How do you get through a tough night?
The same way you get through a tough day. One minute at a time.
You don’t, actually, have to get through the entire night at once.
A lot of people make that mistake— they see hour after hour after hour of misery in front of them, and they think they have to endure all of those hours right now.
You don’t. You have to endure the minute, the second, you’re enduring, right now.
You don’t know what the next second, the next minute, the next hour, is going to bring.
You have to find a way to get through this minute. These five minutes. These ten minutes. That’s doable.
There are lot of things that keep us up at night. Anxiety. Flashbacks. Memories. Sadness. Fear.
And the tough thing about the nighttime is, there is often not much we can do about things at night. We very frequently have to wait until the next day before we can even begin to address the cause of our worry— if we can address it at all.
So we’re kind of in a holding pattern until dawn, until the world catches up with us again.
And in the meantime, we’re often getting very, very antsy about the fact that we know we NEED to sleep…but with each minute that ticks on by, we know we’re losing precious time for rest. But we just…can’t…sleep.
Getting through a tough night requires a specific skillset, that goes beyond “big picture” thinking.
Getting through a tough night requires us to truly embrace the concept of radical acceptance— totally and completely accepting what is happening with us, right here, right now. Not trying to change it; not trying to deny or disown it; accepting what’s going on with us, the pain, the dread, the anxiety, whatever.
Because trust me: pushing back against it is going to get you exactly nowhere in the middle of a tough night.
Then we have to figure out how we’re going to make it through the next minute.
People sometimes discount the coping skills of distraction and containment, because they figure those skills are just ways to avoid problems. It’s true that if overused or inappropriately relied upon, distraction and containment can become maladaptive tools; but when they’re used appropriately, they are tools that are invaluable for the task of making it through a tough night.
Distraction and containment aren’t ways to wholly AVOID problems or pain. They’re ways to lessen pain for a discrete period of time, so we can, in effect, live to fight another day.
They’re tools that should be used when you’ve realized that you can’t do anything about what’s bothering you right now— so you need to conserve energy and pick your battles. That’s when you use distraction and containment— not as a default, go-to skill at all times.
“Distraction” is kind of self-explanatory. It’s the process of dangling a shiny object in front of your nervous system so that you get a surge of dopamine through your brain. It tells your senses, “Pay attention to THIS, instead of the pain you’re feeling.”
The best distraction tools are simple, not complicated to access, and rely on the five senses. Things you can see. Things you can smell. Things you can hear. Things you can feel. Things you can taste. Anything that can get your nervous system looking in the opposite direction of your pain— even just for a minute.
“Containment” is a skill by which you gather your thoughts, concerns, and needs around a problem, and gather them into one place— not to be locked away indefinitely, but to be held over until you’re in a position to act.
There are lots of things that can act as containment devices. Journals are containment devices. Some people have literal boxes they create, that they visualize putting their worries into. Some people keep files on their computer in which they contain their pain and worries. Anything that can send a clear signal to your mind that “WE ARE SETTING THIS ASIDE FOR NOW, BUT IT WILL BE ADDRESSED,” will work as a container.
How many times do you use the tools of distraction and containment?
As many times as it takes.
The thing is, actively using these tools, even if you have to use them over and over and OVER again, is better than just lying there, in the dark, hurting.
Actively using your skills in ANY situation beats passively taking the thumping that your pain is trying to give you.
How do you make it through a tough night?
One minute at a time.
And by using your damn skills.
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