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10 Ways to Manage Night-time Worrying:


Worrying often tends to shout the loudest when we are just about to wind down for the night, as the world around us heads into a frustratingly peaceful slumber – that’s when worry awakens.  Many cases of mild insomnia and difficulty in getting to sleep arise from having too much on the mind, not being able to switch off from thinking, and from drifting into worrying rather than sleeping.

It is natural to experience episodes of night-time worrying now and again, but if it becomes a habit it can become increasingly difficult to cope with, it can begin to have an impact on our lives and wellbeing, and for some it can feel lonely and debilitating.  Night-time worrying affects sleep, energy, mood, stress levels, self-esteem, and sense of resilience.  It can become a vicious cycle where we end up worrying about our sleep because we are worrying at night, the more we worry the less we are able to switch off and rest, so the more we continue to worry, and on it goes.


Here are 10 potentially helpful ways to help manage night-time worrying, and to break the cycle.  The aim is to create a support plan for yourself to manage night-time worrying so that you can start to prepare for it, and to feel more in control of managing it when it appears.  Keeping an eye on any worry patterns such as days of the week, times of day, times of the month, environmental factors, external stresses, etc. can help you regain a bit of control whilst understanding why the night-time worrying has been triggered.


  1. Create your own ‘Worry Toolkit’

It’s about finding ways of managing worrying that work for you, and adding them to your toolkit.  Keep adding to it, notice what things make you feel calm, relaxed or content (no matter how small they may seem), and add them to your ‘toolbox’.


Are you a creative person?  Do you like writing?  Or making lists?  Organising things?  What do you enjoy to relax?  Do you like music, or reading?  Watching YouTube videos about cats or canal boats or DIY?  Listening to audiobooks?  Playing Candy Crush?  Use it.  Plan to do these things at night when you usually worry.  Feeling proactive about managing worry can help feel less like the worry is controlling you.


  1. Winding down

Having time to wind down, preparing yourself for sleep, can help if you are getting into bed and just finding yourself unable to switch off.  You are re-training yourself to associate the night with sleep rather than with worrying.  Having an hour to wind down as part of your daily routine can help regain a sense of control over stress.  During this time, put in some boundaries with stress, make sure you aren’t checking emails or looking at work stuff, endlessly scrolling through social media, or paying bills, or doing anything that you may find remotely stressful.  Using the hour before bedtime as time for yourself to do the things that help you relax, maybe some journalling or to have a bath or shower, to read a book, watch a bit of TV, listen to an audiobook – the focus should solely be on doing whatever you find relaxing.  Over time, you may notice your night-time worrying is more manageable.


  1. Write down your worries

Part of the reason we can’t switch off from thinking when we are trying to get to sleep is that we are holding onto our thoughts and worries in our heads, keeping them inside and going over and over them.  Our bodies may be tired but our minds are just getting started.  One way of getting these thoughts to subside is to write them down.  It could be that you keep a notebook by the bed, to jot down things to come back to tomorrow, or to write down 3 positive things each night, or to write 3 goals.  It could be that writing a diary about your day, journalling each night, may help you have an outlet for your thoughts to help you process things in a different way than through worrying.  It could be that writing some lists, separating things out, and ticking things off over time, could help with regaining a sense of moving forwards through the worries and regaining some control over things again.  Writing things down can be cathartic and helps to make sense of what you are going through, and doing this regularly can be one way of conquering worry.  If it feels like homework, try drawing your feelings instead, or listing simple bullet points, journalling should be fun and something you feel you want to keep coming back to, so making it work for you is important.  There are some apps to help with creative journalling ideas, including Happiness Planner, Gratitude, and the Calm app has a daily check-in section.


  1. Focus on your breathing

It’s amazing how our breathing can change once we are in worry-mode, the body reacts to the worries as potential threats, the mind tells you to breathe faster for more energy so that you can continue ‘problem-solving’ to stay safe.  It becomes a bit ‘chicken and egg’ (not knowing which came first): the more tension in our bodies, the more our minds react by worrying more, the more tense we become, the more we continue worrying, and so on.  Relaxing breathing techniques are like having a set of keys to relax and calm the mind and body simultaneously.  It may take practice but the more in tune you are with your breath, the more aware you will be when it changes into worry-mode again.

There are some really good apps for breathing techniques, from the simple ones such as Breathe, to the more in-depth breathing techniques that use mindfulness techniques, such as Headspace and Calm.  The ‘Body Scan’ meditation is particularly helpful for relaxing the body to allow it to sleep.


  1. Distract yourself

Sometimes we need a way of just switching off our minds, we don’t want to have to focus on things through writing or talking or thinking, but we get stuck.  It doesn’t always work to tell yourself to just not think of something, that’s like telling yourself not to think of a pink sheep, because you will then automatically think of one.  Having ways to distract yourself should be part of your toolkit to manage worry.  Exercise can be a good outlet during the day to help channel stress and focus our thoughts, it may even help prevent worrying, but at night-time this isn’t the best option.  Think of a list of things that help you zone out, relaxing things that don’t require much energy or thought, maybe write them down to refer to and try them at night when you usually worry.  It could be a video game or Candy Crush, reading, listening to audiobooks or music, drawing, colouring in, jigsaws, cleaning, organising your cupboards, painting, sewing, painting your nails, watching a film, meditation, etc.


  1. Postpone worry time

Life can get so busy that often the only time we get to relax is at night when everyone is asleep and there’s no more work, socialising or activities to occupy ourselves with.  Being a parent or carer, or partner, having money issues, work worries or health concerns – external things in our lives may be playing on our minds.  The very end of the day may be the only time you may be allowing yourself to think and to be with yourself, to process everything that’s going on, or to figure out what you want to do.  Being constantly busy or occupied during the day sometimes prevents us from really having time with ourselves to process our feelings or to really think about something that may be needing our attention, so our brains can compensate by worrying at night instead.  It’s important to make time for yourself during the day too, to prioritise self-care.  One way of doing this when night-time worrying, is to allow yourself some time to ‘think’ at another time of day.  Maybe having an hour to yourself after work, on the commute, or in the morning before the day begins, allowing yourself to explore what’s on your mind and to set some goals, making time can help de-associate night-time as the opportunity to do this.  So, when you worry at night, you could tell yourself to postpone it until a different time the following day (by which time, the worry may not seem so strong), and allow yourself that time each day.


  1. Focus on the positives

When we are worrying, we tend to worry about the things that could go wrong, the what ifs, the worst case scenarios that likely will never happen.  The way we can criticise or think the worst of ourselves (or others) can really prevent us from seeing the reality of a situation or from seeing the positives in things.  We tend to not see the positives in moments of worry, because in this moment the brain is likely in fight or flight mode so is trying to scan for potential threats.  It’s the threats that potentially harm us, so the positives can be easily overlooked in these moments, because we are in survival mode.  Also, we worry is unique in that we don’t tend to worry about the good stuff, we worry about things that matter to us or that we are scared of.  But, actually, things may all be okay.  There will be positives all around you, and by focusing on 3 positive things every night, before you go to bed, it will help the brain connect with these positive feelings when you need them the most.  The more you practice this, the easier it becomes to automatically see the positives along with the fears, keeping your thoughts (and your body) in a more grounded place.


  1. Sounds of nature

We are human beings, evolved from cavemen and we still have an in-built primal survival system.  This survival system exists in a part of the brain that is so ancient, it really is primal and known as ‘the reptilian’ part of the brain.  When we are anxious, this is where our worries likely stem from, signalling to the primal survival system to kick in, which may be totally separate from the more logical, rational, evolved parts of ourselves.  So, getting back to sensory relaxation through nature can really help calm and soothe that primal anxiety, to reactivate the rest of the brain, and reduce the worry that surfaced.  Have a warm bath, get some fresh air, look at the stars and the moon in the night sky, have a warm drink or a glass of water, focus on your breathing, get cosy in a blanket in front of a fire, snuggle up in bed, and listen to your surroundings.  The sounds of nature can really help relax the body and mind, it can distract us from our thoughts.  There are many apps out there to help, such as Calm, which have sounds such as the sea, wind, rain, leaves rustling in a breeze, etc.  It can be interesting to explore what sounds you may find relaxing, to add to your toolkit: it may be the sound of a washing machine, or listening to the MPs in BBC Parliament droning on, or your cat purring.  Sometimes, audiobooks and night-time stories may be your thing, or it may be thunderstorms, but factoring these sounds into your nightly routine may really help with worrying.  You may even start to associate night-time with relaxing again, rather than a time of anxiety.


  1. Reassure yourself

Having some reassuring things to say to yourself for those moments of worry can help, some self-soothing mantras.  Fears are not facts, and there are always ways to fix practical problems.  When in a clear and calm headspace, write down your reassurances so that you can refer to them when needed, for the brain to read them back in black and white when overwhelmed.  Remember that the worrying will pass, things always seem to feel worse at night than during the light of day, and that you will figure things out, it will all be okay in the end.  Remind yourself of your strengths during previous times you’ve coped with difficulties or challenging situations, what helped before, and remind yourself of what may help now.  Trust yourself that you’ll figure things out, and will heal in time.  Be your own best friend and be kind to yourself, it’s amazing how tough we can be on ourselves and how this can result in overthinking and excessive worrying.


  1. Talk about it

Getting your worries out really helps, and sometimes talking things through with someone you trust or with a counsellor can really help get some perspective on your worries.  When worrying at night, it can feel particularly lonely because there’s no-one around or even awake whilst you may be feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders.  Until you can talk to someone else, it may help to do a voice recording of yourself, talking through your thoughts, then listening to this back.  Not only does this help you talk things through a bit, but when listening to it back, there may be a part of yourself able to challenge or reassure yourself about your worries.  Sometimes it’s about getting a different perspective on your worries, which talking things through can help achieve.  Bottling things up in isolation tends to be a big factor when worrying a lot at night.  Remember that it’s okay to not be feeling okay, that there is support out there for you, and you are never alone.



If you ever have thoughts of harming yourself, or suicidal thoughts accompanying your worrying, please reach out for support, speak to your GP; go to A&E or phone 999 if you think you are going to act on your thoughts, and remember there are 24/7 helplines available to talk things through, such as the Samaritans on 116 123.