Well. Nothing quite like a global pandemic and an era-defining election to kick anxiety into epic proportions, huh?
Mental health experts and surveys are finding more people are anxious and depressed than ever. People are facing challenges like never before while also experiencing unease, hopelessness, and fear.
When coronavirus first ramped up back in March, I found myself unable to sleep. My heart was racing. I felt like everything was out of my control.
The internet has become flooded with self-care tips. But what I have learned from years of managing anxiety is this: it is hard to get started.
Once you form a routine of self-care and start to feel better, it becomes easier but finding what works can be tricky. Every person is different, and what works for one may not work for another. There are also so many suggestions out there that it can feel overwhelming.
One thing I have learned is that, for me, sleep is #1. If I don’t sleep well, it is nearly impossible to focus on anything else. And — when feeling anxious — sleep can become incredibly difficult.
Fear of Covid-19 disrupted my sleep for weeks. Racing thoughts prevented me from falling asleep at bedtime. I had nightmares about what would happen to my family if I were to get sick.
Lack of sleep compounded the problem. I had to make sleep my priority in order to survive the day.
I finally found a combination of things that have been working. My FitBit has been giving me a sleep score of near 90/100 most nights, with usually around 7 hours of sleep. It has made a world of difference in handling the day.
(In full disclosure, I also take medication for generalized anxiety. No denying that it helps keep me even-keel, but even the meds were not enough to combat the sleeplessness I was facing.)
My nightly ritual now includes ALL of the following:
After complaining to my prescribing provider that my anti-anxiety medication was not helping much with sleep, she suggested adding magnesium. It has made a HUGE difference in sleep quality.
I drink a cup of tea to help me relax. My favorite is Trader Joe’s Well Rested, but because of the pandemic and having groceries delivered, this has not been as accessible. Now I’m drinking an organic peppermint tea.
3. Herbal Blend
In my tea, I put an herbal blend (powder) that helps with stress reduction. I use Apothékary’s “Chill the F* Out.”
4. Skincare Routine
This has been part of my nightly routine for many years, but I find that taking a few minutes to indulge in the evening helps me to feel like I am doing something for myself. I wash my face and then apply a face oil, eye cream, body oil on my arms, lip balm, and an aromatherapy oil blend on my wrists and behind my ears.
The products I use change with the seasons. I know it sounds like a lot, but I find that the ritual of applying each reminds of the importance of self-care.
This is a recent addition but has made a considerable difference in focusing my thoughts at night. I use Headspace and do the daily 10-minute meditation, but I have also used Calm and like it equally.
Headspace has an Alexa skill, so I can say, “Alexa, ask Headspace for the daily meditation.” This is particularly helpful if I wake up during the night and would like a Headspace Sleep Story to help soothe me back to sleep.
6. Weighted Blankets
I discovered the joy of weighted blankets a few years ago, and now I can’t sleep without them. I even need to bring weighted blankets on trips when I am sleeping away from home.
I think I am a restless sleeper, and the weight forces me to remain “in place.” It is like sleeping under a giant hug. It doesn’t matter if it is the hottest day of summer, I have to have the weight.
While the election has reached a precipice, the pandemic will likely be a threat for some time, even under the best mitigation efforts. And even though anxiety still creeps in during the day, I can at least sleep easily.
Even last night, the eve of the election and when my thoughts and stomach were in knots, I still fell asleep and slept (mostly) soundly. Tonight may be a different story, but I’ll take what I can get.