I have a friend who is having a really rough time. There are lots of things going on for her both physically and mentally. I know that she is in pain but there is nothing that I can do about it. She has to make some choices in her life. I’m sick of talking about it.
Trouble is, I’m losing sleep over worrying about her troubles. I lay in bed and think about her suffering. Over and over in my mind I see and feel her hurt. I worry about what will happen for her. I may be sick of talking about her troubles, but I do care about her. How do I stop this? It’s not good for me.
You are absolutely right in that the worrying about your friend keeping you up at night is not good for you — or your friend.
Worry is often based on false beliefs. It somehow wants a person to believe that if they think long and hard enough, the problem will be solved. That a solution will magically emerge. Or, that there might be a perfect answer to a situation. Or, that there is a way to solve something in a way that will not be uncomfortable. That the solution will be easy. These things are rarely true, if worry is involved.
Your friend will have her own journey through this.
For yourself, let’s look at some specific strategies to use, to stand up to that worry at night.
First things first. For the last time, review in your mind if there is anything that you could do, (and would be willing to do), to change this situation for your friend. When you really know that there is nothing that you can do, put some energy into that thought. THIS IS UP TO (MY FRIEND). THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO. The act of putting some energy into that thought, and saying it in your mind as a statement of fact, rather than letting it take your energy away, will help you feel less helpless. It will start to turn the tables on worry, because worry feeds on a person feeling helpless.
As soon as you find worry sneaking into your thoughts say that thought, with that energy, in your mind. Initially, you will likely find that you are saying it a lot. That will reduce as you get more skillful at noticing when worry is creeping in, and stand up to it with that thought more regularly. Remember that worry is often based in that false belief that if we think about something enough, the problem will be solved. Nip that false belief in the bud, as often as possible, with as much oomph as possible.
Now, it will be more possible to use your mind in another way, to feel better about your friend at night, while standing up to worry. Start by recognizing, as soon as possible when you are in bed, that you are being bothered by worry. Then, start to imagine your friend bring very comfortable.
Perhaps you imagine that she has just had a lovely warm bath with lots of bubbles, scented with flowers that she loves. Every part of her body is soothed. She is tucked into the bed and every part of her body is supported in a way that she needs and most appreciates. Especially those parts that might be painful. Imagine how good that feels for her. The relief for her.
Put her in a safe place, in your mind, and then add things to her surroundings, for her to be as comfortable as possible. Maybe you picture her in a feather bed, with a lovely handmade blanket, tucked right up under her chin. Perhaps you know that she is allergic to feathers and wool, and you design for her instead, a memory foam mattress and blankets in her favourite colours that are non-allergenic.
Maybe you surround her with pictures, scenes, or music. Perhaps you place her, in her safe place, in a country that she loves. Allow your mind to look around the space that you create for her, and make it just as pleasing and wonderful as you can. Take all the time you need.
When you have imagined her as comfy cozy as possible, turn your mind to your own sleep. If you find worry creeping in again, remind yourself of how comfortable your friend is. Go over the details of the comfortable and safe place you have created for her. Then, return your attention to your own sleep.
What matters in this strategy, is that rather than letting worry have you focus on her situation and suffering, you actively put your mind to positive, comfortable thoughts that YOU choose, rather than what worry chooses. With your mind more at ease, it is more likely that you will sleep better. Happy dreams.
To ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail email@example.com. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara-Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.