5 Ways to Find Rest When Anxiety Keeps You Awake at Night

“It’s only 2am? Great, I can go back to sleep.”
“Oh, I have that meeting tomorrow morning.”
“What if I’m not as prepared as I thought I was and they fire me?”
“What if my husband ends up in the hospital, and we can’t pay for it, so they don’t take care of him?”
“I better stay awake and stress about this meeting so none of us die.”

That sequence of thoughts is insane. I know it’s insane. There’s no logical precedent for letting my brain run this wild at odd hours of the night, but it happens so frequently that I’m past reasoning with it.

I have, however, found ways to combat these thought spirals and find rest, even on nights when sleep feels impossible:

1. Music

While I’ve never been the kind of person who can fall asleep with music playing, focusing on songs that speak truth has helped me through a number of anxious nights. I’ll quietly sing whatever lyrics I can remember and just keep them on a loop until my body relaxes. Here’s one that helped me recently:

Sometimes you’ve gotta dance through the darknessSing through the firePraise when it don’t* make sense

-Praise You Anywhere by Brandon Lake

2. Find something lovely (or silly)

There was a night recently when I could not think of a single song lyric to sing. As I tried desperately to grasp at any truth, this verse from Philippians 4:8 ran through my head:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Not much about my near-panic attack felt lovely, so the first thing my mind latched onto was, of all things,….butter.

I was able to relax focusing on this gift from God that gives us grilled cheeses and bags of popcorn.

3. What if it goes right?

Recently, I saw a movie that personified Anxiety. The animated character made it her job to bring up every worst case scenario for the brain to focus in on until the other emotions countered with, “But what if it goes right?”

If there’s a specific situation that I’m stressing over, I can sometimes get my brain to focus on the good that can possibly come from it. Sometimes, this ends in my riding off on a unicorn, but hey, it makes as much sense as the disasters I was imagining a minute ago.

4. Breathe

If you’re reading this, you know how to breathe. But the short, panicked breaths that can come with stress or anxiety don’t really do our nervous systems a ton of favors.

If you google “grounding techniques” or “breathing patterns,” you’ll find a plethora of resources to turn to when you feel overwhelmed.

My personal favorite is box breathing: inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, repeat.

Focusing on the basics of deep breaths can trick your body and mind into relaxing—especially when it’s paired with some other intentionality….

5. Gratitude

We all have things to be grateful for, but they can feel impossible to focus on when anxiety is blocking our view. And telling someone to just be grateful is as silly as telling someone to just not be anxious. We know it’s the right thing, but that doesn’t mean we can force our mind to go there immediately.

So when I’m practicing my box breathing, I try to focus on one thing to be thankful for with every exhale. This actually goes back to a song from Matt Redman:

So I’m breathing in Your grace
And breathing out Your praise

When I combine this with deep breaths, I’ll sometimes be able to forget what had me worried in the first place.

I share all of these tips because I know the overwhelming feeling of anxiety in the middle of the night. It’s never as simple as, “Well, just have faith!” There are nights where I cycle through all 5 of these and still struggle. But the more that we can share “tools” for our mental health toolbox, the better prepared we’ll be for next time.

Happy sleeping!

*the version I sing in my head sings “Praise when it doesn’t make sense” because I’m obnoxious and can’t find rest in bad grammar 

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