6 Ways to Stop Late Night Worry
Have you noticed that anxiety seems to be more acute late at night? It is. This is particularly true if you are dealing with a problem that you haven't found a way to resolve. The truth is, anxiety is almost always worse late at night or in the early morning. Whatever bothers you during the day takes on a whole new life after you climb into bed, and then some.
You don't have the distractions of activity that you have during the daytime when you're working or interacting with other people. Even in the early evening, you're getting dinner, watching TV, talking to your partner, dealing with kids, or doing chores. There is a lot of activity and your mind is occupied.
In the late evening hours after everyone is in bed, those distractions are gone and you become aware of emotions or thoughts that have been mostly underground until now.
This is a double-edged sword. Sometimes being up late at night while everyone else is in bed is extremely soothing. You are able to relax because there is nothing you're supposed to be doing, and you feel temporarily off the hook. You can let down.
On the other hand, if you have a problem that you haven't been able to solve, this time can be torturing.
This is particularly true if you are trying to drift off to sleep, and you get those repetitive gut wrenching thoughts about what can go wrong or what awful consequences are coming down the pike if you don't come up with a solution.
It's as though a little door opened in your mind and let in a hoard of anxiety gremlins that are racing around and creating endless chaos.
It feels awful, yes? Truly it does.
I think what's even more debilitating is that once this worry machine is in motion, your thinking gets more and more catastrophic.
- A slight pain in your neck turns into a heart attack that could happen any moment.
- The bill you forgot to pay or can't pay on time turns into 100 points down on your credit report, and a rejection for the new car loan you need.
- The funny sound you hear must be a plumbing leak that's creating mold in the roof and contaminating the air in your house.
- The odd look you got from you boss today must mean he's really unhappy with you and your job could on the line.
All sounds a little nuts, but nighttime worry mind is nuts!
There are some things you can do to avoid it and keep it under control.
#1 Keep your to do list out of your head.
Make your to do list before you go to bed, and put the tasks that need to be done on your calendar. If you do this consistently, you relieve your mind from having to remember and review the list over and over. Once it's written and the plan is in place, your mind drops it.
Even better is to make a to do list for the whole week, and include on it everything that needs to be done for work, home, and personal stuff.
My weekly to do list contains the dates bills need to be paid, grocery shopping done, laundry, writing, and all of my work tasks. It's all in one place, so nothing is forgotten.
#2 Tackle avoidance.
Make a list right now all of the things you have been avoiding that hang out in the back of your mind and cause you worry.
Do you need to renegotiate a credit card payment? Do you have a little discoloration on your skin that you've decided must be skin cancer but you haven't had it checked out? Are there phone calls you should have returned, but now you think it's too late to return them ,but they haunt you and you are avoiding seeing those people? Is there a work task you've been shoving to the back burner, but it's gonna erupt and cause a big problem if you don't do it soon?
Write these things down and do them in the next three days! Make that doctor's appointment, call your credit card company, and return the phone calls, finish the work project. You will be so very relieved, and those things won't float around in your subconsicious mind and tortue you at night.
#3 Solve problems at the right time.
Say this mantra to yourself late at night when you begin worrying:
"I ALWAYS solve problems easier and more effectively in the light of day than in the middle of the night."
This is actually totally true. Think about it. How many times have you worried about something as you're lying awake in bed at night, and then come up with a solution the next day or over the next several days that was much easier than what you had anticipated.
Your best thinking and problem solving occurs when you are fresh. I also use the mantra,
"I can't solve this problem right now. Sleep is a better option, so that I will be able to think tomorrow."
#4 Don't lie in bed worrying.
Interrupt the worry gremlins and take control of our runaway mind. If you really feel like you can't stop your racing mind, then get up and turn on the light. Watch TV for awhile, or read, or do something that is distracting to reset your brain. Then drift off to sleep.
#5 Engage in a regular system of relaxation.
There are 3 things that absolutely help reduce anxiety. These are:
- Healthy diet
You've heard this before, but have you really considered it?
Meditation is a method of actually training your mind to focus and stay calm, even when challenging situations arise. Regular meditation creates mental space and gives you some emotional distance from problems so that you can stand back and approach them with clarity and calm. The key is regularity.
Regular exercise enhances the production of Serotonin and Dopamine. These are your mood neurotransmitters in the brain associated with pleasure, attention, executive function, and mood stability. Exercise raises your mood, clears your mind, reduces your level of anxiety, and allows you to think better.
The body and mind are intimately connected. If you eat a highly acidic, empty carb, high saturated fat, and sugar laden diet, you can count on feeling tired, moody, confused, and anxious. Do your research and choose a diet that consists primarily of whole foods, healthy fats, complex carbs, and natural sugars (in fruits and veggies). Then transition to it until it is a habit.
#6 Set yourself up for good sleep.
Keep a good bedtime routine. Try the following:
- Avoid caffeine or other stimulants in the evening.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening. It will put you to sleep, but then keep you awake later in the night.
- Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time everyday. Your body keeps an internal clock, and keeping the same hours makes for sounder and better sleep.
- Keep your sleeping area cool and dark.
- Exercise earlier in the day or evening. Exercise stimulates the body. Done at the right time of the day, it enhances your ability to relax and sleep. Before bed, it can keep you awake.
- Avoid heavy food before bed that can produce acid reflux or indigestion.
- Watch out for evening naps on the couch. They feel great when you doze off, but leave you wide awake in bed later on.
- Stay hydrated in general, but don't drink a ton of water or liquid before bed. You'll be up and down, and have difficulty staying asleep.