It was 3am and I still couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted. I needed to be up early the next day for a networking event. And yet my brain just wouldn’t be still.
In the crawling darkness of night, the aching emptiness of my rented room, I suddenly feared death.
It hit me. In that moment I realised that one day, I won’t be alive. I won’t hear or see or feel or taste or touch or hear or smell anything. I won’t laugh. I won’t love. I won’t worry. I won’t make plans. I won’t move. It’ll just be blackness, followed by more blackness, only I won’t know it.
This loop played in my mind every night for months.
Even if I had an amazing day, the second I switched off the light, I was in the grips of overpowering panic.
I know I’m not alone.
Online anxiety forums are filled with late-night messages from people just like me. Stressed souls searching desperately for a way to calm their pre-sleep fears.
I wanted to do something about it. I didn’t want to suffer in my sleep. Especially because it was starting to affect my work and my health. I was tired all day, and wide awake all night. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
So, here’s what I tried:
Get a new pre-sleep ritual
First step, I changed up my evening routine.
I no longer watched Netflix in bed, or scrolled through the Facebook feed on my phone. I switched them off an hour before bed. And kept them out of arm’s reach, so I wouldn’t be tempted to turn them on and unleash the sleep-suppressing blue light that radiates from digital devices — and messes with our circadian rhythms.
Before bed, I took a warm shower or bath. Drank some herbal tea (try a tea that has valerian, a natural sleep aid). And read a calming book.
I also discovered guided sleep meditations. These truly saved me! Check out my post 5 things every anxious person should do at night for a link to the meditations — and other tips for creating your own nighttime routine.
Look at death in a new way
I wondered if I was looking at death all wrong. Why do I fear something that’s a natural part of life, and happens to every being on the planet?
So, I started to read and research.
I found comfort in Buddhism, which has a much more balanced view of the life-death cycle.
In No Death, No Fear, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
“When you practice looking deeply, you see your true nature of no birth, no death; no being, no non-being; no coming, no going; no same, no different. When you see this, you are free from fear. You are free from craving and free from jealousy. No fear is the ultimate joy. When you have the insight of no fear, you are free. And like the great beings, you ride serenely on the waves of birth and death.”
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche also helps us to see death as something that could happen at any moment. And so we must keep our awareness on the preciousness of life. And ensure we live every day with purpose and loving-kindness.
A spiritual practice (or even just reading spiritual texts) helps us see life in a new light. We can reframe the big issues like death, and ‘get out of our head’ to make sense of our lives.
It’s comforting. And it may be something that helps you turn down the boiling, bubbling fear to a simmer.
Plan your days
I’ve always been an anxious over-achiever. But I often felt I was ‘doing’ a lot, but not really getting much done. I was just going through the motions. But I wasn’t really contributing to the world in a meaningful way.
So, I experimented with daily planning.
After writing in my worry journal (scribble down all your fears and worries each day, to get them out of your head and onto the page), I wrote a list of just 3 things.
3 things I would conquer that day.
It could be a work-related task. Or something personal I’d been putting off. Or maybe even an act of self-love.
But I made sure that no matter how messy or stressful my day became, I would get those 3 things done.
It helped me feel more satisfied.
I felt I was on a path to creating the life I envisioned for myself.
I went to bed comforted by the thought that I’d really squeezed the juice out of the day.
And so, I slept more soundly. I feared death less. I inched my way out of insomnia.
These are just 3 of the things I tried to quieten my fearful mind before bed. I hope they help you too.