When I was in high school, I suddenly stopped being able to go to sleepovers. It wasn't 'til I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder as an adult that I realized my inexplicable yet paralyzing fear at the idea of sleeping anywhere other than my own home was likely due to my anxiety. As I've gotten older, I've realized I have tons of
bedtime habits that are actually signs of high-functioning anxiety, and they're likely shared by folks out there who may not be aware they're caused by anxiety.
Dr. Gin Love Thompson, a psychotherapist, told Bustle earlier this month that high-functioning anxiety has become a "pop-psychology term used by people who experience more than
moderate levels of anxiety symptoms, but have either not attempted to seek treatment or have not been properly diagnosed by a mental health professional as having a diagnosable anxiety disorder." Thompson added that, "The danger here is that just because you are 'functioning,' even with a high level of success, while experiencing moderate to high levels of anxiety does not mean it is a healthy state of living. And beyond potentially endangering your health, it is most probably reducing the quality of your daily life, work and relationships."
If you're not sure that your nighttime habits could be due to anxiety, understanding what's happening under your brain's hood, particularly if you're high-functioning, can be difficult, especially if you don't experience typical symptoms of anxiety. Here are a few bedtime habits that may indicate you've got high-functioning anxiety.
Putting Off Going To Bed
According to Dr. Alice Boyes in Psychology Today, avoidance can
cause anxiety issues to "snowball," and that's very apparent when it comes to anxiety surrounding bedtime. If you find yourself avoiding going to bed — particularly if you might be an anxious overachiever and are using "I need to get more work done" as an excuse to avoid bed — you may have anxiety. Your anxiety may not be about going to bed in itself, but refusing to let your mind and body settle down indicates something's amiss.
Triple-Checking Your Alarms
Alarm anxiety is fairly common. If you're experiencing it the night before a big meeting or a flight you can't miss, chances are that's not a sign of an overall anxiety disorder. But if you find yourself triple, even quadruple-checking your alarms every night before bed, trying to make sure you'll be up on time to start the laundry list of things you're thinking about doing, that may be due to anxiety. To help minimize clock-related anxiety at bedtime, sleep coach Elina Winnel told PopSugar that you should make sure
you can't see your clock from your bed. And my solution to help remind myself I've set my alarm is saying it out loud: "My alarm is set for 8 a.m." and leaving it at that. Chris McGrath/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Checking your pets are where they're supposed to be before bed is common, and isn't a sign of a fixation. But it's when a thought — "I didn't look for my cat before I settled down" — turns into a spiral — "Because I didn't see her, she's outside, which means she's going to get hit by a car and die" — that indicates anxiety is lurking. My anxiety constantly prompts me to jump to the worst possible conclusion, so if you're worrying about pets (or children!) to the point where it's clearly a spiral, that is a sign you're experiencing anxiety.
Having A Routine You Cannot Break
Having a bedtime routine is actually excellent for your sleep hygiene, and
can help reduce anxiety. But if you find yourself literally unable to break your routine, that could be a sign of a larger issue. For example, if you can't sleep anywhere but your own bed without feeling nervous, or you literally can't fall asleep without completing a specific set of actions or habits, that's a sign your bedtime routine may not be so healthy, or that you may be carrying some stress about sleeping that you use your routine to offset.
Getting Nervous Without Tech
For me, this is #tooreal. Whenever the power goes out in my neighborhood — a frequent occurrence — and I face the prospect of going to sleep without reading on my phone or watching Netflix for a couple of hours, I shift into full-blown panic mode. Your anxiety may not be as extreme; after all, a certain discomfort due to disconnection can be expected in today's tech-soaked world. But if you're relying on
being on your phone or laptop at night until you pass out, that may be a sign that you're not giving your body and brain the time they need to unwind from the stress and anxiety of the day. And, of course, that's a sign that you're experiencing anxiety in your day-to-day life.
Lying in bed at night and playing with your hair or picking at hangnails or scabs can be signs of
trichotillomania and dermatillomania, which are commonly fueled by anxiety. But even if you're not being destructive, and are simply fidgeting, that too indicates you may have some anxiety preventing you from being able to lie down and relax into sleep.
Rehashing The Day's Events
It's a pretty common joke around the internet that those of us who are more introverted go to bed at night and rehash conversations where we may have said something awkward or off-beat, sometimes from years ago. This can be a sign of anxiety, though. Like any other kind of spiral, fixating on a mistake or an awkward comment can be destructive. Lifehacker reported that a good way to gently
tug your brain away from these embarrassment spirals is to focus on what else happened that day, according to a study from the University of Illinois.
Florin Dolcos, a psychology professor, told Lifehacker that this works because focusing on other aspects of the day "will rather effortlessly take your mind away from unwanted emotions associated with that memory. Once you immerse yourself in other details, your mind will wander to something else entirely, and you
won't be focused on the negative emotions as much."
As someone who loves lists, it hurts to say this, but:
Your to-do list can be bad for you. If you find that jotting things down before you go to bed actually makes you less able to sleep afterward, it's a good habit to quit. Either write your to-do list earlier in the day, so you don't associate that extra anxiety with bedtime, or find ways to tie your to-do list to something positive, like sitting down at night and giving yourself a reward for everything you checked off that day's to-do list before starting the next day's.
Being Hyperaware Of Noises
Lying in the quiet and dark at night will automatically give you a certain sense of awareness you probably don't have during the day. Hyperawareness of every noise, though, especially if it causes you frustration, is an indication that your brain is in overdrive. If this happens to you, try some
tips and tricks for relaxing at night, but consider looking into speaking to a mental health professional about anxiety for a long-term solution to help you find peace at night.
For me, anxiety often feels like going one hundred miles per hour in a twenty-five zone. If you experience bedtime habits like these and seem to struggle with getting your mind to shut off and let you get some shut-eye, consider reaching out for help so you can develop a healthy bedtime routine and keep your sleep schedule on track.