I have a friend who works in politics: fast-paced, high-pressure, high-stress, high-tempers… all of which lead to her having substantial anxiety and panic attacks, especially at night. When she would start to wind down at night in preparation for bed her brain would begin a cinematic stream of all of the worst case scenarios of “what ifs?” Those thoughts would lead to a shortness of breath, inevitable nightmares and panic, which kept the circle of negative thoughts replaying all night long.
I used to experience something similar to this during our championship seasons, only thankfully, not to the degree of having a panic attack. As I would start to wind down and go to bed I would begin the “what if” dirge… enumerating all of the things that could go wrong in the competition the next day. “What if one of our key athlete’s wakes up with the flu?” “What if one of our athlete’s sprains an ankle during warm-ups?” “What if there is a fire alarm tonight and none of our team gets any sleep?” “What if our first four athletes fall on balance beam?” And on and on…
Why did I do this? What is in my subconscious that flips to the dark side at night when I am at my most tired and vulnerable? What good comes from playing out the possible worst case scenarios? …NOTHING!
And so, what did I do? I continued the cycle of insanity and gave myself a prophylactic, like melatonin or stronger sleep aid, to combat the potential of not sleeping. Because by this point I’ve added to the requiem “What if I can’t get to sleep and won’t be alert for the competition?” “What if I get so little sleep that I have bags under my eyes and look like something from the Walking Dead?” “Why am I wide awake?” “It’s 2am… will the sleeping aid wear off in time for me to actually hear my alarm and get up?” On and on with this circle of nonsense.
My Sound Sleep Lullaby
Enter the most impactful moment of my life. As I’ve mentioned, getting breast cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it was at that time that I heard God say, “Be anxious for nothing, and grateful for all things.”
It’s at that time I made the choice to shift from my “What If” Dirge to my Grateful Lullaby.
Now when I get in bed, I immediately start tabulating my gratitudes, starting with how fortunate I feel to have a bed. As I’m writing this, I hear my husband sigh, “Aw my Love, I’m so thankful that we have a bed.” He says this with renewed gratitude every single night.
From there I give thanks for Every. Little. Thing. My Grateful Lullaby leaves no room for thoughts of imaginary What If’s.
The mind can’t think of opposing thoughts at the same time. So I can’t focus on something I’m grateful for and something I’m stressed out about at the same time. Life is about choice. If I want to fall asleep I choose thoughts of gratitude.
I shared this concept with my friend who’s in politics and suggested she count her gratitudes just like counting sheep at night. She told me that this lullaby really stuck with her and she literally imagined her gratitudes jumping over a fence.
She reported back to me this week that since she’s switched her nightly regime to gratitude, she has not had a panic attack and has enjoyed a full week of peaceful sleep—something she has not experienced in over a year.
The mind is unimaginably powerful. It’s also a muscle and needs repetitive direction in order to make certain thoughts habits. Regardless of whether you suffer from nightly anxiety or if you fall asleep easily and sleep well, I encourage you to take a cue from Bing Crosby as he sang to Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas:
“If you’re worried,
And you can’t sleep,
Just count your blessings instead of sheep,
And you’ll fall asleep,
Counting your blessings.”