I know from experience that getting your sleep right is one of the hardest things to sort out when you’re dealing with high anxiety and stress.
My head used to hit the pillow, and no matter how tired I was, I just couldn’t sleep.
Non-stop thoughts would bounce around in my head, one after the other, with no let-up. It was almost as though my brain thought I was missing out on something!
Getting more sleep is vital when it comes to dealing with high anxiety. Without sleep, you don’t have energy, and you need all the energy you can get. When you wake up feeling exhausted and tired, the rest of the day follows in the same way.
Getting into a good pattern of sleep takes time, but there are things you can do that will help you get back on track and make a big difference. By putting these ideas into practice, your routine and pattern will get better instantly.
1. Have a notepad next to your bed
When we allow a thought to bounce around in our head, it will keep us awake. Lots of other thoughts will spiral off it, and the chance of sleeping through it is limited. Get your thoughts out of your head and write them down on a notepad next to your bed. That way you're getting the thought out of your head and you're reassuring your brain that you've got control and there is no need to worry.
2. Get organised for the next day
We get stressed and anxious when we feel out of control - which is a major cause of lack of sleep. Another way to stay organised and feel in control is to plan for the next day. If you have a good idea what you're going to do the next day, you'll feel calmer and more relaxed before your head hits the pillow. The 'what if' type thoughts won't spiral out of control because you've got a plan.
3. Get rid of artificial lighting
The reason we go to bed at night has a lot to do with the fact that it's dark. Sunlight sends a message to our brain to say we should be awake and active, whereas being in the dark tells us it's time for sleep. When you go to bed, get rid of all distractions, including anything that produces artificial light. That includes your phone, TV, tablets, and anything else that is shining a light at you. Make sure the room is nice and dark, and your brain will get the right message.
4. Don't drink (or eat) caffeine
This sounds like such an obvious one that it's not worth mentioning, but it is - simply down to the fact that we don't know that certain drinks and foods contain bags of caffeine. It's not just drinking coffee that will keep you up. That nice relaxing cup of tea before bed also has lots of caffeine. And it doesn't stop there. Did you know that chocolate and ice cream also contain caffeine? How about that cup of green tea? That's right - even some of the herbal teas need checking out for caffeine. If you're not sure, always read the label or do a bit of research before having a gorge. You might be inadvertently stimulating yourself before you go to bed. (It's also worth noting that smoking and drinking alcohol before you go to bed will stimulate you.)
5. Get into a pattern and routine
I know it sounds boring, but your brain likes routine. When you get rid of the unknown, there isn't anything to get anxious about - and routine will do that for you. If you train your brain that a certain time of night means sleepy time, you'll naturally begin to wind down at that time. Like any new routine, at first, it will be hard to stick to. But with time and practice, your sleeping pattern will continue to improve. You can become less rigid about your routine when you see your sleep get better.
It's important you stay patient and don't allow the initial frustration to win over. Don't get frustrated with your sleep. It takes time to get it right – but what you're doing right now will be worth it.
The next time you get a worrying or anxious thought I want you to remember D.A.D.
‘What’s DAD got to do with anything?’, I hear you say.
Remember D.A.D is a simple but highly effective technique I’ve created to help you take control and deal with all your thoughts (anxious or not).
When you appreciate that it’s you creating all your thoughts, you can take more control of them. When you take control, you’ll deal with your anxiety and stress instantly.
Because we have about 60,000 thoughts a day, you can’t control all of them – that’s impossible. But you can manage them better, and remembering D.A.D will help.
Here’s how to use the D.A.D technique.
When you have the next worrying or anxious thought stop everything that you are doing.
Sit down (if you're not sitting already), and question that worrying thought immediately.
Don't allow it to spiral out of control, and don't dwell on it.
Don't try to understand it and think deeply about what it means.
Don’t allow the usual ‘what if’ type thoughts to spiral out of control.
Simply comprehend that you’ve had the thought and take control by picking one of the three D.A.D options to manage it.
Stats tell us that most of the thoughts we have are useless, which means you should be ditching most of them. If you decide that the thought is no good for you, and its only purpose is to cause you more worry and anxiety, decide to ditch it. Let it go. Give it a gentle nudge and tell it to move on. You have the power to do that - because you're in control.
If you decide that your thought requires immediate action, don't leave the spot until you take action. Anxiety and stress are caused by feeling out of control, and taking instant action puts you in control. That action doesn't need to fix whatever it is that induced the thought - it can be something small - like making a call, sending an email or having a chat with someone. By taking action, even if it's just a small step, you're putting yourself back in control.
If it is something that can wait, write it down and go back to it. I find the easiest way to do this is using Evernote (a free app that keeps you organised). Get the thought out of your head and put it onto paper (or text) and on to your to-do list. This will release the thought and stop it from bouncing around in your head. If you have an online calendar, like Google Calendar, you can set an alarm so you can go back to it. That way you're not ignoring it or pretending that it doesn't exist (like the bill you don't want to pay). Instead, you're dealing with it at a time that is better for you.
When you manage all your thoughts (worrying or otherwise) using these three options, you'll find you manage your anxiety and stress much more effectively.
Make remembering D.A.D a habit, and with time and practice, it will stick.
You’ve already been told the usual advice when it comes to dealing with anxiety – to the point you’ve become bored of hearing about
Sorting your diet out
Admittedly, as your Anxiety Coach, I’ll have you doing some of these things, and they’re given as regular advice for a sound reason. But to shake things up a little, I also want to give you some different, radical ideas to help you reduce your anxiety – things you might not have thought about doing previously.
I noticed a while ago that if I wanted something different, I had to do something different.
Some of these ideas might sound a little radical, and could even raise an eyebrow, but that’s exactly the point.
The more different and radical the idea, the quicker the change and reduction in anxiety could happen.
Suggestion 1: Quit TV for a week
How radical is that? The idea of no TV for a week! To most of us, this sounds as crazy as it gets. This is exactly why I want you to consider doing it. If you want something new, you have to try something different, and cutting off the TV supply is something very different for most of us. Before you tell me this is impossible, I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done myself. I cut TV out for a week, and I haven’t looked back since. I went from a TV addict to someone who will watch a bit of Netflix every now and again. Why did it work? Think about how much anxiety TV might be causing you. Adverts constantly telling us how to look and act. The news repetitively telling us what a f’ed up world we live in. Reality TV making us feel inferior. By the time you’ve flicked through those hundred pointless channels, it’s time to go to bed and start the same pattern over and over again. Quit TV for a bit, and you might find it gives you the time to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do.
Suggestion 2: Stop watching the news
As I just mentioned, the news has a great knack of repeatedly reminding us of how f’ed up the world is. Do we need a constant reminder? I’m not saying bury your head in the sand, but if you keep feeding your mind with negativity, it will fuel your anxiety. The news is widely accessible, and with your phone, it’s constantly in your pocket. Come away from looking at it, and see how you feel. If you need to know something, you’ll know it.
Suggestion 3: Stop giving your anxiety excuses
Giving something a reason to exist, including high anxiety, will give it life. Excuses will provide all the fuel your high anxiety will ever need to not only survive but also thrive. It’s the weather. It’s my job. It’s my boss. Anxiety runs in my family. It’s my partner. It’s my kids! The list can go on as much as you want. If you want to reduce your high anxiety, the excuses need to stop. It’s time to take 100% responsibility. Anxiety won’t like it – it doesn’t like it when you take responsibility. That might mean more anxiety. But until you step forward and take responsibility, nothing will change. Stop the excuses, and you’ll stop stoking the fire.
Suggestion 4: Come away from support groups
I don’t offer a support group for good reason. I’ve not had positive experiences with them, and the same goes for a lot of the people I speak to daily. Support groups are there for good intention, but they can easily create bad feeling and more anxiety – sometimes unintentionally. We all need support, but we need it in a way that provides us with the positivity and focus we need to move forward – the reason why my programme has a unique buddying system that does exactly that.
Suggestion 5: Cut down your social media use
Notice I say ‘cut down’ here, rather than stop. For 99.9% of us, not using social media is like not eating. If I asked you to stop using social media, I know it would be like asking you to lose a limb. So let’s be realistic. In lots of recent surveys and studies, the use of social media has been shown to increase anxiety. It’s little wonder when all you see is the highlights. When you’re sitting there chained to your desk at work, and you’re looking at pictures of your friends partying, it has a habit of rapidly producing resent, anger, and jealousy – and in turn, lots of anxiety. Top this off with no likes or comments on your posts, and you’ve got yourself a proper pity party. Put the phone down. Shut the laptop. Pick up a book. Go for a walk. Have a real conversation. Do these things without worrying about sharing everything you do to get approval from others. The feeling of freedom you get might be the anxiety-buster you’re looking for.
These five ideas may be radically different to what you’ve considered previously. But like I said, if you want some big changes, including big reductions in your anxiety, you’ve got to do something you haven’t done before.
Why not give them a go? What have you got to lose?
The best way to connect with Carl and join the discussion is on his Facebook page