An Anxiety Trick

Recently, my bedtime ritual has gone like this: Brush my teeth, climb into bed and…

…freak out.

As soon as my head hits the pillow, any large and small worries — the boys, work, marriage, politics — blow in like a hurricane. I’ll often want to discuss things in dramatic detail, but Alex will soothe me: “Baby, everything is fine,” he’ll say. “Your mind is spinning. Close your eyes, try to sleep.” Of course, my brain is like THANKS I’M GOOD.

Are you the same? Well, the other day, I stumbled upon a post by an Austin-based artist about a simple rule that serves him well:

“Don’t think too much about your life after dinnertime.”

Deal with problems during daylight, he recommends, and try to chill at night. Otherwise, your worries can seem much more intense than they actually are. “Most parents know about the ‘witching hour’… that weird block from 4 to 6 p.m. when your kids are more prone to meltdowns,” he points out. “When my oldest was young, we white-knuckled through those hours with beer and Seinfeld reruns. There’s also a thing called ‘sundowning’ that happens with to people with dementia. As the sun goes down and the shadows fall, patients tend to get more confused and anxious.”

It’s nice to know I’m not alone! At night, your mind can really play tricks on you, don’t you think? There’s a funny line in Catastrophe, after Sharon finishes her first session with a therapist. She has this good-natured exchange with her husband:

Rob: Hey, how was that?
Sharon: It was good. It was fine. It was good that you didn’t come in with me, though, ’cause I was really able to rip into you.
Rob: Well, that’s great, honey… Did you get it all out or will I still get to listen to your nightly screed at 11:15 p.m.?
Sharon: Well, that depends on you, cowboy.

It made me laugh. Busted.

“I give my anxiety a name,” Kaitlin, a Cup of Jo reader, once wrote in a comment. “His name is Alexander (like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), and I visualize him walking away and closing the door behind him.”

“I’ve also given my anxiety a name — Eunice,” added a reader named Kristin. “She’s a grumpy old lady whose always trying to hook me into worrying about something. When it gets too much, I can say, ‘Enough, Eunice! I’ve got this! Now, go to sleep!’”

Although I’ll always still worry, I love the idea of trying to ignore late-night anxiety — or at least not launching into a deep discussion at bedtime. When the sun comes up, you’ll be much more clear-headed, well-rested and ready to handle whatever comes your way.

Thoughts? Would you follow this very simple rule?

P.S. On happiness, and how to be present.

(Photo by Troy Hewitt/Flickr.)

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