A night-time anxiety trick

For many years I would wake up and worry at 4am pretty much every day.

If I was lucky I’d eventually get a bit more sleep before my alarm went off, although it was generally the kind of sleep that left me feeling fuzzier and more tired than if I’d just stayed awake.

As habits go, it wasn’t a great one. You can probably imagine.

Anyway, I hadn’t done it for a long time…until this week. It was a surprise to experience it again after a good couple of years of not doing it at all.

I was briefly worried about the worrying. “What if it’s back for good?”, I thought – compounding the anxiety I was already feeling. And then I remembered that worrying about worrying definitely doesn’t help.

Fortunately, I remembered something that can.

Scheduling a better time to think. 

The problem with night-time worrying is that it tends to be exhausting and unlikely to result in a creative solution. I don’t know about you, but lying in bed in the dark feeling anxious and miserable is not where I do my best thinking.

Things that are really important deserve a better quality of problem solving. And things that aren’t that important generally reveal themselves as such in the daylight. So either way, it doesn’t make sense to try and worry your way to a solution at 4am.

However if you’ve ever tried telling yourself to stop worrying because it ‘doesn’t make sense’, you may have found that it doesn’t help much.

That’s because our brains are cleverly set up to keep reminding us of unresolved tasks to make sure they don’t get overlooked. There’s even an impressive-sounding name for the phenomenon. Once upon a time, the Zeigarnik effect probably helped us to avoid getting eaten or suffering hypothermia, but these days its little reminders are less likely to be life-preserving.

Anyway, one thing you can do is trick your mind into believing that a task has been resolved, so that it lets you stop thinking about it. You can do this by scheduling a specific time to take care of it later.

So that’s what I did. I promised myself some dedicated worry time later on (which in the light of day actually feels more like ‘creative thinking time’) so that I could look at the situation in detail. And I’m not sure what happened next, because I must have fallen asleep.

As with everything, different things work for different people. But if you ever find yourself doing night-time worrying, you might like to give this a try:

  • Make an appointment with yourself to think at a time that suits you better
  • Reassure yourself that the issue will be addressed fully then
  • Give yourself permission to let it go for now

As ever, I’m curious…do you have ways of managing worry too?

If so, what works for you?