Battling Insomnia? Anxiety? Stress? Exhaustion?

A friend recently asked about battling postpartum insomnia, and I shared my thoughts with her and then decided to share them here with you, too, in case you’re facing similar concerns.

Battling Insomnia? Anxiety? Stress? Exhaustion?

SPIRITUAL/PHYSICAL ANGLE?

I’m not saying this lightly, but have you prayed about it?

I have found, for me, that those times when I am dealing with insomnia (and yes it often happens, ironically, postpartum, at the time I need it most), that it is not only physical but spiritual.

Often we leap straight to the physical– what is happening in my physical body/chemicals/hormones, etc.? But I have found that I can *do* all the right things– soak in hot magnesium (epsom salt) baths right before bed, have regular times of intimacy, so there is plenty of physical release & a lack of tension, avoid electronics immediately before bed, not do coffee after noon, have the temperature “right,” etc., and still experience insomnia.

There is sometimes a physical cause, and so I’ve definitely had to make sure I’m doing all of the above with regularity & intentionality. But sometimes I’m doing all the physical things, and still experience lack of sleep & an increase in anxiety & fear at nighttime.

What I’ve come to believe is that this is an area where our enemy sometimes attacks us. When we lived overseas, we noticed it especially among the WOMEN. Almost every female living abroad that I knew struggled actively, or had previously struggled, with insomnia.

But the Psalms say “God gives to His beloved rest.”

So. I don’t understand how the spiritual world works. But I do believe there are unseen things happening that we sometimes overlook. And I know that prayer wages war in unseen places in a way that magnesium baths doesn’t.

As wives/mothers, we are the pivotal person in the home. If I get enough rest, things go smoothly, and it affects (now) 7 other people’s days positively. If I don’t, and everything goes to pot, meals go unmade, I’m crabby all day, on edge, grumpy, not mentally “on,” it affects 7 other people’s day for the negative.

I believe this is part of why Scripture calls us “the weaker vessel.” We are in this stage of less sleep, less physical & mental wherewithal, and simultaneously have all these people depending on us.

So anytime I notice insomnia as a pattern for me (it comes and goes), I begin praying about it. I ask Doug to pray for me before we lay down, that I would be able to fall asleep easily & stay asleep all night. We ask that I would only have good dreams and not be paralyzed by creepy/fearful ones, or even heart-pounding exciting ones. We ask that I would wake up feeling well-rested and ready for a new day.

These prayers sound simple and perhaps trite, but we pray them in faith, asking God to do it, believing that He will. And He has done it again and again. Our Father loves His children and gives good gifts. He cares for us, and made us to sleep well. So for me, when I see this as a pattern (not a one-off weird night, but an ongoing thing), I begin actively praying that God would help me to get the sleep I so desperately need, and that He would silence my mind.

MENTAL/EMOTIONAL INTAKE

I am finding (this increased over the last few months as I experienced a lot of terrifying, wake-me-up-with-heart-pounding sort of dreams with this pregnancy) that I also have to be more careful with media intake & what I read on the internet.

Anything that is remotely disturbing or frustrating, I can’t handle on my “plate” right now. 

LIFE AS A BUFFET PLATE

I have started thinking of life as a buffet plate. My heavenly Father has put together a plate for me that He knows has the right portions on it. My plate has Doug, Ethan, Baxter, Maranatha, Silas, Moses, & Theo, and now this new baby on it. Also on the plate are my house, and the immediate circle of friends that He’s put in my life.

But then sometimes I’m like the kid who goes up to the buffet line and keeps adding more and more things to my “plate.” Whereas He puts what I need on there, and He knows the proper amount, my eyes can be too big for my appetite and I read a little snippet here, or an article there, decide to take on a new project, or feast my eyes on what God has put on someone else’s plate and add it to mine.

Pretty soon, my plate is overflowing and I’m looking at my plate and feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and frustrated because THERE’S NO WAY I CAN EAT ALL THIS, GOD. 

And He’s sitting there, saying, “I never expected you to. I gave you the portion you could handle, and you piled all that macaroni & cheese and jello and mashed potatoes on top of the things I’d already chosen for you.”

WHAT HAS GOD PUT ON MY PLATE? Battling Insomnia, Anxiety, Stress, and Exhaustion

WHAT HAS GOD PUT ON MY PLATE?

So then I have to pull back, take a good look at my plate, and ask myself, “what has God really given ME?” 

Has He given me the problems of the Middle East to solve and gut-grind over?
No.

Has He given me the problems of every friend I ever had, who posts them to Facebook, so that I have to “carry” those and churn over them all day and all night?
No.

Has He given me the weight of every plane crash, tsunami, and human tragedy on the globe?
No. I can pray, and in some situations perhaps give money if God leads our family to do so, but one hundred years ago, I wouldn’t even know about most of these things. Media and the internet are what try to put those things on my plate. I don’t have to consume them or let them consume me.

Has He given me the problems of every person I know in my immediate circle of friends?
Only the parts that I can do something about. Can I pray? Can I bring a meal? Do I have a word of encouragement for that person? Great. I can do that. But after doing those things, that’s what I can do. That’s the part on my “plate.” Solving everyone else’s problems is not part of the portion that God has assigned to me.


Has He tasked me with sorting out every theological and convictional question I run across that interests my mind?
No. With my husband, I can talk through those things that directly affect us, but I don’t have to figure out everything, TODAY.


So for me, especially this summer, learning what is on my “plate” and doing that faithfully and not focusing on the things that are NOT, has been beneficial (and necessary). I have to be vigilant to guard my intake, and not take on stress and heartaches that God didn’t give to ME.

I don’t know if any of that will help you but that’s what has been helping me lately as I battle insomnia and fears and feeling plagued with the problems of the world.

I’ve had to recognize that I am a weaker vessel, and guard myself with the same care I guard my children in a crowded parking lot. I am more vulnerable than I realize, and you are too, and stewarding *US* well is an important job. 

Love you. And I’m praying that you did, eventually, fall asleep, and come to sleep well.
Jess


Images courtesy of photostock & MasterIsolatedImages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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23 Responses

  1. Erica says:

    I haven’t kept up with blog posts recently. Are you expecting?

  2. Jess Connell says:

    Yes Erica! I’m nearly 17 weeks pregnant with #7. :)

  3. Kondwani says:

    I feel slightly sad that I might not be able to biologically bear quite as many (but have some plans for future adoptions, so we might expand).
    I’ve been quite exhausted recently and sometimes when I read blogs for ‘encouragement’ I see these ‘perfect’ mothers with 10 children who manage everything perfectly, rising at 05:00 for prayer before making a cooked breakfast, having the children all achieving perfect discipline and obedience etc and also being actively involved in church and Bible studies. I love the fact that you are real (although you probably also do a lot of those things!).
    Congratulations, and thanks for sharing your wisdom when you have so much else going on!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Kondwani,
      Yup, sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands and cut out the blogs that are more discouraging than encouraging. I know I have had to do that over the years.

      And, FYI- we are active in church and Bible studies. That is the only item on your list that I achieve. :)
      Jess

  4. Kondwani says:

    Ha ha. I also am recently quite challenged by how others can see us as somehow ‘capable’ and together, and almost not realise that we have needs. I mean, perhaps to others there are times when we appear to be that home educating family who do have it all together (because they simply do not see us on the days when we have not gone out on some kind of adventure). Sometimes there can almost be a presumption that we are superhuman because we find a range of things to do with our children and don’t frequently complain about them.

    A few of us were having this conversation the other day, about how because we don’t seem ‘needy’, we can actually end up feeling a bit isolated. See http://homeeducationnovice.blogspot.co.uk/. I wonder how you address that kind of thing? Or is it part and parcel of the way we live our lives?

    • Jess Connell says:

      It’s interesting, because I got a similar question recently from a woman whose husband is a pastor. It seems, among believers, there are classes of people who are seen by others as “super woman.”

      Moms of many, pastor’s wives, homeschooling moms, moms of special needs kids… And missionaries also make the list (article about that, here: http://www.alifeoverseas.com/missionary-mommy-wars/_ ).

      It’s almost as if, when people see a Christian woman bearing up under the weight of great strain, they assume, “oh she must be stronger than me. I don’t know how she does it!” … rather than thinking, “Wow, what a weight on her shoulders. I wonder how I can help bear those burdens?”

      I also think that sometimes, because of the choices we’ve made, or the lives God has given us–whether that is as a pastor’s wife, or a missionary mom, or a mom of special needs kids, or a foster parent, or a homeschooling mom of a larger-than-avg brood, we tend to write one another off as someone we can’t relate to. Maybe an effect of the age-segregated, interest-segregated public schools, writ large on our culture? We can make a lot of assumptions and judgments and decide that another woman isn’t someone we might relate to or be able to talk openly with, and so we don’t even try to relate, don’t even try to communicate about the things that are important to us.

      Our own choices, and the choices of others, thus limit our interactions (like the recent Facebook “likes” experiment– did you see that?) to people who increasingly think and choose most similarly to ourselves.

      I think we do the Body a disservice when we do it, but then when I look at my own heart, I see the same thing. What do we do with that?!

  5. Kondwani says:

    I also read that article on missionary mommy-wars! It made me smile, but it was actually quite sad.

    I think it is normal to look for people we can identify with – and in some ways there is nothing wrong with that because it is part of what makes us human. But I think the difficulty is when we really put people into boxes or give them our own little labels, because at that point we have made a judgement, for better or for worse. Maybe the challenge is to give people grace, and to pray that you can take them as they are. Sometimes encouragement or words of wisdom come from the most unexpected sources, if only we’d listen!

    Anyway – I think as a mother of six with one on the way, and a pastors’ wife, that you are incredibly generous to a whole community of people you have never met who benefit from this blog. You just don’t realise the encouragement and blessing you bring into the lives of others.

    God bless you abundantly! And may He give you rest, peace and refreshment.

  6. Rachel says:

    I’ve battled insomnia in the past and the best advice I was given was to pray for enough rest for the needs of the present day. It’s so easy to obsess about how little sleep you’re getting and continually pray for more sleep, when all we really need is enough to do what God wants us to do for just that day. Changing my prayer perspective gave me a huge amount of peace amidst the chaos, even if my quantity of sleep did not change.

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