What a wonderful bank holiday weekend. I was honoured to be bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding. The sun was shining and nobody tripped down the aisle, phew! The poor makeup artist certainly had her work cut out for her. Let’s just say that I’m not very good at keeping still, particularly when somebody is touching the eye area!
Artist: You’re twitching a lot
Me: I know, I feel like you’re going to poke me in the eye
Artist: Haha, why on earth would I do that?
Me: I don’t know but I feel threatened!
Fortunately she was very patient and eventually we got there. My friend look absolutely stunning and it was a happy day.
The six hour drive back to London was interesting… but thanks to The White Album and a Red Bull Dan and I managed not to kill one another.
I thought I’d be exhausted when we finally got home yesterday. But as I lay in bed I noticed my old friend stir, he never does seem to tire. Dan and Rigby were asleep next to me (yes madam snook in) and the room was completely silent. Anxiety thrives during silence. Niggling concerns about work or upcoming tasks are blown completely out of proportion and often you feel foolish in the morning for getting so worked up.
Why are anxious thoughts so strong when you’re trying to sleep? It actually makes perfect sense when you think about it. During the day we’re distracted by everything from the work commute to making our dinner. If a negative thought pops into our heads we can silence it quickly with an episode of Breaking Bad. But at night when you’re safety under the covers there is nothing to engage your brain. If anything you’re suppose to clear your mind in an effort to encourage sleep. The thoughts that you’ve been suppressing all day come to the surface with a vengeance. Did you really think they were gone? Thoughts are followed by emotions such as worry, stress and dread. Sunday is typically the worse day for this (Sunday blues.) You try desperately to put everything ‘out of your mind,’ but it’s useless. Before you know it an hour has passed and you’re still no closer to sleep. Any of this sound familiar?
The good news is, you can do something about this vicious cycle. The bad news is, you will need to get out of bed. (It took me a good forty minutes last night before I finally decided to bite the bullet and crawl out from under the duvet!)
It’s better to take the thoughts out of bed with you rather than curl up with them.
The first thing to remember about this type of anxiety is ‘its normal!’ Everyone feels stressed about upcoming things, there’s nothing strange about it. You’re not a freak or loser. Think of anxious thoughts as trash talk. They don’t offer anything useful or accurate. I try and view them like a fairy tale gone wrong; ‘once upon a time something shit happened’ – they’re predictions about the future that simply are not true. It’s all smoke and mirrors.. and they will turn that meeting on Friday into a disaster story of ‘what could go wrong’. As a rule, any thought that starts with ‘what if’ are normally loaded with anxious trash talk.
Problems arise when you engage with the thoughts. Rather than reducing stress, arguing only increases them, leaving you distressed and worked up. Sadly, being aware that the thoughts are ‘silly’ doesn’t make them go away. If only it were that simple!
So you’ve dragged yourself out of bed, now what? Well for starters I like to make myself something nice to drink like a hot chocolate or lemon & ginger tea. Next grab a pen and some paper, alternatively you can use your phone. This might feel like an effort but write down the main anxious thought that was disrupting your sleep. Go into as much detail as you can. E.g.
1. I’m worried about my boss visiting on Friday. He always finds something to complain about. What if I can’t cope and run out of the office crying?
Now look at what you’ve written and repeat it out loud three times (quietly now, people are trying to sleep!) Simply doing this will communicate to your brain that you’re acknowledging the thought rather than ignoring it. It will also take some of the heat out. I’ve even made myself giggle a few times by doing this!
Then complete a mini thought chart exercise E.g.
Emotions – Stressed, dread, fear, panic, anxious
Thinking Errors – I’m worried about my boss visiting next week. He always finds something to dramatise and shout about. What if I can’t cope and run out of the office crying? Catastrophising/black and white thinking – You’re imagining one of the worst outcomes. You’re also thinking in ‘absolute terms’ nothing is ever 100% bad. What about the shades of grey?
New Thought – Feeling nervous about a visit from a difficult boss is completely natural, anybody would. It’s true, he has a habit of blowing things out of proportion, which can be stressful to deal with. However, it isn’t bad 100% of the time. He has also offered constructive advice and guidance in the past. You won’t be dealing with him alone as other colleagues will be present and he will be out of the office for at least two days. It might be hard, but it’s only one week. You CAN cope.
The exercise should take no longer than ten minutes to complete. After which, enjoy the rest of your hot chocolate and watch something on TV for half an hour. Try not to concern yourself with the time. So what if it’s 1am? Sure you might be a little sluggish in the morning, but you’ll survive. It’s better to be comfy and relaxed on the couch rather than tossing and turning in bed.
As always dealing with anxiety requires effort, but it also enables you to take back control. You don’t have to be a slave to anything (except the new Game of Thrones series. Next week, I cannot freaking wait!)