Welcome to my article about how to sleep when stressed and anxious.
Now this is going to be a little different to what you may typically find when you conduct a Google search.
What I mean by this is there is a plethora of great information about how to deal with stress and anxiety to be found in the search engines, but they generally focus on things that you should be doing during the day, and on a regular basis, i.e. beforehand.
Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but I would hazard a guess that you are probably looking for methods that you can practice in the here-and-now, in order to deal with your anxiety levels in the present moment.
I will say that dealing with stress and anxiety is best done through daily habits, but for now I want to provide you with a few techniques you can use straight away.
However, initially I would like to “tell you with my story”, if that’s okay?
What I Have Learned About Stress and Anxiety
Firstly, before I introduce you to the methods that have helped me cope with stress and anxiety, especially when I’m looking to go to sleep, I want to look into what I have learned about these mind-altering enemies.
I know you want to get to the “good stuff”, but what I have to say first is actually very important. In fact, it should help you to see the bigger picture.
We typically feel stressed out or extremely anxious because of something that has happened in the past, or something that may occur in the future.
I could be feeling stressed because I’ve had an argument with someone (whether I know them or not) earlier in the day. I could be feeling anxious because I have a big presentation at work tomorrow.
Both of these scenarios will play on my mind, and for some reason, even though I’ve had all day to think about them, they seem to be foremost on my mind just as I’m about to nod off.
It’s taken me a long, long time to learn, understand and accept the following – it is not the actual people or the presentation that are causing me grief, but it is in fact that little voice in my head.
You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?
Did you know that on average we have 60,000 thoughts a day.
85% of these thoughts are NEGATIVE (that’s 51,000).
And 95% of these are repetitive thoughts (57,000), as in you are simply repeating things to yourself over-and-over again throughout the day.
Let’s take a step back for a moment – can you imagine if you said 51,000 different negative things to your best friend on a daily basis?
Chances are they wouldn’t remain your best friend for very long.
In fact, we would never even consider talking to another person in the same way we talk to ourselves.
And yet we find it perfectly acceptable to bombard ourselves on a daily basis with all these negative thoughts, insults, and hyper-critical opinions.
What I have finally learned is that it is not certain situations that are stressing me out or making me anxious, but it is how I choose to perceive them.
This even true if someone is terribly rude to me for no reason whatsoever.
9 times out of ten I will let this ruin my day by playing what they have said to me over-and-over in my head. And it is this constant repetition that is stressing me out.
Now imagine if I simply accepted and then brushed off what this “rude” person had said to me and carried on with my day with a smile on my face.
I know what you’re thinking – “Easier said than done”.
However, my day would pan out very differently if I could achieve this.
The lesson in this for us all is that it isn’t other people, situations, or circumstances that cause us stress and anxiety, but the little voice in our head that we allow to control us.
Case in point – I have visited various countries around the world in my time and I have spent some time with the people who live in these countries.
Many of these people have absolutely nothing, they are the very definition of “poor”, and yet they are some of the happiest people I have ever met.
Because they don’t allow other people or circumstances to dictate their mood.
I could become extremely stressed out because I have lost my job. My anxiety levels will go through the roof because I don’t know how I’m going to pay the mortgage the following month and put food on the table.
However, rather than actually doing anything about it, I spend the majority of my time caught in a vortex of negative thinking and my stress and anxiety get worse.
The point being, nothing is ever as bad as it seems. I could contact the mortgage company and explain my situation, and rather than seeing me on the street or default on my mortgage, they would look to provide a suitable solution.
No matter how embarrassing it may be (this is once again my mind talking to me and telling me it’s embarrassing) I can speak to the benefit’s agency, the local council, visit a food bank, etc.
There is always a solution, but sometimes we choose to do nothing and allow our own minds to defeat us.
A saying I often repeat to myself nowadays when things (the negative chatter in my mind) are getting on top me:
“You can’t control other people, you can’t control outside influences, but you can control yourself.”
Plus looking back to some of these countries I visited and some of the people I’ve spoken to, I can suddenly see that I often blow things completely out of proportion.
Losing a job, being unable to pay the mortgage, not knowing where the next meal is coming from – well that’s nothing.
Going back to what I said earlier about traveling to numerous countries and meeting very poor people, here is some PERSPECTIVE for you.
I recall meeting a family in India. They had nothing more than one tiny room for 5 of them to live in, mom, dad, and 3 kids.
They all worked during the day, basically as laborers (the children too), carrying rocks and other heavy objects on a daily basis, often in temperatures exceeding 100F. They were paid a pittance and could just about pull together enough money for some bread, vegetables, and milk (some eggs would be a treat) every day.
The man of the house would occasionally go fishing at the crack of dawn (before work) and if he was lucky he would catch one or two tiny fish to feed his family.
I remember visiting and speaking to this family and they went out of their way to welcome me, to feed me, and to chat to me.
What struck me most was how happy every single one of them was. It was as though they didn’t have a care in the world, and in reality they didn’t.
“You can’t control other people, you can’t control outside influences, but you can control yourself.”
How I Deal With Stress and Anxiety When I Need to Sleep
Okay, great story and everything Partha, but you promised me some techniques on how to sleep when stressed and anxious.
The following methods that I have learned are extremely basic, but they are really about reminding yourself that it’s the voice in your head stressing out and NOT other people or any other outside influence – The problem is YOU and the way you talk to yourself.
I’ll openly admit that these techniques sound and seem a little silly and this is exactly what I thought when I first heard about them.
In fact, I didn’t even attempt any of these things for a good few months because I thought they seemed daft (as Yoda would say – silly they may be, but work they do!)
And in reality, who was telling me that these methods were silly, daft, and would never work?
You’ve got it, once again I had been scuppered by that little voice in my head.
Are you starting to realize what an a**hole the little voice in our head is?
Tell Yourself to STOP
When I catch myself having negative thoughts the first thing I do is shout STOP.
Admittedly, when I say “shout” I mean subconsciously in my own head. I mean I’d probably get some pretty strange looks if I shouted STOP (for what seemed like no good reason) 60,000 times a day.
This is especially true when I’m lying in bed, tossing and turning, unable to sleep, and playing countless scenarios over in my mind.
What this does is quickly alert me to the fact that I’m thinking negatively.
Now don’t get me wrong, it would probably get pretty tiring shouting STOP 60,000 times a day, but in reality you don’t always catch yourself having negative thoughts.
It’s just something we as human beings are wired to do (I believe the negativity is the modern-day “fight or flight” mode that has been ingrained in us from our caveman ancestors).
Additionally, shouting a trigger word to yourself 60,000 times a day will actually probably be a lot less tiring than allowing your mind to run away with you, while continuously putting yourself down, pointing out your faults, and generally speaking to yourself in a negative manner (Remember: would you speak to a friend in the same way you speak to yourself?)
Next I would take 10 deep breaths.
These are no ordinary breaths, but I would inhale deeply for at least a count of 4 and then exhale slowly, taking just as long.
I’ve learned to repeat a saying (or mantra) to myself as I breathe in – usually something along the lines of, “These are just thoughts, don’t worry.”
And as I exhale I simply tell myself that I am releasing all negative thoughts from my mind.
I did say it sounds (and feels) a little silly, but as I’ve pointed out, it’s that negative voice in your head that’s telling you (and me) this.
To be honest, the words you say to yourself don’t really matter, and neither does the length of your breaths.
This is simply a way to move your mind away from whatever’s bothering you and just focus on your breathing.
This is the exact principle of meditation or mindfulness meditation (which I’ll quickly touch on in the “advanced” techniques below).
RELATED ====> 7 Minute Mindfulness Review
Unless you are a Buddhist monk or have practiced this for many years, your mind is always going to stray back to its standard negative bias (I bet it does occasionally for Buddhist monks too).
The point is to notice the negative thought patterns, accept them, let them pass, and return to concentrating on your breathing.
This is why I suggest just 10 deep breaths. It’s nothing complicated, it won’t take longer than 60-90 seconds, but it can force you to focus your mind on something other than your negative internal chit-chatter.
RELATED ====> 4 7 8 Breathing Exercise For Sleep
Doctor Jo’s Breathing Exercises to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
RELATED ====> Breathing Relaxation Techniques For Anxiety
Sail a Boat on a Beautiful Lake
I did warn you that some of this may seem daft.
Okay, I obviously don’t mean literally, but the next stage is to use “visualization” in order to further calm the mind.
This, yet again, is a mindfulness meditation technique that I have taken from the program I’m going to introduce you to in a moment.
For some reason, calm water and a bright sun beating down on you is an extremely relaxing thought for most of us (even if you can’t swim).
So, once you’ve told your mind to STOP, have taken 10 deep breaths, you should then close your eyes and just visualize.
The technique I have learned involves being on a small rowing boat, all on my own.
I’m on a lake, there is a range of mountains in the background behind the shore with a few trees dotted around.
I can feel a calming breeze, gentle waves lapping against the side of the boat, and the warm sun on my face.
You don’t have to do anything more, just visualize and use your imagination.
Set the scene in your mind, and as soon as you have a negative thought (and you will), return to your boat.
Perhaps dip your fingers over the side into the lake and feel the cooling water against your skin. Just keep imagining the beauty and serenity of this scene.
Once again there is no magic to any of this, it is simply a way of distracting the mind, moving away from the negative thought process, and having something else to concentrate on.
The Advanced Technique(s)
I’m not entirely sure why I have named this “The Advanced Techniques”, as what you will discover is very simple in itself.
I’ve spoken of how my use of breathing and visualization are really just condensed versions of mindfulness meditation methods that I have learned.
I guess I was first introduced to mindfulness meditation in 2018, although it has been around for thousands of years.
In fact, mindfulness almost seems to have become a buzzword of the 21st century.
Nevertheless, as I say, I really only introduced these practices into my life a couple of years ago.
Practice is a good word, as I am nowhere near to being an expert, let’s just say, I’m a work in progress.
However, my use of mindfulness and meditation has had a massive impact in my life, and it has definitely helped me to deal with stress and anxiety.
With that said, I was (and am) never going to be someone who would spend hours a day, sitting cross-legged on the floor, thumb and forefinger touching, while chanting “om”.
As it turns out, this is a good thing, as it’s not a requirement to practice mindfulness.
I actually prefer sitting in a chair, without the need to do anything with my hands or fingers, never mind my voice.
This is when I came across the 7 Minute Mindfulness Program.
I understood the benefit’s of a regular mindfulness practice, but how was I going to fit it into my day? (I later realized my issue with time was, once again, yes you’ve guessed it, that darned little voice in my head).
But, the 7 Minute Mindfulness Program still had me covered.
The “boat ride” visualization method I mentioned earlier is actually a shorter version of one the guided meditations you can follow inside the program.
There are 10 different guided meditations, the majority of which last just over 7 minutes each (and there is a specific guided meditation to help you to sleep as well). So, you simply have to sit back (or lie back), relax, and follow the voice and the sounds you hear.
Rather than me getting into the ins-and-outs of the program and how mindfulness has helped me with my stress and anxiety, you can simply read my 7 Minute Mindfulness Review.
I have often said that the Number One cause of sleep deprivation is stress.
And if stress is keeping you up at night you can guarantee it won’t be long before you have full-blown insomnia.
I hope you now understand that if you are struggling to sleep at night because of stress and anxiety that this has more to do with you (and your inner voice) than anyone or anything else.
We are ALL basically our own worst critics.
I will never claim that using the techniques I have suggested just once or twice will banish all your stress and anxiety forever (this does take practice on a daily basis).
I mean, going back to our friends the Buddhist monks, well they typically meditate (mindfully) for 10-12 hours every single day.
I haven’t got time for that and I’m sure you haven’t either.
However, what the simple methods I have outlined will do is finally help you to realize that you can conquer that annoying, non-stop, negative voice in your head.
If you’re ready to go that extra step and turn mindfulness meditation into a regular habit then please do check out my 7 Minute Mindfulness Review.
Do you suffer with stress and anxiety when you’re trying to sleep?
Do you have any specific things that you do in order to combat this?
Or if you just want to moan about your constant lack of sleep, then I’m here to lend an ear.
So, please just drop me a line in the comments section below.
Thank you for reading.
6 thoughts on “How to Sleep When Stressed and Anxious (Basic & Advanced Techniques)”
This is a really important and informative article. I wish I came across this article in 2018 when I had a very demanding job, and I had an incredibly harsh boss. I was getting phone calls at 2am at least twice a week, and it was so difficult to switch off when my head hit the pillow. I was so glad in the end that I did tell myself to STOP, and I left.
Ever since then my sleep has been a lot better. I still get stressed about things but nowhere near at the level as I did in 2018.
Thank you for sharing and keep up the amazing work.
All the best,
How to sleep when stressed and anxious is no stranger to most of us, and you have provided great advice to help us ease our anxiety to get a better quality of sleep.
I have lived with this problem as well my entire life, and what I find the most difficult for me is shutting down my brain at night.
This is a really interesting article Partha, a little confronting actually. Its almost exhausting to think that our minds are constantly racing with thoughts and that the majority of those are negative. To release that pressure valve alone would be a real benefit so some definite food for thought there. I’m going to take up your tips here and give it a go tonight. I’m a very poor sleeper so I definitely have nothing to lose.
Thanks for sharing – Jason.
I have found that when trying to go to sleep, the mind tends to want to ‘wake up’ and start to go through the events of the day gone by. Who said what, who did what, maybe I should not have said what I said when I said what I said 🙂 Maybe I should not have done what I did when I did whatever – or maybe I should have said what I did not say! And even maybe I should have done what I did not do…..the late-night, bedtime mind chatter starts and does not want to stop. My solution was to listen to a guided meditation while focusing on gentle breathing and over the past year of this routine, I find I fall asleep without the noisy thoughts. Your post confirms this is a really great approach to tackle not being able to get to sleep when it is time to do just that! Thank you – Ola
I experience stress and anxiety sometimes. I really think the nature of my job contributes to this, however, it is something that I enjoy most days. As a result, I follow a lot of the techniques you have mentioned above to help calm the mind.
I am a huge fan of meditation and mindfulness practices! I agree with you on using visualisation to further calm the mind.
Many thanks for this outstanding post!
Very engaging and light-hearted, I enjoyed reading your post. I do sometimes have trouble sleeping due to stress and anxiety, and I´ve tried the breathing techniques, and in general, that does tend to work. I´m now going to start adding in some of the visualisation techniques you mentioned (I might steel the same scene as you if you don´t mind!). I had no idea we have so many thoughts, and negative ones as that, every day. Amazing!