Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Daylight is climbing the walls
cars start and feet walk the halls

the world wakes and now i am safe
at least by the light of day”

-John Mayer

“ not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness”

-Max Ehrman

It’s three o’clock in the morning. Something wakes you - a disturbing dream, a spouse snoring, a noisy neighbor arriving home from a late night at the bar. That’s when the Anxiety Gremlins make their move.

They immediately pounce on your semi-conscious brain. “Did you remember to set your alarm? Are you really prepared for the presentation you have to give later today? What if the car doesn't start?”

If there is no future event handy on which they can focus, the Gremlins are masters at combing through your past with a critical eye for anxiety-producing material. “Shouldn’t you apologize to your mother for the nasty tone you took with her on the phone yesterday? What if there is an accident and that is the last time you speak to your mother? What will happen to your father if your mother is gone? How will you deal with losing your parents? Do they know, really know, that you love them? How can you be such an ungrateful daughter?” And so on.

By this point your heart starts pumping harder and the adrenaline begins to poke at the rest of your muscles like an annoying little brother, forcing you to pay attention.

You try to ignore the Gremlins. You tell yourself you need to sleep. Yet you toss, you turn. You watch your spouse sleeping blissfully through the entire ordeal. You envy him. You hate him. The Gremlins sense this and use it to their advantage: “How can he sleep while you suffer? What kind of person is he? If he really loved you, he would know you are upset and wake up! Does he love you? Should you have married Joe Smith your eighth grade boyfriend instead?” *Sigh*.

Anxiety Gremlins are creatures of the night. They abhor daylight. They live in darkness, feeding off the anxieties they generate. We learned of their existence as children. They were the monsters under the bed, the demons that hid in the closet. Night lights may have kept them at bay, but we knew that they could not completely protect us. Sleeping with Mom and Dad was the only true salvation. Sadly, as adults we lack that magical parental protection.

What is it about our nighttime state that makes us so vulnerable to the Gremlins? It's as if the primal part of our brain – the one best suited for fighting saber tooth tigers or running from stampeding wild boars – takes over. For most of us, this part of our brain doesn't get much attention. We spend our days exercising our higher brain – the rational, logical, more evolved portion. But at night, our guard is down. We are caught between the everyday world of control and order and the nighttime world of dreams and fantasy.

Fortunately, there are techniques to defeat the Gremlins. Some people rely on meditation or other relaxation techniques. Some, medications. I find the best technique to be simple distraction. If your brain is distracted with something relatively mundane, like counting sheep, naming the seven dwarfs, or reciting your multiplication tables, you will have some very disappointed Gremlins.

But....maybe we should not ignore them, these annoying creatures. Ultimately, the Gremlins arise from the depths of our own minds. Perhaps they are blessings in disguise. If we kept our darkest fears inside at all times, without a chance to express themselves, would they eventually explode into some hideous form of action? Perhaps the Gremlins serve as a built in pressure valve, allowing our minds to release some of the built up anxieties we don't want to acknowledge during the daylight hours. Maybe letting the Gremlins have their say, and addressing those anxieties directly, would make us all healthier people.

But not tonight. After all, I have that presentation tomorrow. And I've already double-checked my alarm. Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful.....

1 comment:

  1. I'm gonna use that 7 Dwarves thing...and maybe Santa's 8 reindeer too... :)