Why it's hard to convince the brain that you are safe
Just like in the last issue of the Sleep Talks Letters, today I will try to normalize the difficulties we all face on the recovery journey in order to help you to overcome them smoother.
I keep saying that our brain is a super powerful survival machine. Its reactions are incredibly fast – way faster than our rational part of the brain can register. So when a person tells me “I understand everything rationally, but I still can’t shake that sleep anxiety off“ I believe them 100%.
To make a case that it is okay if you find it hard to convince your brain to feel safe at night, I want to invite you to watch this video:
This video so nicely shows the power of our brain and how it’s so easy to be tricked by it.
Despite the fact the guy on the video perfectly knew that nothing poses a threat to his right hand, he couldn’t help but scream when a hammer hit the fake hand. And although he didn’t experience the pain as if it was his real hand, for a split second his brain made him react as if the danger was real. Did he have rational understanding of the situation? I bet! Did it stop the brain from doing what it’s supposed to do? No!
Of course it might not be a 100% accurate analogy, but we can’t deny that our mind can play tricks on us when we struggle with sleep.
When we are afraid of something that doesn’t pose to us real danger, like the fact that we are awake at night, the mind can still urge us to escape to safety. And none of it is our fault! We might think that it is some sort of an error that only happens to insomniacs, but that’s how any normal brain reacts when it believes that something is dangerous to us. If anything, our reactions just show that our survival mechanism is working perfectly.
The good news is the brain is plastic and it can learn to feel safe again. It requires patience, openness, awareness and willingness to see through the illusion and question our beliefs about a perceived threat.
And while that learning process is happening, with all its bumps and turbulences, we need to allow ourselves to be in such a dual state when rational and emotional perceptions don’t match. The less we think that something is wrong with us, the less pressure we feel from the journey, which leads us to the place where we want to be.