Thoughts on Anxiety at 3 a.m.

by Abby on March 22, 2020

Two nights in a row now, I’ve woken up at 3 a.m. Why is it always 3 a.m.? It’s like my body has its own internal anxiety alarm clock. Time to wake up and obsess over every bad thing that could possibly happen! 

This is particularly distressing to me because I am a big sleeper. I need my sleep. Can’t function without it. In fact, one of the things I obsess over at 3 a.m. is how tired and sluggish I’m going to be the next day if I can’t fall back asleep. I won’t be able to do my work… I won’t have the energy to manage the kids… The day will be ruined… Which in turn makes me MORE anxious and restless. It’s a whole thing. 

I know I’m not the only one suffering from anxiety right now. It’s all I hear and see lately—how scared and anxious people are about this virus, their health, their loved ones, their jobs. 

If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t done as much self-help and therapy as I have and hasn’t gotten the memo: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU if you are experiencing anxiety, now or ever. (Or fear. Or anger. Or any other “negative” emotion. I know! This blew my mind, too.)

Anxiety is not a bad thing. In fact, the very first sentence in the Medical News Today article, What to know about anxiety is: “Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion.”

Anxiety is what alerts us to potential dangers and compels us to take wise action—say, looking both ways before we cross a street so we don’t get hit by a car. Or studying for a test so we won’t fail. 

I feel like it’s important to underscore that anxiety in our current circumstances is NORMAL. And even healthy, in that if anxiety keeps you at home and compels you to keep washing your hands, that’s a good thing, right?  

But if it’s normal and healthy, then why does it feel so BAD?! Well, first of all, let’s recognize that many of us are feeling higher than usual levels of anxiety. I mean, last week I woke up in a panic that I’d forgotten to put out the recycling. I can never remember if pickup is on Mon. or Weds!

Whereas this week I’m doing deep-dives into Instagram stories discussing whether COVID-19 can live on Amazon boxes and what type of face masks are effective. (Only N95s, apparently. Not this rainbow LED one R. wore for Halloween.)

Anxiety becomes a problem when it starts to interfere with daily function, according to the American Psychological Association. The APA describes a person with anxiety disorder as “having recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns.” Nothing that will kill you, but here’s the other problem with anxiety: for many people, the bad feelings are so intolerable that they will do unhealthy things to make them go away. 

My youngest child was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety a few years ago, and I can still remember the pediatrician’s exact words to me: “If you don’t get a handle on this now, he will find ways to self-medicate when he gets older.” Addiction runs in our family. Alcoholism has ruined the lives and relationships of too many people I know. I was not going to mess around with my son. 

The doctor emphasized that there is no quick-fix solution, no single pill or therapy that eliminates anxiety for good. And boy was she right. But I will save the details of our medical “journey” for another time. For now, I will focus on some of the coping skills I’m trying to learn myself and teach my son. 

Breathe. Have you ever caught yourself unconsciously holding your breath? We all do it. At bedtime, my son will often say, “I feel scared for no reason.” I’ll listen to his chest and his heart is pounding. Granted, this is often because he’s just been doing backflips on his mattress. But in his body, it feels like fear.

I encourage him to take deep breaths using the 4-7-8 technique: breathe in for a count of 4, hold it for 7, exhale for 8. Here’s a video for kids that shows how to do it. If he’s too impatient for that, we do this much shorter technique I learned from a kindergarten teacher: “Smell a flower, blow out a candle.” Repeat several times.

Feel your feelings. Um, obviously. Don’t we all just do this naturally? No. No, we do not. Most of us are so uncomfortable feeling anything unpleasant that we will do anything to avoid it or numb it. But before you guzzle a glass of shiraz or scream at your mom (depending on your age), know that the average bad feeling lasts a few seconds. That’s it. It will pass. It will not kill you. 

Here’s the best tutorial I’ve seen on how to actually do this:

How to Feel Your Feelings, by @EmilyOnLife

Meditate. This is a hard sell, I know. For adults and kids alike. I posted this on Instagram the other day. I hope you can read it. If not, go here

Last night at 3 a.m., I downloaded the free Insight Timer meditation app, listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on “Facing Fear With Compassion,” Tara Brach’s talk, “Facing Pandemic Fears with an Awake Heart,” and then some soothing music. I eventually fell asleep. I could function today. Anyway, it’s the weekend. I think? 

Anyone else out there battling 3 a.m. anxiety? I’d love to hear what’s helped you. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Basi March 22, 2020 at 12:33 pm

For me it’s trying to go to sleep, and again at 4 a.m. That idea of feeling instead of thinking is a new one. For me, I’ve been trying to identify the cause, which is totally a thinking thing. And for me I spend a lot of time praying. I’m interested to know what guided meditation you use.


Abby March 22, 2020 at 4:11 pm

It’s so challenging for those of us who are in our heads a lot to get into our bodies, but you really can’t think your way into feeling calm. At least I can’t. I have to move the energy out of my body by moving or breathing. I do lots of different meditations, but look up The Mindful Movement on YouTube. They have some good, short ones.


Kate Hopper March 23, 2020 at 6:24 pm

Abby, sending love. This is such an intense time. Headspace is also offering a free set of meditations right now called “Weathering the Storm.” Thinking of you and thanks for your words! xo Kate


Abby March 23, 2020 at 8:58 pm

Thank you, Kate! And thanks for sharing that resource. It’s so amazing how many people and businesses are offering free content and tools right now. We really are all in this together.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: