Afraid of the Dark: Tips For Nighttime Anxiety Visits
Photo by Feather Rae
For years, I was a bit fearful of nighttime. I don’t mean what goes bump in it. I mean the night is evocative of what’s inside, unseen, sometimes kept closeted to especially us. It first happened about six years ago, as my tireless output had bore financial and material fruit for some time. I was very social; my job demanded it of me, but I also gladly leapt at the chance to engage with people, regardless of work requirements. Then one day I didn’t. I felt unmotivated to maintain my social sphere as I once had at the close of a tiring day. I was uncomfortable a great deal of the time. My sun sign was all of the sudden a planet named unconscious anxiety, making itself known in subtle earthside ways. I kept these unforeseen forces at bay during the day, but the night became my prison of solitude – I could barely bear it and yet I could not break out of it. The night beckoned me – lured me, even – to stay in and be alone and yet to suffer. The only way dark could become light again was with the following morning.
This was as you might have guessed – anxiety, nighttime anxiety, specifically. It turned into a feeling that climbed into bed with me and hogged the covers. It tossed these complicated queries and sometimes insults at me then stood defiantly, arms crossed, blocking my rest. I could drink a few glasses of wine and shut it all down temporarily, but like everything that is a means to mask rather than to meet something head on, it becomes harmful. And it is sure no long-term strategy. Anxiety asks: “Is this as good as it gets?”, “Why are you not more?”, “Are you worthy?” It’s ornery and lacking in compassion sometimes. In short, it says to me with all its questions, “Micha, you are stagnant, stuck, unimportant, and undynamic. Why do you matter?” Over time, I’ve come to know some of the questions it asks me are important, but the way it asks is not all that supportive.
When nighttime anxiety first came to stay, an open invitation for more questions and feelings to join was seemingly extended, and together we’ve spent years exploring. A lot of great experiences came out of these feeling visitors, a lot of risks and leaps. But somehow all that inquisition gave self-doubt, a benign unhappiness, and dissatisfaction refuge, too – an open invitation to prop their legs up. So, as night loomed, the part of the day that was all my own since I’d arranged to be alone, I feared it. It became uninterrupted time with this uncomfortable crew.
So often, ending an unhealthy cycle or conquering a fear starts with giving it a name, describing it, talking about its hometown and favorite color – making it real and definable. Then comes breaking the news it’s time to go. It’ll take some time for the behavior or fear or thought process to leave – and you might have to get tough and throw its suitcase onto the street – but you can do it. What’s important to note is these feelings folks who come to visit at night – anxieties – they are parts of us expressing something. No, they often present as though they are not constructive, but there is something to attend to within them – a helpful smoke signal.
My cycles of shutting down at nighttime and just begging the new day to arrive with whatever promise it may hold – they still happen from time to time. Yet, I am choosing to embrace what is going on inside my psyche, and be in the right then and there. Tomorrow is not guaranteed anyway.
As I think through how nighttime anxiety has manifested and morphed for me over the years, here is some of what I can share:
Signs You’re Being Visited by Nighttime Anxiety:
- Trouble falling asleep, particularly with staying asleep
- Falling asleep quite easily or even passing out, followed by jolting awake, mind and/or heart racing
- It’s not really a restless body that keeps you awake but rather an overactive brain
- Your heartrate is raised as you awake or stay awake at night
- Mild panic attack-like symptoms: shortness of breath, pain in chest or overall body, sense of doom, feelings of an adrenaline rush
- Thoughts that look and feel quite different from the ones you have during the day
Most Importantly – Tips for Showing Nighttime Anxiety To the Door:
- Keep a bedside journal to record thoughts and feelings occurring at night to help with creating mantras, meditations, and even bringing to therapy. We can often times agonize during the night, only to find we can’t access memories of all our thoughts in the waking light.
- Keep a written or printed book of mantras bedside to invalidate any harsh or negative self-talk that arises during your anxiety, particularly based on your nighttime journaling
- Place a favorite, calming essential oil near your bed to place a few drops under your nose for restored calm (some recommended oils: Hinoki Cypress oil, lavender, jasmine, holy basil)
- Keep any sort of totem or symbol near your bed that grounds you
- Sleep in silence, falling asleep and/or waking up to the thrum of a TV or anything other than calming music/vibrations can be even more unnerving
- CBD can certainly calm the intensity of the anxiety
- Most importantly, befriend your fears and anxieties and ask them – mid thought, if you wanna! – what the heck they are really trying to express. Ask, “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” Through our curiosity, we often calm our nervous system and fears, simply by attending to their needs to be heard and seen deeply.