I don’t fall asleep easily. I never have. For much of my adult life, I actually dreaded going to sleep, because I had panic attacks every night that woke me up in absolute terror. (Once I figured out why they were happening, they stopped. It only took 45 years. Go me.)
It’s tough to fall asleep for me, because that’s when my anxiety does its most aggressive work expressing itself. Before I even hit the pillow, my brain is replaying everything I’m pretty sure I did wrong that day, taking occasional breaks to worry about, well, everything. My brain will work itself up so much it actually makes my heart speed up. When I’m supposed to be relaxing.
It’s not great, Dan.
But I started doing something that’s been incredibly helpful, and I thought I’d share it.
Every night as I’m getting ready for bed, I focus on a list of things for which I am grateful. I call it “doing my gratitudes”. I just start somewhere, like “I am grateful that I am going to sleep in a warm, safe bed. I am grateful that I get to share this bed with Anne. I am grateful I have enough food.” Stuff like that. I remind myself that there is so much that is good in my life, and by thinking about those things, recognizing those things, and making space to feel grateful for them, I do not give my anxiety an opportunity to grab hold of anything and go to work on me.
Sometimes, it starts with silly stuff like “I’m grateful I got a shutout in NHL20” or “I’m grateful we have more LaCroix than we can drink in a day” and then I quickly get to “I am grateful I can afford a PS4 and NHL20. I am grateful that I have the dexterity required to play video games. I am grateful we can afford more LaCroix than we can drink in a day” and so on.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. If you’re anxiety prone like I am, you may lock up trying to do your gratitudes the right way. Tell your anxiety I said, “Go fuck yourself. There’s no right or wrong way to be sincerely grateful. You just are grateful, and that’s enough.”
I’ve been doing this for months now. Maybe it’s a year or so? I don’t know. What even is time these days and how is it Thursday when it was literally just Friday yesterday that doesn’t even make sense.
You don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing this, and it’s not a contest to see who is the most grateful. It’s just a way to focus on the good things in this world that are worth fightin’ for, Mister Frodo, and to remember that even though everything is terrible, there are still bright lights shining in all this darkness.
Those bright lights are so important right now, whether they are stadium lights turning night into day, or pinpricks that barely allow candlelight through black velvet. Spending time in gratitude makes it easier for me to find the light, and remember that it is there, even when I can’t see it.
I’ve found that, even when I’m having a rough day, deliberately switching my brain into gratitude is my escape hatch. Maybe it’ll work for you, or at least help you find yours.