How to manage your nighttime anxiety
It’s late, you’ve had a long day and all you want is a relaxing evening and a good night’s sleep, but nighttime anxiety is making this seem more like a dream than a possibility.
Do you lie awake in bed at night, unable to stop anxious thoughts running through your mind? Is your heart pounding because your cortisol levels are too high?
You are not alone. Nighttime anxiety affects many people around the world. If you are one of them, it is important that you do not give up hope.
There are many things you can do to cope with nighttime anxiety, even when it is severe, and have peaceful nights once again. But you will also need to address any underlying causes.
What causes anxiety attacks at night?
Anxiety can be situational and physiological, meaning your current life circumstances are making you feel anxious. Different things that could be causing your nighttime anxiety include:
- Life stressors like work presentations, deadlines, emails, arguments with others, moving to a new home and losing your job
- The dread of tomorrow’s to-do list
- Traumatic life events like the death of a loved one
- Too much caffeine late in the day
- Medical conditions like hyperthyroidism, heart disease and chronic pain
- Experiencing drops in blood sugar levels that causes cortisol spikes, making you feel anxious.
- Viewing media online or on TV that is anxiety-provoking like thrillers, scary movies, documentaries about bad things that are happening in the world, political videos, and podcasts talking about controversial subjects. Even though you may only be the observer, your body still responds to the stimulus.
5 Ways to reduce nighttime anxiety
There are many things you can do to try and feel less anxious. Managing nighttime anxiety is different for each individual. The combination of anxiety-reducing techniques that will work for you might not work for your friend.
Here are a few anxiety-relieving techniques you can start with:
1. Try meditation
Meditate for the sake of your mental state. Meditation helps you to relax and also teaches you how to quieten stressful thoughts.
You don’t need to go full-monk and sit with your legs crossed while breathing deeply with your eyes closed. Just meditating for 10 minutes a day is enough to start experiencing benefits.
There are also different forms of meditation you could try, including:
- Mindfulness meditation: a type of meditation that aims to help you focus on the present moment. It encourages you to be mindful and focused on things like your breath, sounds you hear, the temperature of the air, and parts of your body.
- Mantra meditation: with mantra meditation, you pick a motivational phrase (mantra) to repeat through the meditation session.
- Guided meditation: using an app, an instructor guides you through the session with this type of meditation.
- Visualisation meditation: this type of meditation involves visualising a place or situation that makes you feel calm.
- Movement meditation, like walking quietly in nature or while doing yoga. This is a great option if you struggle to stay still, but want the benefits of being in a meditative state.
2. Accept and understand
Accept the fact that you have anxiety, whether you have severe anxiety or generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), and try to understand. It will make managing it much easier.
Your body has an ancestral fight-or-flight response to stressful situations for a reason: to protect you. If you are in a dangerous situation, your reaction is typically to fight or run.
The thing is that we just have a lot more stress triggers like emails, traffic, online dating and social media that aren’t actually dangerous, but your body cannot tell the difference and is still trying to protect you from them.
Understand that your body is not against you. It is trying to help you.
If you keep thinking about your anxiety and try to fight it, it will only become more severe. The last thing you want is to become anxious about being anxious. But if you acknowledge and accept that you are anxious and then try to focus on anxiety-relieving techniques, you will have a much better chance of managing nighttime anxiety, even if it is severe.
3. Cognitive behavioural therapy
You need to train your brain to respond differently to stress and anxiety, which is where cognitive behavioural therapy is your friend, particularly cognitive sleep therapy.
With anxiety, there is always a trigger. With cognitive behavioural therapy, you learn to identify things that trigger your anxiety and how you respond to them. You then need to train your brain to respond differently to the trigger.
You can train yourself to respond to your anxiety triggers in positive ways like journaling, doing some exercise and practising positive self-talk.
4. Put your thoughts on paper
Journaling and writing your thoughts and feelings on paper can be very powerful when it comes to reducing nighttime anxiety. Put a notebook next to your bed, and every night, write down whatever comes to mind. Write down the things that are making you anxious.
This will help you get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Think of it as storing your anxious thoughts on an external hard drive.
Writing things down as they come up during the day will also help you feel less anxious at night.
5. Healthy sleep habits
A lack of sleep and poor sleep quality can make anxious feelings worse. That is why developing good sleep hygiene is important for managing anxious feelings and thoughts. You want to do things like set a regular bedtime, dim the lights and try to cool your room down to between 15,5°C and 19°C if it is warm.
When to seek medical advice
If your nighttime anxiety persists, you are experiencing severe anxiety, or frequently get panic attacks, it is best to seek medical advice.
While you’re having a panic attack and your anxiety is severe, you can feel a sense of permanence. (Even though this too, shall pass). But being anxious does not have to keep you up at night. There are things you can do to reduce nighttime anxiety, like journaling, trying cognitive behavioural therapy and meditating.