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.
60 thoughts on “i am grateful”
Thank you, Thank you, thank you. I’ve been trying to do this as well as a way to distract my anxiety brain and it is so helpful.
I love “doing my gratitudes” each night before bed. Sometimes it’s hard to think of anything to be grateful for on a bad day (or a less-than-great day). I’ve had many gratitudes that start out with “I’m grateful that I have 3 different flavors of LaCroix in the fridge, which is 2 more than yesterday” or “I’m grateful the cat didn’t puke on the rug today.” Sometimes that’s the best you can do. And sometimes it’s just the warm-up to remembering that there really is something great to be grateful for. There usually is if you stop to think about it instead of letting the tough times take over. I’m glad it’s helping you.
OK that’s two of you in the LaCroix club… I gotta find out what this is!!! 🙂 😉
Who is Dan?
My name is Dan! I don’t know why he would call me out though, I’ve never met Wil 🙁
The Male equivalent to Marge.
Probably Dan Pfeiffer from Pod Save America? Jon Favreau said that to him in a pretty meme-worthy moment. https://twitter.com/podsaveamerica/status/984899106828009473?lang=en
Well written and this does sound like a good idea, and I have heard about how thinking of a gratitude list can be very beneficial to us.
This is great. Might have to try this myself, thanks for sharing. Have a good day, week, month, year, etc.
I’m a Director for a support group called the LAPD Wives. We started in 2005 and we offer friendship, education and counseling for the families of officers. I would guess I don’t need to mention what a tough year this has been on police officers and their families. The hatred cops feel at work is brought home and bleeds into their family life. It’s been awful. Our group has been meeting weekly on zoom to help reinforce the love and support we feel for each other so that we can pass that on to the husbands and kids. Before we sign off for the night we practice our “gratitude attitude” and mention three things for which we are thankful. It truly helps the frame of mind when everything seems so dismal. I’m so glad that is helping you.
Thank you for this post! I have night-time (all the time, actually, but who’s counting) anxiety stuff, too. I do think about things I’m grateful for before I go to sleep, and when I wake up (before I even get up), and always feel better for it. But I’ve never thought of it as a tool to help combat the anxiety monster. Thank you for that perspective on it! Very much appreciate it. 🙂
This is good stuff. Unfortunately, I think my triggers for panic attacks are different. They’re usually “health” related. As in, my body feels weird. Am I having a heart attack? A stroke? Am I going to die right now? Medication has worked for me. I’m now currently trying CBD. It seems ok, but not as quick or effective as medication.
OMG! that’s 100% me. (as i sit at work worrying about my current heart palpitations/PVCs) . Just know that I feel your pain, be it physical or mental.
You made me tear up, and I am grateful for it. 🙂
I needed to read this today. Thank you.
Dear Mr. Wil Wheaton: You are way way too hard on yourself. My mother was a vampire. She hated me from the moment I was born. I still suffer from her vile nature, but after decades, I decided she could no longer rules my life with her evil.
I’m grateful to hear this. Thanks!
Hi Wil. I have my students say what they’re grateful for everyday. It’s an assignment, but I hope that they get the benefits anyway. I think it makes a difference.
Part the First: Any time I read anything about Sam’s “There’s so good in this world, Mr Frodo”, I lose it lately. I probably needed that little cry I just had.
Part the Second: After the song from White Christmas (a holiday staple in my home growing up), I call doing what you’re describing “Counting my blessings” “If you’re worried and you can’t sleep/just count your blessings instead of sheep…” “when my bankroll is getting small/I think of when I had none at all/and I fall asleep counting my blessings” are some lyrics from it. Also the song itself has a nice lullaby quality to it. …where was I going with this? Ah, yes! I think it’s a wonderful practice! I also tell myself a story sometimes. Basically I make a movie for myself in my head. Sometimes it’s a fanfic I’m working on and I want to visualize it better, sometimes I’m putting myself in media I love, sometimes it’s just a montage of calming scenes (the garden walkthrough in the 90s film of The Secret Garden is my Happy Place). Whatever it takes to make Anxiety just be drowned out by nicer things.
What really helps me unwind in the evening is playing or listening to music. I recently purchased an acoustic guitar after three years of not playing and am re-learning some of my favorite tunes. The effects have been immediate. It sharpens my mental focus and has proven immensely stimulating and rewarding. You wouldn’t believe how satisfying it is, for example, to be able to play Zeppelin’s Rain Song again after lots of practice! I end up going to sleep thinking “wow, I can’t believe I mastered that chord sequence” or “I need a little more work on that fingering but will nail it tomorrow.” All this has served to reinforce my conviction that I couldn’t live in a world without music.
I keep thinking about buying a guitar and learning to play. I’m one of the few “non-musical” people in my family and I feel like I should remedy that. And it’s not like I have places to go right now. 🙂
By all means get yourself a basic guitar, you won’t regret it. It’s very easy to learn simple chords and you’ll be playing songs within three to four weeks. A musical instruments adds a whole new dimension and flavor to life. On top of which, music is something you can share with your whole family. Lots of people have taken the opportunity to start playing again during the covid crisis.
Do this. Playing music is a divine experience. Make art.
As a long time follower of your blog, I love how you can so easily go from Mad Men to Lord of the Rings to so many other stuff that is in my brain without missing a beat. Keep it up. You are awesome.
I love this. I try to journal gratitude and I always get stuck because I feel like I should have BIG things to be grateful for. But you know … it’s true. I’m grateful for LaCroix. I’m grateful that the new kittens actually found the litterbox today instead of pooping on the floor. I’m grateful that I have clean sheets on the bed. Sometimes the little things are the most important for mental health..
I do gratitudes in the morning, and appreciations in the evening. The gratitudes can be things like coffee and sparkling water, but the appreciations are always about something concrete in my day that I appreciated — the purple dahlias growing outside my window, the chocolate chip cookie that I ate, the cool breeze when I was walking the dog. For me (bi-polar), the very concrete, specific focus on the immediate experiences of the day improves my whole day, because I’m always watching for the things that I’m going to appreciate in the evening.
Thank you Wil. “Gratitudes” are so helpful, as well as thinking of music you love, and stories you’ve read that make you happy. And remembering your sleep is yours and no one elses. You matter and thank you for sharing with us all.
Beautiful, thank you. Now whenever I have my coconut La Croix I will think of you and be grateful!
I will give this a try. I expect it will go well.
I occasionally have the same problem where my mind won’t stop racing over something I can’t control or change. I really like this idea and will start implementing it now to see if it helps me as well. Thank you so much for sharing!
I haven’t slept well since Trump was elected. I think I’ll try your technique. Once again, thanks so much for sharing, Wil. Your honesty is, once again, inspiring.
Yes, I find gratitude very helpful. There’s actual science to back this up: https://insights.ovid.com/jpspy/200302000/00005205-200302000-00009
This is just beautiful–thanks! I am in awe of your courage.
Gratitude really is a great key. It’s an easy way into what I’d call “engaged” mindfulness (as opposed to passive). I, too, have my litany of things for which I’m thankful and grateful.
It is important to remember that most readers of this blog live in the First World. And we have First World Problems! Gratitude is a great start to finding balance between what we have and what others lack.
It’s OK to be where you are. And if that’s a good place, think about sharing its benefits with others.
My own social anxiety was challenged head-on when I started volunteering as a STEM tutor/mentor at a local “last-chance” high school. My social awkwardness and evident discomfort became an avenue of bonding with some of the hardest-to-reach students. My delight in their reaching out to me, my blushing halting awkwardness accepting it, somehow won me a special place with them. Much tutoring and mentoring was done!
How can one be thankful for social anxiety? I can tell you how! It’s right there on my Gratitude List.
Could you tell me what causes this panic or anxiety? I am clueless as I’ve never experienced it nor been around anyone that has. Is it caused by something physiological or is it psychological in nature? Can you enlighten those of us in the clueless seats?
I was abused by the man who was my father, and I have PTSD.
I’m sorry you were abused, that’s terrible. I understand more now, as a disabled veteran I’ve seen my buddies go through much because of PTSD. It must be horrible trying to figure it out from a civilian life trauma.
Your gratitude recitations seem to be like prayer in many religious contexts. We are taught that in my religion, glad you found it and it can heal you in some way.
Thanks again, Wil. Every time you find something that helps you, you share with us. You will probably never fully realize how much you help so many people. I’m going to start “doing my gratitudes” beginning tonight and hope that it helps my anxieties too.
You are the best! ❤ ❤ ❤
Thanks, Wil. I have the same problem and am reading this as I’m literally getting into bed, so I’ll try it!
It does work, I’ve done it. The practice has taken me to a place where I don’t have to do it every night, only when the gremlins start speaking.
Thanks, Wil, I’ll give it a try!
Have you tried doing guided meditations? I had some bullying issues in work about 12 years ago – causing depression and anxiety to the point I couldn’t leave the house. Doing guided meditations did gradually ease things down – in some ways, your gratitude list is a meditation too, of course! But doing them daily or near daily, I rarely get anxiety attacks and stuff just…washes over me more, without me being so affected negatively.
Anyway, however you manage it, I hope as time goes by you get more and more peace from the busy brain.
Seconded on the guided meditations. Lots of app options, and it really does help quiet things down the more I do it.
Thank you for your wonderful post!! It’s helpful to hear what others due to combat panic. Also it is a good reminder that no matter how bad things are we can still be grateful for what we have.
I use the Bar O’ Soap technique. Find a bar o’ soap scented with a smell you find pleasing, put it in a cloth bag/satchel, keep it under your pillow (supposedly keeps insects “away”) and breathe it in and just focus on that smell and your breathing….et’ viola! I also say things I am grateful for, but the joy from the fragrance is a true coup de gras…
and ps, thanks Wil, love you always and then some.
I feel grateful that I could read this post. Thanks!
Hey Wil… thanks for this post. I have a similar anxiety and sleep profile, though my sleep issues are more about staying asleep rather than falling asleep. When I do wake up in the middle of the night (often), I also use lists to clear my mind. In my case, I silently — so as not to wake my wife — run through any list of facts I can conjure. The U.S states or U.S presidents in order; every member of my beloved Colorado Avalanche in order of the number they wear; the Periodic Table (I’ve never made it past 40)… you get the idea. It doesn’t always work though it often it’s just enough to clear my mind. And hey, I’m pretty good at trivia now. I’ll have to try gratitudes, as that just seems so much better.
I also battle severe anxiety with similar bedtime skirmishes. [My mental ghosts tend to be from my whole life; very rarely are they recent unrealistic worries.] I don’t consider myself as having depression; I just have one head of the Depression Medusa – – Anxiety.
Affirmations at bedtime don’t work for me…..
My sleep method is similar. I pick some incident of my life that was good and try to relive it in my mind [meeting my wife is a great one – it is similar to your story of meeting and getting to know Anne] – – OR pick a nice “could have happened” and create the story as a guided half-awake pleasant dream. Sometimes the phantoms from the dark recesses of my mind invade the pleasant fantasy; if so, then I end it and restart with a different scenario.
“…how is it Thursday when it was literally just Friday yesterday that doesn’t even make sense” is SO true!
Wil, if you were my patient, which you’re not, I’d ask if you had tried acupressure-based self-help methods like EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), TAT (Tapas Acupressure Therapy) or TFT (Thought Field Therapy, the first of these). Chances are you’ve run across them somewhere. These can be a huge help with anxiety, trauma and a lot of other issues, and you can do them while you’re lying there in the middle of the night. They always at least take the edge off and help with settling down. They can also be used to help program in useful thoughts like your gratitude statements, in addition to weakening adverse thoughts and traumatic memories. They are quick and don’t cost anything.
If those sound intriguing, you can google them and find instructions pretty easily, or contact me (you have my website address) and I can give further information.
I’ve had similar problems to yours with sleep for many years, though I haven’t been through the same difficult experiences. Sending you lots of empathy and best wishes!
I have heard of starting a day like that as well.
When mine kicks in, I really try to think of why. If it is rooted in any truth, anything real causing the worry and how I can turn onto a path to deal with it instead of worry.
Doesn’t always work of course. And sometimes I even realize there is NO reason for the anxiety. Sometimes it helps me calm things down, sometimes it just keeps racing. But even at that, at least I can get a tiny bit of relief knowing that it is happening for no reason and it will pass.
Again, doesn’t always work, but still.
The gratefulness method sounds like it will be a great help though.
As for “You don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing this, and it’s not a contest to see who is the most grateful.” I will grateful the shit out of tonight! I will grateful better than all of you!!!
I have a little app on my phone that I use. It’s a good practice. Keeps you aware of the bigger picture.
You know with tact like that you should’ve been a psychiatrist
I do worry about your anxiety and depression Will, Do you take something for it? maybe CBD? you can get tablets online where you can take 2 or more in 1 day, perhaps it would help you if you got some and started off at 2 and then if you still get anxiety at night take 2 at night as well, it must drive you a bit crazy having to go through a list every night struggling that way.
Yes, counting your blessings is a quick route to contentment🤗
I’m grateful they’ve got you doing the aftershows for first Picard and now Lower Decks. Will be even more grateful if aftershows for all the new Star Trek shows become your exclusive bailiwick. You’re just so much fun to watch at it, and your genuine enthusiasm for the shows beats all the fake enthusiasm their previous hosts have had to generate.
I totally agree with you, Chris! Wil is far and away the best host for those aftershows.
Well, you are always an inspiration to me and my family.
I look forward to the day we see you as lead in your own Star Trek series!
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