Midnight Anxiety

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Every night when it’s time to go to bed I get overwhelmed with thoughts of fear and anxiety. The fear and anxiety comes from me having to leave home for the first time to start college in the fall. I have always lived with the responsibility of taking care of my 14 year old younger sister due to the fact that my parents had a horrible relationship and got divorced when both of us were young. My mother has now moved out and we are living with my father. I have to mention that we don’t have a healthy relationship with our parents either. When we spend time with one of them all we hear are complaints about the other parent. My biggest fear is leaving my younger sister when I leave, going through the divorce and many tough obstacles in our lives, I have found that my sister and I have become incredibly close and I cant imagine leaving her at home to deal with what I would call mental abuse from my parents. I cant lie my parents are both amazing parents, the only issue is that they hate each other and we (the kids) are the ones that hear about it. How can I stop the anxiety and the feeling of guilt that I get at night? Can I leave for school with a feeling of relief that my little sister will be okay? The thing is I couldn’t imagine how I could handle being in her place.
I need some helping advice.

A. It is common for anxiety to cause sleep disturbances. You may be successfully blocking out (by busying yourself with other tasks) bothersome thoughts during the day and at night, when you are less mentally occupied, they creep back in. That could explain the increase in anxiety right before bed.

Regarding your sister, you and she are close. You are worried about what would happen to her if you left. Have you and she discussed your college plans? What are her thoughts and feelings about it? Does she feel okay with it? Having this discussion may ease your mind.

Should you stay or should you go? Only you can answer this question. If I were able to speak to you in person, I would explore your reasons for moving away to college. Was attending college closer to home an option? If so, would it be healthy for you to stay? You wrote about how difficult it has been to hear your parents complain about each another. That’s a difficult situation to be part of and I can understand why you want to move.

Without knowing all of the details about your situation it is difficult to give you specific advice. Generally, you should do what is in your best interest. The reasons for going away to college should be valid. Valid reasons may include wanting to remove yourself from your difficult family situation or because of a particular education program that you are interested in.

Some people feel as though they “should” or “have” to move away for college because that is what they are “supposed” to do. Some say they would feel like a “failure” if they attended college near their home. These are examples of invalid reasons to move.

I would encourage you to do what is best for you and not what you think you “should” do. Talk to your sister about what she thinks. If you are not moving far perhaps you and she could arrange to meet periodically. Maybe she could visit you on campus. That might give her a chance to take a break from your parents. If that is not an option, consider other methods of communication such as webcam, Facebook, instant messaging, texting, and the like. There are many ways to stay in touch.

Remember, even if you decide to move your plans are not set in stone. You can always change your mind and move back home.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Sep 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Midnight Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/09/09/midnight-anxiety/