It creeps up when watching the last bits of news. Even Seinfeld reruns can’t keep it away. I reach for my phone and begin with printed news. Checking news and current events sites that range from real news (or fake, depending on your political stance) like the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and Wall Street Journal, to popular sites like BuzzFeed or Bored Panda, I read various headlines and click-through articles that sound interesting to me. I eventually lose interest or my blood starts to boil. Either way, I close the apps on my iPhone.
Next in my latest nighttime anxiety ritual is aimlessly scrolling through Facebook. This maze twists and turns and goes nowhere good. I start by looking at my own Facebook page. I check for unlikely comments or likes and the occasional message in messenger, where I may see a note from an old friend. Then I look at her picture and next thing I know, I’m four years deep. At this point, I’ve learned about her perfect family and new house, her exercise habits and meal prep goals. This begins to annoy me. So I switch to instagram.
I see the popular posts, women’s #inspo diet pics or #transformationtuesday before and afters. Moving onto #squadgoals or #relationshipgoals– and I wonder if I’ll ever have a relationship where someone mentions me by name and proclaims his love for me. And then I remember I’m in my thirties and this doesn’t really matter. Yet again, I decide to switch platforms. I GTS (google that shit) and I’m led to various mom blogs or solopreneur forums and it doesn’t stop. I can’t keep my eyes open but I push through utter exhaustion and keep trudging through nighttime internet anxiety.
As my fingers swipe, grab or maximize the screen of my iPhone, my head wanders into the territory of what to say, write or do next for any given or a specific situation. Maybe it’s a decision I’m straddling. Maybe it’s a conversation I need to have. Maybe it’s this very blog and I’m pinned with writer’s block. I know all too well, it’s not going to write itself.
Nighttime anxiety is real.
It’s different from daylight stress, nerves or anxiety. You see, this one inhabits me when I’m fatigued but curious. Maybe I’m more sadistic. What I’m searching for is unknown — and guaranteed to be hurtful if I find it. It’s familiar and uncomfortable. Do I really want to find my ex’s new girlfriend’s ex? Do I need to make myself ill while looking at live videos? Is it healthy to pry into my former friend’s check-ins? Will researching various multi-level marketing companies or franchise institutions help me grow?
A few years ago, after a particularly uncomfortable breakup, I moved out of my ex’s penthouse apartment. He gave me his old computer, but somehow forgot to wipe it. Naturally, I discovered some of his extracurricular activities (which I learned about during our relationship, and which, ultimately led to our demise). While we were together, he refused to discuss past relationships. He was tight-lipped and vague. This only made me more curious. It seemed so odd that he refused to talk about a few long relationships (more than four years each). But, in our breakup, I learned about each one of these women.
I saw old pictures of them at football games and in their new apartment. I studied her face to determine if she was pretty, happy in the relationship, or as difficult as he eventually told me. In the snapshots, she appeared like everyone else. She didn’t seem as devilish as he presented, nor did she seem as angelic as I’d imagined. Really, she seemed normal. This, unfortunately, led me to start snooping the nooks and crannies of the internet. So, as soon as I started finding pictures of her on the computer (none of the pictures were X- or even R-rated), I developed a nightly habit of checking the interwebs for her. I found her Facebook profile, her twitter feed (which wasn’t very active), even her public Pinterest and smugmug (photo) accounts. Now, keep in mind, they had broken up years before. After all, he and I dated for the length of a Presidential term. Why was I obsessed with her? I think it was because she could provide me with some information I desperately longed to have: why wasn’t I enough? What had I done wrong in the relationship? I saw her cache rise in her industry and she began getting more recognition for her work. I secretly wanted to call or email her and confer about their relationship. I wanted to get validation that I’d done the right thing by leaving. (Of course, deep inside, I knew I made the right choice, but in those lonely, anxiety-ridden nights, I wanted her to reassure me.) But, that would be weird.
So, I looked at her from afar, and saw what she occasionally posted. Nightly, I felt angry with myself, but didn’t stop. Embarrassingly, a strange occurrence happened. I was walking in Venice with one of my closest friends. You’ll never believe it, but I saw her! We passed each other on the sidewalk. From my “research,” I recognized her and knew she didn’t live in the neighborhood, and neither did I. For a second, I considered approaching her to say hello! What was I thinking? I didn’t do it.
My research, or snooping, as I would eventually call it, didn’t stop.
It progressed to learning so much unnecessary shit. Over the years, it took up lots of time (only at night) and created a deep sense of shame. My nighttime anxiety was at an all-time high. Ugh.
I learned that I was not the only one. Every single client has mentioned this terrible habit — and their increased anxiety. Initially, I also thought it was only a woman thing. How wrong I was. Men do it, too. Why? Because humans are naturally curious and we’re all sadists.
How did I stop? Time and moving on (by doing deep inner work) showed me this didn’t serve me anymore. Also, learning that someone was snooping on me (and contacting me) made me remember that it does not feel good to have this type of energy directed at me (or send my vibe out there like that).
So why does this happen?
Well, it’s dark and everything feels more tragic when you can’t see and when you’re not seen. Then you worry about not getting enough sleep again and the cycle continues until it’s 5 AM and you’ve slept only 2 hours the entire night. Sleeplessness causes double anxiety.
Additionally, the relative isolation, quiet, and absence of productive distractions are probably the most important factors here.
Your mind gets jumbled, your thoughts are not clear.
During the day, we use a variety of strategies (coping mechanisms) to modulate these concerns, including taking direct action to address them. But at night, we forget all of our creative skills and lean on old habits. We are lonely, bored, tired, nervous and instead of being with ourselves and going to sleep, we use maladaptive coping mechanisms.
What should I do?
It is key to remember that anything you think about at night during these compulsive episodes is not real. Do NOT make decisions based on snooping. When you’re doing this, you’re not sleeping or thinking thoughts that could potentially be mind-expanding. Instead, you’re self-sabotaging. It’s imperative to call yourself out by naming the problem. I suggest saying “I’m snooping again. This is not serving me.”
When I’m in these anxiety-prone nighttime rituals of checking, snooping, or researching, I have to charge my phone in a different room. I don’t allow myself to lay in bed and scroll haphazardly. Instead, I take a deep breath and read an actual book (not on my Kindle, but the type that’s printed and bound). If I can’t sleep, I may do breathing exercises on my own. Again, I can’t be trusted to use an app for meditation or relaxation because it will undoubtedly devolve into further checking. If all else fails, I count backwards in Spanish from 100 to 0. This fatigues my mind so greatly that I haven’t ever made it past fifty.
Suggestion: if you need your phone for an alarm, place it across the room so you don’t have access to it while laying in bed. And, tomorrow, please get a separate alarm clock.
Lastly, know you’re not alone. In 2017, everyone has done this. We are all excellent private investigators who know way too much about our acquaintances and their second cousins.
Breathe. Put down the phone. Good night.