I like to think of anxiety as a beast that feeds on worries and fears. It’s always prowling in the background of our lives, looking for a way in. Sometimes, the way in is a nasty look from a stranger while you’re picking up groceries. Other times, it’s a big deadline at work or the rough tone of your boss when they correct you on something. It’s natural to worry about our children’s future, so even when your kid brings home a bad report card, that can open the door to anxiety.
In my years of working with people with anxiety, I have found that the beast likes to come at night. Even if you manage to keep yourself busy enough all day that there’s no time to worry about anything, when the lights go out, and the covers come up, it’s just you and your thoughts.
Here are the top reasons anxiety gets worse at night.
Quiet, Anxious Nights
We’re surrounded by distractions and noise all day—and oftentimes, that helps drown out our anxieties. At night, when the lights go off, and the noise starts to die down, there’s suddenly an opening for anxiety to get in a word. All the worries you’ve been able to ignore come flooding back, and it can be hard to stem the tide once that happens.
You may be able to distract yourself with scrolling on social media or binge watching a show, but coping like that will leave you exhausted and less able to function, especially over time. Instead, try giving your anxieties room to speak. Don’t try to solve any problems, just acknowledge them so they can move on.
It’s natural for us to reflect on things at the end of the day, and there’s always a temptation to ruminate over the worst things instead of focusing on the good. You may find yourself thinking about what someone meant by something they said over lunch, or regretting how you handled something with your kids. Anxiety and regret go hand-in-hand.
The human brain loves a puzzle—especially at bedtime. Unfortunately, bedtime isn’t the best time for problem solving. You may find yourself up late worrying about a project at work or a delicate situation with your spouse or partner, but the best time to solve that problem isn’t at the end of a long day. When we’re exhausted, small problems can seem much bigger than they are—and anxiety has a way of amplifying that.
Tips for Managing Nighttime Anxiety
There are some steps you can take to help tame your nighttime anxiety. Because anxiety feeds on uncertainty and fear, you can counter it by establishing routines, staying organized, and giving your worries some attention before you hit the sheets.
- Decompress with a journal. Carve out ten to twenty minutes to decompress your day in a journal ahead of time. Consider this an anxiety record—it’s there to help you purge your system.
- Establish a soothing space. Instead of binge watching tv or turning to social media, use some background noise that will help put you down. Use music or background soundscapes such as nature sounds or traffic sounds to help guide you to sleep.
- Create to-do lists for tomorrow, today. We often end up constructing to-do lists in our heads at bedtime. Instead, grab a pencil and piece of paper, write them down, and stick them on the fridge.
- Do some light exercise. A walk around the block, a few pushups, or some jumping jacks can help expend some of that pent-up energy.
Schedule a Consultation
If you’re struggling to manage your nighttime anxiety, consider reaching out today for anxiety counseling. Don’t let your anxieties wear you down—I’d love to learn more about what you’re going through, and share what’s worked for my clients in the past.