Anxiety and Panic in the Middle of the Night

Finding comfort and connection in your worries

Have you ever been awakened with panic and anxiety in the middle of the night? This common experience is certainly not pleasant for anyone. Most people want to escape or avoid this when it happens, or they get totally locked into the terrible ruminations of the fears and can’t get out. As you probably know, neither ‘strategy’ is really helpful.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and was suddenly flooded with alarm, anxiety and worries about family members who are traveling to potentially unsafe situations/places. I felt the tension in my body – tense, tight, hyper alert. Panic stricken. Catastrophizing  everything that could happen. Really scary worries. Feeling I haven’t done enough to warn them, protect them.

I also started “freaking out” about other family members who I had just heard were really suffering very difficult worsened health situations. I added them to my worries. I felt alarmed, certain that bad things would happen. Scared, afraid, acting as if all these bad things had already happened. Paralyzed in fright, heart racing; sweating; nervous, anxious.

I couldn’t unlock from these terrible thoughts of something awful happening to my dear ones. They’re alone; in a foreign place. What if their phone doesn’t work and they can’t communicate to get help? What if they get kidnapped? (flash on the movie ‘Taken’) and so much worse… There are so many terrible things happening in the world…

I got lost in that terrible frenzy that can occur at 4:30 AM with no end. I talked to myself to try to breathe and just pay attention to my feelings. So I shallowly breathed. I noticed the panic, the crazy fear I was feeling. I couldn’t let it go – I just kept turning the volume up…But at least I was breathing…

I. Was. Feeling. Anxiety. Like. A. Panic. Attack…   A little deeper breath… OK,  that’s good. Another breath… More fear. Imagining awful scenes. It’s OK, just keep breathing. More scary thoughts. My legs were locked. Breathe again. And again. Listen to some sounds… Sounds like the music in a scary movie as the fear builds into a terrible scene. Awful images. Breathe. Breathe…Just breathe… A little slower. Exhale. I noticed a tremble. Some tenderness. Vulnerability. It’s OK, sweetheart. Breathe…

I remind myself that I can offer blessings to the worries.  And to my loved ones. And to myself…May they be safe. May they be safe.… May everything be OK. May my fears go away… It was hard to think of what I was hoping for them.

I kept going back to the scary scenes and sharp breaths. I heard a part of me say “This doesn’t work. Mindfulness is pointless”. But I kept talking with myself. It’s OK; just breathe…Offer blessings only if you can… May they be safe; may they make good decisions; may they be be calm; may they enjoy their travel; may they be alert; may they be wise; may they be surrounded with ease; may they be safe; may people around them be kind; may they be well rested; may their vision be clear; may they be as strong as they can be; may they not feel afraid; may they communicate well and express what they need; may others on their journey be safe with them…

At some point, once the blessings were flowing and my breath was more even, I realized I had only been hoping/praying for a good outcome – a happy ending quality. I reminded myself that Mindfulness is more than wishing for peace and good in my life. It’s about being able to deal with the difficult – the inevitable challenges that life presents us all, and not prolonging my suffering…

I then shifted a bit my “blessings” and considered something different… “And if things don’t turn out the way I hope, may I meet these challenges with grace and heart. May I be present with my own feelings. May I be tender with my loss, my trauma, my heart ache, with whatever presents itself. May I offer support to others.”

I flashed through many awful scenes (like a film trailer of a catastrophic movie played at hyperspeed)… “May I allow my own pain to guide me in being of service to others. If there is grief that comes; if something awful truly happens; may I be present and alive to it. May I offer and BE solace…

At that point, I considered all the terrible news stories I’ve heard lately where atrocities have been committed towards vulnerable others. I shared my compassion to the millions of people in the world suffering some loss to or of their loved ones; some devastation in their lives; some heartache that seems irreparable. I felt part of a very large tribe and somehow comforted and connected by that…  I realized I had been released from the terrible grip of anxiety and fear of the middle of the night, and instead was held and comforted in my connection to greater humanity…

For more about how to manage your worries, please check out this blog post: worries to blessings.

I’d love to hear from you, what scares you in the middle of the night and how do you deal with it? Share your story by leaving a reply to this post.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT

Marriage, Family Therapist
[email protected]
(510) 482-4445



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