You are not alone in your middle of the night panicking. Is your law enforcement spouse safe? Are you kids getting bullied in school? What if someone you love gets a cancer diagnosis? How are you ever going to pay off your credit card bills? I used to wake up and have anxiety attacks in the middle of the night all the time and it sucked. I feel for you and I am here to tell you that you can help your mind stop repeating the pattern of waking up in the night and worrying.
The 1st step is to become aware of when you are doing it. That seems obvious, but you may be 15 minutes in before you realize that you are having a nocturnal stress out session.
The 2nd step is to make space between you and your thoughts. Narrate to yourself what you are thinking like this “I am thinking about my presentation tomorrow at work and I am worried I will sound stupid”. Narrating helps you get into a less emotional and more rational part of your brain.
The 3rd step is to challenge the necessity of those thoughts. Question yourself – “Do I want to be thinking about this right now? Is it helpful for my work performance?” If the answer is no, let’s find something else to think about, which leads us to step 4…
The 4th Step is to calm the panic if you are panicking. If you are worried that someone you love is currently in danger (kids at a party, spouse or partner at work). Remind yourself that worrying about them feels protective, but doesn’t actually help keep them safe. It only makes you suffer before something bad even happens.
Step 5– have a PREDETERMINED set of things that you enjoy thinking about. Write them down and keep them on the nightstand. Here are some ideas to try:
Do you want to think about your dream kitchen? What kind of sink would it have? Backsplash? Would you have a double oven? Heated floors? A chandelier?
Do you want to think about a vacation? Where would you go? How many days would you stay? What types of food would you eat? Would you stay in a hotel or AirBNB?
What are your top 5 favorite movies? Rank them and decide on the gold, silver and bronze medal movies. Would you like to watch any of them with someone you love? Who? What would that experience be like?
Create a zoo with your favorite animals. What would you include? Would there be restaurants, interactive shows, behind the scene tours, chances to pet and feed the animals?
You can literally choose any topic that you love – gardening, dream guns (this is up my husband’s alley), create a capsule wardrobe, What top 5 experiences do you want to create for your kids before they are adults, rank the star wars or harry potter movies, what cars would you like to own in your lifetime, etc.
Getting your brain to stop stressful thoughts is much easier if you have a topic you enjoy and it feels fun and interesting to your brain. You need to give your mind direction and keep it engaged though or it will see the opening and make a break to go back to worrying.
Step 5 – expect to go back to worrying. Catch yourself without judgement and re-engage with whatever topic you were exploring. This is training your brain like a dog learning to heel next to their owner’s body. The dog (your brain) wants to go pee on all the things (stress and worry all over the place) and you are going to need to practice again and again having you brain “heel” (stay on task of the topic you want it to be thinking about).
With time you can turn middle of the night wake ups in to a time you actually enjoy. Not always, but much more of the time.
Try the thought “Night time is a time for dreaming whether I am awake or asleep” or “I can worry during the day, but night is a time to let my brain dream and explore”