By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Fear and anxious feelings can appear in the worst moments, like at night when we want to sleep.
While it is normal for our brain to go through the day’s events trying to understand our world, our thoughts become a problem when they prevent us from falling asleep. The next time you’re scared at night, consider using any or all of the 10 strategies below.
How to deal with fear at night
The following 10 tips for nighttime anxiety are for high school students but are sure to work for anyone.
1. Block anxiety triggers 60-90 minutes before bed.
What constitutes an anxiety trigger is different for everyone. So, you need to watch what activities are shaking your nerves and avoid them before bed. Examples of anxiety triggers include caffeine, social media, news, video games, text messages, movies, and email.
2. Do a brain dump.
If your brain rattles a million thoughts before bed, do a brain dump. This is one of my favorite strategies for reducing anxiety. Find out how to do it.
3. Hold a pad of paper by your bed.
Keep a simple pad of paper and a pen by your bed. If you wake up worrying in the middle of the night, write it down. Simply writing it down gives your brain unconscious “permission” to let go.
4. Organize your morning the night before.
Most anxious thoughts stem from feelings of lack of control. Take a few minutes before bed to prepare for the morning: plan and prepare breakfast, choose your clothes, pack your backpack or work bag and plan the first hour of your morning.
5. Listen to a guided sleep meditation.
There are free meditation apps and YouTube meditations that are specially designed to lull you to sleep. I love this one from Tara Brach. Another option is “sleep stories”. Many of the meditation apps, such as B. Calm, will turn off after you finish meditating, so you no longer have to worry about closing your phone if you fall asleep while meditating.
6. If you are afraid of a test, accept it.
What I mean by that is that if you are afraid of a test you probably don’t feel prepared. Obviously, if you’re not prepared for a test, you won’t feel well the night before. If this is what is causing your anxiety, you have two options: 1) prepare more (which is not always possible when it is late at night) or 2) accept that you are not prepared and accept that Consequences. There’s no point in worrying about something that’s too late to control. Do better next time. Here are 7 tips for preventing test anxiety.
7. Read something that doesn’t trigger.
You probably already know that reading is a great way to distract us from worrying thoughts, but the key is to make sure what you are reading doesn’t make your anxiety worse. If scary things trigger you, don’t read a horror story before bed. If you are deeply empathetic, don’t read a sad story before bed. Know yourself and read something that you personally find neutral.
8. Make a list of 10 things that make you happy.
Simple strategy. Take a piece of paper (real paper, from a tree) and write down 10 things that make you happy. Just spending 5 minutes on this exercise can disrupt your anxious thoughts and release endorphins that calm your nervous system (which will help you sleep).
9. Freshen up your anxious thoughts as basic physical symptoms.
Instead of thinking, “Oh no, I have so much to do tomorrow,” identify how that thought shows up in your body. Is there a stomach ache? A headache? A tense neck? Replace the thoughts of “I’m so stressed” with “My heart is beating very quickly”. This simple exercise can drain your negative thinking.
10. Perform a body scan and loosen the muscles.
Start on your toes and work your way up to your head. Squeeze one muscle at a time and hold it for 5-7 seconds before releasing it and moving on to the next muscle. Here are the exact steps and what muscles to hold. This exercise works because not only does it change your blood chemistry (due to muscle contraction and holding), it also requires focus and concentration. When you use your cognitive energy to think about which muscles to tense for how long, you disrupt your negative and anxious thought patterns.
Fearful thoughts are never fun at all, but anxiety at night can disrupt your sleep, which can make your anxiety worse and put you in an unhealthy cycle. If you experience symptoms of anxiety many times most days of the week, see a doctor.