Negative Thoughts Keeping You Up At Night? Here's What To Do
Stressful situations tend to take up a little more brain space than we'd like. Although it would be great to simply press off on your racing mind when you're ready for bed, that unfortunately isn't so easy. If you've found yourself lying awake with negative or stressful thoughts running through your mind, you may find this technique particularly helpful.
Award-winning psychologist Ethan Kross, Ph.D., shares the different strategies he uses to quiet his mind on the mbg podcast, and this universal experience is actually the subject of his new book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How To Harness It. And today, we're going to quickly go over one standout technique that especially works late at night. Here's what to do if you find yourself kept awake by intrusive thoughts.
Kross' 2 a.m. technique.
It's common to feel confident in the advice you give others yet struggle to do the same for yourself—and it's even harder when you're stuck in the middle of a negative thought loop, or what Kross calls "chatter." For this reason, Kross recommends using "distant self-talk," which requires giving yourself advice in the third person. "It is much easier for us to give advice to other people than to ourselves when we are experiencing chatter," he says. "Distant self-talk uses language to shift your perspective and talk to yourself more similarly to how you would communicate with someone else that you care about."
Now, if your situation is really pressing, this strategy alone may not help ease your worried thoughts. That's why Kross calls upon another distancing technique he calls "temporal distancing," or "mental time travel," to double down on persistent chatter. This technique puts the situation to the test by having you ask yourself: Will this problem hold the same amount of brain space a week from now? What about a year from now?
These questions can help you step out of the thought cycle and look at it from a different perspective. "When chatter takes hold, it often feels like everything is wrapped up in this experience and you're never going to break free," says Kross. This "mental time travel" technique can help you realize that although an event may be stressful, it likely isn't the end of the world.
So when Kross wakes up in the middle of the night feeling worry or overwhelm (a very common experience), he will combine these two techniques and ask himself: Ethan, how are you going to feel about this tomorrow morning? "It's always better in the morning," he says. "It gives you hope that your circumstances are going to improve, and hope can be a powerful antidote to chatter." If you want to learn even more about these distancing techniques, you can dive in here.
Now, if you find the mental chatter starting the second you lie down in bed, you may want to consider calling upon a daily mind-soothing supplement that can help bring your body back to baseline and relieve stress before it builds up into a problem.* For example, mindbodygreen's calm+ uses a combination of USDA- and EU-certified organic full-spectrum European hemp oil, ashwagandha, and lavender oil to help ease everyday stress and promote a positive mood.* This can help quiet your mind way before your head hits the pillow, in addition to preparing your body for high-quality sleep.*
If negative thoughts tend to keep you up at night, you may want to try some targeted techniques, like the ones Kross shares with mbg. First, give yourself advice from the third person as if you're talking to a loved one. Then take a step back and ask yourself how you will feel about the situation a week from now—or even a year from now. These two techniques can help ease stress and put everything into perspective. And if you still need some help calming down, adopting a wind-down routine can help to quiet the mind early in the evening. Here's a relaxing six-step evening routine you can use to hopefully prevent the chatter from starting in the first place.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.