Anxiety can happen at any time of day, but some of us notice that our anxiety often gets worse in the evening. We’ve finally reached the point in the day where we can sit on the sofa and try to wind down before bed… but our evening anxiety has other ideas. Some days, it can be really tricky to keep it at bay.
Why does evening anxiety happen?
There are various reasons to feel more anxious on an evening. We’re all individuals, so specific situations or anxieties will be unique to us. But there are some general themes related to evening anxiety.
Processing the day
Many of us are busy all day. We run from one thing to the next, with little time to sit and think. When we finally do stop, the processing that we haven’t done all day can hit us in one go.
An interaction that morning might not have gone to plan, so we turn it over and over in our mind, attempting to figure it out. There could have been something a loved one said or did that was out of character and needs following up. An area of our living space might suddenly need a repair, and we have to figure out if our finances will stretch to cover it.
Anxiety doesn’t limit itself to worries that most people have, either. We might read into situations far more than we need to. Sometimes we’ll even worry about things that didn’t happen (because anxiety tells us they could have happened!). We can replay situations over and over and over in our mind.
On top of processing the day, there might be longer-term issues that come to join the anxiety party. We may have spent the day ignoring them or telling ourselves that we’ll think about them later. “Later” can often end up being an evening.
Perhaps we’re anxious about our ability to do our job (despite only ever receiving good feedback). We might have money worries. If a friend hasn’t replied to our most recent message, then our anxiety can spiral to the point where we think they hate us. Anxiety really doesn’t have a limit. For some of us, it feels like if we can feel anxious about something, then we do.
Worrying about the future
If long-term anxieties and processing the day weren’t enough to worry about, we might also start to think about the following day and beyond. We could be concerned about something we have to do, remember, or deal with.
During the day, we can sometimes stick these thoughts to one side. But when we finally stop in the evening, they can send our thinking into a tailspin as we examine every single aspect of each situation, often all at the same time. Sometimes, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about an upcoming situation… but that doesn’t stop us from being anxious about it.
Social media and evening anxiety
Many of us use social media in the evenings. We may not have checked it during the day, or may not have responded to messages. As we settle down, discovering that we have multiple notifications in multiple apps can cause our anxiety to skyrocket. Even if we don’t have any notifications, we may feel we have to catch up with things others have posted. We might check the news, which some days can be enough to make anyone anxious. Some of us will find ourselves ‘doomscrolling’.
Curating our social media feeds to be as positive as possible, putting boundaries in place, and being aware of the effect of blue light on our hormones can all help to limit the impact that social media has on our anxiety levels.
How tiredness affects evening anxiety
We’re usually tired in the evenings. When we’re tired, it can be much harder to cope. We might feel more ‘on edge’ or tearful. It can be difficult to think things through, rationalise, or resolve situations. We’re more likely to make mistakes. Both the prospect of making mistakes and actually making them can trigger anxiety. Sometimes we have tried-and-tested anxiety coping skills that we regularly use, but if we’re too tired to use them, then we can get stuck in an anxious cycle.
Depending on when we settle down, and the working patterns of our friends and family, evenings can be isolating. If we live alone, then social media, phone calls and texts can connect us to the outside world. But if they’re making us anxious, or we’re too tired to process them, then that doesn’t really help. It can make things worse.
Even if we don’t live alone, many of us in shared households will need time alone to wind down, and the balance of that alone time with feelings of loneliness can be a tricky one to strike. We can still feel isolated and disconnected from people who are in the same room as us, sometimes. Especially if we’re all focused on our own screens.
When we feel isolated or unable to share our anxieties with others, they can ramp up. Without someone outside of our head helping us to rationalise things or offer alternative perspectives, our anxiety can quickly spiral.
Difficulties going to bed
Some of us have difficulties going to bed. We may fear it because we often wake up panicking during the night, or experience nightmares. Some of us spend hours and hours lying there, in the dark every single night, ruminating. Staring into the darkness at 2am can leave us feeling like we’re one of the only people in the world, which is awful if our thoughts are causing us to feel unsafe. Going to bed might trigger flashbacks. We could be anxious about falling asleep because doing so makes the next day come faster, a prospect we can’t cope with thinking about.
Lots of us have difficulties with going to bed and/or sleeping, so, unsurprisingly, we become more anxious as the evening continues.
Evening anxiety and routine
The good news is, that we can do things to try and reduce our evening anxiety. A big one is routine. Getting into a routine of stopping and settling down at a similar time each night will help our body to understand that it’s time to settle, not time to send a deluge of anxious thoughts our way.
Our body will naturally adjust our hormone levels to help us to wake in the morning and sleep at night. A regular routine can help to support that.
If weighted blankets are safe and suitable for us, then a weighted blanket can help to settle our anxiety levels. We might choose to have one on our sofa and/or on our bed. Though the research on their effectiveness is limited, anecdotally a lot of people find them helpful. Theoretically, they can mimic the sensation of a hug, which can help our nervous system to calm down.
Self-soothing can help to calm our nervous system down, too. This is the idea of treating ourselves in a similar way to a child. Using sensory input, or activities that help us to feel calm.
A box or list of things that help us to self-soothe within easy reach of our evening ‘wind down spot’ is handy. It means that we’re not scrabbling around trying to find things, which can worsen our anxiety levels. Sometimes, when anxious, it’s hard to think straight; having ideas within easy reach can help us to self-soothe even when we can’t think clearly.
Lots of us watch films or TV shows in the evening. Though many of us love true crime or enjoy getting gripped by a tense drama, if our anxiety is creeping up, then we might want to avoid them.
Instead, falling back on comforting media that helps us to feel calm, soothed, or cared for can help us to settle down. This could be mindless, stress-free TV, or re-watching things that we’ve enjoyed for many years.
Pen and paper
Having pen and paper available at all times helps us to remove the anxieties spinning endlessly around our brain and put them somewhere else.
Pen and paper can also help us to work through things. By writing down our problems, we can clearly see what we have to tackle and start to break them down into sections and/or rationalise them.
Pause during the day
One of the causes of evening anxiety is having no time to process things during the day, creating a tsunami of things that need processing once we stop being busy. Ensuring that we have times during the day when we can pause, breathe, and catch up with ourselves, can help to reduce the amount we have to process at night.
Some of us might find it helpful to block time out in our diary. Others might want it to be a little more ad-hoc. But being aware that we need to pop those pauses in can help us to be more aware of how busy we are, and consciously hunt out pockets of calm.
Support for evening anxiety
If our evening anxiety is becoming a regular thing and/or is beginning to have an impact on our quality of life, then it might be time to reach out for some more support. Initially, this could be from family or friends. We could then approach our GP who should be able to rule out any underlying conditions and signpost us to appropriate care. We could also self-refer to NHS mental health services if we live in England, or approach a third sector organisation for some more support.
No matter how dark and isolating evenings can feel, we’re not the only ones to feel as we do. Many, many people live with evening anxiety, and there are things we can do to try and reduce it. We are not alone.
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