Racing Mind

Racing Mind

Does your brain love to dwell on worries just as you’re falling asleep? Or maybe when you wake up from a dream in the middle of the night? Instead of enjoying restful sleep, we sometimes start processing our anxieties—but without actually solving or dealing with them productively. Below are five suggestions to try the next time this happens.

Three Wins

In his book, The Gap and the Gain, Dan Sullivan talks about establishing an evening habit of looking at your day with an eye toward your successes, what he calls “three wins.” You can record these in any sort of journal or notebook, or even on a scrap of paper. The trick is to do it consistently. It helps you cultivate an attitude of gratitude and helps you end the day on a positive note. What’s more, thinking about what you want the next day to bring, your “projected wins,” gives your brain something to chew on during sleep.

If you find yourself struggling to get back to sleep, recap your day with your three wins, three things that you’re proud of, or things that went well so that you can drift off to sleep on a positive note rather than worrying about what’s to come.

Breathing Techniques

Another strategy is to practice different forms of breathwork. One that I love is box breathing. As you lie still, imagine your lungs as balloons. Take a deep breath in for a count of four, hold for four counts, exhale for four, and hold out for four. Complete this three times. It’s a great strategy for calming yourself during the day, as well. Try it and see how your body feels afterward.

Along the same lines as box breathing, a mindfulness strategy involving visualizing a candle helps you focus your concentration and block out negative thoughts. Imagine lighting a candle in a dark room so that you are unable to see the worries crowding in around you. Tell your brain, “I am safe. I am secure.” On an exhale, imagine the flame flickering softly. As you inhale, imagine it bending toward you to embrace you and fill you with love and peace. Continue imagining this gentle dance with the light until you relax and drift off. It has similarities to counting sheep but is much more relaxing!

Happy Place

Similarly, if you have a favorite calming place–a mountaintop, streamside, the ocean, a meadow, a sunrise or sunset that provides peace–conjure up sensory details to the best of your ability, with smells, sounds, tastes, feels, and imagery. Our brains are incredibly powerful, and strong visual imagining does almost as much for us as being in the scene itself. Find your happy place and put yourself there.

Brain Dump

Finally, an easy ritual I love can help you let go of your worries by spilling them onto paper, either right before bed or even in the middle of the night when you’re awakened by a nightmare. I set aside pen and paper in the master bathroom so that I can “dump out my dreams” or worries. Try doing so without turning on any lights, as you don’t want to further induce wake-up. It’s okay if you can’t read what you wrote the next day; the main thing is to GET IT OUT OF YOUR HEAD so you can go back to sleep.

It works really well for me, but the biggest challenge is getting yourself to actually do it.

Try any one of these techniques for the next two weeks and see if it helps. A tiny investment of 3-5 minutes could save you a whole hour of tossing and turning. There’s only one way to know for sure. Sweet dreams!