You might be wondering: Yes, I've used breathing exercises. Some of them help.
And yes, I've used CBT. It can also help (if you stick to daily practice).
I've also employed exercise, dietary changes, switching decaf for caffeinated coffee, cutting alcohol, and so further, and so on.
Anxiety lives on.
However, I recently stumbled into an evening routine that has dropped my constant anxious boil down to a manageable simmer. Like anything else in the world of mental and emotional health, it's not a panacea. But it is effective.
Here's how it works:
When it's time for me to get ready for bed, I find a quiet place for a quick "oil check," as I like to call it. I do some deep breathing to start, just to calm my heartbeat (inhale four seconds, exhale four seconds). Then, I note three things I accomplished that day and how they positively impacted others. I close with more breathing, and then I get ready for bed.
You've probably heard this before, but it's true -- cut the screen time if you want to clear your head and have a good night's rest. So, I put my phone on its charger, climb into bed, and lie on my back. Before tucking in, I note three things I'd like to accomplish the next day -- not pie-in-the-sky ambitions, but things I can reasonably do in the next 24 hours.
Lastly, I call on a happy memory, typically of something I did I was very proud of. It's not always recent, either -- I remember smiling to myself over a standing ovation at a high school play. With this image in my head, I close my eyes and gradually fall asleep.
Here's how I reverse-engineered this: I struggle to believe I accomplish much on any given day, and the accomplishments I can acknowledge I always downplay. My sleep prep activity forces me to change that habit, slowly but surely.
I also focus squarely on fault and failure, which often leaves me looking at the dark side of the past. I think of the day I'm reviewing as the present and the outline of tomorrow's accomplishments as (of course) the future. This keeps my head from over-analyzing things I can't change anyway.
Lastly, I cut the cord on my rabbit hole negativity that always seems to surface right before sleep. I allow myself to be present in a moment of joy and success, whenever that was. I also find I'm surprised by what surfaces -- things that brought me contentment ages ago that haven't come to light in years. As one of my closest friends always said, "Hold onto the light."
All of this may sound silly -- and heck, it may not work for you. But over time, I've felt its positive impact on my sleep and anxiety. For someone as anxiety-ridden as I am, that's worth its weight in gold.