Anxiety and Sleep
I become a very skilled MD at night (with the help of Google, of course). About the time everyone else in my house is snoring peacefully, my brain suddenly decides to key into every tiny ache or pain I have experienced in the last 72 hours. Cue the almighty Google search engine, and we have a recipe for the perfect storm of self-diagnosis. The added bonus of anxiety just intensifies the whole experience. These night time fears typically lead to a fantastic night of trying to decide whether or not to wake up my spouse to take me to the emergency room. Anxiety and sleep problems are the perfect match.
Part of the strength of anxiety is that it carries with it no predictable patterns. People who suffer from anxiety do not know what time of day it will be the worst. They do not know what will trigger it, or even how it will manifest. For many, sleep can bring about a brief respite that lasts until they wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle another day. However, there are millions of people who experience an increase in anxiety symptoms at night. They tend to have dreams that leave them feeling vaguely disturbed upon waking. They get immersed into a spiraling cycle that eliminates any restful sleep patterns for weeks. Research is very clear that sleep is essential to health, both physical and mental. Lack of restful sleep can actually increase the likelihood that you will develop mental health illnesses. Simply put, not getting enough sleep at night over long periods of time is going to push you right over the edge.
Anxiety and Sleep Coping Strategies
So, what is the answer? Sleep medication, natural supplements, soothing music, and thought replacement are some well known techniques to help cope with anxiety and sleep problems. There are countless studies and research that demonstrate the efficacy of these techniques and methods. Tell that to yourself at 2am, when you have been google searching elbow pain for 3 hours and have compiled a list of oncology specialists in your area because elbow pain of unknown causes has to be cancer. I have found that replacing my thoughts and listening to ocean sounds during these nights does about as much to stop my anxiety as walking a mile does to take off the 15 pounds I put on after Christmas. It is important to say that well-known methods to handle anxiety should not be discredited in any way. I also know from personal and professional experience that these are not guarantees to an anxiety free life.
General Anxiety Coping Strategies – do they work?
There are also countless anecdotal stories of alternative methods and “natural” healing that are supposed to stabilize anxiety. Many individuals combine these methods with already established coping skills for maximum benefit. Something as simple as regular exercise can dramatically reduce the effects of anxiety. Certain supplements and diet habits have been shown to improve anxiety. Again, while I do notice differences after exercising for at least 30 minutes, this is very hard to implement at midnight when it is 15 degrees outside, in the middle of winter.
Radical Coping Idea
I would like to propose an extremely radical thought about coping with anxiety. Most of these known methods are temporary solutions that will require you to revisit them, re-learn them, and continually practice them or they will stop working.
I would be minimizing the power of anxiety if I said there was a guaranteed way to get rid of it FOR GOOD. There simply is not. The bone-crushing fear, agitation, and panic that accompany anxiety disorders likely will never disappear. That is not to say there is no hope. My experience has taught me that in the natural, there may be no guarantees. However, my reliance and dependence on who I am in Jesus does provide me with peace when nothing else works.
Does that mean my anxiety is conquered and I can now say “follow these 5 easy steps to saying goodbye to your anxiety forever?” Absolutely not. It does mean that I have learned to depend on Jesus to get me through the patches of terror that otherwise would swallow me whole. Reminding myself daily (or 3,000 times a day) of who I am in Jesus brings me a sense of peace. I have never found an equivalent best practice method that provides the same relief.
The Power of Sharing your Story
My hope for others is that by sharing my raw and unfiltered experiences, it will empower them to share their own experiences. I hope to help others seek their own answers. There is validation that comes with allowing yourself to share. I hope that the peace I have found will spark you to search for it in your own life. Maybe it is actually ok to say “I don’t know” even when I’m supposed to be an expert. Maybe more of us should be able to admit we need to seek the supernatural to make peace with the natural in our lives.
It has been a long journey for me to be able to admit that my brain is on overdrive constantly, and it is in large part due to anxiety. If I can help others shorten their journey to peace by sharing mine, I would call that a success. It sure beats diagnosing yourself with life-threatening meningitis at 1am on New Year’s Eve because you have a headache and a sore neck (and, let’s be honest, your family does not want to spend New Year’s Eve in the emergency room with you and your sore neck). I survived this bout, and I will survive all of the others too. I deeply hope you will experience an increase in peace by sharing your story as well.
Harvard Mental Health Letter. Sleep and Mental Health: sleep deprivation can affect your mental health. June 19, 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Sleep-and-mental-health
“Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety” (Elizabeth Anderson and Geetha Shivakumar). Front Psychiatry 2013. Published online 2013 Apr 23. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/