Hopeful woman who overcame insomnia with covid anxiety

Hope and helplessness go hand in hand. They cannot exist without each other. I’ve observed increases in insomnia with COVID anxiety as feelings of helplessness and hopelessness build. This contributes to sleep problems and many different kinds of sleeping disorders. As anxiety from COVID increases for people, so does nervous system activation and trouble sleeping.

Issues of uncertainty, a threat to life and livelihood, and the fight to overcome, to survive, and to thrive, have often held dominant positions in my mind. For the first half of my life, I struggled every single day with insomnia related to health issues, various circumstances connected to my work-life balance, and my ways of processing stress. I remember lying awake for hours on end, feeling helpless, desperate to find some shred of hope that I would find a cure for my chronic sleeping disorders, illnesses, and pain.

I longed for a container, an end point, for information and for an answer that would end the spinning thoughts in my head. I was tired of waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night. Each time I found hope, I would lose it again with the open-endedness of not knowing what was causing my health and sleep problems, or how exactly to fix them.

While working on my PhD in health psychology, 25 years ago, I found hypnosis and learned something profound, both personally and professionally, about the subtle relationship between hope and helplessness. I also began to understand that, when we comprehend how to move along the continuum of these two qualities, we unlock a great secret to navigating uncertain periods or circumstances in our lives.

When Insomnia with COVID Anxiety Brings Up Feelings of Helplessness, Look Around: You Can Also Find Hope

While designing self-hypnosis recordings for people, I often think about the metaphors of the waves of the ocean, the waxing and waning of the moon, the beating of the heart, and the inhale and exhale of the breath. In all of these examples, things move out to one extreme, and then in the other direction to the opposite extreme. Of course, breath consists of both an inhale and an exhale. The breath cannot exist without both. Where one exists, so does the other.

When insomnia with COVID-related stress keeps you awake or restless, causing sleeping disorders and feelings of helplessness, remember that each point has a counter point. Calm, beautiful sleep and feelings of hope may be nearer than you think.

Bear with me and keep reading as I explain what I mean:

In approximately 500 B.C., the Greek philosopher Heraclitus spoke of the Doctrine of Flux and the Unity of Opposites, saying three key things:

1. “Everything is constantly changing.”  

To apply this concept to COVID anxiety, many different areas of uncertainty, political unrest, and other challenges of these strange days, keep in mind that things will change, and at some point, improve. It helps to remind yourself that some of the discomfort of these times comes from changes taking place (some parts feel bad and others good). It’s all temporary.

Perhaps you have heard the Zen kōan quote:“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” 

In other words, the enlightenment part occurs inside of you. The instructions: humbly do what you need to do to take care of yourself one step and one day at a time. Know that sometimes these monotonous and even basic tasks might not feel like they move you forward or teach you or support you in big ways. However, before you know it, and in ways beyond what you can see right now, things are changing and you are on your path, even if you can’t see where it leads you at the moment.

When your insomnia with COVID stress starts to get to you, remember this mantra: “Chop wood, carry water.”

2. “Opposite things are identical.”

There can only be hot when there is also cold, because both are degrees of the same thing: temperature. Likewise, left and right, up and down, east and west all fall under the identical category of direction. The possibility of sleeping problems can only occur along the continuum of potential deep and easy sleep. Helplessness can only exist when its opposite, hope, also exists.

When insomnia with COVID anxiety causes you to experience a loss of control, know that it’s also possible to have the opposite perception. You might say to yourself: “Ah ha! I see you helplessness! And I know that your twin – Hope – must also be nearby! You are mirror images of each other and you can not exist without each other.” Then go look at yourself in the eyes in the mirror, and, if you are bringing helplessness and anxiety to that mirror, know that hope can look back as the opposite mirror reflection. As you look at yourself and see that helplessness and hope represent flip sides of each other, you may also see that you have more choice between them than you realized.

3.Everything is and is not at the same time.”

This one relates to my last point. I love self-hypnosis as a healing technique for many things including treating insomnia with COVID anxiety. My experience with hypnosis has taught me that we build our realities on perceptions. Comprehending this can feel very empowering and restorative of hope which, in turn, lessens anxiety.

  • Understand that you have the power to change your perceptions.
  • The most widely used measurement scales of hypnosis since 1960 demonstrate that when you change your perceptions, you can also change your moods, your sleep, and even your brain.
  • When you recognize that helplessness and hope, sleep anxiety and bedtime calm are flip sides of the same coin, you can also realize that you have more choice about how you look at things than perhaps you realized.

Knowing that you have the power to change your thoughts and perceptions can lead to deep feelings of relief and freedom.

Hope literally heals your body and mind. Try these mental models out and I think you will find them empowering. As you shift your mindset from helplessness towards hope, you may also notice improvements in your insomnia with COVID circumstances.

Let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Blog previously appeared on drdyan.com on September 15, 2020

Featured image by lzf for adobe


  • Dyan Haspel-Johnson, Ph.D., S.E.P.®

    Psychologist & Hypnosis Expert

    Thrive Global

    Dr. Dyan Haspel-Johnson runs a private psychological and hypnotherapy practice with a specialty in hypnosis for sleep and other mind-body-spirit modalities. After receiving her BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Dr. Dyan earned her Ph.D. in psychology while working in a physician's holistic medical practice. Her creative and science based backgrounds inspire Dr. Dyan's unique way of thinking about healing. Her approach led her to become the Vice President of Continuing Education Programs for the Southern California Society for Clinical Hypnosis, and then to become President of that organization while also teaching at UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and lecturing at many other institutions. Dr. Dyan's expertise with sleep, and the demand in her practice to help people to sleep better motivated Dr. Dyan to make the complimentary, downloadable eBook and video, "The 3 Biggest Things That Cause Sleep Problems & The ONE Thing You Can Do by 3pm Today to Sleep Better." She has also created the Deep & Easy Sleep Self-Hypnosis Package, available through her website.