So stressed you can’t sleep? We tell you what to do

Tossing and turning? Ask yourself if this is the best time to approach your troubles. If not, schedule time to do so the next day.

The question:
“I keep waking up in the middle of the night feeling anxious and overwhelmed. My to-do list is so long, I wonder how I’m going to get anything done. Help!”

Your complaint is a common one, and there are many ways to approach it. One therapeutic technique is to ask yourself what continuing to worry will accomplish. If there are underlying concerns — for example, what will so-and-so think of me if I don’t do such-and-such immediately — inquire if this is the best time to explore this issue. If it’s not, make an appointment with yourself to think about it during the day when you’re rested. During the day, you might also try breaking your to-do lists down into navigable chunks, prioritizing tasks and identifying what can be delegated or even discarded.

Another technique is to search for reminders of your own competencies in handling your affairs; it’s worked for me. One evening last November, as I was feeling overwhelmed with managing my late father’s affairs, I read an interview about the hero’s journey with the great mythologist Joseph Campbell. He said that every hero in mythology is given a test and equipped with the necessary tools and preparation to accomplish his or her goals (think Frodo in “Lord of the Rings”). Though hardly heroic in the classic sense of the word, I was certainly on a journey — life is a journey. So I asked myself the following questions, which I offer to you now.

  1. What is your to-do list testing in this moment? Is it your endurance, courage and/or discipline? Perhaps it’s a test of faith or skill?
  2. What tools have you been given to help you? Do you have computer skills? A healthy body? Do you have a flexible schedule, financial resources and/or people who can offer support?
  3. What evidence do you have that you can manage responsibilities? When have you handled something that seemed overwhelming at the time? What did that teach you?

Life is a journey. As long as you live, there will always be things to do. So take one thing at a time and be grateful for being alive.


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