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how to calm anxiety at night naturally best way to calm anxiety natural ways to reduce anxiety how to stop overthinking and relax positive affirmations for anxiety

How to calm your mind from overthinking: Tools for a restful sleep.

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You have completed everything on your to-do list for the day and it is time for bed. You conduct your relaxing sleep hygiene routine and get under the covers. As you lay your head on the pillow and close your eyes, within seconds, you are transported into the land of dreams.

Going to bed and easily drifting off to sleep, free of worry or stress is the dream for most people. Yet, many struggle with anxious thoughts that can keep them up. Do you often wonder how to stop overthinking and relax so that you can enjoy a good night’s rest? It is worth trying different techniques to find the best way to calm anxiety. Here are 3 evidence-based natural ways to reduce anxiety at bedtime.

Breathe right to activate zen mode. 

Breathing is essential for survival and is something you do every second. Breathing the right way can help reduce anxious thoughts and calm you before bed. Dr Andrew Weil, Harvard educated physician and founder of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, developed the Relaxing Breath, also known as the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise. It is based on a yoga technique to reduce anxiety [1]. During anxiety, breathing becomes quick and shallow. This technique promotes slow deep breathing, reduces heart rate and blood pressure to promote calmness [1]. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is known to increase the levels of your relaxing brain chemical, GABA [2]. A nutrient compound in green tea called L-theanine, is another way of increasing the relative concentration of GABA. A review of 15 studies found that intake of 200-400mg L-theanine (equivalent to 13-26 cups of tea) for 2 weeks has a stress reducing and calming effect [3]. Brain feed’s 250 mg L-theanine is extracted from green tea from the mountainous region of Hunan Province in South Central China and each capsule contains L-theanine equivalent to 15-20 cups of green tea. 

Dr Weil demonstrates the 4-7-8 breathing technique as follows:

  1. Sit or lie with your back straight.
  2. Exhale completely through your mouth
  3. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  5. Exhale completely through your mouth, to a count of eight.

This is one breath cycle. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four cycles. You can watch Dr Weil instructing the technique here: 

Read more about breathing techniques here.

Positive pep talks for a “feel-good” sleep.

Sometimes all you need to hear is a good pep talk to calm those anxious thoughts. Positive affirmations for anxiety are a simple and effective technique you can do nightly. Self-affirmation is a psychological theory developed by Claude Steele, social psychologist, and professor at Stanford University. He states that your mind is designed to protect you and your self-worth. Your mind works hard to restore self-worth in the face of threats so you can become resistant [4]. If you struggle with anxious thoughts before bed, you can buffer them by positive affirmations, thereby restoring self-worth. Brain scan studies have found that positive affirmations activate the areas that promote behavioural change and the reward system in the brain [5]. You can repeat these positive affirmations to yourself or listen to audio clips of these being read out to you. Some affirmations for anxious thoughts include [6]:

  • I choose only to think good thoughts.
  • I am liberating myself from fear, judgement, and doubt.
  • I am safe, and everything is good in my world.
  • Inside me, I feel calm, and nobody can disturb this peacefulness.
  • These are just thoughts. Only I determine the way I choose to feel.

Meditate for a calming sleep.


Those with anxious thoughts experience more negative emotions and less positive emotions. This needs to be regulated. Emotional regulation involves replacing negative emotions with positive ones to promote well being and restful sleep. Meditation is a way to re-channel your emotions and detach from negative thoughts and has been used in research as a tool for calming anxious thoughts. A recent 2022 study found that 45 mins of daily meditation was equally as effective as anxiety medication to relieve symptoms [7]. The technique assessed was the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) technique. It was developed by medical professor and director of Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, Jon Kabat-Zinn and is an eight-week program. It aims to develop self-regulation of emotions and teaches stress management. This technique has been well studied among those with stressful careers and anxiety and one review reported 64% improvement in stress reduction and increase in optimism, mood, and confidence [8]. You can learn more about MBSR here.

Preparing for bed: Developing a good sleep hygiene routine

Having a good bedroom environment and a calming routine before bed is essential to promote good quality sleep on a daily basis. The Sleep Foundation [9] recommends building a good sleep hygiene routine: 

  • Build a sleep-inducing bedroom

    Ensure that you have a comfortable bedding, with the right room temperature (18 degrees C/65 degrees F is recommended). Heavy curtains and ear plugs can help reduce light and sound disturbances. Calming smells like lavender can help you unwind. 
  • 30 minutes bedtime routine

    Use 30 minutes before you head to bed to prepare for sleep. You can use this time to shower and get into comfortable clothes, read positive affirmations, meditate, and practise deep breathing techniques. It is a way to signal your brain that you are ready for bed. 

Simple steps taken consistently can greatly help reduce anxious thoughts before bed to promote good relaxing sleep so you can wake up refreshed, ready to take on your day.

References

  1. Vierra, J. et al. (2022). Effects of sleep deprivation and 4-7-8 breathing control on heart rate variability, blood pressure, blood glucose, and endothelial function in healthy young adults. Physiological reports10(13), e15389.
  2. Pradip Pandekar, P. and Thangavelu, P. (2019). Effect of 4-7-8 Breathing Technique on Anxiety and Depression in Moderate Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Patients. International Journal of Health Sciences & Research (www.ijhsr.org), [online] 9(5), p.209. 
  3. Lopes Sakamoto, F. et al. (2019). Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacological Research, 147, p.104395.
  4. Sherman, D.K. and Cohen, G.L. (2006). The Psychology of Self‐defense: Self‐Affirmation Theory. In: Advances in Experimental Social Psychology.
  5. Cascio, C. N. et al. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience11(4), 621–629
  6. Moore, C. (2019). Positive Daily Affirmations: Is There Science Behind It? [online] PositivePsychology.com
  7. Hoge, E.A. et al. (2022). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry, [online] 80(1).
  8. Vibe, M. et al. (2017). Mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR) for improving health, quality of life and social functioning in adults: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 13(1), pp.1–264. 
  9. Suni, E. (2020). What is Sleep Hygiene? [online] Sleep Foundation.

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