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It's All Ok - It's Just a Habit



This helped me get back to sleep at 4 AM after I woke with my usual elephant on the chest “pain.”


Why do some of us (me) tend to gravitate towards negative patterns such as worry, pressure, criticism that correspond with “anxiety like” sensations that are painful?


Because it is familiar.


And because we have done it so many times before it has become a habit.


Familiar feels safe to our brains.


And our brains reach for “safety” to reduce our unconscious anxiety – even if it’s not helpful.


And we get addicted to these negative patterns.


Wow – So maybe the usual assumptions I make that I did or said something terribly wrong (one of my favorite go tos) isn’t true?


So, what to do? How to break the habit?


1 Notice the familiar yucky feeling or thoughts.


2 Understand why this is happening (again.)


Our minds are not doing this because what I am thinking is true but because the physical sensations associated with it are familiar and my brain is seeking out familiarity to feel “safe.”

3 Replace


Cognitively - Tell yourself you’re safe by looking around at your current surroundings. What is happening NOW? Is there a tiger (or in my case an elephant) in the room now?


Somatically - If the physical sensations are mild in intensity, feel them in your body. Be curious about them. Where are they? Do they have a texture? A Color?


If they are moderately intense and it is uncomfortable to feel the specific sensations try to notice sensations in your body that feel good or even neutral. Maybe it’s your breath, the air or the sun on your face, your hands.


*Important caveat* - If the sensations are too intense for you to “be in your body” in any way it’s absolutely ok (even preferable) to do something pleasant that will distract you while at the same time giving yourself reassurance. In my case sometimes in the middle of the night I need to get out of bed, move to the couch and listen to a podcast until I can fall back asleep. It’s helpful to say things to yourself like “This is temporary and will pass.” “All sensations come and go.” “You’re safe.” These two actions let your brain know it is safe and will help to build new positive habits.


I tried this last night (ok this morning) at 4 AM and didn’t even realize I had fallen back asleep until I woke at 6, a much more reasonable hour. Phew that was a huge win!


Try it! See if you can start creating new habits. It’s possible I swear!

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