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Don't Let Anxiety Hold You Back!

Jan 21, 2024
 

Many of us experience anxiety as a nightly event and, while this can feel awful and often hopeless, it can be helpful to know that anxiety itself doesn't have to be a barrier to sleep.

In fact it is often our reaction to anxious thoughts that can make sleep more difficult. You see, as soon as we try to fight or avoid anxiety, we're more likely to get really caught up in the anxiety struggle, as we become anxious about feeling anxious, and this is when sleep can become a lot more difficult.

With this in mind, I think it can be helpful to shift our attention more toward the function of our thoughts, instead of their form, and this is what I'm going to be talking about here today.

 

Which is a Bigger Problem? Sleep or Anxiety?



Many people with chronic insomnia identify anxiety as a big challenge. The thought of another night of wakefulness, of having to get through another day after a difficult night of sleep (and even the action of going to bed at night) can trigger anxiety and other difficult thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) encourages us to challenge, logically examine, and possibly try to reframe our thoughts. It’s based on the premise that many of our most challenging thoughts might not be entirely accurate.

The thing that is important to understand is that our thoughts don't really matter all that much. At the end of the day, they are just thoughts. While thoughts can definitely make us feel uncomfortable, they cannot harm us, and they do not have control over our behaviors. When you truly understand this, it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense to put effort into trying to control them, especially when we consider how much effort this often requires.

Why Actions Are More Important Than Thoughts



If you've ever tried fighting or avoiding difficult thoughts, you might know from experience that although that might have been helpful from time to time, it probably hasn't been very helpful over the longer term. Luckily, thoughts do not control the quality of our lives, our actions do.

At the end of the day, our behaviors are what determine the kind of life we're going to live. We can choose to engage in behaviors that move us away from the kind of life we want to live, or we can engage in behaviors that move us toward the kind of life we want to live. We can even do that after difficult nights and in the presence of difficult thoughts.

Here's the thing, living a rich and meaningful life involves struggle and difficult thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Almost every situation is a mix of stress and joy, good and bad. Excited for a big move/ stress about packing and making new friends. Big promotion at work/ more responsibility to go along with the money. New baby on the way/ fear about everything that could potentially happen to your child.  

Everything is a Mix of GOOD and BAD

 

Life changes can be joyful and filled with love and excitement while at the same time being coupled with unpleasant feelings such as worry, anxiety and stress.

Does this mean you never grow, experience, or try anything new, because you want to avoid the unpleasant feelings that go with it? Of course not! A life without growth is a half-life and most of us know that in avoiding the bad we would also be giving up the good.


So what I'm trying to explain is that, while they may be uncomfortable, we can still live rich and meaningful lives even in the presence of difficult thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In fact, it's probably impossible to live the kind of life we want to live without them.

You Can't Control Your Thoughts But You Can Control Your Actions



Instead of trying to control our thoughts and attempting to get rid of all the difficult feelings and emotions we have, it can be more helpful to focus on controlling our behaviors. And this is where focusing our attention onto the function of our thoughts and what we do in response to them, rather than the thoughts themselves, can be helpful.

Instead of struggling with our thoughts and trying to force ourselves to think positive. Instead of fighting them and trying to avoid them. What if we simply make some space for them?

What if we can acknowledge our thoughts, allow them to come and go as they please, and then refocus our attention on what truly matters?

I'm not saying it's never helpful to assess and challenge sleep related thoughts. I'm simply drawing attention to the fact that even if we develop new ways of thinking, that doesn't necessarily remove the old ways of thinking, there's no delete button in the brain. We can know that our thoughts aren't completely true, accurate, or even helpful, but that won't stop them from appearing.

We just cannot just get rid of difficult thoughts and feelings and emotions. The good news is we do not need to because our actions and behaviors are what determine whether we live the kind of life we want to live.

Focus on Living a Meaningful Life and Sleep Will Ultimately Restore Itself



The more actions we take that move us toward the life we want, the richer and fuller our lives become.

The more we can live life in alignment with our personal values, the less we might struggle with the more difficult aspects of our lives, because they'll start to consume less of our attention and have less influence over us.

If we can repeatedly practice living the life we want to live, regardless of what's going on in our mind, and regardless of how we sleep, challenges such as anxiety and insomnia might begin to feel less significant and less problematic.

Interested in Learning More?

 

If you would like to learn more or book an individual session, please visit the Memberships page or enroll in the FREE 10 Day Sleep Course

In the meantime, I would like to leave you with this important message. You are not broken! You are whole, perfect, and healthy exactly as you are, and you CAN sleep!

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