Anxiety and Fear are a part of life. You may feel anxious before you take a test or walk a dark street. This kind of anxiety is useful as it can make you more alert, careful and productive, however, it usually ends soon after you are out of the situation that caused it. But, for millions of people, the anxiety does not go away and gets worse over time. This can make one, more restless, clumsy and unproductive thereby causing dysfunction in daily activities, and ultimately begins to take over lives.
Anxiety has plagued millions around the world from time immemorial. Anxiety is defined as a feeling of excessive worry, nervousness or unease about something. In this people are always preoccupied with ‘what- if’ thinking, what if something bad, dangerous or threatening could happen, what if anything bad happens to someone I love etc.
Symptoms of Anxiety:
Physical symptoms include:
- Muscle tension, Muscle Twitching
- Chronic indigestion, constipation, Diarrhoea
- Increased or heavy breathing
- Cold chills, Hot flash, Frequent urination, sudden weight loss, headaches
Emotional symptoms include:
- Feeling of dread, feeling tense and jumpy
- Sleep problems
- Panicky most of the time
- Poor concentration Negative thoughts and Apprehension
- Poor communication, attention and memory skills
Now let’s move on to discuss how Anxiety may cause sleep problems
Many of us toss and turn and watch the clock when we can’t sleep for a night or two. But for some, a restless night is routine.
The growing cases of sleep disorders due to anxiety are not to be ignored. Indian women outnumber men when it comes to disturbed sleep due to anxiety.
Anxiety and sleep have a bidirectional relationship, meaning high amounts of anxiety tends to disrupt sleep and disruptions in sleep tend to increase anxiety.
In case of Anxiety, it begins in anticipation of an event. When you reflect on a stressful event at night, the emotional centres of brain namely Amygdala and Insular cortex get activated. This stimulates a chain of events that raise both your adrenaline and blood sugar levels. This sudden source of energy then keeps you alert, tense and restless. Ultimately disrupting your sleep.
Sleep on other hand is an integral part of emotional regulation. A lack of it leaves your emotions unstable and in disarray. You are more prone to falling sick often, show irritability and lack of patience and discontent often.
What your Anxiety at night may look like
An individual usually experiences either racing or stagnant/fixed anxious thoughts. These thoughts build on each other or spiral around making it harder and harder to fall asleep.
Some people describe this feeling as being stuck in their head.
Due to the consistent rise in adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone) levels more and more physical symptoms may result.
- Melt Anxiety with mindfulness meditation: Focusing on your breath and physical sensations can help you stay in the present moment. This can help you recognize what your thoughts may be, allowing them to pass without reaction or judgement.
- Rationalize and not Awfulize: Accept the what if thinking as a projection that connects horrifying thoughts and images to anxiety. Think that a what if disaster does not validate or guarantee a disaster, Awfulizing things real or imagined situations as horrible, Awful or terrible will only make symptoms worse
- The shift from passive to active perspective: Talk to yourself in a realistic self- assuring way
- Relax your body Relax your mind: Practice Diaphragmatic breathing these exercises are simple to learn and can have relatively quick effects. This technique involves breathing in a way that your belly expands as you breathe in and contracts as you breathe out. Psychologist Jon Carlson describes belly breathing as a technique that can send calming signals to the brain and promote a feeling of relaxation and improved attention and awareness.
- Imagination and Relaxation: Rolodex of anxiety thoughts can be controlled by using Guided imagery, Guided imagery serves to redirect people’s attention away from what is stressing them and towards an alternative focus, this includes only visualizing pleasant and relaxing image like on a beach or on a serene hill or whatever may soothe a person. This practice is extremely portable, as it relies on nothing but one’s imagination and concentration abilities.
- Exercise: Regular exercise provides an outlet for frustrations and releases mood-enhancing endorphins/hormones
- Play music: Soft calming music can lower blood pressure and muscle agitation, usually found symptoms in people who get anxious often
- Direct anxiety elsewhere: Lend a hand to relative or neighbour or volunteer in your community services. Helping others will take your mind off your own anxieties and will help you count your blessings.
Sleep More Soundly
- Make good sleep a priority: Block out 7 hours for a full uninterrupted sleep
- Maintain regularity: Try to sleep and wake up on same time daily even on weekends, this helps circadian rhythm your ‘biological clock’ to tick properly.
- Avoid stimulants: Say no-no to alcohol, coffee, chocolate or nicotine post sunset
- Keep it cool: sleep in a dark room which is slightly cold, this helps the temperature in the brain to fall and help fall asleep quicker, the cool room takes your brain and body in the right temperature direction to get good sleep.
- Dark- deprived society: We need darkness in the evening to allow the release of a hormone called Melatonin(sleep hormone) It helps the healthy time of our sleep. In this modern era, we are severely deprived of darkness. So try to dim lights down in your home an hour before bed. Stay away from LED screens as they emit blue light that actually puts break on melatonin and fools brain into thinking it’s still daytime, even though night time.
- Do not stay in bed awake: If you haven’t fallen asleep within 30 mins of getting into bed or have woken up and finding difficult to fall back asleep, the advise is to get up go to another room and in dim light just read a book, no screens, no email checking, NO FOOD. And only when you feel sleepy should you return to bed and that way your brain can actually re-learn the association between bed being a place of sleep, rather than a place to stay awake.
- Avoid big meals before bedtime and avoid working out 2 hours before bedtime.
- Try magnesium-rich foods/supplements like fish or fish oil, almonds, bananas, pumpkin seeds, warm milk, cherries, mushrooms and dark green leafy veggies in dinner. Magnesium relaxes muscles and eases anxiety which contributes to insomnia
- Chamomile magic: Try having a cup of chamomile tea 30 mints before bed chamomile is regarded as a mild tranquillizer and sleep inducer, It relaxes nerves and muscles and help fall sleep quicker.
The power of sleep has always been known to be significant but now there’s more and more evidence demonstrating just how important it is for those who experience anxiety. By using above mentioned techniques you can hope for relief from anxiety and eventually will sleep your anxiety away!