When night time monsters and antelopes wake

Dealing with your anxiety in the middle of the night

3.12 am. What did Bob mean when he raised his eyebrow like that in the monthly meeting? He’s never liked me. I think he’s trying to undermine me so he can get on that massive project. I always knew he was a bit…zzzzz

3.53 am. I must start going to the gym, what’s the point of spending all that money on membership then I never go….DID I LOCK THE DOOR? I can’t rememb…..

4.21 am. I need to check my bank statement tomorrow I can’t remember if that direct debit goes out this week or next week. Oh no, the kids want to go on that French skiing trip as well, how am I going to manage that?  What if I can’t afford it? How would I tell them ‘no?’ They would resent me forever. I am such a rotten parent. Did I bring them up right? Will they be a success in life? 

4.45 am. Where’s the cat? Did I let it in? 

5.30 am. I can’t sleep. I’ve got to be up in half an hour. Sarah needs that report by 8am. I can’t….

6.25 am. ARRRGHH I’ve slept through the alarm!

I suspect there are many who recognise this night time ritual. I know I did for years. Some of the things that keep us awake are real, but so many of our night time thoughts are irrational and blown out of proportion. What if Bob just had something in his eye?

If you’re waking up like this on a regular basis though, maybe it’s time to take stock. Are you experiencing a bit of anxiety? A bit of anxiety is one thing, but over time this could lead to stress.  Since it is known that stress leads to increased risk of stroke and coronary disease, it is sensible to nip things in the bud, and not brush it aside in the hope that it will go away. 

Now a moderate amount of stress is good for us, it keeps us alert and we can often do our best work when we’re experiencing a bit of pressure, but we all have different tolerances to stress. What is a motivator for one person could be a stress trigger to someone else. Given that one of the major reasons for long-term absence at work is stress, we need to keep an eye out for ourselves and others so we can recognise the signs early. Here’s why.

What is happening to our bodies when we’re under stress?

High stress causes hormones to flood our bodies. Now when we were antelopes grazing, those hormones were great for helping us get away from oncoming lions. We still have those hormones, but they’re full of poison, are designed to be used to tackle a short-term emergency, then they need to be secreted. Say no more. Those same poisons flood our human bodies when stressed, and they stay in our systems. A crowded 7.42 to the City is not quite an approaching lion, but it does evoke the same physical response. Multiply that by 48 weeks a year and we’re looking at quite a lot of muck in our systems. No wonder stress is linked to heart disease and stroke.

The first thing to do is to address any underlying issues. The scenario above suggests a theme of insecurity. They are worried that Bob is after their job, is the house secure, are they providing a secure future for their children, why are they questioning their children’s unconditional love? Check the thoughts that wake you and see if there is an underlying issue emerging for you.

If there is an underlying issue, there are plenty of avenues you could pursue to get the help of trained people to help you make sense of the stuff flying through your mind. More will be offered at the end of this article.

Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

Stress warning signs:

Here are a few things to look out for. Are you experiencing:

  • Change in mood, irritability, unusual emotional outbursts?
  • Digestive problems, tummy troubles, change in appetite?
  • Greater dependence on stimulants such as nicotine, alcohol, comfort foods?
  • Loss of concentration from lack of sleep?
  • Increased lateness or absence from work?
  • Dip in productivity or quality of work?
  • Change of appearance; losing or gaining weight, possibly not looking as well-groomed?
  • Social withdrawal?
  • Loss of libido?

If you recognise any of these in yourself, then you may be dealing with a bit of stress or anxiety. The best thing to do is to talk about it to someone. Talk to a close friend or relative, and if need be, a trained professional. The important thing to note is that trying to manage it on your own is not helpful.

Preparing to sleep well.

Preparing to sleep well.

If you’re pretty sure the sleepless nights are not due to stress, but merely amplifications of the normal worries we have in everyday life, then maybe all you require is a bit of a tweak to your evening ritual. The least we can do is give our body a fighting chance by getting a decent sleep and switch off our brain, so we stop worrying if we let the cat in or not. 

A good night’s sleep is vital for our health. It is when the body repairs, cells regenerate, toxins are processed, the brain is revitalised. If we don’t allow our body to do its work, it is going to have a huge impact on how we perform and enjoy life during waking hours.  Try some of these tips:

  • Do as much as you can to make your sleep space comfortable. Try to block out light, play around with the room temperature; ideally the bedroom should be cool. If noise distracts you, can you do anything to minimise it?
  • Screen time. The best solution is to knock screen time on the head a couple of hours before bed, but that is probably unrealistic for most of us, so get into the habit of switching to ‘night-time’ mode. Oh and apparently, TVs are really not good in the bedroom. Since ditching mine I sleep much better.
  • Food and drink at night can impact us. Our digestive system likes the chance for a bit of a rest at night, so we’re doing it a huge favour by not stuffing it with a heavy meal, alcohol and caffeine late into the evening. A lighter dinner is brilliant (eat more at lunch.) A time gap to process things means we don’t make our gut furious with us at all the overtime it’s expected to put in through the night. 
  • If you do wake up in the night with a head full of worry chatter, it is probably the fight/flight part of your brain talking to you (the one that dominates the antelope’s head). This chatter tends to lack all rhyme or reason and left unchecked we can end up catastrophising. A calm word from your rational brain to politely ask the antelope to go to sleep might help you regain a bit of calm. Couple that with a bit of mindfulness breathing and you will hopefully be counting sheep in no time.

I’m no health cop, it is not my place to dictate, but if you’re at your wits end through lack of sleep, these ideas might just help you. If the small tweaks don’t help, then do a bit of digging and just double check there isn’t a bigger monster lurking under the bed.

Sleep tight.

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