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Sleeping Well in Troubled Times

Stress is an unfortunate part of life. But most of the time, hard as it can be, it’s ordinary-life stress, ordinary-job stress, or ordinary-illness stress. We’ve all absorbed media reports about the health consequences of the over-stressed life.

But what about when events like terrorist attacks explode into our awareness? That can take “normal” stress levels into the stratosphere, and seriously impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep. When times are hard and scary, you need good sleep more than ever.

Here are some approaches that can help you cope with the normal, human fears that spike during frightening times. And then sleep can work its healing wonders.

Acknowledge the cause

If your life is pretty stressful in the first place, it may not automatically occur to you that the latest horrifying news may be changing how you feel and function. Take a moment to notice whether you’re more tired than usual, or having trouble concentrating or eating normally. You might find that tears or anger rise more easily, or that you’re irritated by things you’d usually let slide. Or your sleep may be restless or broken by troubling dreams.

Name your feelings

It’s easy to fall back on the word “upset.” Naming your emotions in a more nuanced way can help you retake control of your personal narrative. Consider when other terms might be more accurate descriptors for the way you feel: anxiety, fear, hope, shame, pride, anger, loss of control, outrage, disillusionment, grief, lack of safety, concern for others, or powerlessness. You may feel several emotions at once during crisis times and they will change during the course of a day. That’s normal, too.

Manage your media

When awful things happen, we turn to news outlets for information. Even as the initial waves of shock recede, it’s common to keep on clicking. Try to resist that impulse if you sense that your well-being is compromised by the drumbeats. You don’t have to withdraw from reality, but remember that using radio, television or streaming news means you’ll be exposed to endless bulletins whether or not you feel ready to take them in. Tune instead to a music streaming service or an old-movie channel for a while. There will always be more news to absorb when you feel ready.

how to sleep after terrorism

Express it

Whether for you it’s meditation, prayer, or just sitting in stillness, regularly get in touch with the biggest universal picture you can conjure. Connecting with the largeness of life and a cosmic perspective helps offset the toll of human anguish with moments of humility and wonder. Make time to express inspiration in the face of pain, in creative ways. Write, draw, make music, help a child or plant some seeds. Try to let all you do in response to fear carry an element of positive purpose.

Reach out

Isolation feeds anxiety like gasoline on a fire—don’t let it. Connect with family or friends, host or attend potlucks, or increase your volunteering time. Simple connections like these remind us that we’re all part of the human community and that human life goes on. Talk about your feelings, but be wary of pessimists who are so negative that you find yourself feeling worse afterward. And remember that people of goodwill may view things differently than you do. Express your own opinions but hold them loosely enough to see another person behind a contrary view.

Laugh, love—and escape

It’s okay to laugh! Even when bad things are happening, laughter reconnects you to your spirit. Dancing, cooking, and gathering do the same. Every laugh from a loving heart is a welcome sound in the universe. It’s also okay to escape in healthy ways. Overeating or abusing alcohol won’t counteract angst, but walking in nature, spending time with animals, or getting lost in a great novel or film can re-set your spirit. Part of well-being is feeling alive, playtime included.

how to sleep after terrorism

Tend to your sleep needs

When you need relief from current events, there’s nothing like deep sleep to restore your resilience and sense of hope. Now is the time to take your sleep routine more seriously, and address obstacles that have been preventing you from getting essential, regular rest. Turn down lights and turn in earlier. Exercise every day so your body is more ready to relax. Make your bedroom an inviting sanctuary. Trust that the peace you find in sleep—and even in a poem—can give you strength for the day.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
–Wendell Berry, from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.=
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