Treat Anxiety and Insomnia with Mental Imagery

Do you suffer from insomnia? Do you like awake at night worrying and thinking too much?

Lying awake worrying is a not very good habit, that can be broken by making a firm rule with yourself. When you find yourself lying awake at night worrying say to yourself very firmly: "this is not the time". Once you have settled down in bed, it is time to sleep and not time to worry about problems. Many people notice that at three o'clock in the morning, problems seem much larger than in the day, and worrying thoughts spread quickly from subject to subject. Life's problems in the middle of the night seem overwhelming or insoluble and can easily grow out of proportion. Problems are far better sorted out and dealt with during the day, rather than at night, when you should be sleeping. Therefore firmly tell yourself that: "this is not the time to worry" and plan to think the problems through properly, in the day.

You may worry in the middle of the night that when morning comes, you will have forgotten some important thought. Two simple techniques can help this: Firstly, spend 5 min before you settle down, making a note of the things that you might worry about in the night. Try to get them out of your head and onto the paper ready to deal with the next day. Secondly keep a note pad next to the bed, and jot down anything that seems particularly important when it occurs to you in the night. Then if you start worrying at night instead of sleeping, you can say to yourself "this is not the time", make a note of any important thoughts and then go to sleep feeling safe that these important thoughts will not be forgotten.

Some couples tend to discuss important issues at bedtime such as: financial worries, problems between themselves, work, family problems and the children. It is no wonder that they sleep badly. It is best to veto such discussions last thing at night and arrange a time to discuss the issue properly.

Important – waking early if you are depressed. One symptom of depression is waking early, typically at about 4 AM, being unable to get back to sleep, worrying excessively and feeling extremely low and miserable. If this happens frequently, regularly and persistently, it may be a symptom of depression and you need to think about whether it is a good time to discuss your problems with your doctor.

Sheep counting in a sophisticated way

  • Relaxation

Learn how to relax and then you can use this relaxation technique to help you sleep. See this article: treat anxiety with relaxation

When lying in bed it may be easiest to use to the "relax your muscles only" method rather than the method which involves tensing muscles up before you let them go. It may be worth experimenting with both techniques. You may try relaxing first and then start the counting games. When you are as relaxed as you are able to get, then focus your attention on your breathing. Remember to keep your attention entirely in the present moment, thinking about exactly how it feels as you breathe in and out. Simply concentrating on your breathing and being in the present.

  • Counting games for anxiety and insomnia

In this article three different counting games are described, and with some imagination you will probably be able to invent some other ones of your own. You could even try counting the proverbial sheep. If you decide to do this, it helps greatly to use mental imagery and imagine them passing through a gate or walking single file along a path. To put it another way, use mental imagery,fix your attention on one spot and then in your mind, visualise the sheep moving endlessly past this spot. Counting is helpful because it is extremely monotonous and takes very little effort. This is similar to watching a boring television programme, it holds your attention sufficiently to prevent you worrying or thinking of other things. Of course, as you become sleepy, your attention may wander, you may lose count and then start to worry again. When this happens, gently return your mind to the counting game, starting wherever you like and focusing only on that.

  • Counting backwards

Count slowly and steadily backwards from a high number such as 500 or say 376 or whichever number you choose. Count backwards slowly and steadily whilst lying comfortably with your eyes closed. Continue counting down, one number at a time, but each full breath. See how far you can get to. If you happen to lose count then don't worry simply reset yourself calmly and go on from wherever you choose. Remember that it is the monotony of counting and not actually the numbers that is important.

  • Counting breaths

In this method count each full breath. Breathe in and count "one". Then breathe out steadily. Breathe in and count "two". Continue up to ten, hold your breath and count ten of your heart beats, then breathe out. Allow yourself to take, naturally, a deep breath in, then as you breathe out pass into an even deeper state of relaxation. Then breathe naturally for a few minutes.

  • The countdown

To practice this method you need to imagine a place of your choosing of serene calm tranquillity, or somewhere that you have been to where you found that you were extremely relaxed and calm. Examples include: lying on a sandy beach in the sun, sitting in your favourite armchair, or relaxing sat by a gentle, bubbling stream. Think of somewhere that you have been and try to imagine it in your mind as clearly as you can. It can help you to visit this place by walking down to it via a soft staircase of 10 steps. In your mind's eye stand at the top of the staircase. As you count down you take one step at a time and sink slightly into the softness of each stair. Count down about one step a second, and as you reach the last step say "zero". Imagine arriving in your chosen tranquil and peaceful place. Feel all the sensations that go with it. Stay there in a calm relaxed state of mind and enjoy it. Don't worry if it fades, and don't try to will yourself to sleep. Just stay in your peaceful place.

A note about exercise and sleep

Exercise during the day is an excellent way of making you tired, which helps you fall asleep at night. However, exercising late in the evening can keep you awake at night, because it is stimulating and arousing mentally, even if it tires you out physically. Try to avoid exercising late in the evening.

Waking in the middle of the night

If you wake up during the night and toss and turn in a restless way, then settle yourself down as you did when you first went to bed: Remember losing sleep is not harmful. Try not to worry.

  • Say to yourself "this is not the time to worry".
  • Consider your physical state. Are you too hot? Are you too cold? Are you thirsty? Is the room stuffy?
  • Try something to break the pattern, and to trigger off the next stage of the sleep cycle. One way is to try reading for a while, or going to the bathroom and having a drink of water. Then settle down again, as if the first time.
  • Use relaxation techniques and try counting games.
  • If all else fails, then get up and simply do something which is undemanding and very simple. You will find that this usually feels better than tossing and turning with anxieties and worry and frustration all night.