Feeling stressed? Looking for ways to reduce anxiety and manage insomnia?

Week after week, I hear from people about their need to create greater calm in their lives.  We feel confusion and uncertainty surrounding politics, economics, health, and safety. For many, these factors, mixed with obligations and responsibilities like work and family, lead to increased insomnia, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and depression.

More of us are aware of the importance of self-care practices that lower anxiety and reduce stress. Those habits improve our sleep and support better mental and physical health.

If you need simple exercises that support your nervous system and address chronic insomnia, these three self-care tips are easy to implement. They also don’t add anything else to your crowded to-do list.

1. Fast and Easy Insomnia Reducer: Frame the Moment

Though I’ve created thousands of self-hypnosis audio sessions for clients over many years, each one has been unique. Nonetheless, I start most of the recordings, including those in my online Deep & Easy Sleep Self-Hypnosis Package, with a few phrases that help people lower anxiety and instill feelings of mindful calm.

Take 20 seconds to close your eyes and purposefully say this to yourself:

“At this time, there is nothing to accomplish and nothing to prove, nothing to worry about and nothing to fear. Right now I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do.”

This helps to reset to the present moment and give you a framework to reduce anxiety and sleep problems the more you use this technique.

2. Look Around

My training as a somatic experiencing practitioner has taught me that the body and the brain interpret feeling threatened quite differently than feeling safe.

Research in the area of polyvagal nerve theory shows that when we experience intense threats and feelings of fear or rage, signals go back and forth between our gut and our brain to help us know whether we should flee, fight, or freeze to protect ourselves. If things get really intense, we tap into a part of our brains that lets us go on automatic pilot so that we don’t have to think through all of the details of what to do, or to feel our emotions. We just take care of business!

When our body’s automatically lock into a fight or flight response, certain hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, kick in to help us survive life-threatening situations.  That causes additional stress on our nervous systems which can lower our immunity, cause more pain in our bodies, create anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more.

When chronic stressors or uncertainty cause us to stay in patterns that trigger anxiety, it can really take a toll! Chronic stressors can include:

  • Different types of insomnia or trouble falling asleep, and waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night
  • Relationship problems with a partner, child, family member or friend that lead to spinning emotions and nighttime anxiety or insomnia
  • Pressure or tension at work
  • Financial uncertainty
  • Health conditions or concerns including insomnia or other sleep disorders

You may have already realized that worrying about things outside of your control doesn’t help. Instead, excess worry leads to insomnia, irritability, and other physical and emotional symptoms such as muscle tension, pain, lowered immunity, stomach upset, fatigue, depression, and more

Polyvagal nerve theory demonstrates that the feedback system between the gut and the head can also connect to another part of the brain that helps us feel lightness and relief. So how can we create a state of calm and safety? How can we lower anxiety, frustration, or numbness that are the result of the flight, fight and freeze response?

One simple tip: Look around.

I like to explain it like this:  If you see a bear coming for you, you won’t take time to look at the pretty flowers. Your nervous system recognizes that if a bear is nearby, you need a fast escape. The fight or flight response instructs your vision to narrow, your pulse to increase, your muscles to fight or run.

When you remind yourself that you are safe, you have the freedom to look around, make small talk, or look at those pretty flowers. Slowing down and seeing what’s around you gives your body and brain the message of safety and wellness. Your nervous system calms down, and you will experience a  sense of ease.

So throughout the day, look up from your work and just take in your surroundings. As simple as it sounds, this can make a big difference. Try the following and see how it works for you:

  • Pause: Stop the task or whatever it is that you’re doing
  • Look: Focus on the view out the window and find something — anything — that’s interesting to look at
  • Breathe: Take ten deep breaths
  • Relax: Turn your head from side to side and take a couple of minutes to just look around the space, noticing your surroundings
  • Settle: Feel your feet on the ground and your back cradled by the chair (or whatever you’re sitting on)

3. Reduce Insomnia Causes with This Simple Process: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

As you go through your day, periodically take a minute or two to try some of these self-care practices or another self-hypnosis strategy. Doing so will help you to reduce  tension and reconnect to a sense of security and safety. Try repeating these little reset exercises throughout the day and night to “build the muscle” of greater resiliency and self-soothing.

These simple, fast, and easy practices can help you to lower anxiety, manage insomnia, and feel more self-sufficient and calm. You can do these exercises as frequently as needed. When you develop self-care methods that work for you, you will be better able to support yourself and to reach your highest potential.

Previously posted on drdyan.com on August 11, 2020

Featured image by mimagephotos 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.