Welcome to a very personal blog on how to deal with anxiety and (associated) insomnia. It will include various practices that I use to relax, calm down and switch off my head. Sometimes more successful, sometimes less successful. Especially times of lock down, home quarantine and social isolation can trigger anxiety and/ or insomnia. Personally I don’t suffer from strong anxiety but I am predestined for sleep problems when I’m stressed and things are not going according to plan and I think we’re all affected by that right now. Flights and holidays are canceled, some are not able to work, money issues, getting stuck in a foreign country, weddings are postponed, school/ university does not take place and so on and so on. I think everyone has a different story about how they are affected by this situation and how they are dealing with it.
Being positive is a great thing but let’s call a spade a spade: Sometimes a situation just sucks! And we are allowed to say and feel this – but we still deserve sleep and a little peace, right? I hope you can use one or the other tip on how to deal with anxiety and tackle insomnia.
I am not a medical doctor, a therapist or a psychiatrist. Although some of the tips may make you feel better, nevertheless this cannot replace a professional therapy. If you need help, support or therapy, please seek a professional. This blog includes measures and activities that work for me, but there is no one procedure that is effective for everyone nor a one-size-fits all approach. Practice what works best for you!
Let's calm down together!
1. Guided Meditation
Headspace and Insight Timer are two of my favorite apps regarding guided meditation and calming music to reduce stress. Meditation has become more and more popular in the last years as life is getting faster and faster every day. It has been practiced for centuries for different reasons, cultural or religious, but also it became a very important skill nowadays.
The app “headspace” is an app that supports learning how to meditate. They offer a 2 weeks free trial version, which covers taking part in the 10-day beginners’ course. “Headspace is meditation made simple, teaching you life-changing mindfulness skills in just a few minutes per day”.
Insight Timer calls itself the number 1 app for sleep, anxiety, and stress. They have different categories to choose from and hundreds of free meditation sessions. Improve your sleep, coping with anxiety, managing stress, meditation music and meditation for kids are the most popular sections. My personal favorites are the improve your sleep category and meditation music. They also offer courses like “Learn how to meditate in 7 days”, “Your Guide to deeper sleep” and many more. If you have issues with switching off your brain as soon as you go to bed, this might be helpful, to put your thoughts somewhere else.
I have never really done any research on breath work, to be very honest. I just realized that I started controlling my breathing to cope with stress when lying in bed. Consciously breathing in and out does make a difference. There are various techniques that are meant to support you in calming down. As I realized that breathwork is “a thing” I started to read more about it.
I myself practice the so-called 4-7-8 breathing, also known as the “relaxing breath” to calm myself down. There is very limited research done on this method, but trying out if it works for you, definitely doesn’t hurt. It is claimed that most people fall asleep after one minute, which I personally cannot confirm, but it definitely helps to relax. How does it work? Breathing in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and breath out for 8 seconds. Yes! It is that easy! Reducing anxiety and cravings and helping with insomnia and anger management are a few of the claimed benefits of this technique. If you cannot hold your breath for that long, then don’t you worry, it is not about the length but the ratio, so it is definitely possible to just half the duration and makes it a 2 – 3,5 – 4 technique. Do whatever suits you and comforts you the most.
3. Repetition of words
This is another procedure I started doing without doing any research on it before. It’s something I started, before realizing it is something other people do as well. Lying in bed and your thoughts are going wild? You just want to silence the thoughts in your head? Yes, same! As it is impossible to think two thoughts at the same time I started repeating words in my head. This could be anything you could think of. I personally use: beyond atmosphere. Why? I have no idea. I just like the sound of these words. I don’t even speak them out loud, I just repeat it over and over in my head, so I can stop any other thoughts.
Honestly, we all know it doesn’t make sense trying to solve any issue at three o’clock in the morning almost high from sleep deprivation. If you´re more interested in this topic, I learned that this technique is called mantra repetition as meditation. You can use whatever floats your boat: a simple OOM, words that you like or positive Mantras like I am enough, I am worthy! Everything is possible.
I know this is a controversial topic and it might even be new to you, but I personally swear on it. I coincidentally found out about it, as it was part of a Netflix documentary and I thought it is the weirdest thing ever. However, the more I watched it, the more I got into it. You might ask yourself now: sounds great, but what is ASMR? ASMR is the abbreviation for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Crazy word right? It is defined as “a feeling of well-being combined with a tingling sensation in the scalp and down the back of the neck, as experienced by some people in response to a specific gentle stimulus, often a particular sound.” In general most of the videos are sound triggers with a visual aspect. There are plenty of ASMRtists (yes that’s how they call themselves) on Youtube in various versions. Tapping, Scratching, mouth sounds, trigger words, role plays, mic brushing, whispering, soft speaking.. the list is endless. Go and check it out, it seems weird but it really helps me to relax.
Some of my favorite ASMRtists: ASMR Glow, GIBI ASMR, ASMR Darling, and Karuna Satori ASMR. Don´t judge before trying it out!
5. Movies that put you in a good headspace
Okay, this is not really a very scientific method, but hey – whatever works. I realized I am very sensitive to stress caused by emotional movies. True story movies, horror, psycho thriller movies or anything which is mentally burdening does not help my sleep. I do like these kind of movies but I had to admit to myself that it is a No-No before going to bed. Some mind numbing series or a Disney movie is way much better for me and putting myself into a better head space.
6. Checklist / Journaling
Especially now in times of home quarantine, we might get the feeling that we are not as efficient as we would like to be. We are limited from doing certain things, which may lead to the fact that we do not even start one or the other thing. I would recommend writing a to-do list every morning on the things you want to achieve during the day. If you think there is nothing to do at all, here are some suggestions.
- If you are in home office, put work on your to-do list
- Laundry, dishwasher, hovering – yes, it all goes on the list
- Re-organizing your closet. Aren’t we all guilty of a closet full of clothes, but never actually having anything to wear? Decluttering your wardrobe will make you feel so much lighter and organized.
- I’m sure there are many more projects you could start in your own four walls. How many drawers are crammed with things we don’t even know what’s in them? What about your bathroom and your cosmetics? Do we really need the serum that’s been expired for two years? I don’t think so. Organize the kitchen, clean the windows, everything that normally falls through the grate due to lack of time, should now be on your to-do list.
- Put one of these tasks on your to-do list every day and organize your apartment step by step. Trust me, in the evening lying in bed, it will be such a satisfying feeling, knowing that you have accomplished so much during the day and ticked all of your boxes.
- If you need more inspiration about what you can do in times of home quarantine, you might wanna read my blog on home quarantine inspiration.
7. Exercise/ Workout
This should definitely be a bullet point on your to do list – every! day! Set yourself a goal e.g. 10000 steps/ day. I started to go for little walks in the evenings when I have not reached my step goal for the day. It will be a small little accomplishment right before going to bed. Set a workout plan for the week and try to stick to it. The more routine we are able to create, the better we feel during isolation. If you’re interested in workouts I would invite you to head over to the fitness section of my blog for some inspiration.
You deserve to feel good, and what makes you feel better than a little bit of self-care? Go and pamper yourself! A manicure or pedicure, a hair or face mask, which you could even mix yourself, from all natural ingredients, pour yourself a glass of wine or a nice Gin & Tonic (whatever befits you), and watch a lovely movie and cuddle with your cat. The simple things make the biggest difference. Wash of your face mask and you’ll see you’ve never sailed so fast into the land of dreams.
Checklist before you go to bed
- Reduce alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine: It majorly affects the quality and quantity of your sleep.
- Treat yourself to a nice drink: tea, hot chocolate, warm milk, etc. whatever makes you feel good. If it is a glass of wine, it is a glass of wine, we´re not judging here. However, many people having issues falling asleep, think alcohol would benefit a well-rested night’s sleep, which is actually not the case. You might fall asleep faster, however, research has shown that it is way much harder to reach deep sleep after alcohol intake.
- Limit Naps during the day
- Limit your screen time before bed: No TV one hour before you go to seep. If this seems impossible to you, then you might think of buying blue light glasses. The advertised benefits of blue light glasses include less eye strain, improved sleep routine, and prevention of eye diseases. I haven’t tried it out myself yet, but I will definitely give it a go soon. As soon as I have more experience on that, I will let you know.
- Clean your sleeping environment: This might not be applicable to everyone. This for sure depends on what kind of personality you are. My boyfriend, for example, would probably sleep on a pile of clothes on the bed, surrounded by all electronic devices there are, and a movie on volume 10000. If you are more like me, maybe BUT only maybe, a person with a slight underlying OCD, you might enjoy sleeping in a tidy, organized room with fresh bed sheets and some meditation music in the background. A tidy room is a tidy head.
Combating negative thoughts
You have followed all the tips and still, you are lying in bed now and go from one hundred to one thousand and one negative thought chases the other? Here are two tips on how you can handle it:
- Acknowledge your feelings! Set an amount of time to worry and then stop! I know how this sounds: way too easy right? But have you ever tried it? Have you ever told yourself that your feelings are valid? That your emotions are important? I would bet you didn’t. Look at your concerns from an objective point of view. Consciously perceive fear. Evaluate if you have any influence on it right now, if not, actively tell yourself that you can’t solve the problem in your mind and that you will take care of it as soon as it really happens and STOP.
- Create one best-case scenario for each worst scenario you create! The first variant is not for you and you notice that you cannot suppress or postpone the thoughts? Then use your busy brain to create a best-case scenario for each worst-case scenario. The focus on creating something positive has a calming effect on your body and mind.
I hope these tips and tricks on anxiety and tackling insomnia were helpful for you. If you tried out one or the other and it worked for you, please let me know in the comments. I would love to hear some positive stories. Stay healthy and safe!