It’s 3AM, and while it seems like the rest of the world is sound asleep, you’re in bed with your eyes wide open. Your heart is pounding, you feel dizzy and nauseous, and no matter how much you tell yourself to calm down, you can’t shake the sense that something bad is about to happen. You can’t remember the last time you had a peaceful night of sleep, and unrelenting feelings of anxiety and fear are starting to interfere with your ability to live a normal life.
If this sounds familiar, you may be one of the 14% of people in Australia who live with an anxiety disorder. They are by far the most common mental disorders in the country, beating out depression and substance abuse. A number of distinct conditions fall under the anxiety disorder umbrella, like panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety, but what they have in common are feelings of stress and fear that seriously affect your ability to function. Unfortunately, they coexist with insomnia so often that it’s one of their defining symptoms.
Feeling stressed out and losing a night of sleep once in a while is distinct from having a true anxiety disorder. The former can usually be handled without medical intervention. The latter is characterized by persistent feelings of panic and fear, often in the absence of an obvious trigger, and can be debilitating without professional hep. Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, and studies have shown that sufferers have physical changes in parts of the brain that regulate emotion.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re not weak or morally flawed. You’re suffering from an illness like any other illness and would very likely benefit from diagnosis and treatment. There is no shame in seeking help, and if you’re nervous about becoming dependent on medication, note that treatment doesn’t necessarily involve a prescription pad. Depending on the case, your healthcare professional may prescribe dietary and/or lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, or a combination of treatments which may or may not include medication.
Since insomnia appears so frequently with anxiety disorders, many healthcare professionals opt to test for and treat both simultaneously. Successfully treating insomnia seems to improve response to other anti-anxiety treatments and reduce the overall severity of symptoms.
Even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, improving the quality of your sleep is a surefire way to gain more control over your emotions and become more resistant to the stresses of everyday life. Of course, if what’s stressing you out is how uncomfortable your mattress is, you know who to call.