Anxiety & Sleep with Jenna Overbaugh
Do you struggle to fall asleep because every time you lay down your brain turns on? Do you have anxiety around sleep? Listen to this week's episode with Jenna Overbaugh, a licensed professional counsellor.
Today I want to talk to you about a topic that’s very near to my heart and that’s anxiety and OCD.
Anxiety and OCD are topics that come up so much when we talk about sleep, and that is something that hinders people’s sleep in a lot of cases.
If you suffer from anxiety and/or OCD, your sleep is probably going to be affected. And your lack of sleep or interrupted sleep is going to affect your anxiety and/or OCD.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Because this is such a broad topic, recently I decided to welcome an expert in this field to our Sleep Like a Boss Podcast - Jenna Overbaugh. Jenna is a licensed professional counsellor, certified personal trainer, and mom.
Her specialty is in treating OCD and anxiety, educating her clients and giving them the tools they need to manage their recovery independently. She is also passionate about offering guidance and resources for the world to better understand OCD, particularly in mothers. She is the host of her own podcast called All the Hard Things and is a therapist for nOCD.
The Difference Between Anxiety and OCD
When we are talking about anxiety as a diagnosis, we're talking about stress and impairment - to what degree is this anxiety causing distress and impairment in your life?
If you experience a bit of anxiety, but it's not causing too much distress or impairment in your day-to-day functioning, it's probably not something that might warrant a diagnosis. But if it does significantly affect you in your day-to-day functioning, that's where it might be diagnosed as a Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is also considered an anxiety-related condition. Jenna explains that there is a lot of overlap between the two. But recent literature has shown that certain brain mechanisms are at play when it comes to OCD, which is not necessarily seen in Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
When we're talking about the specifics, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is when somebody experiences a lot of recurrent worries and concerns about more real-life and relatable issues, e.g. our health, the health and well-being of others, the environment, the future, death, etc.
And then we have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and this is where somebody has recurrent obsessions - thoughts, ideas, images, impulses or feelings that are very intrusive and unwanted and they also exhibit compulsions - mental or physical behaviours they feel compelled to do. They don't want to do these things, but they feel compelled to do them.
In both of those cases, these are very distressing, they are very impactful and interfere with the activity of daily living, like sleep, ability to work and take care of yourself, etc.
One analogy that Jenna uses a lot with her patients is that generalized anxiety feels like rolling thunder in the background - it's kind of always there but it's not front and center and as threatening; whereas OCD can feel like a bolt of thunder that just hits immediately and is very focused at times.
Anxiety and Sleep
In Jenna’s experience, most of the issues that prevent people from falling asleep happen during their downtime, a time when they are not distracted by all the things of the day.
They are left with blankness in their mind and then all the questions come:
- all the reminders of what could have gone wrong that day
- all the reminders of the scary things that are coming
This is similar to worrying, but it doesn't actually end up going anywhere.
Worrying is functional if it leads to problem-solving. But when we just stay focused on the problem and we're just in the repetitive pattern of spinning our wheels over the problem and not actually taking tactual logistical steps towards identifying solutions, then we become anxious.
Jenna’s best piece of advice when it comes to sleep is that when you're trying to sleep, your only job is to really set yourself up for sleep.
You can't force yourself to sleep, so all you have to do is do the basic sleep hygiene things and try not to make sleep come harder.
Your job is to just lay there, rest your eyes and rest your body, sleep will come.
This takes a little bit of mindfulness, meaning paying attention on purpose.
You have to simply pay attention to where your thoughts are going and the story that your brain is trying to go down and realize that you are not in control of the thoughts that pop up, but you are responsible for what you conjure up.
A lot of times these worries come in the form of questions. You can let the questions be there, but your job is not to answer those questions in the middle of the night when you can't sleep.
Keep in mind that not responding to your anxiety-provoking thoughts or your worries, and just letting them come and go, is a muscle. In order to get that muscle to be stronger, you need to practice mindfulness, allow those anxiety-provoking thoughts to come and go, and not mistake worrying for problem-solving.
Jenna also explains that all of these fears tend to come back down to this false idea that we won't be able to handle something. But the reality is, we've always handled things: we've been tired before and it might not have been the best day at work or we might have been a little bit testy with our kids the next day, but that's all life. We'll handle that, just like we've handled everything else. It's not going to be the end of the world.
If you’re interested in learning more about Jenna, visit her Instagram and make sure to listen to her podcast All The Hard Things. Also, if you’re struggling with these issues and you want some free resources, make sure you visit NOCD.