Monday, June 15, 2015

How your anxiety is ruining your sleep

Many people who come to see me for sleeping issues are also experiencing some degree of anxiety.

In this 11 minute video, I discuss anxiety, what it is, how it can negatively affect your sleep, and a few techniques and ideas that may help.

Having experienced heart-pounding anxiety in my own past, especially because of sleeplessness, I can honestly say that it can be a frightening experience and when we are in the middle of it, it can feel like there is no way out. 

Anxiety is a structure of thinking that can become habitual over time, however regardless of how long we have had anxiety, it is still a strategy running within the mind, which means that it can be altered and even released. 

There is a transcription of the video below (Click the Read More link and please excuse any typos). 

If you have any questions about the video or anxiety please contact me.


Just a quick talk about anxiety. Anxiety with regard to sleep and getting enough sleep and falling asleep is actually quite a major and it's kind of natural. If something isn't happening over time and continues to not happen over time, i.e. not getting to sleep and the next day feeling kind of a bit stretched because of that, then that can lead to a natural, what I like to call a ‘natural degree of caution’. It's kind of like a cautionary thing that occurs in the body, which then can lead and expand into anxieties and real concern. The thing about anxiety is something that we do and we do it really well and because we're kind of designed to look after ourselves, we're kind of designed to take care of ourselves and if something's getting in the way, then anxiety is actually kind of a strategy that's driven by a very high intention, i.e. self-preservation. The strategy, however, of anxiety can be quite uncomfortable and it can be quite concerning, especially if you've never had it before. 

So, how does anxiety work? Well, anxiety in a nutshell and putting it very, very simply is a strategy and is being triggered by a certain stimulus where we imagine ourselves in the future, and to imagine ourselves in the future having a bad experience or having a really uncomfortable experience. So it's really an imagining, which can happen so quickly for most of us, which then just basically leaves us feeling very tied up or scared and uncomfortable and often in the gut area. Some people hyperventilate many different kinds of symptoms. The kind of anxiety that I've worked with clients around sleep specifically is really the anxiety about not getting to sleep. So more often than not, it's an anxiety that we run, i.e. do during the day. So we're thinking about going to sleep at night, but we say "last night I just didn't get to sleep and what it's going to be like tonight in bed? I'm going to be uncomfortable and my thoughts will be racing. I can't shut my head off”, and all these different things and so we kind of project ourselves into the future and we project ourselves in a way that we imagine having these experiences that don't feel good. The paradox of that is even though it's driven by a desire to self-preserve, which is "I want to keep away from that kind of experience", what it doesn't do is necessarily help us to overcome that experience because well it's obvious. We feel anxious about that future possibility. 

A really good strategy around this is to consider how is this occurring? Well, how it generally occurs and not always the same for everybody, but generally we imagine the future scenario and we imagine it as if we're there generally. So generally we imagine that we're there experiencing it so it could be I mentioned I'm lying in bed and I'm just like my head is just racing and I'm rolling and turning over and blah, blah, blah and I just can't get to sleep. With respect to sleep, the word sleep, look at that video that I put in about the problem of sleep. It'll help with that. So what I'm doing right now is I could do it right now. I could be feeling tired, which would trigger me think about going to bed and then at that moment, I'm going "I'm feeling really uncomfortable because I'm imagining being in bed and it's just not happening". Okay, so what is it that we really want and this is always a really good question to ask ourselves. What is it that I really want? Most people would say "I want to go to sleep". Yes, you do, but as an outcome, that's not a good one because you won't know when you are asleep and that itself can create anxiety because "I won't know when I'm there. I don't know how to do it. I don't know how to get to sleep. All I know is I just lay there and suddenly I'm awake again". My wife is like that. She just rolls over, thinks of two or things that she's grateful for and the next thing she's waking up the next morning, which is fabulous. That's a good tool actually.

So, what can we do? Well, let's use the mechanism. The mechanism is the structure of how anxiety works and anxiety is when you imagine being in the future and feeling really uncomfortable about not being asleep and all the repercussions after that. So, that's a strategy of using the imagination to go into the future. So what if we think "what is the outcome that I really want". Well, having studied this quite a lot and talking to a lot of people, the outcome actually is and a well-formed outcome is to feel good the next day. So, if I have that as an outcome, then what if I was to imagine that I can see myself in the future feeling good. Looking out into the future beyond the event and this is the key because anxiety is about an event. It's about an event. [unclear 5:40] and it's massive so you push that away and that can help. I mean literally get your hands and go 'ugh' and push it away. That can be helpful. Get your body involved. Push that a long way away like you've got really long arms, like [unclear 5:58] or woman. So you push that imagining away and then replace it with a whole new one, which is "actually I can see myself tomorrow morning 20 minutes after waking up and I'm just feeling good. I'm not feeling excited and Anthony Robbins and all that stuff or all black or whatever. I'm just feeling good. I'm feeling ready for the day and I've got the energy. I'm having a good breakfast" and that sort of thing. Make that picture compelling. What does that mean? Put a bit of energy into it: put it in colour. A smile, a smile goes a long way to put a smile into it and you know "here I am, ready for the day. I've got my suit on or I've got my frock on" I don't know what it might be. You might want to be a swimmer and you've got your trunks on, whatever it might be or a gardener and you've got your chainsaw or whatever. There I am and I'm ready to go. For me, it would be "I've got my Vespa and a bottle of aspirin" and I'm whizzing off to the office. So whatever works really and now that's the outcome and the outcome is where I'm feeling excited or I'm feeling heavy energy. Now that is an outcome that is beyond or on the other side of the initial anxiety event.

Now, what does that do? Well, it seems to us subconsciously that this thing that we've been feeling anxious about won't last. It says that that thing will come to pass and wait a minute. On the other side, I've got the energy. Now, which is more compelling? Which is the thing that actually is going to be more fulfilling or meaningful? Well, I don't know about you, but for me getting on the Vespa or having my suit on or whatever, those sorts of things are more enjoyable and more compelling so the mind starts to gravitate more towards that and we start to, because we're insatiably curious deep down inside, part of us start to say "I wonder how I wonder how I can generate that outcome". Now, this isn't something that's a [unclear 8:16]. It's like brushing your teeth. You have to do it every day and if you've been experiencing certain things for a period of time, then that means that there's a little bit of a rut in the road. There's a little bit of a trench that we're tracing. However, the repetition of a new and truly compelling and truly meaningful idea or strategy such as this one can actually embed itself quite quickly. Certainly when we acknowledge when it's happening and that's the second part.

The first part is: change the strategy from "I'm imagining myself in an uncomfortable experience of not being able to get to sleep", push that away and then swap that with a new strategy, which is "actually I can imagine myself tomorrow morning 20 minutes after waking up feeling great" I can picture that and there's a nice picture of me and I'm sitting there and I'm ready to go and with that, when you actually start to have that experience, acknowledge it. One thing we don't learn to do, we really notice crappy things. We really notice when things aren't going that well. It's raining again. I slipped on the pathway because it's so wet. When something goes quite well and this is really extraordinary, like "I went on that roller coaster". This is really extraordinary and you don't really acknowledge it and give it any energy or positive feedback. So part of building a nice new strategy pattern is also building some feedback into it and so like when it actually happens, that feels good and it's surprising because I like surprises. It sounds a bit corny, but it actually works. When we give positive feedback from outside of us, it feels good. Unless we have really low self-esteem and then it's like "you're just saying that", but if we give ourselves positive feedback about something that is honestly feeling like it's working for us, then that can build the pattern, the new pattern. 

So try it out. Anxiety is nothing more than imagining ourselves in the future as if we are really there and we're having a bad experience. It's usually about a specific event, i.e. getting into bed. So the way around it is to use the same kind of future strategy, but picture ourselves and that's very compelling. It's kind of like window shopping for motivation so you picture yourself out there 20 minutes after waking up the next day and you're smiling. Yeah, I've got energy and you make that picture really compelling as if you're window shopping and you make it really nice. Yeah, I want that. That makes more sense to me. You do that often and you do that about daily things even. Events that are coming up during the day. You see yourself just a little bit after the event is completed and it releases a huge amount of possible discomfort or anxiety about the event because we can see ourselves beyond. The unconscious mind goes "yeah, that makes sense. Now, what do we have to do? What are those skills and resources we have inside to make that happen".

Try it out. It's good fun. If you have any questions, just please email me.

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