Sunday 16 September 2018

How To Get Through Night-time Anxiety

How To Get Through Night-time Anxiety

By Casey Douglass

Everything seems worse at night. Those thoughts that, throughout the day, ping off your mental bullshit detector’s armour, well, they seem to become armour-piercing sniper rounds that just might make your head explode at night. No matter what the cause of your anxiety, whether a mental illness that you are struggling with, or a stressful time in your life, night-time can really, really suck.

For me, it seems to link with falling asleep. The number of times I’ve dropped off feeling relatively okay, only to wake up at two in the morning flushed with anxiety... let me just say that it’s a lot. It’s a bit like watching a horror film in which the film-maker somehow made you forget about the thing hiding in the closet. With anxiety, jump-scares abound, and they are so much stronger when you are half-conscious. So how do you get through it?

Don’t Compound Your Misery

There are usually two aspects to anxiety: The anxiety that arises in response to something, and our response to that anxiety, which is usually more anxiety. If you wake during the night, anxious out of your skull, the first thing to do is to not compound your misery by adding another layer of distress.

Don’t berate yourself for feeling afraid, upset, weak, or whatever label you are giving yourself. Don’t fear the physical manifestations of the anxiety (the fast beating heart, the shakiness, the banging pulse that you can hear in your ears etc.). It might be hard, but you’ve probably been anxious before. Your body does its thing. You really don’t need to fear how that feels.

If you can accept that yes, you are anxious about X, and you probably will be for awhile yet, without adding too much mental chatter or fear, you will shorten the spell of anxiety, and probably reduce its strength to boot.

Racing Thoughts

Our minds are amazing. They are also neurotic and skilled machines at creating scenarios to fear. It probably kept us safe when we had to avoid predators in prehistoric times, where mistakes often were life and death, but in modern times, that’s rarely the case. In the early hours of the morning, fuelled by anxiety, our minds become the paranoid gods of our misery, presenting us with all kinds of ruminations and outcomes, to either hope for, or to fear.

If you can, watch the thoughts without following them too far down the rabbit hole. Maybe focus on your breathing while you do this. When you are aware that you’ve lost track of your breathing, you’ve probably been lost in thought again. If you watch your thoughts for long enough, the cycle of trying to reassure yourself and scaring yourself will play out enough times that you may even find it amusing. It’s like, “X will happen, I’m fucked!” And then “Oh, but if Y happens, I can get through X!” over and over, like a morbid tennis game, one in which the ball barely clears the net before it’s sent back to the other side again.

Reset Your Mind and Body

If you find the thoughts are too upsetting or overwhelming, and you’ve been struggling with them for awhile, get up and do something that will give your mind another focus. Some people won’t like getting up, but if you’ve been stewing in bed for an hour, what’s half an hour spent making a hot drink and reading for a little while really going to cost you?

If you don’t chose to read, you might want to avoid screen-based things, as these can often prolong wakefulness. Whichever activity you choose, don’t do it with the attitude of trying to keep the thoughts away. The harder you push against them, the stronger they will return. Do whatever you choose, but do it with the attitude of doing it while the thoughts are still there. This is acceptance, and while it isn't always easy, it is a valuable tool in working with anxiety.

The thoughts may disappear for a few minutes, and then come back, flushing you with anxiety again. Try to give them a mental nod and carry on reading (or whatever). After a few anxiety flushes, you might even notice that the thoughts don’t seem to hit with the same force any more. If you do experience this, you are probably entering a virtuous circle in which your mind and body begin to calm down. After awhile, you will probably feel like you might want to try sleeping again, so have a go if it feels right.

Decide Not to Decide

This is a short one but well worth mentioning. It’s never really advisable to try to make decisions and judgments during the night either, as they will likely be anxiety-based. Keep that kind of thing for the morning. And speaking of morning...

Always Darkest Before Dawn

If all else fails, try to keep in mind that you will likely feel a bit better once morning comes. No matter how shitty the night I’ve had, once it starts to get light, I get up, make a cup of tea and have breakfast in bed. I think eating probably helps the body shift mode, and by the time I’ve read for a little while, my mind feels more settled, and my body feels less tense. It’s happened to me often enough that, sometimes, it’s the only sentiment I can hold on to as the night progresses, and it usually turns out to be true.


There are no easy fixes for anxiety, nothing is guaranteed to work for everyone, all of the time, but the approaches above are all things that have worked for me time and again. As a matter of fact, I used them a couple of nights ago, and I use various aspects of the above on a daily basis in my general approach to my anxiety and ocd.

If you feel a question bubbling in your mind about any of this anxiety stuff, feel free to get in touch, either below, or by finding me on social media. Even if not, just come and say hi if you want, it’s lonely online at times. Also, please give this a share/like if you feel it was worth reading, then maybe other people might see it who otherwise wouldn't. Thanks :).