back to sleep. Because there are not so many distractions at night it's very easy for me to start thinking about everything that is going on in my life, what's bothering me, etc. Of course, it makes me even more anxious and I am unable to fall asleep for a long time if I let negative thoughts take over

How to deal with anxiety at night?

It is important to find out the underlying cause of your night anxiety, but I understand that it won't be possible for everyone, so here I decided to talk about things that help deal with anxiety at night: not to get rid of it but to make it easier to handle it. 

Besides the tips I have mentioned earlier, here are 3 things that should help:

#1 Do not let yourself think too much

Making decisions at night is the worst you can do, and just thinking in general. I don't know what it is but it's something about nighttime, that makes catastrophizing easier, and that, in turn, feeds anxiety. If you can't stop thinking, wake up (I know it's hard, but do it anyway!), go to another room, read or do whatever it is you can to distract yourself. Basically, bore your mind to sleep. 

Whatever it is that your mind tells you at night is most likely going to change in the morning, so it's a complete waste of time to listen to it. Learn to ignore its rambling.

Very often you will think thoughts like: What if I don't fall asleep? I will feel terrible tomorrow. These thoughts keep you awake, distract yourself from having them. 

#2 Breathe deep to calm anxiety

If you woke up in the middle of the night anxious, leave your bed and breathe deeply starting with your stomach. In yoga it's called three-part breath: belly, ribcage, upper chest. Repeat until you calm down. You can also calm yourself by repeating in your mind that you are safe, and everything is alright. Learn to rationalize everything. If you are anxious about your body sensations, remember every time you felt this way and it was nothing serious. Health anxiety can be very strong at night.

If you don't practice any kind of breathing technique or meditation during the day or right before you go to bed, it is a good time to start. Practicing relaxation regularly will help you be more prepared for the night. Don't underestimate the power of a calming night routine.

#3 Practice acceptance 

I write about it a lot here on my blog, but I would like to say one more time that acceptance is key when it comes down to mental or physical illness. Acceptance helps avoid catastrophizing, that makes anxiety worse. When you accept something, you don't give up, but you are aware that it's there and you don't try to fight it with thoughts like: Why me? Will I ever be able to have calm sleep? What did I do to deserve this? 

Every night before you go to sleep have a thought: I might wake up anxious tonight, but it's ok, I will make myself calming tea, read a book and will try to enjoy quiet time without overthinking. Always try to calm and soothe yourself. That way you will learn not to be afraid to go to bed, and it will help you fall asleep and at least get some sleep before you wake up if you eventually do.

Be patient with yourself. It is very important. 

So, these are my tips on how to deal with anxiety at night. Remember that nighttime anxiety is a symptom of an underlying condition, mental or physical, that should be addressed. Don't neglect yourself. 

Let me know in the comments, what are your tips for night anxiety, I am curious to know. Maybe I will find them helpful as well. Until next time on Pillows&Trees.