Sometimes, you’re so full of worry that you can’t sleep. Sometimes, the what-ifs pound inside your head like a heartbeat. Sometimes, you can’t shut down the electric anxiety coursing through your veins. Sometimes, the dark thoughts just won’t dissipate, instead gaining strength and steam.
You find yourself staring at the clock…2:00 a.m., then 2:30 a.m., then 3:00 a.m. flashing in your face. And your frustration grows and grows. And your anxiety amplifies. And your sadness sharpens.
Author and artist Lee Crutchley can relate. He’s very familiar with angst and worry and an inner darkness that stays through the night.
“No matter what is causing your lack of sleep, it almost always stems from the same reason,” he writes in The Nocturnal Journal: A Late-Night Exploration of What’s Really on Your Mind. “In the modern world it’s hard to find, make, or allow enough time to really connect with yourself.” Which means that worries get suppressed and feelings remain unexplored, he writes.
Crutchley suggests exploring these worries and feelings at night. Because simply telling yourself to snap out of it, to not think about it, doesn’t work. The thoughts and feelings just keep bubbling below the surface. Which is why I’m sharing some of my favorite prompts from Crutchley’s probing, creative journal.
- Draw what’s keeping you awake.
- Explore this question: “What are the three heaviest things in your life, and what gives them so much weight?” (I’d add: How can you lighten your load?)
- What makes you feel afraid? What makes you feel brave? What makes you feel ashamed? What makes you feel proud? What makes you feel alone? What makes you feel understood? What makes you feel apathy? What makes you feel empathy? What makes you feel sadness? What makes you feel happiness?
- Write down your worries. Sort them into productive worries and unproductive worries.
- “If you could ask everyone in the world one question, what would it be?” Ask everyone from your friends and family to your Twitter followers. Jot down any answers that are useful or interesting.
- Write about the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen.
- Draw a bunch of dots. Then create your own constellations.
- Make up different words. Then pick your favorites and define them.
- If you didn’t have a to-do list, how would you spend tomorrow? Select the activities you can actually incorporate into your day. Then pen a to-do list for tomorrow that contains at least one of these activities.
When you’re restless and having a hard time quieting your mind, one of the best things you can do is to reconnect to yourself and gain a richer understanding into your deepest worries, dreams, and feelings. Try these prompts or create your own. Remember your creativity is a gift—and so is your restless mind, even though it might not feel like it (at all) when you’re up in the middle of the night. Open the door, and delve in.
What keeps you up at night? What helps you calm a restless mind?