Beat lying awake worrying at night by Active Worrying

October 8th, 2006 by Sit up a Tree

Insomnia Scream - Beat lying awake worrying at night by Active WorryingInsomnia is often caused by worry.  Lying awake in your bed, the gentle winding down process can become crowded out by troublesome worries. Each unsettling thought brings another with it, compounding the stress and banishing any chance of a good night’s sleep.


If like me you’ve tried other relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, you may have found it hard because those methods often involve trying to think of nothing,  and at the end of a long day it can be hard to stop your list of worries forcing their way in.

Here’s where Active Worrying comes in.  Instead of lying in your bed letting the negative thoughts pile up, stop the process by actively concentrating your mind on the positive.  The difference from normal relaxation is that you try to think of something, instead of trying to think of nothing.  While you’re doing this breathe deeply, making your outbreaths longer than your inbreaths.  Relax your body by scrunching up your feet, then relaxing your muscles.  Now move up to your calves, knees, gluts, abs etc  tensing and relaxing each set of muscles in turn.

Active Worrying to beat Insomnia

This means for example if you’re worrying about the list of things you need to do, turn it around by focussing on the things that you’ve already achieved.  Make a mental picture of your achievements. If you’re worried about a pile of invoices on your desk waiting to be entered into your accounts and you don’t know when you’re going to get the time, picture instead the pile that you’ve managed to do already, picture your diary with a block of time set aside to do it or visualize yourself getting them done. Actively explore the idea of solving your problem.  If your brain chips in with worries such as ‘but I can’t possibly get them all done in time’ push that thought away and make the positive picture bigger and more real.  Now with this technique you’ll find your mind wandering, as long as it doesn’t wander back to your worries, that’s fine.  If you do find your thoughts are anxious again, focus again on the positive images and restart the breathing and muscle relaxation.

If your worried because your house is a mess, focus on the cleaning and tidying that you’ve already done.  Picture the swept floor, or the washed dishes.  Mentally open up your drawers and see the clean, folded clothes.  If they’re not folded yet, don’t picture them in a mess.  Visualize yourself folding each item.  Try the task on for size. Next time you open that drawer you’ll probably find yourself quickly and quietly folding  each item in the drawer rather than adding the need to get it done to your worry list (that will come back and haunt you later when you’re trying to sleep!)  As you pursue these images, you probably won’t notice yourself getting sleepier and sleepier.  In fact try not to think about sleeping at all.  Just let that be one of your worries that you dismiss, instead replace it with an image of yourself relaxed and calm and in control of your thoughts.  If you find yourself back with your worries, simply dismiss them again and go back to your folding, breathing and relaxing!  You’ll be waking up refreshed the next morning before you know it.

‘Solving the Insoluble’ Insomnia

OK, so those were simple problems, mostly issues of time and procrastination.  What if you’re struggling with a more esoteric problem that doesn’t have a readily available solution?  How do you stop your worrying then?  Well, first things first, try and watch how you worry about that problem.  If you’re lying in bed at 3am looking at the ceiling and thinking ‘I’ll never find an answer to this problem in time’ or ‘I’m such an idiot. I’ll never figure this out’ the first thing you need to do is halt those thoughts.  Every time a thought like that appears push it away.  Don’t allow yourself to go down that mental path.  Take a deep breath, in through the nose out through the mouth, remembering to make the out-breath longer than the in, and relax your muscles one by one.  Now to stop those damaging negative thoughts coming back, try to do some active worrying about the problem.  See it in your head.  Visualize all its parts.  Think the process through from start to finish (or at least as far as you got before you hit a wall).  Instead of focussing on the wall, see beyond it.  Think about how you would like things to be, how you wish everything would turn out, how great the solution will make you feel.  And let yourself feel great, as if you’ve just come up with the solution.  (Push any thoughts right away!) Relax and tell yourself you did a great job.  Still breathing and relaxing your muscles, let your mind wander off to sleep while picturing the steps.  If you can’t visualize the solution, just skip that step and move to the next one, when the problem’s solved.  Now as you drift off to sleep, you can set your unconscious brain loose on the problem.

Let your mind make the leaps while you’re asleep!  Your unconcsious mind is a brilliant problem solving engine!  It isn’t hampered by the internal criticism that your conscious mind constantly offers and it is creative in a way that the conscious brain couldn’t hope to be!  Many’s the time I’ve used Active Worrying to focus on a problem to let my brain figure out the answers while I drift off to sleep, and in the morning the most surprising and creative solutions were waiting to greet me – sometimes when I woke up or other times the answer would just pop into my head later in the day. Amazing!

Try it for yourself next time for find yourself lying awake worrying!

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