If I’m going to wake up in the middle of the night (not by choice) it is usually around 4am. 4am is the strangest time of the night. It is too late for most night owls and too early for even the earliest of risers. It is also the time when every worry, from the mundane to the existential rises from your subconscious to torture you in the dark of night, sending you down a rabbit hole of panic. Some nights when I wake up at 4am, I fall easily back to sleep. Other times, the worry sets in and it is hours before I’m in dreamland again.
I’ve realized I can learn something from these deep-in-the-night worry sessions. Instead of focusing on what I’m worrying about I shift the attention to why. The why of our worries often speak to our deepest fears, those embedded into our psyche from our past life experiences. Focusing on the why of our worries minimizes the power of the worries themselves. What do you worry about in the middle of the night? Here are a couple of mine…
Will I be happy?
I am intrinsically a happy person. I don’t usually have to try to be. Since childhood, my baseline has been joy. My thirties, however, were a difficult period of my life when happiness was elusive. I had to work hard at it. I committed to finding happiness daily whether through meditation, reading, writing, exercise and therapy. And I emerged from my trials and tragedies relatively unscathed and even managed to find true happiness in a new life. Except for deep, deep down, in vulnerable moments (like in the middle of the night), I’m afraid of losing it all.
Will I succeed?
I’ve taken some big risks in the last five years including choosing entrepreneurship over a traditional career path (whose so-called safety is slowly fading away anyway if you haven’t noticed!). When you take the lead on building something from the ground up, there is no one to blame it on if it doesn’t work. During daylight hours, your belief in the vision for your business, your team and your own strengths and capabilities allows you to forge ahead without fear. But at 4am useless thoughts like, “Can I do this, can I make this into what I imagine it could be?” keep me tossing and turning at night.
When I look directly at my fears I can see them for what they are — they are reminders of what is important to me. They are reminders of what I value…
I value a close connection to my partner. The kind where you can look into each others eyes and know that you are seen and understood.
I value a full life — not full of stuff or tons of money, but one filled with growth, beautiful moments shared with family and friends and space to explore my creativity, ideas and dreams.
I value building a business based on my highest ideals about how we should treat each other as human beings.
The next time you wake up in the middle of the night fraught with worry, try to look for the reminders in the random jumble of thoughts. Somewhere under your minds repetitive, anxious meanderings is an important nudge — this is what’s important to you.
And if your mind still won’t settle, try these strategies (they work for me!):
- Remind yourself that YOU are not your mind — try telling yourself, “here I go, letting my mind run wild!” Your mind has a life of its own and sometimes it just needs to be reigned in.
- Know that you can handle whatever comes your way. Sometimes rather than trying to wrestle with your thoughts, it is best to just give in to them. Even if your worst worries actually happen (which is usually highly unlikely!) know that you can and will handle them if and when the time comes. Through my own life experiences I know that for me happiness is a choice and even if life circumstances change, I know how to be happy.
- Remind yourself that you are not alone! Worry is a universal human feeling. Sometimes it helps to think about all the people awake in their beds in the middle of the night worrying about their lives as you are. There is strength in numbers! :)
- Write it all down. And deal with it in the morning. Whatever you’re worried about it can’t be fixed in the middle of the night. Write down whatever is keeping you awake and promise to address it with the light of day as encouragement.
- Get up. Get your brain off the hamster wheel by getting out of bed. Drink a glass of water, have a little healthy snack, read something (not on a screen!) and when you start to feel sleepy again, head back to bed.
A few years ago, 4am worry sessions were a regular part of my existence. I learned to deal with them then. I learned to look at them as powerful insights into what really matters to me. I learned to separate my mind’s endless chattering from the “me” on the inside. And when all else fails, I learned to go get a snack…