Friday, May 13, 2022

How To Shut Your Brain Off Anxiety

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My anxiety worsened from middle school to junior high, as I picked up the terrible habit of scratching myself. I scratched my arms and legs. I would scratch until a scab appeared that I could then scratch again until it left my skin raw and bloody. I usually scratched in the privacy of my room, but my parents sometimes caught me scratching and tried to stop me. I even scratched in my sleep. I stopped the habit by the time I hit my 20s, but I still have the habit of just touching my skin, without doing any harm. My scars will never fade and will always be a constant reminder of what I did. I see people looking at them all the time, especially in summer when Im in a tank top or skirt. Its a painful reminder.

What Are The Symptoms Of Nighttime Anxiety

Symptoms of nighttime anxiety take on many forms, as it is experienced differently by everyone. Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, pediatrician and medical consultant for Mom Loves Best, says, Before bedtime is no different than anxiety during the day. The difference is that you may be more aware of anxiety at night as fewer other stimuli are co-occurring.

While sleep anxiety is individual to each person, some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Nightmares and night terrors
  • Hypnic jerk

Another symptom of sleep anxiety is panic attacks. This involves an episode of extreme fear thats characterized by a sense of doom, increased heart rate, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, and a feeling of detachment that could occur before or during sleep. After experiencing a nighttime panic attack, there can be anxiety about getting another attack, making it harder to fall asleep.

Avoid Lying In Bed Awake

If youre lying in bed for more than 20 minutes and still cant fall asleep, it might be time to give yourself a do-over. While it may feel counterintuitive, Lawson suggests leaving your bedroom to do a sleep-inducing activity, like having a cup of tea or reading a book. This conditioning, known as stimulus control, can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.

If youre going to try stimulus control, its important to remove yourself from your bedroom environment. This helps give you a mental reset when you try to fall asleep again.

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Anxiety Over Obsessive Thoughts

Whether it’s obsessive thoughts that cause anxiety or anxiety that causes unwanted thoughts, the reality is that unusual or otherwise “crazy” thoughts are actually a very normal part of everyone’s life. Many people have strange thoughts or fears that they want to avoid, and many people have wondered things that are inappropriate or otherwise distressing.

The difference is that those people don’t have anxiety, so they were able to laugh them off or ignore them without a second thought. Those with anxiety find that these thoughts cause them incredible worry, and that worry is one of the reasons that so many people find these thoughts to be so overwhelming.

When these thoughts cause you that level of anxiety you need to get treatment – not just for the thoughts themselves, but also for the anxiety that allows those thoughts to affect you.


The types of unwanted thoughts a person has with anxiety can vary from a few minor fears to violent, taboo, or terrifying visions. They tend to also trigger further anxiety. They are a symptom of most anxiety disorders, and a primary symptom of OCD. They can, however, be manageable, and respond well to treatment when smaller changes are ineffective.

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Deep Breathing And Vagal Tone

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So first lets talk about Vagal Tone. Vagal Tone is a measure of how strong your parasympathetic response is. It indicates how good your Autonomic Nervous system is at calming down. And, just like muscle tone in your arm would indicate how much you exercise your arm, vagal tone is a measure of how much you use your parasympathetic nervous system and how strong it is.. To start, Im going to first show you how to feel your vagal tone and youll be doing this by measuring your heart rate variability.

First, find your pulse on your wrist, or if you hold really still you should be able to feel your heart beating. Now breathe in and breathe out very slowly, and pay attention to what happens to your heart rate when you breathe in and when you breathe out.

Did you notice that? When you breathe in, your heart rate increases, and when you breathe out slowly, your heart slows way down. Thats heart rate variability.

For people who have stronger vagal tone, their heart rate slows down even more on the out-breath, than people who have weaker vagal tone. And just like exercising your arm muscles, you can exercise with deep breathing to strengthen your Vagal tone.

Higher vagal tone is associated with better general health. It leads to better blood sugar regulation, better heart health, improved digestion, and a reduction in migraines. Most importantly, it improves emotional stability and resilience.

Deep Breathing

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Eliminate Stress Before Bed

If your racing thoughts typically occur at night when youre trying to sleep, make changes to your routine before bed so that you can relax and sleep peacefully. Try to eliminate stress for at least two hours before sleep. You can meditate or practice gentle yoga, and read a relaxing book or take a bubble bath. Avoid all electronic screens and overly stimulating mental activity in those two hours before bed.

Longer term, therapy can help identify the cause of your racing thoughts. Cognitive behavioral therapy may be particularly helpful. It can teach you coping mechanisms and techniques to manage these thoughts.

These techniques may include:

Racing thoughts are a possible symptom of a number of different conditions. While its most common in anxiety, there are other conditions that can cause racing thoughts, too.

How Can I Overcome Anxiety At Bedtime

If anxiety or disrupted sleep occurs often in your day-to-day life, these simple strategies can help you relax your body and mind and ease yourself into sleep. Changing your pre-sleep habits takes time and patience, but adapting to these changes may help you fall asleep with less sleep anxiety over time.

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Settle Into Your Routines

When it comes to sleep, routine is your best friend.

  • Eating at the same time every day helps regulate your circadian rhythms.
  • Eating breakfast signals that its time for your body to wake up.
  • Regular daytime exercise releases endorphins and decreases levels of cortisol, the hormone behind stress.
  • Going to bed at the same time every night teaches your body to get sleepy around the same time.

But if you want to lessen nighttime anxiety, its still important to implement a specific nighttime routine.

You cant expect to go from 100 mph and then suddenly stop, Dr. Albers says. Instead, institute a 30-minute transition between bedtime and the rest of your day.

Try quiet, tech-free activities that reduce your cortisol levels and help ease you into sleep, such as:

  • Taking a bath.
  • Doing yoga stretches.

You May Forget How To Calm Down

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When anxiety has taken over your brain â and your worried thoughts are the loudest thoughts you’re having â it can begin a cycle where you essentially lose the ability to self-regulate, or calm yourself down.

“We need to be able to self-regulate our bodies when we are stressed but if we are constantly in a state of anxiety, we are … not able to calm down when stressful situations come our way,” Russell says. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that may need to be broken with the help of loved ones, a professional, or anxiety medication.

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Set Aside Time For Winding Down

If youve been struggling with sleep anxiety, Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist, suggests creating a routine that winds you down and gets you in the mood for sleep. This can include things like dimming the lights, listening to calming music, or taking a warm bath.

Walfish also suggests opting for activities like light reading in place of a TV or computer, as using a screen can tend to rev up anxiety and excitatory thresholds versus relax and calm you down.

The best nighttime routine allows your mind and body time to slow down before you turn off the lights. Allot at least 30 minutes to take a bath, read a book, listen to a podcast, or play quiet music. These transition rituals can condition your brain to associate certain actions with preparing for sleep.

How To Turn Off Your Anxious Brain

We all have them those days or nights when the brain simply wont shut up. Round and round it goes, generating worries and destroying your concentration. Called rumination, its as though your brain is stuck in gear and overheating. You can learn to help it slow down and cool off, however. To turn off your brain, you must learn to take your focus off the worry.

Practiced regularly, these techniques can help eliminate rumination. Remember, its not the worry thats the problem its the brain latching on like a dog with a bone and chewing it to pieces. To change the process you must interrupt the rumination and turn it off. Two additional strategies are to worry once, then let it go, and to plan instead of worrying.

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Or Maybe Plan How Youll Get Some Sun In The Am

Getting more sun exposure in the midmorning can help readjust the brains internal clock and make it easier to fall asleep later that night. In my book, I write about how sun exposure is now a key part of many professional athletes travel schedules, and seen as a way of preventing jet lag. Non-athletes can do similar things. Someone who cant seem to fall asleep at night may want to try getting as much exposure to natural light in the morning, essentially prepping themselves to fall asleep when they want to. David K. Randall, author of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

Can You Retrain A Brain With Anxiety

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We live in a stressful world. Unexpected events, dangers, and sudden threats can leave us fearful and anxious. Even everyday aspects of life like work, finances, parenting, and marriage can cause our brains to release the stress hormone cortisol. A certain level of anxiety is normal but living in a constant state of anxiety can flood our brains with such stress hormones, making our brains hypersensitive to threats and making it more difficult for us to think logically. Excessive amounts of anxiety can also trick our brains into holding onto negative, rather than positive, memories. Luckily, the brain has a fascinating ability to retrain itself, which can help regulate stress and decrease heightened anxiety levels.

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Have You Been Silly To Pick Up These Distorted Thinking Styles

Just like the amygdala is unconscious, cognitive distortions too are picked up unconsciously. Usually in childhood. Strange no? Isn’t the rational mind supposed to be smart enough to be..well..rational?

Sorry, but rationality too is developed. It doesn’t just show up in your life all of a sudden. It is developed in your formative years based on what you see, and how you’re getting trained to see the world, including yourself.

Again, you’re not aware of your unconscious learning. It’s just something that happens. Your rational mind iS unconsciously being developed by a whole lot of what is going on around you.

Maybe you’re still unsure or unaware that you respond to life distortedly. Maybe you don’t see them as distorted. “Perfectionism is distorted? Get outta here!” Maybe you don’t know alternatives.

All in all, for one reason or another, you keep them. And these guys are the whole deal. The make or break deal. The ones which get to decide whether you move on or go down.

How To Stop Anxiety And Unwanted Thoughts

  • Persistent, unwanted thoughts are common in all forms of anxiety
  • With obsessive-compulsive disorder, unwanted thoughts are one of the primary symptoms
  • Examples of the types of unwanted thoughts can vary considerably
  • Its possible to use small, easy to implement strategies to reduce or stop unwanted thoughts
  • When those smaller strategies do not work, a more comprehensive anxiety reduction strategy will be necessary

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Your Anxiety Your Amygdala

At every stage of life and mental health, every person has the means to resolve his inner psychological life by himself. What is the only thing he can rely on? His own mind.

How does his mind guide him to navigate his internal life? When we ask this question, what we are really asking is “How mature and wise are you?”

When anxiety is our reality, it usually means that our own wise mind is not working very well to solve our problems. Its because our rationality itself is distorted. In psychological language, we call these Cognitive Distortions.

What are these? Common distortions for the anxious person include thought suppression, magical thinking, mind-reading, perfectionism, black-and-white thinking, should-thinking, foreclosure and emotional reasoning.

And because these are distortions instead of healthy thinking, they fail to solve our fears while we are confronting them internally in our heads. And because behavior follows thinking, the actions we end up taking externally are also distorted.

If you are fully merged with the thought that predicts your death unless you do “this”, how can you not do “this”? That would be insane, right?

Witnessing our own powerlessness over these triggers makes us fear them more. The cycle continues.

Take Sam’s example:

“You are going to die if you don’t wash your hands 17 times every 17 minutes.”

This kind of thought triggers the amygdala because it’s new, it’s sudden, it’s automatic and it’s talking about “death” for pete’s sake.

Make Your Bedroom A No

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Your phone, tablet, and other screens can mess with your sleep. The reason? They give off blue light, which signals your body to stop making melatonin, the hormone that controls when you feel sleepy. Instead, this light tells your brain to stay alert. Not to mention the late-night dings and buzzes that can jolt you out of peaceful slumber. The best bet for better sleep is to keep computers, TVs, and, yes, your phone out of your bedroom.


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Distract Yourself With Meaningless Mental Lists

The absolute prerequisite for sleep is a quiet mind. Think of something else, rather than whats worrying you something with a story to it. It can be anything of interest, but of no importance, so you can devote some brain energy to it without clashing into the real world and going straight back to your worries. I fly a lot, so I imagine I have my own private jet and how would I arrange the furniture on it. If youre someone who likes going to music festivals, what would your lineup be? Neil Stanley, sleep expert

Engage In Expressive Writing

If your mind is filled with stressful feelings, it may be helpful to give in to the thoughts and express them through writing. Journaling allows you to delve deeper into the topics that plague your thoughts.

Fully experiencing and examining your emotions can help you brainstorm solutions and give you different ways of looking at your problems .

When you first begin, set a time limit so you dont get stuck in rumination. Multiple studies have found that 20 minutes is an effective amount of time for positive mental and emotional change without sliding into rumination.

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How To Be Mindful Of Your Thoughts

Learning how to be mindful and observe your thoughts non-judgementally can help combat rumination and may lead to better sleep, more effective downtime after work, greater focus, and increased creativity. The practice may even be good for your relationships. So investing some time in mind-clearing strategies is well worth it.

If your thoughts about a stressful situation become “stuck” and thinking about an event no longer leads to positive change, its time to take steps to change your thinking.

That said, letting go of negative emotions is easier said than done. There are a few techniques to quiet your thoughts that you can try.

Reason #: Too Much Focus On The Day

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Nighttime anxiety can be caused by over-focusing on stress before sleep. Knott says that this is because our body can perceive work stress, relationship issues, and social contact as dangerous, and prepare us to fight or flee. Being fixated on your worries during the day and anticipating stressful activities for the next day will make it more difficult for your mind to relax.

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Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Dr. Nikki Lacherza-Drew, licensed psychologist and owner of Vici Psychological Care, suggests engaging in proper sleep hygiene to help get better sleep. Lacherza-Drew says, If you have a routine and engage in appropriate sleep hygiene on a consistent basis, your mind will be less likely to go down the rabbit hole of anxious thoughts.

Sleep hygiene refers to various habits that are necessary for good sleep quality. To practice good sleep hygiene, Lacherza-Drew suggests:

  • No major physical activity or heavy meals close to bedtime
  • No caffeine or alcohol near bedtime or after a certain time in the afternoon

Other easy ways to practice good sleep hygiene include:

  • Soaking up the morning sun
  • Limiting power naps to 20 minutes
  • Keeping your bedroom dark and cool
  • Following a consistent bedtime routine

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