Stress keeping you up at night? Tips to calm an anxious mind

I’ve always been very good at managing stress.

ease an anxious mind

I exercise regularly and eat well. I make lists and cross things off when they’re completed. I knit. I spend time playing with my children. I get lots of sleep.

All activities known to reduce stress and calm an anxious mind.

Yet just last week, I found myself wide awake at 2:30 in the morning, unable to slow my racing thoughts and becoming increasingly distraught over everything I needed to do the next day, the following week and even the months ahead (sound familiar?).

After tossing and turning for over an hour (and not wanting to wake my sleeping husband), I headed into the bathroom, and perched on the edge of the bathtub, experienced my first full blown panic attack.

For a good 15 minutes my heart felt like it was going to explode. I started to hyperventilate and my fingers and toes went numb. It was absolutely terrifying.

Thankfully, the episode passed quickly (although at the time it felt like it would never end),and I stumbled back to bed, curling up close to hubby to soothe myself and slow my breathing down. I slept poorly for the rest of the night (and was a bit of a zombie the following day; big apologies to my clients).

Apparently all that daytime stress management doesn’t necessarily cut it in the middle of the night. The hours when my subconscious ‘monkey mind’ likes to wake up and play.

To be fair to myself, this winter has been more stressful than most (2 family members underwent cancer-related surgeries, 2 children with never-ending head lice infestations, lost passports and a cancelled holiday, an anxious and fitfully-sleeping hubby, a super exciting, secret project that’s going to eat up a lot of my time over the next four  months). Perhaps I needed some additional tools for dealing with the stress-that-broke-the-camel’s-back…

I immediately did what any sane person would do 🙂 ; ask my Facebook friends for advice. Inquire as to who else has experienced middle-of-the-night panic attacks and if they had any tips to calm an anxious mind.

ease an anxious mind

Smart bunch that they are, I very quickly had lots of great ideas:

  • Milk with a little extra sugar in it. Or chocolate milk. Sip it very slowly. It slows the breathing and evens out any low blood sugars that may have preceded the attack ~ Deb
  • Long deep breaths through my nose and exhale slowly. Working out regularly helps! ~ Diane
  • Limiting coffee to no more than two cups in the morning ~ Diane
  • Sometimes the thought of having a panic attack can make you have a panic attack. Do you have a plan if you feel your anxiety going up again? ~ Kristi
  • Walk around the house and practice breathing techniques ~ Melissa
  • Breathing as if you’re singing “Ave Maria” (long, long notes = long, long breaths) ~ Kristen
  • Get ahold of a small paper sack and breathe into it slowly and deliberately ~ Jill
  • Focus on my breathing, something relaxing and to remember it will be better in the morning ~ Jennifer
  • Do you ever meditate? ~ Leslie

Breathing and relaxation techniques are great for in the moment; I’ve successfully used them twice already. I’ve also cut out my mid-day coffee. But I’d also like to work on preventing future attacks.

I think Leslie’s meditation suggestion is worth a try. And to that end, I’ve already found a wonderful book of guided meditations that I’m slowly working through;

ease an anxious mind

With titles like “befriend your panic”, “roadway to serenity” and “soundtrack of life”, there’s something in here for just about any anxiety-provoking situation. My favourite so far? “stop the spin cycle”.

Have you ever experienced a panic attack?

Have you tried any of the tips listed above to calm an anxious mind?

Do you meditate? If so, how has it helped you?





    it’s how I start every day and frames my brain for whats to come.
    Miz recently posted…PLAYout at the playground: pull-ups.My Profile

  2. Agree with Miz.

    I have experienced two legit panic attacks. Both took me by surprise, both were life changing. In the end, I’m not sure they could have been avoided, yet I feel my behaviors since have helped keep future ones at bay. That is, they had to happen.
    Contemplative Fitness recently posted…Defective Personality…My Profile

    • So true Roy. It really was a wake-up call for me. I’ve already jettisoned two big commitments that were fairly easy to delegate. Amazing how having a shorter to do list can make you feel less anxious immediately!

  3. What a scary experience for you – being awake in the middle of the night is bad enough and to throw in a panic attack just makes it much worse.
    I hope some of the ideas and meditation help you feel calmer (and sleep better!).
    Kim recently posted…On the Mend and On the RoadMy Profile

    • It was very scary Kim. At first I wasn’t sure what was happening, but as soon as I figured it out, I was able to calm myself down. Meditation is already working!

  4. I have experienced a panic attack . . . and it was scary. There’s definitely a difference between “being stressed” and a “panic attack”, and it’s not fun. Luckily, like you, I was proactive about learning what to do about it. Breathing techniques have been the best way for me to calm down and pull myself together.
    Michelle @ Eat Move Balance recently posted…Friday’s FiveMy Profile

    • Absolutely! Panic attacks are like being in labour; if you’re not sure whether it’s the real thing, it’s not!
      I’m glad that you’ve figured out how to calm yourself Michelle.

  5. I am so sorry you went through that. Panic attacks suck as well as insomnia. It’s so hard because rationally we know we have control over our thoughts. However, in practice it is freaking hard. I used to mediate but got out of the habit. Kind of like excercising. When you do it, you feel amazing but if you break the routine it is hard to get back. I think I will join your journey with the book you are reading. Sounds perfect for me. Also I love chanting. Some times it is the only way to clear my head. I do a simple Shanti chant which is peace for me, peace of my loved ones and peace for all. You know just mediating for world peace and all 😉

    • Stephanie, the book really is wonderful. I love that there are so many different choices for your daily meditation. Are you planning on fitting it in in the morning or later in the day?

  6. GIRL, middle of the night is when it always hits me. I had tons of tests done at end of last year b/c I thought I was having heart problems b/c my heart would race in the middle of the night. Turned out to be anxiety. Now that I know what it is, I can calm myself down not thinking/knowing I am dying haha. Slow deep breaths really helps and not thinking about it.
    Heather recently posted…Men’s Saucony Virrata’sMy Profile

    • I hear you Heather! I think it must be our subconscious minds that stay awake when the rest of our brain is asleep…
      Hope you’re managing your anxiety okay. xo

  7. I have … once… and it scared us both so much because I thought I was having a heart attack. Went to emergency ward at hospital because we happened to be driving by there at the time it happened (yes in the car). Scary. Felt so sill afterwards.
    Elle recently posted…Such a Happy RunMy Profile

    • Elle, you shouldn’t feel silly! Always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your health. I’m sure the hospital staff have seen it before. And yes, it is very scary when you’re in the midst of it!

  8. Tamara, so sorry to hear this! I am glad that you managed it & curious what you think of that whole book! Do love that stop the spin cycle!

    YES, I have had them – when I was working Corporate – most of mine of been work related but actually extends to regular life too. Too much to do at work & knowing I go home to more to do. I had quite a few back them. I used to have to walk away & do deep breathing as many wrote to you….

    I have not tried meditation. Curious how that will work for you. My mind never seems to turn off… my dreams are crazy!


    PS: Excited to hear when you announce more about your project!
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & My SabbaticalMy Profile

    • Yes! I have crazy dreams too! sometimes I wake up in the morning and for a minute, can’t believe that they didn’t really happen!

      Maybe it’s a good thing that your life is more balanced now; work is highly over-rated!

  9. I feel like I have been suppressing a lot of my stress lately, causing OTHER symptoms other than waking up in the middle of the night, to occur – AKA: Hair Falling Out, Extreme Exhaustion, Sore Throat, etc… The only PLUS SIDE to my stress is that I actually sleep amazingly well at night because the stress gets me so tired – LOL! Stress does keep me accountable too though, I tend to get a lot of things done when I am stressed (although sometimes I get nothing done – AH HA HA).
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…Donald Trump Needs Some Saffron!My Profile

    • Ooh, those physical symptoms aren’t good either GiGi! I tend to get more accomplished when I’m slightly stressed, but there’s a fine line between stressed enough and too stressed to be doing anything well…

  10. After I learned what was happening to me, panic attack, not heart attack or some other big scary thing, I learned to ride them out. I will also do something in stockinette stitch, even if I end up ripping it all out later. That is my form of meditation, so I have yarn and needles right next to the bed.

    • Elizabeth, brilliant idea! I don’t know why I didn’t think of this. Knitting certainly does relax me and slows my thoughts down. I’m going to leave my swatch basket bedside starting tonight! Thanks so much!

  11. I suffer from panic and anxiety. It’s not fun but I get thru it every time. Thank you for writing this.
    Tiffany recently posted…TMI TuesdayMy Profile

  12. Panic attacks are scary! I’ve had a few in my time and have found that meditation and yoga really help. I’ve also started drinking chamomile tea in the evening before bed to give me a better chance of sleeping well.