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How to deal with evening anxiety

Julia Park

When you get home from a long day, all you want to do is relax. But then, your mind starts swirling. You begin thinking about everything on your plate, all the tasks for tomorrow, and the days that follow.

Suddenly, your thoughts shift back to work or your to-do list. Negative and judgmental thoughts creep in, making you feel tense and causing your stomach to hurt. As you prepare for bed, you start worrying about getting enough sleep to function well tomorrow. Ironically, this anxiety makes it even harder to fall asleep. If this scenario feels all too familiar, you may be experiencing evening anxiety.

Dealing with anxiety during the day is challenging enough, but when it extends into the night, it can create a difficult cycle. We're here to help you understand what evening anxiety is and offer tips on how to manage it. We’ll also share how Muse, which shows 86% accuracy in identifying the different sleep stages, can help you understand your sleep patterns and contribute to better anxiety management.

Why do you get anxiety in the evening?

While more research is needed to understand exactly why some people experience anxiety that gets worse at night, experts have come up with a few ideas.

No more distractions

From the moment we wake up, our minds are usually focused on something. Whether it’s household chores or a string of work to-dos, there’s usually something to do or think about. But later that night as we wind down for sleep, there’s nothing left to distract us from our minds. The stresses and worries we suppressed during the day may float back up, running in endless and unhelpful circles.

Worries about insomnia

Sleep issues and anxiety have a tightly connected and tricky relationship. Anxiety often makes it harder to get quality sleep, and lack of sleep often worsens anxious thinking, creating a vicious cycle that makes it even harder to sleep. In fact, research suggests that chronic sleep deprivation can actually cause anxiety disorders to develop!

Post-work stress

Many of us suppress our worry, anxiety, stress, and emotions while we’re at work, but just because we suppress them doesn’t mean they go away. When we get home, that’s often when our stress from earlier strikes. 

Evening associations

If you’ve experienced situations in the past where the evening is not a safe space for you, anxiety might naturally pop up at night. It could be something as small as your family always fighting at night when you were a child or something more current or traumatic. 

Other reasons your anxiety may increase can include:

  • Aches and pains that become more noticeable
  • A recent traumatic event or big shift in your life
  • Watching the news before bed
  • Doom scrolling on social media before bed
  • Stress over everything you’ll have to do tomorrow
  • Drinking too much caffeine before bed
  • Medical conditions or health conditions (for instance, menopause has been linked with nighttime anxiety.)

Symptoms of evening anxiety

The symptoms of evening anxiety usually are similar to those of anxiety disorders. However, it’s important to keep in mind that anxiety is different for each of us, and the symptoms also vary between types of anxiety disorders.

Common symptoms of evening anxiety include:

  • Trouble sleeping or staying asleep
  • Feeling restless or nervous
  • Nightmares
  • Racing, uncontrollable thoughts
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shifts in diet
  • Digestive problems
  • Panic attacks

To help manage these symptoms, Muse headbands offer a solution with 87% accuracy in detecting anxiety. By sensing your brain activity, Muse provides guided audio feedback to help you find calm and focus (see tip #4 for more details). Additionally, the Muse S headband comes with access to Digital Sleeping Pills (DSP). This innovative Smart Fade Technology algorithm responds to your brain activity to improve sleep quality. As you drift off, the audio gently fades away and will softly rise if you wake up, lulling you back to sleep.

Learn more about our app and meditations here >>

8 ways you can begin relieving evening anxiety

1. Find the source

Everyone’s anxiety is different, which means the key to your evening anxiety will be unique to you. When you start feeling those familiar flutterings of unease or anxiety creeping in, explore them. Instead of buying into the fears, question them and trace them back to their roots. 

Once you’ve identified the source(s), you can better match your techniques to heal the specific trigger for your anxiety. If you’re unsure of the source, don’t worry—anxiety is often layered and can come from many places. There are more ways you can deal with it!

2. Create a relaxation routine

While we may be intentional about our work and loved ones, we’re not always intentional about our personal time and self-care. To encourage peace of mind, take the 30 minutes you might spend scrolling through social media or watching TV to really reconnect with yourself and relax

This could involve gentle movement, aromatherapy, creating art, taking a nice hot bath, or going for a walk. Try to avoid stimulating activities, like your phone or watching TV. Most electronic devices emit blue light that can confuse our circadian rhythm and make it harder to sleep.

3. Prioritize exercise

Many studies have found that physical activity has a protective effect on us and can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Experts suggest this may be because exercise prompts the brain to produce endorphins, which act as natural painkillers in the brain and can make it easier to sleep. Additionally, regular movement can support stress relief, reduce fatigue, improve concentration, boost alertness, and benefit overall cognitive function.

4. Meditation

Meditation is a powerful tool for sharpening your focus and disengaging from anxious thoughts. Studies have shown that meditation can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Although meditation can be challenging at first, patience is crucial—remember, it’s not about achieving perfection but about the practice itself. Think of meditation as a workout for your mind, enhancing your control and choices over your thoughts and feelings.

Muse headbands can enhance your meditation practice. The EEG sensors in the headband translate your brain activity into weather sounds—when your mind is busy, you’ll hear stormy weather, and when you achieve calmness, you’ll hear peaceful weather. These meditation wearables provide valuable insights and track your progress, making it easier to build and maintain a consistent meditation routine.

5. Breathwork

Researchers have found that our breathing patterns can significantly impact our emotions, just as emotions can alter the way we breathe. For instance, when we’re stressed, we often unconsciously switch to short, shallow breaths. Practicing deep breathing, however, sends a signal to our nervous system that it’s safe to relax.

If you’re new to breathwork, start with a simple technique called box breathing. Once you’re comfortable, you can enhance your practice using the Muse 2 or Muse S headbands, which provide real-time feedback on your breathing.

For a variety of breathing exercises, check out our app. It offers programs like Daily Breath Quests and the Breath Biofeedback Collection, all designed to help reduce stress and enhance emotional control.

6. Learn to stay in the present moment

A powerful skill for working through anxiety is learning to stay grounded in the present moment. A lot of anxiety stems from ruminating on past memories or future worries and fears. Practicing mindfulness can help us see anxious thoughts as they are—just thoughts. From there, you have the freedom to acknowledge your worries and gently let them go. Mindfulness exercises such as mindful eating, mindful movement, and more are great ways to strengthen our ability to disconnect from anxious thoughts and rejoin the present.

7. Practice self-soothing techniques

When anxiety strikes, it can make us feel like we’re stuck on a rollercoaster with no option to bail. But that’s not true! There are many techniques you can use to calm your nervous system and quiet your mind. Some options to explore include: affirmations, practicing positive self talk, re-evaluating outcomes, talking things out with yourself, and considering what could go right.

8. Consider talking with a professional

If you’ve tried various methods and still find yourself struggling with evening anxiety, it might be time to seek help from a professional. A licensed therapist or psychiatrist can provide personalized advice tailored to your unique situation. They can help you understand the underlying causes of your anxiety and develop effective coping strategies.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help—seeking support from a professional is a proactive step towards better cognitive and mental health. The right professional can empower you with tools and insights to break free from the cycle of evening anxiety.

NEXT READ: A recent study found that EEG technology, specifically Muse headbands, could be successful in identifying people with anxiety.

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